Sunday’s 10-2 win for the Washington Nationals over the St. Louis Cardinals encapsulated how dominant Stephen Strasburg has been all season. The success that has led him to his excellent start—which includes a 2.69 ERA and a 11 K/9 rate—was on display as he improved to 9-0, and a look his overall numbers shows that his early-season performance is sustainable.
What has been evident throughout Strasburg’s career is his ability to generate strikeouts, and that is continuing this season. His current K/9 rate is just a tad over his 10.5 career mark, but what is notable right now is that he is finding more success with certain secondary offerings. A glance at the Pitch F/X data available at Brooks Baseball shows that Strasburg is generating more swings and misses on his changeup than last season and is getting far more value out of his sinker.
With his secondary pitches working at a more effective rate, Strasburg is doing a better job of lessening contact. When hitters put the ball in play against him, they are not doing anywhere near the amount of damage they have done in previous years. Thus far, batted balls against Strasburg have amounted to hard contact just 24.5% of the time, which is much lower than in any full season he has pitched. It is possible that that number will jump overtime, though it seems likely to stay below the 28.9% and 31.7% figures of 2015 and 2014, respectively.
Strasburg’s ability to generate medium or soft contact at a higher rate is showing in both his FIP and xFIP marks, which are 2.58 and 2.93, respectively. In tandem, they suggest that his 2.69 ERA is sustainable.
One last point is the W-L record, which for various reasons is a terrible way to evaluate pitchers. In Strasburg’s case, however, there is one point that is worth noting. In each of 11 starts this season, he has lasted at least six innings, therefore giving him more control over the outcome of the game.
In fact, the Nationals have won every game that Strasburg has pitched this season. Much of that owes to the team’s improved bullpen, but it does show that Strasburg’s durability is having a positive effect on the team’s record.
If he can stay healthy, Strasburg will likely set a new career high in innings pitched, as he is in a position to pass his 215 innings total from 2014. That would be a notable milestone on its own, but all signs point to Strasburg completing what could go down as one of the best seasons of his career.