Stephen Strasburg is quietly an elite pitcher

Stephen Strasburg is undoubtedly one of the best pitchers in the Expos/Nationals franchise history.

On Friday night, Strasburg passed Steve Rogers for the most strikeouts in franchise history with 1,622 in just 230 appearances.

The biggest knock on Strasburg is that he has only surpassed 160 innings three times, now in his 10th big league season. The good news is that 2019 might be the fourth time he does so. It will also be the second time in three seasons where he is likely to make it to at least 28 starts and 175 innings.

Regardless of his innings worked, Strasburg has been an elite strikeout hurler. He has surpassed at least 10 K/9 in all seasons except two, and both of those were over nine. He has also shown unreal command for a pitcher that averages the mid- to upper-90s with his fastball.

What makes Strasburg such an interesting case is that he has molded himself into a pure pitcher rather than just a hard thrower. In 2019, Strasburg has thrown his career low of 31.3 percent of four-seam fastballs. He is also averaging a career low 94.2 mile per hour average on the pitch. After using his sinker extremely sparingly from 2013 to ’17, he started working with the pitch again in August of last season. He is up to throwing it just under a fifth of the time this season. Finally, Strasburg is throwing his curve an astounding 30 percent of the time in 2019.

However, this leaves out Strasburg’s best pitch: his changeup. In 2019, Strasburg has a 24 percent whiff rate, which is actually lower than his career average. His curve is also missing bats, with his second lowest whiff rate this season. The best season was his rookie campaign, which he appeared in just 12 games. Mixing in the off-speed pitches, has made his four-seam even better also, even though he is using it much less often. He also has a second best whiff rate on that pitch as well. The best was in 2010, when he appeared in just five game…and was averaging almost 98 on it. The 2019 season has brought more movement on the offering than he has ever seen as well.

Now to the career numbers though. Strasburg, has a career ERA of 3.20 prior to his Friday night start. This ranks him 250th all-time, just one spot behind another elite strikeout pitcher in Nolan Ryan. He falls fifth all-time in SO/W with 4.54. This season is actually above his average at 4.86. Strasburg also ranks third in K/9 with 10.6. He is just behind Chris Sale and Randy Johnson. Not only does Strasburg strike out a ton of hitters and walk very few, he is also very good at limiting contact. He is 11th among active pitcher in HR/9. He also sits 23rd all-time with a 1.092 career WHIP.

One issue is ultimately going to be the lack of appearances for his ultimate resume. With his 30.1 career WAR mark, Strasburg ranks just 283rd all-time and is tied with Bill Hands. The other beef is that Strasburg has still only appeared in three postseason games. Additionally, folks will still likely never be able to get past Strasburg being shut down in 2010, when the Nationals may have had their best chance to win a title since the move.

Either way, Strasburg is one of the most underrated pitchers of recent times. He has lived up to and exceeded the hype that came with being the top selection in his draft and the buildup when he made it to the big leagues as a super prospect. Time will tell if he is remembered that way.

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