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Did Strasburg Take a Step Forward in 2014?

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Stephen Strasburg entered 2014 as somewhat of an enigma for the Washington Nationals. When he had been the first overall pick in the 2009 first year player draft, Strasburg had been viewed as a future ace, a right handed Randy Johnson who was more major league ready coming out of San Diego State University than Johnson had been when he was drafted by the Expos in 1985. With a fastball that averaged close to 100 mph and a devastating change up and a knee buckling hard curveball, Strasburg shot through the minor leagues to make his MLB debut less than a year after he was drafted. However, tragedy struck a few months later, when the hurler tore his UCL in an August game against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Since then, it has seemed that the right hander has recovered a little bit more from the injury with every year that passes by. His ERA was very good, and his strikeout rate was unprecedented for a starter his age, but Strasburg hadn’t yet become the inning devouring, top echelon ace that he had been expected to become. 2014 was a big step towards that eventual goal.

Stephen Strasburg began the season pretty well, going 7-6 in the first half with a 3.46 ERA. Those numbers were probably good enough to have sent him to his 2nd All Star game, but Strasburg missed out while fellow starter Jordan Zimmermann and setup man Tyler Clippard were selected to make the trip to Minnesota. The 2nd half of the season, however, was a different story for #37. Like many of his fellow starters, Strasburg took off in the second half, pitching to a 7-5 record with a 2.70 ERA. The half improved his overall numbers to 14-11 with a 3.14 ERA and a league leading 242 strikeouts.

However, the most important stat on the right hander’s impressive stat line was the one under innings pitched. Strasburg pitched 215 innings, by far a career high, shaking his reputation of being a dominant 5 inning a start starter.

Looking at the advanced stats shows something even more promising about the former top pick. Despite the strong numbers across the board, Strasburg may have actually been unlucky in 2014. Strasburg’s BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was a remarkably high .315. In fact, that BABIP was one of the highest in the league. A high BABIP doesn’t necessarily equate to bad luck, but a BABIP that has a large deviation from a player’s career BABIP does suggest luck had an effect on the player’s overall numbers. Strasburg’s BABIP usually falls between .240 and .280, a rate much more indicative of a top tier pitcher. FIP, a stat that more accurately portrays a pitchers effectiveness, shows that Strasburg’s true ERA was 2.94.

With these stats in mind, I fully expect Strasburg to take that final step up to ace-territory in 2015. I wouldn’t expect him to jump into Clayton Kershaw territory (who could?), but I fully expect him to be the second best NL starter in 2015 and to make his second All Star game. He will hit the free agent market following the 2016 season, and I would assume the Nationals will do everything in their power to keep #37 in a curly W.