Nationals Opinions: What To Expect From Stephen Strasburg in 2015
One of the key subjects nationwide during the offseason has been the Nationals rotation and its potential to be great, not just on an everyday level, but on a historic one. The vast majority of that talk has centered around Max Scherzer, the big free agent signing, and Nationals draftee Jordan Zimmermann, who pitched a no-hitter in the season finale as well as a gem of a game in the NLDS.
Somehow lost in all this is the Nationals’ former number one overall draft pick and savior of the franchise Stephen Strasburg. At one time, Strasburg likely would have been the focal point of chatter surrounding Washington’s upcoming season. Now, likely relegated to the third spot in the rotation, Strasburg has almost become an afterthought, relegated to the status of Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister and Tanner Roark.
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Some of this problem falls on Strasburg’s history. In the eyes of most, he was expected to be a consistent 20 game winner, a pitcher who would rival the likes of Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw. But, as of 2014, Strasburg has yet to post more than 15 wins, which he did in 2012 when he went 15-6. Unfortunately, the team made the decision to shut down Strasburg prior to the postseason, barring him from the chance to carry the team deep into October.
It appears to be a myth that Strasburg doesn’t get run support, either. In 2014, he ranked seventh among qualified National League pitchers in run support according to ESPN, clocking in at 4.74 runs per start. On the Nationals staff, only Jordan Zimmermann was higher, ranking fourth at 4.91 runs per start.
But what do the other numbers say about Strasburg? When it comes to WAR, he’s been fantastic. Over the last three seasons, he’s notched a WAR of 11.7. Zimmermann, on the other hand, has managed just less at 11.2. By that metric, at least, Strasburg has outpaced his counterpart.
By the other measures, like FIP, ERA+ and WHIP, Zimmermann gets a slight edge, but the difference isn’t a drastic one. In fact, it’s more than reasonable to say that Strasburg and Zimmermann are in the same tier. Both deserve to be mentioned among baseball’s best, even if they aren’t quite in the same rarified air that Kershaw and Verlander (and even Scherzer) enjoy.
Probably the more pressing question for Nats fans, though, is what to expect from Strasburg this season. Is this year that Strasburg takes the leap and makes the jump to a 20-game winner?
Obviously, Steamer doesn’t think so. Right now, they’ve got Strasburg penciled in for just 13 wins, though at a 4.0 WAR, they obviously aren’t expecting him to be a slouch, either. That certainly seems like a fair expectation. Strasburg likely will be the same sort of pitcher he’s always been, and given the offseason occurrences like the loss of Adam LaRoche and the injuries to Denard Span and Jayson Werth, the offense is less likely to provide run support than last season.
Those offensive woes may actually carry over to Zimmermann, too. District on Deck co-editor Ricky Keeler was asked on Sports Time Radio if the Nationals might have three 20-game winners on their roster. It’s hard to imagine that happening just from a simple logistics standpoint. Accomplishing that would require both Strasburg and Zimmermann winning six more games apiece, and that just doesn’t seem plausible.
Given all of this, Nationals fans might want to temper their expectations regarding Strasburg. It’s likely that they’ll get more of what they’ve seen in seasons past: a tough fastball and high strikeout numbers with early inning struggles mixed in. His win totals will probably be somewhere in the teens; his WAR will likely hover between 3.0 and 5.0.
Should Strasburg finally make the jump to elite, though, Nationals fans can count themselves lucky. If that happens, it means the team’s pitching staff will truly be one for the ages.