Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg is the number two pitcher on his team, but here’s why he can finish number one in the National League Cy Young vote.
It’s not a hot take to consider Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg one of the best pitchers in the MLB. But it just might be one to consider him the best pitcher on his team. It’s a weird situation to be in for an all-star pitcher.
Last season, Strasburg’s teammate Max Scherzer received 27 of the 30 first-place votes for the National League Cy Young award. Dodger ace Clayton Kershaw won the other three first-place votes and finished second. Strasburg finished in third place, a sizable distance away from Scherzer and Kershaw.
Strasburg flashed his incredible upside last season by posting the best statistical season of his career. His 5.6 WAR is 1.1 points higher than his next career best of 4.5 in 2014. He posted career-best marks in ERA (2.52), FIP (2.72), and H/9 (6.7).
It is entirely within the realm of possibility that Strasburg matches or improves on those numbers this coming season. And with that, he should be considered a favorite to win the NL Cy Young award.
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Momentum is on Strasburg’s side. In the second half of the 2017 season, he posted a downright stupid 0.86 ERA in 62.2 IP. That’s right. Strasburg allowed a total of six earned runs in 62.2 IP. He struck out nearly one-third of the batters he faced (32.5%) and held opposing hitters to a .171 BA.
In the postseason, he followed it up with arguably the best game he’s ever pitched. In his version of Michael Jordan’s “flu game”, Strasburg struck out 12 Cubs over seven innings without allowing a run in game four.
His game one performance in that series doesn’t have a neat narrative, but he was as dominant. He struck out ten Cubs in seven innings, allowing two unearned runs.
To win a Cy Young award, the player needs to show gaudy upside. Strasburg put that on display in October.
Also, winning a Cy Young award takes a decent amount of luck. Luck with injuries will undoubtedly affect the race. Strasburg (and the other contenders) already have a head start as San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner is out for two months after being hit by a comebacker in spring training.
Bumgarner’s division rival Kershaw has dealt with back problems the previous two seasons, causing him to throw 149 and 175 innings in the last two seasons. While it didn’t ultimately take him out of each race (he finished fifth in 2016), it certainly hindered his odds.
This luck with injuries can work the other way as well. Strasburg has battled injuries throughout his career. All players do, but Strasburg’s seem to be more chronic than most.
Old skipper Dusty Baker continually pushed his starters last season. Strasburg was no different. In his 28 regular season starts in 2017, 24 involved him throwing 90+ pitches. He threw 100+ pitches in 16 games and threw 110+ pitches in four games.
With the “law firm” sitting behind the right field fence, new manager Davey Martinez might opt to lighten Strasburg’s load and not push him past 100 pitches more than he needs to.
Perhaps this switch will aid in Strasburg’s recovery after each game and allow him to start more than 30 games for the first time since 2014.
Strasburg is capable of winning the NL Cy Young award. He has displayed the parts to do so at one point or another in his career. In 2018, it’s time he puts it all together to take home some hardware.