Washington Nationals: 2018 was a familiar story for Stephen Strasburg
By Blake Finney
Stephen Strasburg is the next Washington Nationals player to get a 2018 report card. Unfortunately, it felt a lot like the same old story for the starter.
In the next of our 2018 Report Cards, we look at oft-injured Washington Nationals stud starter Stephen Strasburg. Once again, he struggled to stay healthy which derailed what could’ve been a possible Cy Young caliber season. That sounds very familiar.
He ended the year with a 10-7 record to go with a 3.74 ERA and 156 strikeouts in 130 innings. However, he had two separate spells on the disabled list while missing a month and a half through shoulder inflammation and another month from a cervical nerve impingement.
After a dominant 2017 season where he finished third in the Cy Young voting, he couldn’t capitalize in 2018. We take a look at the positives and negatives of the right-hander’s season that followed a pretty similar theme to previous years.
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The Positives for Strasburg
As is the norm now for Strasburg, when he was actually healthy, he pretty much produced the results expected from him. While the 3.74 ERA is a little bloated, his FIP of 3.62 and xFIP of 3.28 point to a fair amount of bad luck last season. The xFIP normalizes the HR/FB% to 10.5%, which funnily enough is where Strasburg’s career percentage is, and therefore indicates a good chance of better results next season if he can keep the ball in the yard, just like he has previously in his career.
The other main positive is again one he’s had frequently in his career, but he was able to really finish strong. In his six September starts, he had a 3-0 record as well as a 2.60 ERA and struck out 45 while walking just 13. This improved his September career record to 16-3 and was able to keep his September ERA below 2 at 1.88, all this while pitching with some of the lowest velocity of his career too. So hopefully, even if his velocity remains down, he can still have a lot of success down the road.
Areas for Improvement
Injuries, injuries, injuries. The kryptonite to Strasburg’s career. 2018 is yet another what-if-season for the right-hander, as his career becomes a what-if-career. It’s now 11 trips to the disabled list in his nine-year career and the team still can’t rely on him staying healthy, straining their resources. This season, the team had a cavalcade of starters come through to help try and replace him, including Erick Fedde, Tommy Milone, and Jefry Rodriguez, which was far from ideal and the rotation’s struggles were one of the main reasons 2018 failed to live up to expectations.
In terms of on the mound performance, hitters were able to attack Strasburg’s fastball like never before. In 2018, hitters had a .890 OPS against his fastball, which is over 100 points higher than the next highest year in his career. Part of the reason for this could be that his fastball velocity was the lowest of his career at 94.5 mph compared to 95.6 mph last year according to Fangraphs. Obviously, it’s been a huge weapon for him previously, especially when he was able to run it up near triple digits, so getting his velocity back up after an offseason of rest could be vital to a turnaround.
The Final Grade
Not only are the health concerns for Stephen Strasburg worrying for him, but it’s worrying for the team too. It means that they likely have to have six major league ready starters, with one waiting in the wings to fill in again at some point.
Unfortunately, Max Scherzer isn’t going to be around forever, so at some point, Strasburg will need to stay healthy when the time comes to fill that void. We’re now left praying for good health from one of the first in this generation of Nats to stay healthy in 2019. B-
Remember to keep an eye out for more Washington Nationals 2018 Report Cards during the upcoming weeks here at District on Deck.