We all know the Stephen Strasburg story. The first overall pick in 2009, he made quick work of the minor leagues and ultimately joined the Nationals for 12 dominant starts in 2010 (2.91 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 12.18 K/9). Unfortunately, for as good as he looked, Tommy John surgery was ultimately in his future.
Strasburg, though, did not let the injury deter him. He rehabbed and actually made it back to Washington before the 2011 season came to a close. He didn’t make many starts, but he was around long enough to get owners giddy with excitement once again about what he is
24 Strikeouts (9.00 K/9)
2 Walks (0.75 BB/9)
Obviously, you don’t want to draw any conclusions off of such a small sample size. However, there are a lot of things that you have to like. The first was his ability to maintain a high strikeout rate, though there is still room for improvement. It’s possible that he was not yet able to throw the ball free and easy, as evidenced by a drop in velocity from his rookie year:
- 2010 – 97.3 mph
- 2011 – 95.8 mph
Is anyone going to sneeze at a near 96 mph average fastball? Of course not, though it was down about 1.5 mph from his rookie season. Let’s not assume that he is not going to get his fastball back up to where it was, however. While he should be an elite strikeout pitcher, he easily could improve significantly. A year removed from the surgery, if his fastball fully returns and he lets loose, he could easily contend to lead the league in K/9.
The other number to note is his BB/9. Generally, coming off of Tommy John surgery pitchers struggle with their control but that clearly wasn’t the case. Only two walks in 24.0 innings?! He posted a 2.25 BB/9 in his first taste of Major League Baseball and should continue to have pinpoint control.
So, what exactly is there not to like about Strasburg heading into 2012? An innings limit is the one thing that you can point to, and it is a major obstacle. According to Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post (click here for the article):
“General Manager Mike Rizzo gave a clear answer today. The Nationals will not manipulate Strasburg’s pitching schedule in order to extend his season, letting him pitch every fifth game from the start of the regular season until he hits roughly 160 innings, and then ending his season.”
For those in head-to-head leagues, that’s a killer because it means that he likely won’t be available to you in September when your fantasy season is on the line. In rotisserie formats, it means that you have to be prepared with a suitable replacement otherwise all the help he gives you early on could be quickly lost.
It also means that it limits the numbers he is going to be able to accumulate. With a full slate of innings you would think he would be a lock for 200+ strikeouts, and potentially to lead the league. That’s just not the case for this season. While he’s going to be among the elite, here’s what I am projecting for him for 2012:
160.0 IP, 12 W, 2.87 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 181 K (10.18 K/9), 43 BB (2.42 BB/9)
So, the question is exactly how do we value him? Obviously, if he was capable of pitching the entire 2012 campaign he would be a virtual lock as a Top 5 starting pitcher. While that’s not the case, he’s still going to be a great draft day selection if you plan appropriately. With the ability to be the best pitcher for nearly five months of the year, just make sure you have the required depth to carry the load for the final month.
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Make sure to check out our 2012 projections: