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A deeper examination of Strasburg's debut

I'm back from Altoona, where I was fortunate enough to witness Stephen Strasburg's minor-league debut for the Harrisburg Senators on Sunday aftrernoon. By now, you know all about his five-inning, 82-pitch outing against the Altoona Curve (the Class AA affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates), as well as all the hoopla that went with it.

But there is still more to chew on, courtesy of the folks at the Inside Edge scouting service, who provided us with a detailed report on Strasburg's performance. Here are some interesting nuggets from Sunday's game (though keep in mind the tiny sample size makes it foolish to draw any major conclusions from them):

*Left-handed batters were twice as successful (3 for 12, .250) against Strasburg than right-handed batters (1 for 8, .125). In addition, he threw fewer strikes (32 strikes in 56 pitches, or 57 percent) against lefties than he did against righties (21 of 26, 81 percent).

*Against lefties, he threw mostly fastballs (46 out of 56 total pitches, or 82 percent), with an occasional breaking ball (six, or 11 percent) and changeup (four, or 7 percent). Against righties, meantime, he relied far less heavily on the fastball: only 14 out of 26 total pitches (54 percent), with a higher percentage of breaking balls (12, or 46 percent) and no changeups.

*All four of the hits he allowed came on fastballs, with three of the four coming on pitches near the middle of the stike zone -- in other words, mistakes. When he threw high fastballs out of the strike zone, the Curve's hitters couldn't resist: On 14 such pitches, he got nine swings, with only four put in play (all of them outs) and five swung on and missed.

*His average fastball velocity was 98, though it dropped to 96 from pitches 46 through 60 (which is when he was primarily pitching from the stretch position with runners on base in the fourth inning).

*On Inside Edge's "report card" for the outing, Strasburg rates only a C+ for "working ahead in count" (he threw only 50 percent first-pitch strikes, and only 50 percent strikes on 1-1 counts). But he got A+ for "finishing off batters" (92 percent of his two-strike at-bats became outs) and "dominance" (swing-and-miss percentage of 21 percent, and 25 percent of at-bats ending in strikeouts of four pitches or fewer). For "command," he warranted a grade of B, with a strike percentage of 65 percent on fastballs and 64 percent with his other pitches, both slightly above average. The overall grade for the outing: B+.

One other Strasburg note: His next two scheduled starts are both home games in Harrisburg -- Friday night against New Britain (7 p.m. first pitch), and April 21 against Reading (a rare 10:30 a.m. first pitch on getaway day before the Senators embark on a road trip).

By Dave Sheinin  |  April 12, 2010; 10:43 AM ET
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Slow day as usual on the Nats comment board. Anyway, very insightful article and thanks for sharing it. I'm in the minority, but feel that Strasburg will not be a sure thing to be called up in June. I would much rather see him with more time in a 5 man rotation with at least 100 innings before I'd call him up. The Nats are not going to be good this year - there's no point in rushing this. Storen, on the other hand, is pretty much ready to roll and will be a huge help to the bullpen.

Posted by: bendersx6 | April 12, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Geez, Those scouts are good....

Posted by: CajunD | April 12, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

I've said it million times before, but I'll be perfectly happy if he doesn't start a single game for the Washington Nats in 2010.

Wait until his first stinker. He's got to get that one behind him. Then, let him rebound.

Data be damned - call him up after he throws his first post-stinker gem.

(I'd be a Frank Robinson type of manager, for sure.)

Posted by: JohninMpls | April 12, 2010 11:20 AM | Report abuse

Good stuff, Dave. If there's any early call you can make from the Stras minors debut, it's that the Nats made the right decision with him. Let him get accustomed to the 5 day rotation, left handed (pro) batters, some odd start times, bus rides that'll humble you a bit, the joys and frustrations of new teammates, etc.

Posted by: Kev29 | April 12, 2010 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Some friends and I made the trek up to Altoona to watch the game, and this is what I came away with:

1. It appeared he was a bit nervous at the off. His command wasn't great in the first inning, and the errors in the 4th rattled him, as well. This led him to getting into sure fastball counts, and the Curve hitters were able to anticipate.

2. When he was pitching ahead, he was dominant. There were several instances where hitters were diving out of the box, and his breaking ball dropped in for a strike. Also, the change-up, even though it was 90-92 miles an hour, is really developing.

I think he will be impressive as long as he improves his first pitch strike percentage.

Posted by: Cavalier83 | April 12, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

So is that upcoming Friday night game sold out yet...? :-)

Posted by: Juan-John1 | April 12, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

I was there too, and found the first strike percentage stat above to be most interesting. Because while Strasburg did throw a ton of strikes, he seemed to be working from behind with some regularity. I think that's something that he'll correct quickly, and it was really the largest flaw in what he did yesterday.

Posted by: jcj5y | April 12, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse

I would expect each start to be better than the last. You had to expect his nerves and adrenalin would be high in his first professional start. When he gets to the next level (Syracuse) I'd expect he might be better, but wouldn't be surprised if he is still a bit shaky at first. It's all part of the process.

Posted by: cokedispatch | April 12, 2010 12:27 PM | Report abuse

Sure, I understand the hype about Steven Strasburg. He’s a great looking young pitching prospect. But all the analysis is premature by months and probably even years. Let’s just let him learn to do his job. We’ll all know sooner or later whether he’s really good at it or not.

Posted by: jsouthard1 | April 12, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Those high mph numbers scare me to death. Just how much of that can there possibly be in a young man's arm?

I'd rather see him down at 92, 93, learning how to hit spots and change speed. And throw that 100-mph hummer once in a while when he really needs it.

And have a nice, long, healthy, successful career in DC.

Posted by: Meridian1 | April 12, 2010 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Maybe Stephen Strasburg will develop the Big forearms that the Manager Jim Riggleman has to help with his pitching status in the National League and a lot of Luck. Big forearms was a Quality of Mike Marshall the Former Relief Pitcher who use to pitch for old Montreal Expos ages ago .......

Posted by: quinn5459 | April 12, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

The Nationals should be very good this season.......

Posted by: quinn5459 | April 12, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

The Nationals should be very good this season.......

Posted by: quinn5459 | April 12, 2010 2:08 PM | Report abuse

One other Strasburg note: His next two scheduled starts are both home games in Harrisburg -- Friday night against New Britain (7 p.m. first pitch), and April 21 against Reading (a rare 10:30 a.m. first pitch on getaway day before the Senators embark on a road trip).

and that will probably be it for AA...and then on to Syracuse for 4-6 starts.

Posted by: outrbnksm | April 12, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Boswell's input will be interesting after he digests these stats. He'll compare them with every HOF's first time start in the minors and we'll have a better understanding of what they really mean. Should be good reading.

Posted by: jmcdon7230 | April 12, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

Good job on the stats, Shiner. Numbers always help.

Posted by: Brue | April 12, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse

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