“You play to win the game!”- Coach Herm Edwards
Pitching to win the game consists of staying in the game by cutting down the amount of pitches per inning a starter has to make. Pitchers increase pitch count efficiency by pounding the zone. This places the burden of reaching base on the hitter just as a defense attorney places the burden of proof on the plaintiffs in a court case. Strasburg need to take another step further by staying in the game longer and giving his team a boost. I would like to point out Strasburg’s efforts in 2013, are not what a pitcher with arguably the best pure “stuff” in the Show is supposed to have. His repertoire includes a fastball consistently at 95 MPH and touching 98MPH, a knock down forget-about-it Curve consistently at 80 MPH, a Change-Up at 88 and a less consistent Two-Seamer at 95-99 MPH. His stuff is good enough to pitch consistently in the zone and still get whiffs on Major League batters. Stuff that is tailor made for Cy Young Awards, an expectation accompanying the first overall pick of 2009. It has been no easy journey to greatness for him since arriving to the MLB, though his electric stuff produced a flurry of K’s, his sophomore season was cut short by recovering from Tommy John Surgery from 2010. His efforts were not conducive to winning, because of his tendency to chase the K.
Marco Scutaro has one of the greatest increases in BB from season to the next in MLB history. In his first full season in the MLB he had 16 BB for the A’s in 137 Games, 5 years later in 2009 he decided he didn’t want to hit the ball anymore and strolled to 1st base 90 times, he realized that one of his best attributes was seeing a lot of pitches and swinging at good ones. He also only struck out 75 times, creating great results out of the lead off spot. He took the initiative to do the most for his team, so can Strasburg.
Strasburg can make a similar adjustment by understanding the responsibilities of the ace and his team needs him to last deep into the game to give them the best chance at winning. He can do this by giving up Ks for quicker outs early in the count, decrease his walks and cut the pitches per plate appearance. Strasburg needs to log less high-stress innings and pitch to contact in order to reach a 220 IP season. Starting Pitchers affect multiple games based on how deep into the game that they can go in order to give the bullpen a rest and come back fresher the next game. Ace pitchers can carry their team and help their teammates by pitching deep into games, but the more IP an ace has
In 2013, he discovered that he is a pitcher, not a thrower. Pitchers get outs, throwers make for good BP sessions. Strasburg had stellar months all through the season, except for his finding a rough patch in July, where he had 44K, 14 BB, 5 HR, and 37 IP all were season highs for a single month. His ERA of 4.62, and 3 losses showed that the increased K rate did not help the cause. While chasing the oh-so elusive K, he gave up more free passes, and allowed hitters to get comfortable in the box because they had more pitches to see. All this sounds like a month to forget about, the only problem is July also holds his birthday on the 20th.
Strasburg came to realize, most likely from his pitching coach Steve McCatty, that his stuff was good enough to throw in the zone and get guys out. He had a .251 BABIP, ranking him 9th among qualified P and ranked 13th among qualified P with a 1.09 GB/FB ratio in 2013, much better than the .79 ratio in his other season of 150+IP in 2012. The raw numbers as well as the results of his starts were able to speak for themselves. He was able to pitch deeper into games, in turn keeping his name on the decision and buying time for his offense to scratch a few runs across.
Strasburg had an 8-9 record in 2013, and admittedly those 9 losses and 13 no decisions weren’t all his fault. Strasburg made changes after his rough July, by having only 1 start where he had more K than GB, in which case the team lost 3-2 and Strasburg pitched 6 IP allowing 2 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 10 K, 5 GB, 4 FB. He regressed to his ways of his July starts posting a great K rate at the expense of his pitch count. The start for Strasburg on August 11, was also against the Phillies in which the Nationals won 6-0 and Strasburg sailed the distance with 99 Pitches and 10 K, by far the best start of his young career. In both starts he had 10 K, but the efficiency he proved he could provide on August 11th was a spoiler alert of what Strasburg is capable of in 2014.
The Nationals were picked by many in Spring Training to win the World Series, it was comical that so many analysts went right down the line picking Tigers/Nationals, now they look more like lemmings than baseball analysts. At the time I strongly disagreed with the picks, the Tigers defensive woes worried me in close games, and the Nationals did not strike me as the best team in the NL East, let alone the NL. That being said both teams made adjustments this off-season to fix their flaws in 2013. I believe in Strasburg to pitch efficiently and if he is able to log 200 IP, then we are looking at the 2014 Cy Young Award winner.