Okay. We’re one start in. It’s a bit early to be declaring love for a player, right?
Of course. But so what?
This kid is a fucking star.
Perhaps we should back up a moment. I love baseball. I’m from Boston and have been a Red Sox fan all my life, but if I were to be honest, I would say that I love the game itself more than any one team. Likewise, I love fantasy baseball and tend to look for up and coming young talent on the horizon, particularly in one of my deep prospect leagues. So two years ago I started hearing rumblings about a kid who looks absolutely fantastic down in San Diego State. He shows remarkable control and just filthy break on all his pitches. He continues to move along and mow folks down that season. He becomes the absolute-lock number 1 pick. Scouts pour into see him, weary of the hype, and then become converts after about an hour. He is just that good. The Washington Nationals select him #1 overall and begin to pimp him out as the next coming of whatever, the Lebron of Baseball. This is merely as a matter of economics, as they’re struggling and want people to be excited about the team. He gets to spring training and everyone agrees, he’s the real deal and could probably start for them now. Understandably cautious, they relegate him to AA, where he dominates after several starts. So they move him up to AAA. He dominates. So they target a june call up date (which was really the target date all along) and he proceeds to give them no reason not to.
His Minor league stats: 7-2 – 1.30 ERA – 65 Ks – .79 whip! – 13 walks. ( http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=strasb001ste )
He’s ready. June 8th he will be called up.
The start gets national attention. The Nationals sell out the game in 2 hours. Some folks already herald him as the next great pitcher. Some folks are cautious and don’t believe the hype. The town of Strasburg VA thinks about changing their name to Stephen Strasburg VA just for the day. Curt Schilling comes out on ESPN and says that Strasburg could be the best pitcher in the league as soon as he’s called up. Fellow baseball analysts laugh him out of the room, somehow failing to recognize that Schilling was an absurdly cerebral pitcher and thus he might know more about pitching than anyone other than like 3 other dudes on the planet (maddux, smoltz for example). ESPN runs a pre-show three hours before the start time of the game explaining to everyone why this is such a big deal. Even if you don’t have an opinion, you’re at least curious.
For all the talk, Strasburg finally gets a chance to go out there and show what he’s got…
And what he’s got is unreal:
7 IP. 4 hits. 2 Earned runs. 14 Ks. Zero Walks.
Believe it or not, these stats are actually somewhat misleading. I watched the whole game and I can tell you he was even MORE dominating than that stat line. He still had a sub-100 pitch count so he could have gone into the 8th easy, but they’re being cautious. Three of the four hits were scattered-barely-there-opposite-field hits that only-professionals-can-make. The home run was off a mistake pitch, but not really on his part. Pudge called a really bad pitch on a 3-2 count to Delvy Young. He called for the change-up which is easily his weakest pitch and wanted it low and inside. Young had a beautiful piece of hitting and muscled it over the fence. The pitch wasn’t horrible, but Pudge had no business asking for it in that full count situation. It’s big leagues, they can hit your worst pitch even if it’s actually decent. Especially when they know their swinging. Besides that change-up isn’t a strike out pitch yet it’s a foul pitch. The 14 Ks, however, were simply ridiculous. He K’d seven batters in a row… Twice. He struck out every hitter in their lineup. He struck out the last 7 batters he faced. On one of them in the seventh inning he hit 103 mph on the park’s gun. THE SEVENTH INNING. Just electric stuff: His 4 seem fastball moves left or right. His 1 seam sinker works just like a hybrid of Rivera’s cut fastball mixed with a traditional downward movement of a split… only he can throw it 95-97 mph. His slurve is just stupid in terms of break and he can target it on either side. His change-up is weakest, but it’s still a totally viable major league pitch.
And most important is that last stat on his line… He didn’t walk anyone.
That is the thing about about young pitchers. They have great stuff, but can’t command the strike zone. The walk people. This was King Felix’s problem. Lirano’s problem. Dontre Willis’s problem. Jon Lester’s problem. It’s a standard problem really, and the good ones learn to overcome it in due time… But Strasburg didn’t walk anyone. And he barely walked anyone in the minors.
He’s the complete package. Here. Now. At 21.
Here’s every strike out from the 14 K performance: http://washington.nationals.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=8802881&c_id=was
Naturally, this is real life so things could fizzle out at any second. He could blow his arm out or get hit by a bus. But unlike guys with control problems, or mental problems, or maturity problems, or physical problems, Strasburg shows us no reason not to believe in him. So, why not believe in him?
Here’s hoping he stays healthy.
It’s going to be a lot of fun for all of us if he does.