The state of Stephen Strasburg
Why has the Nationals' right-hander not been as dominant so far this season?
Judging by his numbers, Stephen Strasburg isn't quite the pitcher he was a season ago. Our experts weight in on Strasburg's past, present and future.
1. To this point, Strasburg hasn't been a strikeout machine like he was a season ago. Is that the main reason why he hasn't been dominant this year?
David Schoenfield (@dschoenfield), SweetSpot: Strasburg's strikeout rate is down, and the main reason for that is because he's struggling against left-handers. Last year, he had a strikeout rate of 26 percent and a walk rate of eight percent against lefties, but this year it's 19 and 13 percent. His changeup is still a good strikeout pitch, but he's just not getting to those changeup counts often enough.
Eric Karabell (@karabellespn), ESPN Fantasy: Yes, Strasburg's strikeout rate is down through 10 starts, but there's certainly nothing wrong with a 2.66 ERA. He's traded in strikeouts -- and it's not like he's Aaron Cook, after all -- for ground balls, which should help him go deeper in games. Hasn't happened yet, but it's tough to blame him for his 2-5 record. Things will improve.
Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick), ESPN.com: No. Strasburg entered the season with a desire to pitch to contact and be more efficient with his pitch counts, and that can lead to lower strikeout totals. He's been better than his record suggests. But he's suffered from poor run support, occasionally shaky defense, and a tendency to lose his poise when things go wrong. It's been a combination of things.
2. Will Strasburg become the must-see event that he once was?
Schoenfield: Sure, I think so. He still has the highest average fastball velocity in the majors; I think it's just a matter of commanding that pitch to both sides of the plate more often (he rarely pitches inside against lefties, for example).
Karabell: I think he's still a must-see event. He doesn't have to lead the league in strikeouts to be popular, and clearly everyone will be watching him in September to see how he performs, especially after the circus of last September. Plus, I think it's a bit early to dismiss the monster strikeout potential from returning.
Crasnick: No -- if only because he has so much competition. Strasburg has the talent to do something amazing every time he takes the mound. But so do Clayton Kershaw, Matt Harvey, Matt Moore, Chris Sale, Shelby Miller, Yu Darvish and a whole wave of young, talented pitchers. He's no more of a must-see event than any of those guys right now.
3. Who is truly the Nationals' ace right now: Strasburg or Jordan Zimmermann?
Schoenfield: Have to go with Zimmermann. He's a completely different kind of pitcher -- more grounders, fewer K's, pinpoint control -- but he's effective in his own way. He's pitching deeper into games this year because of great efficiency. Yes, he's probably been a little lucky (.235 BABIP), but he's very, very good.
Karabell: Strasburg remains Washington's top pitcher, regardless of won-loss record, which frankly tells us little. That's not to say Zimmermann isn't critical to the team's fortunes, but his strikeout rate is down quite a bit as well, and looking at his low BABIP and high strand rate, I'd say the regression monster is going to hit him.
Crasnick: Zimmermann has been the best pitcher on the Washington staff this season. But he'll never generate as much attention as Strasburg because he's emotionless on the mound, his forte is command, and he doesn't generate the gaudy strikeout totals. If you want the "wow" factor, Strasburg is still your guy. If you want reliability and consistency in an Andy Pettitte-Tom Glavine kind of way, then Zimmermann is your man.
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