Stephen Strasburg turns 28 years old in July, is eligible for free agency at the end of the season, and has Scott Boras as his agent. Needless to say, we should know where this is going. On the subject of a contract extension, plenty came out Monday afternoon.
Suffice to say with Boras by his side, Strasburg will hit the open market the moment he’s eligiblea��one that will be far weaker than the current offseason. So, let’s look at this from a different angle. With all his promise coming out of San Diego State University; with just over five years of service time accumulated since; and with respectable numbers across the board in those five years, it begs the question: do we appreciate Stephen Strasburg enough?
Drafted first overall in 2009, he and the Washington Nationals agreed to a record contract just before the deadline. Expectations were lofty. Ahead of 2010, Strasburg was ranked the No. 2 and No. 1 prospect by Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, respectively. His debut would be short lived, however. He started 12 games, striking out 12.2 and walking 2.2 per nine. His ERA, FIP, and DRA finished with impressive marks of 2.91, 2.11, and 3.07.
In late August of the very same year, his promising debut would end abruptly: he required Tommy John surgery. While he would make his return the following year, it wouldn’t be until late-2011a��and he logged 24 innings with an ERA, FIP, and DRA of 1.50, 1.24, and 2.42a��before the real fun began.
The Nationals won 98 games in 2012, claimed the NL East, and secured home-field advantage throughout the postseason. Here’s the catch: Strasburg wouldn’t be pitching in said postseason. After coming back from surgery the year before, an innings limit was implemented. Boras and the organization, despite Strasburg’s obvious desire to pitch, sided with doctors and kept to the limit.
Before the Matt Harvey drama in New York, there was the Strasburg situation in our nation’s capital. To the chagrin of Nationals faithful, shutting down their ace almost couldn’t have played out worse in retrospect. Washington wouldn’t make it past the divisional round, losing in five games to the St. Louis Cardinals. If Strasburg had been allowed to pitcha��despite struggling in two of this three final regular season startsa��who’s to say they wouldn’t have gotten at least one round further?
Of course, there are no guarantees in baseball, something Washington would be reminded of the very next year. The Nationals would miss the postseason in 2013, lose in the divisional round once again in 2014, and entirely collapse in the second half of 2015. Strasburg missed some time last year with multiple injuries, but he was no longer the man in Washington anymore anyway.
That title now belongs to 31-year-old Max Scherzer, signed to a seven-year deal worth $210 million last January. He repaid Washington’s faith in year one with ERA, FIP, and DRA marks of 2.79, 2.79, and 2.77. His strikeout rate of 10.9 per nine was his best since 2012 while his walk rate of 1.3 per nine was a career best, down over a full walk from his previous low in 2013.
But what about Strasburg? Despite multiple injuries, have we lost sight of just how good he’s been for Washington? Do we understand that he’d still be considered an ace on just about every staff in the majors? While he’s registered 200 innings only once in his five-year career (2014) and is coming off another injury-shortened year, he certainly hasn’t lost his ability to pitch well.
His career marks in ERA, FIP, and DRA stand at 3.09, 2.83, and 3.57. Those averages over the past two seasons were 3.30, 2.88, and 3.90. While the BP metric was a little on the high side in ’14 and ’15, his strikeout and walk ratesa��10.5 and 1.8 per nine respectivelya��remain quite good. He still tops out between 95-96 miles per hour, not much different than the 96-97 miles per hour he averaged back in 2012.
And from what it looks like, he’s only got one more year left in Washington. Here are the issues: I don’t see them toppling the Mets for the NL East crown this seasona��New York’s rotation is just too strong. I don’t think I even see them sneaking into a wild card spot. After last year’s implosion, it’s hard to trust them. But when the 2016 season ends, I think we’ll all be looking back at Strasburg’s time with Washington thinking about what could have been.
Instead of sporadically reflecting on an innings limit when a postseason series doesn’t go Washington’s way, we’d recall a World Series ring. Instead of a surgery stunting Strasburg’s blazing start, perhaps we’d see a Cy Young award-winner looking for his second or third award. Instead of a man who’s taken a backseat to Scherzer, we’d recognize him as the far and away ace Washington drafted in 2009.
But as our reality stands, Strasburg has one more year to reach the brass ring with Washington before he sets off for a change of scenerya��one that, in all likelihood, will make him a very rich man.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Reference, and Brooks Baseball