Stephen Strasburg: The LeBron James of Baseball or a Bigtime Bust?
On Tuesday evening, the Washington Nationals did what everyone was expecting them to do: they drafted San Diego State right-hander Stephen Strasburg with the first overall pick in Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft.
His college stats (13-1, 1.32 ERA, .172 BAA, 195 K, 109 IP) and his complete dominance of opposing hitters surely made this look like the right pick for the Nationals, who for so long have been such a terrible pitching team.
After last year's failure to sign first-round selection, starter Aaron Crow, the Nationals had even more pressure on them to draft the uber-prospect Strasburg, who has already been acclaimed as "the Lebron of baseball," and "a sure thing."
Talk surrounding Strasburg says that if he signs with the Nationals (likely for upwards of 30 million dollars), he could be called up to pitch for the team by September. What? This doesn't make a lot of sense if they want Strasburg to live up to his full potential.
All that would do for the Nationals is get fans in their stadium and realize the wet dreams of pitching-strapped fantasy baseball owners everywhere.
The Nationals are already far out of contention in the National League East with a mere 15 wins. They also have one of the worst pitching situations in the league. In their rotation—which has some upside down the road—the only bright spot has been John Lannan.
Lannan, 24, is 3-5 with a 3.51 ERA, but with an ugly 38-31 K/BB ratio. No other starter in the Nationals' rotation has an ERA under five runs.
The bullpen has been very similar. Ron Villone and Mike Macdougal have been lights-out in relief, and Joe Beimel appears to be coming around. But every other pitcher has been lit up.
So, with these pitching woes, it seemed a no-brainer for the Nationals to take Strasburg. After all, a pitcher this good must certainly be the key to their success. Right?
Strasburg is a very good pitcher, but the hype surrounding this kid is unreal.
If baseball's draft were filled with kids with this much raw talent and press coverage, it would be right up there in popularity with the NFL Draft.
Everyone who pays the least bit of attention to baseball has heard of Strasburg and his explosive fastball. On a regular basis, it reaches the high 90's or lower 100's. It even has good, deceptive movement!
Is that even fair?
Strasburg also features a breaking ball similar to a slurve, which sits in the mid 80's, and a change-up which hovers right around 80 MPH.
Eighty miles per hour isn't that slow, but when it's coming from the same guy who can blow a 100 MPH fastball by you, it will look slower than a Tim Wakefield knuckleball.
In terms of mixing speeds, Strasburg has it down.
Obviously the potential is there for Strasburg to be the future (sooner rather than later) ace of the Nationals.
However, there are facets of his game that are not even close to being Major League ready, and it will take time for Washington to groom Strasburg into an MLB-ready ace.
As of right now, Strasburg is a one trick pony. His only big-league ready pitch is his fastball. His secondary pitches (breaking ball, change up) are unrefined and not fully developed. He can control these pitches, in the sense that he can find the strike zone, but he doesn't have command, and that will be taken advantage of if called up prematurely.
If the Nationals allow adequate time for Strasburg to develop in the Minors, then this ultimately shouldn't be an issue. Strasburg is good enough to get over the command problems.
Finally, the biggest thing that looks to be going against Strasburg is his mechanics.
Remember Mark Prior? Like Strasburg, Prior was highly-touted as a "can't miss" pitching prospect and once in a lifetime talent.
Prior's arm eventually broke down, and he and Strasburg have one alarmingly close similarity: what scouts refer to as the "Inverted W" delivery.
In this delivery, the pitcher angles his glove arm and throwing arm in a manner depicted below, and it looks like an upside-down W.
Scouts have noted that Strasburg's delivery is alarmingly similar to Prior, whose arm broke down after his 18-win 2003 season and never returned to form.
The Inverted W puts extra pressure on a pitcher's shoulder and often causes the pitcher to rush his delivery. If Minor League pitching coaches do not do something about this mechanical flaw in Strasburg's delivery, it makes him a major injury risk.
Aside from his nasty mechanics, the other thing standing in-between Strasburg and success in the MLB is the Washington Nationals.
They are such a bad team, with such a terrible attendance record that it wouldn't be surprising if their front office decided to call him up in August or September just to get fans out to their games.
For Strasburg and Washington sakes, hopefully the Nationals make the right decision and leave this kid in the Minor Leagues for a year or two.
It may not be the easy decision, but it's the right one.
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