It has now been 10 years since the Nationals used the first pick in the 2009 draft on right-hander Stephen Strasburg, whose major league debut a season later came with great fanfare. Strasburg drew comparisons to Hall of Fame hurlers leading up to his initial start June 8, 2010, and he didn’t disappoint that night. The flamethrowing 21-year-old introduced himself by fanning 14 Pirates and walking none in a seven-inning, two-run performance, leading to hope such outings would become the norm and he’d emerge as a perennial Cy Young contender. Nine years later, Strasburg’s trophy case is devoid of a Cy Young, but that doesn’t mean he has been a letdown in D.C.
There have been rocky moments in Strasburg’s career, including injury woes (he underwent Tommy John surgery late in his rookie season, to name one example) and the Nationals’ infamous decision to shut him down amid a pennant race in 2012. The Nationals didn’t take home a World Series without Strasburg that fall – nor have they even won a playoff series with him on their roster, if you can believe it. Still, the Nats can’t complain over what Strasburg has given them dating back to his electrifying introduction.
If a pitcher’s record matters to you, Strasburg has won 99 of 154 decisions en route to a .643 winning percentage. More importantly, Strasburg has notched a 3.14 ERA/2.90 FIP with 10.6 K/9 against 2.35 BB/9 in 218 starts and 1,308 2/3 innings, and his lifetime 33.1 fWAR ranks 11th among starters since 2010.
As good as Strasburg has been, he has taken a backseat in Washington to the even better Max Scherzer since the latter joined the franchise in 2015. Scherzer is perhaps what many thought Strasburg would become – a dominant workhorse with three Cy Youngs to his name. But while Scherzer may be the gold standard among current pitchers, Strasburg hasn’t been miles behind him in 2019. Durability hasn’t been a problem this season for the soon-to-be 31-year-old Strasburg, who entered Tuesday averaging almost seven frames per start across 12 tries and ranking sixth in innings (79). At the same time, Strasburg boasts the majors’ ninth-best strikeout rate (11.16 per nine), 13th-highest K/BB ratio (4.9) and 22nd-ranked groundball percentage (48.9) – all of which has helped lead to a 3.19 ERA/2.68 FIP.
Strasburg doesn’t bring the same type of velocity he used to, evidenced by the sub-94 mph average on his fastball, but it hasn’t mattered. His four-seamer and sinker have been among the game’s premier fastballs this year, per FanGraphs, which assigns even higher marks to his curveball. Strasburg has been much more reliant on his sinker and curve than ever this season, while he has all but scrapped his slider. Hitters have posted a pitiful .251 weighted on-base average/.240 xwOBA against Strasburg’s four-pitch mix (he also throws a changeup better than 18 percent of the time), making him one of the majors’ most difficult starters to hit in 2019.
If Strasburg keeps this up over the next few months, he could have an important call to make once the season ends. By then, Strasburg will have a remaining four years and $100MM (some of which is deferred) on the seven-year, $175MM extension he signed with the Nationals in May 2016. However, Strasburg’s deal comes with an opt-out decision after both the 2019 and ’20 campaigns, meaning he could walk away from a guaranteed nine figures and take his chances on the open market this offseason. In doing so, Strasburg would likely fall behind only Astros righty Gerrit Cole on the pecking order of free-agent starters,
Strasburg would be taking an incredible risk in trying his hand at free agency, of course, though seeing a starter surpass the $100MM barrier at or over the age of 30 isn’t unheard of. Scherzer pulled it off as a 30-year-old when the Nationals gave him seven years and $215MM entering 2015. The Diamondbacks signed righty Zack Greinke to a six-year, $206.5MM guarantee on the cusp of his age-32 season, 2016. That same offseason, 30-year-old lefty David Price (Red Sox) and one of Strasburg’s former teammates, soon-to-be 30-year-old righty Jordan Zimmermann (Tigers), scored paydays worth a combined $327MM. Righty Yu Darvish was just months away from his 32nd birthday when the Cubs inked him to a six-year, $126MM deal going into 2018. And one of Strasburg’s current rotation mates, soon-to-be 30-year-old lefty Patrick Corbin, put pen to paper on a six-year, $140MM pact this past winter.
Strasburg could look to Scherzer, Greinke, Price, Zimmermann, Darvish and Corbin for inspiration. However, he’d also have to consider other accomplished hurlers who haven’t gotten free agency to work for them in recent years. Righty Jake Arrieta had his sights set on a $100MM or even $200MM guarantee going into 2018, his age-32 season, but wound up getting three years and $75MM from the Phillies. Nowadays, as anyone who pays a sliver of attention to free-agent activity knows, 31-year-old southpaw Dallas Keuchel hasn’t been able to find a job seven months after hitting the market. Keuchel wanted nine figures when he ventured to free agency, but he may be lucky to even pull in a multiyear deal at this juncture.
The fact that Arrieta and Keuchel came with qualifying offers and draft pick compensation attached helped tamp down interest when they reached the market. Strasburg would also have a QO hindering him, as the Nationals wouldn’t just let him walk for nothing, and that’s something else he’ll have to think about. Fortunately for Strasburg, he looks more formidable than Arrieta did during his contract year or Keuchel did during his platform season. That doesn’t mean Strasburg will opt out – especially given the positive relationship he and agent Scott Boras have with Nationals ownership – but he may have a real decision on his hands in a few months.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Come home Stephen.
Each and Every Padre fan alive.
Given his age and salary demands, I’ll pass.
Show Me Your Tatis
Speaking as a Padre fan, I say no thanks.
Anybody think he’s a HOF when he hangs up the spikes? Unless a drastic decline or injury, he should be able to catch Orel Hershiser, Al Leiter, and Roy Oswalt in terms of WAR. He’s had a damn good career. Thoughts?
In my opinion, no. None of the pitchers you named are in the HOF and HOF players don’t have damn good careers, they have HOF careers. If he kicks it into another gear and starts pitching like Max did in his first couple of years in Washington then maybe, but for me, he will be another inductee into the Hall of Very Good
And this is from the POV of a 17 year old kid
While I don’t necessarily disagree with your overall opinion, there are plenty of Hall of Famers that had pretty mediocre careers.
As said earlier, nah, not a HOFer at this point. Still entirely possible he takes that next step, similar to how Max did, but not at the moment.
Obviously it depends on how he plays moving forward, but his career stats seem to be considerably better than guys like Mussina who just got in and Sabathia who is a shoe in.
Now I’ve heard it all. #nfw
His career ERA is nearly a whole half run lower than both of those two. You have an actual reason to disagree?
One word among many..DURABILITY
Nah productivity far outweighs durability, especially when you’re talking about an average of like 6 starts per year.
Stephen Strasburg correct?
No. He will slow done, get aches and pains…..
No individual trophy, no World Series, durability was a concern. Yeah he’s had a good career, but as stated before, Hall of Famers don’t have damn good careers, they have exceptional careers.
I think judging him on what he’s done to this point is a futile endeavor. He has better stats than say Roy Halladay had at 29 for example. But by that standard Tim Lincecum looked like a HOF for awhile. It’s all going to depend on how long he can maintain his effectiveness.
If he pitches like he is now into his late 30’s he’s a shoe in, but that’s no guarantee.
Lincecum at his prime was waaaaay better than this guy has ever been period and thinking if he pitches this way his in is just plain stupid. At no point in his career has he had a full back to back dominant season just good. Hall of fame not hall of good.
Exactly, let’s just bypass the process and let the knuckleheads on here make decisions.
I’m sure I’m the odd duck on this one, but I’d rather have Strasburg than Cole.
And I don’t understand why Keuchal expected that big of a paycheck after some serious regression in 2018. 3.74 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 6.7 K/9? I mean, they’re fine numbers, but I’m not paying you superstar money for a Cy Young you won four years ago. He wants to paid like an ace when he’s a #3 guy on a good rotation – a very solid #3, mind you, but still.
I think most people would rather have Cole because of the age difference. Cole looks like he hasn’t reached his peak yet while Stras looks to be at it
He’d be a fool. Times have changed. He’s too old.
Put my money on an Upton like deal. I would extend him with another guaranteed year at $25M and a player option at $15M with a $5M buyout.
This gives him at least 5/$130M or a 6/$140M (his choice). Feels like a fair amount for both sides. Strasberg gets more guaranteed cash without the risk of running into a bad market. Nat’s don’t have to worry about him walking and leaving a huge hole in their rotation.
Both parties seem to be looking for a win/win scenario. Something like this might be workable.
Not a HOFer at 99 and 55. I understand his WAR but I think he will need to get somewhere between 260-270 wins. With how violent he pitches,.. I don’t see that happening. One more bad injury will do him in.
Strasburg will have four years and $100M which is 25M a year unless he think he can get a longer contract than that it makes no sense I can see Washington extending him
There’s certainly a decent chance that he settles for less years or less money if he opts out. But I think the question is whether he wants to play for a team that can consistently contend for World Series titles or stay with the Nationals and hope that one of these years they catch lightning in a bottle.
I doubt he gets much more than the 4/100 he’s already guaranteed. Maybe if he finishes this and next year strong, he’d be more likely to surpass the 3/75 at that point.
That being said, I could definitely see the Padres foolishly wanting to bring him home to shore up their rotation as their young arms continue to break in. At the same time, he signed his extension during a contract year so I feel his first priority is remaining in Washington.
I think his first priority is (was?) cashing in before he got hurt again. I don’t think it has anything to do with staying in Washington.
Show Me Your Tatis
Nope. Not opting out. Only players who are clearly worth more than what they are opting out of (see Greinke, Zack or Cespedes, Yoenis) opt out.
I remember rooting for Seattle to lose so we could get Strasburg. The second pick wouldn’t be so bad Ackley was a can’t miss player. Why couldn’t we have lost 2 more games?
Was it 2012 that his agent cried and squawked and wined insisting Stephen Strasburg be limited on his innings after surgery regardless if the Nats were in the post season or not. Ultimately, he was shut down for the post season and the Nats barely lost that post season series.
Remember when the baseball world though him and Harper where going to be the best ever at their positions. I wonder where all those scouts are who said Harper was the Natural best prospect of all time the perfect player and the scouts who said Strasburg was going to be a better right handed Randy Johnson. It looks like they where all wrong just by a few thousand miles. No and Harper is not going to get better ever he is who his numbers say he is. Hes going to be basically a way more expensive Adam Dunn just look at the numbers. At least ppl have stopped comparing him to trout Harper doesn’t even belong in the same sentence as machado.
I can’t see him opting out. Expecting to get more on the open market is a huge gamble given the state of the open market.
But beyond the numbers, he likes D.C. and the Nationals organization. The current extension was his idea. He wanted to stay rather than try free agency because he liked it here.