Stephen Strasburg--The Pitcher Beyond the Hype

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, June 08, 2010 | , , | 0 comments »

There's been a lot written and said about Stephen Strasburg, making his major league debut tonight for the Washington Nationals against the Pittsburgh Pirates at 7:05 pm, before a national audience, MLB Network, ESPN Baseball Tonight, and media from across the country.

I've had the opportunity to watch him pitch several times now, and I can give a little impression about his arsenal and demeanor.

First, you have to talk about the fastball.  But with Strasburg, nothing is easy because he has two of them.  The "big one" the upper-90s four seam fastball, is something that he really hasn't relied upon too often in his short minor league career.  He's shown it, but hasn't really relied upon it.  He blew college hitters away with it, but it hasn't really been a big part of his arsenal professionally yet.

The fastball he's relied on is the sinking two-seamer.  It comes in at 94-95 and generates a lot of ground balls, and that suits everyone just fine.  All of his pitches have good natural movement, so he can use all of them for "out" pitches, but if he's getting ground ball out after ground ball out, it saves pitches in his arm, and he'll be on a severe pitch count all season.

He's overthrown the sinker on occasion the few times I've seen him pitch, but usually has been able to settle himself down after a pitch or two.  He really has remarkable composure on the mound for someone so young into his professional career, and that will definitely be something to watch in his first few starts in the bigs.

When he throws a couple balls in a row with the fastball, watch how he reacts.  He'll step off the rubber, but not leave the mound, and take a deep breath, almost like a reset.  In the minors, he's been able to come right back and usually go off-speed for a strike and get himself back on track.

Next is the change-up, which clocks in around 88-91.  When he's gotten in trouble so far (rarely) in his 11 minor league stints, it's been on change-ups left up in the zone.  Specifically in his last two starts for Syracuse, he left the change up against right handed hitters and they made solid contact on it.  He needs to stay on top of the change and keep it down in the zone.

Now for the breaking ball. 

Strasburg has said in the past that he throws a traditional curveball, which might be true at times, but I've seen him throw three different breaking balls, all between 82-86 MPH. 

He's got the big "12-6" curveball he throws for strikes, a tighter curve that breaks below the strike zone on purpose, and a slurve (combination curve/slider) that breaks down and away to right-handed hitters, usually outside the strike zone, but with so much movement that hitters can't lay off.

He'll use any of the three at any time in the count, but really loves to use the traditional curve as a strikeout pitch.

Enjoy watching Strasburg pitch tonight, whether you're at the stadium or watching on TV.  If you haven't had a chance to catch any of his minor league games on TV yet, hope this primer helps you understand a little better what pitches he's throwing and when.