Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Making a Statement

The last pitch of Stephen Strasburg's major league baseball debut was one of the nastiest pitches I have seen in a long time. A rising 95mph fastball that nearly made Andy LaRoche come out of his shoes and nearly made the applause at RFK Stadium register on the Richter Scale. Needless to say everyone was impressed.

"It's never easy to hit 97 to 100 [mph]," said LaRoche to ESPN after the game, "especially when he's got a curveball like that. It's the combination of the two. You can say, 'All right, here comes 100 right down the middle,' or 'Here comes the curveball,' and it's still tough to hit."

Coming into this year the hype seemed too good to be true. A pitcher who many believed would be the next great arm in baseball and could throw 100mph with movement. There were some experts who said that when he got into the big leagues Strasburg would not only be the best pitcher on the Nationals but maybe the best in all of baseball. All of a sudden those people don't look like such morons.

Tonight Strasburg went 7 innings giving up 2 earned runs, walking no one and striking out 14 (including striking out the side to end the 7th). He was just 1 strikeout away from tying the record for most strikeouts in a debut which was set by J.R. Richard back in 1971. By the way he did all of this throwing only 94 pitches.

Strasburg was successful for a number of reasons:

- He faced the pathetic Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates are one of, if not the very worst, offensive teams in all of baseball. They rank 30th in batting average, 29th in runs, 28th in Slugging, and 29th in OBP. No one on the team has more than 8 home runs. In fact the Pirates are so terrible Garrett Jones is their best hitter. Coming in they had lost 7 of their last 10 and were on a 3 game losing streak. Basically Strasburg couldn't have asked for a better team to make his debut against.

- Rookie pitchers often do well in their debuts because hitters are facing them for the first time. This means that hitters don't get a chance to watch film on the pitcher or scout them to see how/what they throw and when. Remember when Jesse Litsch made his debut for the Jays in 2007. He went 8.2 innings and gave up only 1 run. Since then he has become a gone 19-19 and has a career ERA of 3.83. Now I'm not saying Strasburg is a fluke but having faced these hitters for the first time he definitely had the advantage.

- He threw strikes. This may seem like a simple concept, throw strikes to get guys out, but just watch most MLB pitchers throw and you will see how rare it actually is. Dice K has made a career out of throwing balls and making guys swing, or a better example is K Rod. Has he ever thrown a strike? Tonight 69.2% of Strasburg's pitches were strikes. Of the 21 batters he faced 16 of them saw 1st pitch strikes. That is a recipe for success in the majors and Strasburg clearly knows that.

Clearly Stephen Strasburg is the real deal. The guy was dominating and made professional hitters look foolish. "I've been catching a lot of guys," said likely Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez to ESPN after the game "but this kid is unbelievable." Pudge wasn't the only one handing out the superlatives however as Adam Dunn also got in on the action, "He pitched probably the best game I've ever seen pitched."

As for the kid himself, ""The only thing I really remember is the first pitch -- ball inside -- everything else is just such a blur," Strasburg said again to ESPN. "At one point I lost track of how many innings I threw. I was like, 'You know what? I'm just going to go out there and have fun.' It's amazing. It's kind of like when you get married and everything, you kind of go into it wanting to remember everything -- and once it's done, you can't remember a single thing."

I am sure the tape of this game will be around forever and will be a part of baseball lore forever and when he finally has a chance to sit down and relax Stephen Strasburg will be able to see just how great he really was and see that all the hype about his ability was for real.

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