Stephen Strasburg

Apr 26, 2010

Dave Sheinin discusses part 1 in his series about Nationals pitching prospect Stephen Strasburg and how his talent and the hype that comes with it sets him apart in the minors.

Dave, your piece on Stephen was so well done! you should get a Pulitzer for all your hard work. My question is on his makeup - I think I am more worried about off the field issues than his performance on the field. I thought some of those autograph hounds were pushy and rude (Hey, this is what you get paid $15mil for) - that was tasteless and takky. Are the Nats Brass watching out for this? Will it be any different when he gets to the big leagues? Is there more personnel around to shield him from some of the seadier stalkers?

Pulitzer?! Whoa, slow down there. But thanks! I actually think his make-up is fine. More than fine, actually. The fact he doesn't enjoy the media thing is ultimately not a big deal. The fact is, he is "coachable," he takes a warrior mentality to the mound with him, and he is not the type to get into any sort of trouble off the field. So, I'd say his make-up is excellent.

As far protecting him, the Nationals have already taken some extraordinary steps and are prepared to go even further, if events warrant it.

So we all assume Strasburg will be up here by the summer. But my question is who do you move out of the rotation for him? Livo was the first candidate I thought, but right now I think he is *statistically* the best pitcher in the NL, if the second pick was Stamen, who could be moved to the bullpen? Or what about Marquis if his injuries and poor performances continue?

I wouldn't worry about it in the slightest. There is always a process of attrition with pitching -- as we saw with Marquis. Injuries happen. Performance declines. Trades are proposed and consummated. If June comes, and Strasburg is ready, and everyone is pitching lights-out, they may make a trade (or two -- because, remember, Chien-Ming Wang and Ross Detwiler may also be ready by thend). But that's the least of their worries right now, believe me.

During the Masters coverage on radio they "interrupt this program to bring you breaking news. Stephen Strasburg..." and they then said something about him making a pitch or something similar. They then said, "We now return you to the regularly scheduled coverage of the Masters tournament." On other radio shows there have been comments to the effect, "Strasburg is one of the great pitchers of all time" , "He's shown his Hall of Fame credentials and it's just a matter of time before Washington calls him up to the big leagues", "No one's ever shown the greatness that... definitely one of the greatest players in the history of the game." And on, and on, and on. and recently, after a 5 or 6 inning game, after he struck out 5 I believe, gave up one hit and one run, the comment was "Stephen Strasburg again showed why he's one of the great pitchers in the game, the reason that Washington was so willing to pay whatever he asked for, because he's shown that he can stand up to any batter in the game. Just a little hyperbole? Just a little?

No question, there is tons of hype (and hyperbole) surrounding this guy. In my story, I tried to convey the excitement being generated by this amazing talent, but also to point out the dicey history of pitching prospects. There are simply no guarantees with pitchers -- or else David Clyde, Brien Taylor, Todd Van Poppel and Mark Prior would all be in the Hall of Fame.

These articles feel like the serialization of a possible book. If 37 makes as compelling a story as predicted, is it going into hard cover?

I think we should see how things go this summer before we start talking about a book.

I'm a Cubs fan who saw Jim Riggleman personally blow up Kerry Woods arm in 1998. I'm now living in DC and afraid the same thing will happen with Strasburg. Should we fire Riggleman now or just go ahead and schedule Tommy John surgery for Strasburg in the offseason?

Actually, I tackled this very subject with a long piece on Wood and Riggleman during spring training. A couple of points: One, even if Riggleman were inclined to over-use Strasburg, the organization would not allow it. Strasburg's pitch-count and innings total will be an organizational decision, not the manager's. And two, Riggleman acknowledges he would have used Wood more conservatively, if he had it to do over again. We're all smarter now about pitch-counts and innings counts for young pitchers than we were 12 years ago, Riggleman included.

That said, injuries happen even when an organization does everything correctly -- see Jordan Zimmermann, 2009.

Dave, an article appeared last week that suggested that the probable #1 pick this year, Bryce Harper, is an insufferable jerk with a huge sense of entitlement. Strasburg appears to be humble & grounded. Zimmerman, of course, is also a stellar human being. So would it be worthwhile to groom a big talent like Harper if he were to become a clubhouse problem? They jettisoned Dukes, among other reasons, to improve the clubhouse. If he had been a better player his attitude probably would have been overlooked. Is character a serious consideration when evaluating a #1 pick?

I have found that Mike Rizzo, in particular, is very big on character. Look at what he has done with his moves -- almost all of them have resulted in a net gain in clubhouse character. So, yeah, I think character will come into play with the No. 1 pick this June. That said, I have not heard the same doubts about Harper -- or at least not to that degree.

I don't have any of the June 4-6 Cincy games on my 20 game plan. Best guess Dave, which of those games will be Stras' debut. Got to buy my tickets early. (I've always kicked myself for missing Walter Johnson's first game in Aught Seven).

By my count, his current schedule (counting every fifth day) lines up with June 5 -- and it seems as if the Nationals are intent on keeping him on that schedule. (They altered their rotation after yesterday's rainout for the Senators in order to keep him on schedule tonight. Of course, rain is also in the forecast for tonight -- so it would be interesting to see if they moved him to tomorrow, if tonight's game is rained out.)

No guarantees, obviously.


What is his greatest weakness right now -- inexperience?

If you're determined to find a "weakness" here (and honestly, I'm not sure there are any) -- then, yeah, inexperience would be something to seize on. That's also something that's completely out of his control. But I'm not so sure he couldn't gain experience at the major-league level just as easily as he has at the minor-league level.

As a recent DC-to-Harrisburg transplant, I saw Strasburg in his very rainy home opener. Frankly, it was hard to get much of a feel from the 2.1 innings he pitched, other than he throws very hard. But I'm actually wondering about Drew Storen, who's also here. He's been totally overshadowed by Strasburg, but may end up being just as important long-term to the Nats. Any feeling for how long he'll be in the minors -- and how do you like his performance/progress so far?

Storen is amazing, no question. He's probably more polished at this point than Strasburg, due to the fact he signed early and spent the second half of last season pitching in the minors. The fact he is back at Class AA (after dominating there in 10 appearances at the end of 2009) has more to do with the organization's desire to have him tag-team with Strasburg than with any sort of personal shortcomings. On a strictly performance basis, he probably belongs at Class AAA (if not the majors) right now, but the Nationals like the influence he has on Strasburg, and I'm guessing they will be promoted in tandem to Syracuse when that time comes.

Despite the O's woeful start they're still drawing better than the Nats who are playing .500 ball against such draws as Philly and LA. The Nats are averaging 19,000 and change and included in that figure are the 11,000 plus season ticket sales (whether the ticket holders show up or not). Given this, it would seem that on an average night there are a little under 10,000 fans in the stadium including vendors (a little less than the average attendance at the games of the Frederick Keys). All those people who hungered for baseball seem to have lost their respective appetites.

It's always difficult to get an accurate read on attendance in April because the weather is so unpredictable and the schedule is so incomplete. (Some opponents draw bigger crowds than others.) The Orioles have the Yankees and Red Sox at home this week, so I presume they will get some good crowds (albeit pro-Yankees, and pro-Red Sox). A lot of people want to write off Washington as a baseball market, using the attendance woes as ammunition. But I'm not willing to make that leap until the franchise puts a good product on the field (I'm talking for a full season, not a few weeks). Let's see what the Nats draw when they get good, before we start condemning the market.

After his debut in Altoona, I stayed after the game near the players exit hoping to get the Strasburg strikeout ball I had been tossed during the game signed. There were many people there as well, mostly waiting for Strasburg autograph, though other players came out and signed first. When Strasburg finally did come out, the reaction of the autograph hounds was ugly. While he talked to someone, many people rudely demanded his signature and when he entered the bus without signing, there were a few "You [stink]!"s shouted at him by the crowd. It was a sad sight and I was embarassed to be seen with them. I'll treasure my gameball forever, signed or unsigned, but I really wish people wouldn't pay for signed memorabilia. The buyers keep the creepy autograph hound scum in business.

I got a couple of e-mails about this subject after the story ran. It's true -- it appears as if Stephen isn't signing very many autographs for fans at the stadium. I've seen him do so only a couple of times. This could be because of his shyness, or the team's security concerns. But I know he's signing a lot of requests via the mail. Maybe you could take a chance with your ball, explain the situation in a note, and mail it to him.

I also agree that the scrums of autograph hounds are pretty unseemly. As  you can imagine, his signature is fairly valuable right now, because the market isn't flooded with it.

(Thought you'd like the musical reference, although that's not exactly a piano song) What is the current opinion of the Nats' organization among baseball types from other teams? Are they impressed at all with the decent start to the season? How do they view this team as of August of this year or April of next year (or 2012, for that matter)? Thanks.

I hear all sorts of good things from scouts and other executives about the Nationals. The gist: the solid start is not a fluke. They may not be a .500 team at season's end, but they won't lose 100 games. People also realize what the Nationals have coming in the pipeline -- Strasburg, Wang, Detwiler, Zimmermann, Storen, etc. I expect they could play .500 ball the entire second half of the season.

Dave - Your article didn't touch on this and probably rightfully so but I get a bit worried when professional athletes with tons of new cash get married so young. Everything about SS says he's a super solid guy and very grounded but being a superstar with lots of money that you've never had before might be a very tough thing on anyone (see Woods, T.). Any worries on your part (or perspective you've gotten from him) now that you've spent some time with him?

I also don't know exactly how to answer this. But I'll take a stab. With anyone besides Stephen, I'd tend to agree with you. And I can tell you that some people within his inner circle were somewhat taken aback when he and Rachel decided to get married.

But all that said, I think it's a good move for him. Look, Rachel knew him before he got rich and famous. She has been described to me as his "emotional foundation." He had never lived away from home in his life until this year, so having her around must be a real comfort.

I hear what you're saying. But Stephen is a unique case.

Video: A Star is Born: Strasburg-mania in Harrisburg

I'm not sure what source the earlier commenter used for their Frederick Keys comparison, but by my count, last season the Keys led their A league in attendance with about 293,000 total fans. That's out of 70 home games, for an average around 4,200 per game. I don't think the Keys ballpark can even hold 11,000 fans, can it?

Yeah, that sounded wrong to me, too. Thanks for looking it up.

How would you compare Strasburg right now to some of the recently hyped high pick college pitchers? Is he that far ahead of David Price, for example, or even Brian Matusz? Is it the ceiling on that is so much higher, or is it the current ability? Where would he slot in in the Tampa Bay system or major league club?

I think it's fair to say he was more highly thought-of than either Price or Matusz coming out of college (as evidenced by their respective signing bonuses). But I wouldn't say he is "ahead" of them now -- simply because those two have put in significant time in the majors. In terms of pure ability and "ceiling," Strasburg is ahead of them, but until he actually does it, it's all just potential.

Dave, your article mentioned a few calls from H'burg Senators to D.C. to deal with problems that have arisen because of Strasburg's fame. Care to offer any examples?

Actually, I think I'll pass -- because the examples I'm aware of involve security issues that are better left unsaid. Otherwise, I would have put them in the story!

Could you explain again the financial implications of when Strasburg arrives in the Majors? Are the Nats on the hook for more money if he comes early?

Let me see if I can add a link here...

In case that didn't work: basically, by waiting long enough to prevent Strasburg from reaching "Super Two" status after the 2012 season (basically, the cut-off is late May), the Nationals could save somewhere between $15 million and $20 million (I used the example of Tim Lincecum and pegged the amount as $18 million) and can also delay his free agency by a year, thus gaining an extra year of his services.

Hope that explains it.

OK, folks. Our time is up. And besides, I've got to get myself up to Reading for tonight's game. Thanks for all your questions. Hope to see you again here soon.

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Dave Sheinin
Dave Sheinin is the national baseball writer for The Washington Post.
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