The Washington Nationals rotation is piling up strikeouts at a historic rate, and Stephen Strasburg is leading the pack. Through his first seven starts the right-hander is fanning hitters at a 33.3 percent rate, which is the second highest mark in baseball behind Jose Fernandez. While his ERA of 3.60 is unspectacular, Strasburg has an xFIP of 2.24, which is the fourth best in the big leagues.
Strasburg’s fastball velocity is averaging right around 94 miles per hour, which is a drop off of about one mile per hour from last year. Pitchers don’t often throw their hardest this time of year, or maybe Strasburg is just trying to do more with less. He is throwing his fastball less frequently, using it on 55 percent of his pitches as compared to 61 percent in 2013 and 65 percent in 2014.
In place of the fastball, Strasburg is throwing more changeups. He’s utilizing this weapon on 27 percent of his pitches. The change is running a 30.6 percent whiff rate for Strasburg, and batters are offering at it nearly half the time when he locates it outside the strike zone. On swings in the strike zone, hitters are making contact just 70 percent of the time, and on swings outside the strike zone, hitters are making contact at a woeful 23.6 percent rate.
Strasburg’s changeup was already one of the best in the game last year, as he posted a 22.8 percent whiff rate with the pitch, and a ground ball rate just shy of 65 percent. At 88 miles per hour, it has the velocity of some pitchers’ fastballs, with the depth and break of a left-handed slider.
Strasburg entered the big leagues with so much hype it was almost impossible to live up to. At this point, he might even be flying under the radar. But, make no mistake, he’s one of the best 5-10 pitchers in baseball.