A Strasmas Celebration

Photo by Craig Nedrow for TalkNats

On Opening Day, Washington Nationals’ general manager, Mike Rizzo, updated fans on Stephen Strasburg’s progress. Unfortunately, it all but confirmed what many believe: we will be lucky to ever see Strasburg ever throw another pitch. Since signing his record $245 million contract after that epic 2019 run, Strasburg has only thrown 26.2 IP over three seasons. It is an absolute albatross of a contract and an utter failed gamble by Rizzo and the Lerners. However, the Nats’ 2019 World Series MVP should not be remembered for that contract, rather the utter brilliance he displayed, when his body allowed him to display it. When he was on the mound and healthy, Strasburg had a best-in-baseball level repertoire, a blazing mid-90’s fastball, hammer curve, and a changeup that made the best hitters in the game look like they had never swung a bat before. And he was an utter bulldog. He should be remembered as an all-time great National, with his name in the rafters at Nats Park.

After recovering from Tommy John surgery early in his career, he came back strong in 2011—a sparkling 1.50 ERA. In 2012, he headed the charge to our first appearance in the playoffs. Then the infamous Shut Down. 2013 was the first of just three 30-plus start seasons of Strasburg’s career. 2014 he was fantastic, 34 starts, top-10 Cy Young finish, lead the NL in strikeouts with 242. Then the injuries started—2015, he threw only 127.1 IP. 2016, he was utterly dominant as we charged towards the playoffs. Through his first 21 starts, he had a 2.80 ERA, 2.81 FIP, 11 K/9 and a .586 OPS against. By comparison, Max Scherzer won the Cy Young that year with 2.94 ERA/3.24 FIP, 11.2 K/9 .619 OPS against. In mid-August he got hurt, missed the playoffs. He spent time on the DL in 2017 and 2018.

Perhaps no pitcher has faced more criticism for their injuries than Strasburg, mostly by blowhards: Rob Dibble (who questioned his toughness when he needed Tommy John in 2010), John Feinstein (continually questioned the shutdown, thumped his chest about Matt Harvey in 2015, blocked many Nats fans, utterly silent since 2019) and former Braves announcer Joe Simpson’s repeated idiotic criticisms. He will get noticed for his long, frequent stints on the IL and weird complaints (the icy hot debacle and the odd 2017 NLDS illness). However, Stras always came back strong. 2015, in that awful year he had after an awful start and lengthy IL stint. When he returned, he was dazzling. He helped keep the Nats afloat in August and September: 1.90 ERA/2.10 FIP, 12.5 K/9, .512 OPS against. In 2017, he had a month on the IL, when he came back: .084 ERA/1.72 FIP, 10.5 K/9 .440 OPS against. Max Scherzer is a Nats Legend and Hall of Famer—but if Strasburg does not get hurt in ’16 and ’17, he might not have won either Cy Young. It almost feels blasphemous to say, but Strasburg was every bit as good as Scherzer—the only caveat was health.

As good as Strasburg was during the regular season, Playoff Strasburg was on another stratosphere (or Stras-o-sphere?). While Scherzer was a raving, spitting, snarling mad man on the mound, Strasburg was a different type of psychopath—silent, emotionless, quiet. But he was equally lethal. Over nine postseason games, eight starts, Strasburg has a 1.46 ERA, .563 OPS against, 11.5 K/9. Injuries really robbed us of more Playoff Stras—making only one post-season start through his first seven years. If he stays healthy in 2016, they eliminate the Dodgers and the Cubs have a fight on their hands. 2017, though, was his playoff arrival. Through two starts: 14 IP, 6 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 22 Ks. He is one of three pitchers to have two 10K games in the same DLS: Justin Verlander twice (’12 and ’13) and Cliff Lee (’10). His second start that series, after the world (and possibly some teammates) questioned his toughness, he shoved—like a big middle finger to his critics: 7 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 12 Ks. He was so good the Cubs had no idea what they were seeing. In 2021, in an interview with MASN’s Dan Kolko, Kyle Schwarber recounted that start:

[Strasburg] could have thrown 100 changeups that game and [he] would have thrown a no-hitter…our gameplan that game was to lay off the changeup and look for the heater…first guy swings at a changeup, strikes out…second guy goes up, swings at a changeup, strikes out. We’re like ‘we can’t tell the difference!’ That’s one of the best pitches I’ve ever seen in baseball.

Kyle Schwarber

Then, of course, there is 2019, when it all came together for the Nationals and Strasburg. A brilliant, healthy, season followed by a record setting post-season, leading to a World Series and winning the MVP. Coming out of the bullpen in the Wild Card game, he held the Brewers at bay for Juan Soto’s heroics. Won two games against the mighty Dodgers—including the clinching Game Five. In the Championship Series, he gave the Cardinals no shot. He pitched six games in total, that post-season, going 5-0, and the Nationals won all six games. In what was likely his final, healthy start Game 6 of the World Series, facing elimination, he threw 8.1 IP, 2 ER, 7 Ks—against a heavily favored opponent. He was an absolute bulldog. He was not going to lose.

The only thing that held Strasburg back was injuries. In one of the ultimate “what could have been” he should be remembered less for what he was not able to do, and more for what he did. From putting the Nationals on the map 13 years ago to delivering their first title. He should be remembered holding up the Willie Mays trophy. And finally, Stephen Strasburg chose to stay in Washington—full time. In a 2020 Washington Post article from Barry Svrluga:

The more time you spend out on the East Coast, it kind of loses its intimidation. It’s kind of just become what I know. I go back to San Diego for the holidays. But really, I don’t really go back. Washington is where I am.

— Stephen Strasburg

Ultimately, Strasburg will be celebrated when his name joins Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth in the Ring of Honor at Nationals Park. He is an All-Time National.

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