Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Token Strasburg Post

Obviously, every baseball website has something about Stephen Strasburg going on today. Nick Steiner has a great analysis of his Pitch F/X performance, and here's the ridiculous parts of the analysis:

1. Strasburg topped 100 mph more than once.

2. His changeup is 91-93 mph, the average MLB fastball.

3. His curveball moves as much as the consensus 'best' curve in the majors (Adam Wainwright), but it's 10 mph faster.

4. His location could be better.

I watched the entire game last night on MLB Network, and I agree with #4. Of course, when you have the stuff Strasburg has, it doesn't matter as much. And the HR that Delwyn Young hit must have gotten in the wind, because that was an anklish high changeup that he hit with his wrists.

But Pitch F/X also doesn't show the full story of leaving the ball up. If you watch the game, there were a number of instances where Strasburg did not hit the spot that Pudge had set up for him. Inside pitches ended up outside, etc. I don't think the height of the fastball is a great way to go about looking at his location, as he was using the high fastball to get swings and misses on purpose. Here's the concern I have about his location (graph from Brooks Basbeall because I haven't downloaded 2010 Pitch F/X data yet...luckily they have the perfect plot for this discussion).

You can see that in the middle of the game, Strasburg started laying off his velocity a bit. I assume this wasn't a result of any arm problem, as the velocity returned later on. But it also coincides with when he gave up his 2 runs. Look at the dip, where 3 of the 4 hits he gave up occurred (the other was on a 100+ mph fastball, but I'm pretty sure that was right down the middle).

You can see the velocity dip on all 3 of those pitches that were hit (elegantly circled by me in MS Paint). Now, the Delwyn Young HR was kind of flukey, but the other 3 hits he gave up were pitches generally down the heart of the plate. If Strasburg isn't throwing his full velocity potential, he's going to have to locate better than he did last night, and hit the glove a little more. If he's able to throw his stuff throughout the game, well then whatever. You just can't hit it.

Obvioulsy this is a small sample size. And more often than not, he can still get guys out with a 'slow' 97 mph fastball and what may soon be argued to be the best change and curve in the game. But he's still going to have to locate better if he wants to be the best pitcher in the league.

I stick by my claim that Strasburg was not worth drafting preseason in a 12-team mixed league. I saw him go for $10 in a 10-team league. Certainly, he's got the stuff. But his time will be limited this year, and there are lots of good pitchers out there. As a comparison, I was able to get Shaun Marcum, Francisco Liriano and Phil Hughes for $1 preseason. I grabbed Clayton Kershaw, Yovanni Gallardo, Josh Johnson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Adam Wainwright, Matt Garza for between $8 and $16 (and many of them in a single league). So $10 on Strasburg in a non-keeper situation is a bit much. It's almost certain he'll be helpful for whoever has him. But we have to remember the opportunity cost of that roster slot as well.

Cynicism over. This guy is ridiculous.


  1. I was there! Albeit very far away. Still, most exciting game I've ever attended.

    I'm not sure how your league is set up, but in mine, I noticed that I don't put in the end-of-the-bench guys very much anyway, so I think the opportunity cost of a wasted roster spot for the first two months of the season is low.

  2. I'm sure it was a fun game! I'm from the DC area, but living in Michigan didn't make it accessible, and I still haven't even been to the new stadium. Some of my college buddies were disappointed they weren't able to get tickets. At the same time, I'm able to see Strasburg's pitching a little better on television, so I'm torn as to what the better view would be (though, you have plenty of chances to watch him on TV, so I'm leaning heavily toward experiencing that game).

    As for using Strasburg in fantasy, it's definitely dependent on the league. I know in my 10 or 12 team leagues, we only have 3 bench spots. Those can be rather valuable depending on how you run your team. I usually only have one designated to a hitter depending on how the draft went, and the depth of the league. When you start having lots more bench spots, then I'd definitely say the opportunity cost is pretty small. Keep in mind I'm not talking about keeper leauges here, either. Obviously, things change when you can account for future value.

    The key reason why I'm not for paying for Strasburg: relievers are undervalued. I'm still not convinced the payment for middle relief is at the level that it's not an enormous advantage. Right now, my bench spots are used for an extra hitter in case of injury, and for benching my current starters when they're not starting so that I can have elite level relievers in there that literally cost me $0 in payroll on the year.

    For example, Matt Thornton (cost $0 in the auction) throwing close to the number of innings as Strasburg without eating at your starts limit. If we assume Strasburg pitches 110 major league innings and strikes out a batter an inning, he'll have 110 K's (I know he K'ed 2 per inning last night, but let's be reasonable). If Thornton throws the number of innings he threw last year, he's on pace for about 103 strikeouts. I'm also willing to put money on Thornton's ERA and WHIP being better than Strasburg by season's end, even with his 5 ER blowup last night. Other options are Luke Gregerson, Dan Bard, etc.

    So really, Strasburg's best numbers probably won't exceed that of an elite reliever (many of which can be found on the waiver wire in leagues with less than 15 teams). The downside of Strasburg would be the price and the used games started in leagues that limit those. The other difficulty is Strasburg's likely pitch limit. On average, he'll likely get less wins than his stats may indicate because he won't be allowed too deep into games.

    On the other hand, I no longer stick by my suggestion that Jason Heyward isn't worthy of a roster spot in a 12-team league. Woopsy. I think the K numbers will catch up to him, but his power is absolutely undeniable.