Stephen Strasburg in 2013: Not a loser, just a little different

April 26, 2013

(Tom Uhlman/AP)

 

Too much attention as been placed on Stephen Strasburg lately. Sure, I’m part of the problem in my own niche, but some of it has been over the top.

Two events stick out like sore thumbs: Murray Chass referring to Strasburg as a loser and Citi Field fans chanting “Harvey’s better.” As a former inhabitant of Long Island, I will forgive my erstile westerly neighbors for their fervor. Chass’s remarks are hard to understand, but it seems to boil down to continued denial of the limited utility of pitcher’s wins as a measure of success.

My Twitter timeline keeps filling up with questions, most of which are challenging to answer this early in a season. But I will take a crack at the two biggest topics: pitch mix and pitch location.

Is he mixing his pitches differently?
Indeed, most notably fewer two-seam fastballs (AKA sinkers).

There are differences that go deeper than that topline, as you’d expect. A few things should pop out:

  • the drop in sinker usage is more substantial to right-handed batters.
  • left-handed batters still see a similar rate of first-pitch sinkers but…
  • they are no longer are they coming as often in hitter’s counts

He’s also working fastballs heavier early in the game, going off-speed in the second and third times through the order. In 2012 he was more consistent with his pitch selection across the game. Some of these differences could get ironed out over the course of 2013, but so far there’s a bit of difference.

Pitch selection by inning

2012

2013

 

Is he locating the ball differently?
This is an affirmative. These charts lifted from the Baseball Prospectus Pitcher Profile tool show a change in overall pitch location. He’s also leaving the pitches away from lefties belt-high instead of closer to the knees. He’s also not missing in under their hands as often.

vs Left-handed batters

2012 2013

Righties are seing more balls middle-in and fewer down and away.

vs Right-handed batters

2012 2013

Some bottom-line numbers to round out the picture. Strasburg frequently talks about pitching to weak contact. These rates are interesting, but it’s early; expect things from 2013 to move toward 2012 in general.

Intentional or not, he’s missing fewer bats.

Whiff rate (misses per swing):
2012: .28
2013: .20

And getting slightly more grounders.

Ground ball rate (per ball in play):
2012: .43
2013: .46

And weaker contact.

SLGCON (slugging on contact):
2012: .533
2013: .436

To summarize, Strasburg is not a loser, he’s trying some different things this year (remember the changeup experiments from spring training?) and not all of it has worked out. We’ve all seen his defense struggle behind him and his offense let him down, too. So enjoy the show and forget about the rabble rousers.

pavlidis
Harry Pavlidis is the founder of Pitch Info. Follow him on Twitter: @harrypav.

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