Has Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg been unlucky?


(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Stephen Strasburg is 4-4 with a 3.15 ERA in 74.1 innings of work this season. He has struck out 10.9 batters per nine innings and has a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.74 – stats on par with his all-star season of 2012. Yet Michael Beller of Sports Illustrated offers “two very strong pieces of evidence that Strasburg has been quite unlucky this year:”

  1. A high batting average on balls in play (BABIP)
  2. A low amount of hard-hit balls in play

The BABIP issue is something that I have written about before at the team level and on Strasburg individually. But I am not sure that in Strasburg’s case this is a result of fewer “hard hit balls” in play, which Mark Simon of ESPN was kind enough to define for me.

This season Strasburg has seen an increase in the amount of line drives hit off his pitches and a corresponding decrease in grounders and popflys.

That would correlate with a higher BABIP. Using 2012-14 data from Baseball-Reference, the average BABIP on a line drive was .675 – almost triple that of grounders and more than six times flyballs.

Strasburg currently has the 18th highest line-drive percentage among the 98 starters qualifying for the ERA title and his breaking pitches have been hit the hardest in terms of an increase in the number of line drives, followed by his fastball.


Strasburg’s performance doesn’t appear to be all that unlucky after all.

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.
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