Stephen Strasburg can pitch under pressure


(Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)

Many of you disagreed with me that Stephen Strasburg is the ace of the Nationals pitching staff, mostly citing he doesn’t have the mental fortitude needed for the moniker.

 

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Tom Tango created what is known as the Leverage Index, which is a measure of how important a particular situation is in a baseball game depending on the inning, score, outs, and number of players on base.

An average (or neutral) LI is 1. High leverage is 1.5 and above, and low leverage is below 1. 10 percent of all real game situations have a LI greater than 2, while 60 percent have a LI less than 1.

But we can take it a step further and think like a pitcher thinks.

[P]itchers don’t think like Leverage Index, they think in a more base way: will me throwing a bad pitch that results in a HR allow the other team to tie or take the lead?  While Leverage Index DOES take this situation into account, it also takes into account every other possible situation.  A bases loaded walk, down by 1, for example.

So I pulled all the data for 2014 (through June 30) where a Nats starter pitched to a batter in a situation with a Leverage Index of two or greater (twice the league average), plus had either the tying or go-ahead run at the plate. In other words: the most stressful situations a starter can find himself in. As usual, small samples size caveats apply, but we can see how the Nats’ starting rotation performed.

Doug Fister found himself facing seven batters in “stressful situations” and got all seven to make an out: three grounders, two flyballs, one line drive and a pop out to second base.

Gio Gonzalez faced 13 stressful situations, struck out three, got three others to make an out and gave up just two extra-base hits in addition to five singles.

Tanner Roark faced 14 stressful situations, struck out three, got seven to make an out and let up four hits: two singles, a double and a home run.

Jordan Zimmermann found himself in 13 stressful situations and has struck out two, walked two and saw his defense help produce another two outs in the field. He gave up seven hits: Five singles, one double and a home run.

Strasburg has found himself in 25 stressful situations – nearly double any one else in the rotation. And while that could be construed as him being “mentally weak” to allow himself in that many jams to begin with, consider the results before the Nationals’ 7-1 victory over the Colorado Rockies: Five singles, two doubles and two walks (one intentional) but 16 outs, nine by strikeout.

So in the most stressful of situations, Strasburg contributed to neutralizing nearly two-thirds of the threat. Still sounds like an ace to me.

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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