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Line drives are a big factor in Stephen Strasburg’s struggles for the Nats. Here’s why.

(Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images)

Stephen Strasburg. His name alone invokes debates on a wide range of subjects. But today let’s focus on his changeup, which was once one of the best pitches in the league but now may be the cause of a lot of his problems.

Brett Talley looked at which pitchers are getting hit the hardest, and it was no surprise Strasburg was No. 1 on the list.

Despite matching his career best 22.8% K-BB% from 2012, Strasburg’s ERA is a career worst 3.41. This is why. It’s the line drives in particular that are killing him. It’s not just that he’s giving up a higher percentage of line drives than he ever has in any full season, but he’s been among the worst in the league at limiting the damage line drives cause. His sOPS+ against line drives is 186, which is 5th worst among the 90 qualified pitchers in my sample.

Here is how batters are faring when hitting line drives off Strasburg this season. Pay particular attention to the isolated power (ISO), which is slugging minus batting average, or a hitter’s ability to hit for extra bases.

So, thanks to Talley, we know the line drives are hurting him. Let’s try and find out why. A quick look shows us that there has been a steady increase in the amount of line drives off Strasburg’s changeups this season.

And those line drives have been hit by both lefties and righties.

But the lefties are doing a bulk of the damage.

We would expect line drives to be more damaging than groundballs or fly balls, but this is out of the ordinary for Strasburg, especially on this particular pitch. So what gives?

Location, location, location. Left-handed hitters are mashing the ball low and away. Here is his zone location on changeups to lefties that were hit for line drives this year.

Stephen Strasburg, 2014 changeups hit for line drives
Stephen Strasburg, 2014 changeups hit for line drives by left-handed hitters

Here is where they were last year, when he yielded no extra-base hits.

Stephen Strasburg, 2013 changeups hit for line drives by left-handed hitters
Stephen Strasburg, 2013 changeups hit for line drives by left-handed hitters

It’s a subtle difference, but sometimes that’s all it takes.

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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