Stephen Strasburg had a bad outing. Again. This time giving up eight hits and a career-high eight runs (seven earned) in 3.1 innings in Tuesday’s 14-6 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“I’m just embarrassed I let the team down,” Strasburg said after the loss. “It sucks. I’m just trying to go out there and help this team win some games. I didn’t do that tonight.”
He hasn’t done it all season, and here is why: everything is going wrong.
Every pitch he throws is less effective than in seasons past. His fastball, once one of the most feared in baseball, is 0.27 runs below average per 100 pitches. His curve costs him and the team 1.75 more runs per 100 pitches and his change-up, which held hitters to a .155 batting average against last season, is also below average at 1.18 runs per 100 pitches. In other words, his entire repertoire has gotten worse.
Let’s start with his fastball. Like most pitchers coming off of Tommy John surgery, the velocity has suffered, hitting a peak of 99.1 mph in his rookie year to an average of 95.3 in 2015.
As a result, it’s like a giant meatball over the middle of the plate which is being put in play more often and fooling batters less.
His curveball is the same way: a flat 81-mph pitch with little vertical movement.
Here is what it looks like compared with last season’s curveballs thrown in April and May.
But perhaps the biggest decline has been in his change-up, which was one of the best pitches in baseball. This year, hitters have an on base plus slugging of .681 against.
It is Strasburg’s approach to right-handed hitters which has changed the most with the pitch. He threw a change-up to them 17 percent of the time when the batter was ahead in the count and 24 percent of the time when he was ahead. That has dwindled to 6 and 15 percent, respectively. And where last season right-handed batters hit .093 with .120 slugging against the pitch with just two extra-base hits in 75 at bats, this season they are batting .364 and slugging .727 and already have three extra-base hits in 11 at bats.
“I think he’s thinking too much,” catcher Wilson Ramos said after the game. “In this game, when you’re thinking too much, it’s hard to do everything right. For example, when a hitter goes to the plate thinking too much, you’re not going to hit the ball hard. It happens, too, with pitchers. He has to go out there and fight and try to do the best he can. You can go out there and think too much.”
It’s not all on Strasburg though — he is getting bad breaks. His batting average on balls in play is higher than normal (.398) and he has seen a larger percent of those go for infield hits (10.4 percent, seventh highest rate in the league). Plus, fewer balls are being classified as “hard hit,” with an uptick in balls hit with “soft speed.”
It’s a perfect storm of everything going wrong at once. And if it doesn’t change soon, there is no telling how much worse this could get for Strasburg.