After last Wednesday’s start against the Brewers, in which he tied a career high in runs allowed, Stephen Strasburg made a statement that, at first glance, was alarming: “I’m not right mechanically right now, and I think it’s causing [hitters] to see the ball a lot better.” He also added: “Still trying to figure [out why]. Just doesn’t feel the same. Doesn’t look the same.”
In the subsequent days, Manager Matt Williams downplayed Strasburg’s comments, saying that the starter was referring only to that one start and had been throwing well. Pitching coach Steve McCatty said there is nothing alarming about Strasburg’s mechanics or performance this season.
Entering the start against the Brewers, in which he allowed seven runs over 4 2/3 innings, Strasburg had a 2.47 ERA and opponents had a .660 OPS in the previous 11 starts. (And that even includes an uneven four-run outing against the Braves on June 20.) Strasburg had been pitching well before he slipped in his past two outings. He is scheduled to face the Rockies on Tuesday night.
“In the last two games, which weren’t particularly good, but in any one those situations, if he makes four pitches with two outs, he saves maybe nine runs, eight runs, so he looks a lot better,” McCatty said. “I’m not going to start panicking. Were his mechanics off? Are they off? They’ve been a little bit different. We work on stuff all the time. I’m not panicking about it.”
McCatty said he has noticed Strasburg’s back leg collapsing as he pitches. That could be contributing to elevated fastballs. He said he has encouraged Strasburg to stand tall during his delivery to avoid the problem. Early in the season, Strasburg had command issues and solved them. The current situation appears similar.
Strasburg’s ERA rose to 3.70 after the clunker start. His peripherals are still strong: He leads the National League in strikeouts (123) and has a stellar 5.35 strikeout-to-walk rate. He is, however, giving up a career-high 9.5 hits per nine innings. He is throwing a lot of strikes (67.6 percent) and averaging a career-low 3.71 pitches per plate appearance. A high BABIP (.359) and low FIP (2.76) suggests he has paid dearly for mistakes over the plate, more than before, and balls have been hit where defenders aren’t at times.
“It happens,” McCatty said. “So he says he’s not mechanically right. Is he doing something a little bit different now? Yeah. But he’s had some really good games in there where we all sit back and you look at the numbers for those 11 games and say ‘Wow.’ You know he’s throwing good. But you say, he’s throwing good but the numbers indicate that you would go, ‘Oh my gosh.’ But with Stephen he has the ability to take it even better when he’s pitching at his highest peak. He’s had the same problem the whole time but what he’s doing, the last two starts, became a little glaring because of those situations. I don’t want to panic. I’m not going to panic. When we talk, I don’t think he’s panicking and he’s a perfectionist.”