Three starts into his major league career phenom Stephen Strasburg is already in the All-Star discussion. With a 2-0 record and a 1.86 ERA and a 32:5 K:BB ratio Strasburg has been very good. However he has only 19.1 major league innings under his belt and just another 55.1 innings in the minor leagues. Because Strasburg did not sign in time to participate in any of the 2009 minor league season all of his professional innings have come this year.
While Strasburg is just 21 years old, he turns 22 in July. This puts him just a few months older than the youngest pitcher to start an All-Star Game, Dwight Gooden. Good company. Unlike Strasburg however, when Gooden was selected in 1986 that was his third year full season in the majors. Ok. No one is thinking Strasburg would be the starter for the National League, that honor is likely going to Ubaldo Jimenez. But Gooden was also an All-Star in his rookie year. However, Gooden made his first start on April 7th, 1984 and pitched 218 innings over 31 starts on his way to becoming Rookie of the Year. Overall Gooden collected 276 strikeouts with a WHIP of 1.073 and a 2.60 ERA. It would be tough for Strasburg to put up that kind of dominant run in just over half a season. Even more so in a handful of starts before the All-Star Game selections.
Through his first three starts Strasburg’s BABIP has been a sparkly .262, in line for some regression. ZiPS is projecting this to rise over the remainder of the season to .328. With a projected ERA of 4.09 and a projected FIP of 3.56, along with a K/9 of 9.65 and a K:BB of 3.47, the rookie would be doing quite well for himself even with a regression and a drop in luck.
The other big variable in analyzing Strasburg’s performance thus far is the quality of competition. His first three starts were against the Pirates, Indians and White Sox and his next start will be against the Royals. The Pirates are hitting just .237/.305/.361 – all of which are the second lowest marks in the National League above only the Houston Astros. The Indians at least have a team OPS just over .700 hitting .249/.325/.376 as a team, but find themselves above only Baltimore and Seattle by this measure. Chicago, the first team to win against Strasburg, though it was in extra innings so they are not the first team to give him a loss, is hitting .247/.321/.399. In a strange turn of events, the Royals actually find themselves as the toughest competition for the rookie as the team is right in the middle for OPS at .279/.335/.410 and actually leads the league in batting average.
Are three starts enough to merit All-Star talk? Probably not. Are these three starts in particular a good measure of his skills? Again, not ideal. Would it be a fantastic media event to have the young, hyped, Strasburg at the All-Star Game? Of course. The National League can’t seem to buy an All-Star win since “this time it counts” was instituted. And in the All-Star Game we’d at least get to see Strasburg matched up against some quality competition, if only for an inning.