With runners on second and third and no outs in the bottom of the first against the New York Mets, even the most hopeful Washington Nationals fan had to be worried not only about the outlook for the game, but also Stephen Strasburg’s inability to throw a strike. Yes, it appeared as if the umpires were squeezing the 23-year-old, and it certainly didn’t seem like the club’s No. 1 starter knew how to handle it.
Of course after allowing a few runners on base, he did handle it, and handled it well. Strasburg inevitably turned an ugly first inning into what ultimately became a two hit, nine-strikeout masterpiece, earning his first win of the year. However, en route to the victory Strasburg threw a career high 108 pitches, and only 63 of those pitches were strikes.
As you can see on the graph above, Strasburg threw just 10 out of 26 pitches in that rough first inning for a strike, which comes out to 38%. To put that in perspective, in his first start against the Chicago Cubs, Strasburg threw 69% of his pitches for strikes through the first three innings.
That’s a bizare change for a pitcher whose control is almost as legendary as his power. While he was able to hone in on his control a bit in the later innings, he still wasn’t as sharp as he’s been in the past. In his six frames of work, Strasburg had just two innings, the third, and fifth where he threw at least 70% of his pitches for strikes. In his first start, he threw at least 70% of his pitches for strikes in five out of seven innings pitched.
It appears that where Strasburg really struggled Wednesday was with the location of all of his pitches except one. According to PitchFX, his four-seam fastball reached the plate as a strike 74% of the time; all of his other pitches combined were a strike only 53% of the time. Considering that he was only able to put one pitch over for a strike consistently, it’s amazing to think that he allowed just two hits. Usually when a pitcher is unable to throw anything but his fastball consistently over the plate he gets shelled. Of course, those rules don’t always apply when you are facing the Mets, or even when you are Stephen Strasburg for that matter.
The poor accuracy of Strasburg on his off-speed pitches should not be a cause for concern for Nats fans. In his first outing he threw 15 of 19 curveballs for strikes. 24 of his 33 two-seam fastballs crossed the plate as well. Over the course of his career, he has thrown all of his pitches for strikes at least 63% of the time.
What’s interesting, however, is that while he is often right around the zone, he does seem to have these odd spells of inaccuracy. In his 19 career starts he has four games in which he has given up at least three or more walks. He also has nine starts in which he has allowed 0 walks.