Chasing upside leads fantasy owners back to Stephen Strasburg each season. However, injuries and performance provide mixed results in regards to return on investment. Last year, Strasburg won 10 of his 22 starts with 156 strikeouts in 130 innings. His ERA of 3.74 accompanied an xFIP of 3.28 and 1.20 WHIP. At a time when innings by starters continues to decline, should Strasburg still be the 18th starter taken in NFBC drafts since the new year?

Over the last three years, Strasburg’s turned in stable statistics. He’s 40 - 15 in 74 starts spanning 453 innings with a 3.22 ERA, 3.25 xFIP and 1.10 WHIP. Strasburg’s racked up 543 strikeouts against 129 walks for a tidy 22.5 strikeouts minus walks percentage. Within this sample, he owns a 12 percent swinging strike rate, given up a 75.1 contact percentage and generated a 32.1 chase rate.

Last year, after another trip to the disabled list, Strasburg struggled in the second half. He only accrued 49.1 innings after the break but with a 4.20 ERA, 3.73 xFIP and 1.38 WHIP. Strasburg walked as many in the second half as he did in his 80.2 innings prior to the break. Working with reduced velocity, Strasburg nibbled instead of attacking hitters:

Given his propensity to injury, weighing an early draft pick on Strasburg comes with great risk. Here’s his disabled list chart courtesy of

Not only did Strasburg struggle in the second half, he yielded his highest exit velocity allowed of 88.4 MPH last year. Using his xSTATS, Strasburg’s kwFIP of 3.28 does provide hope, but with a .300 expected on-base average. There’s no way to predict his velocities for 2019, so tracking his fastball in spring will be important.

It’s also intriguing to see how effective his change up can be but he’s never used it more than 20 percent in any season of his career. Last year, Strasburg’s change generated a 19.87 swinging strike percentage, almost four-percent above league average. He also mixed in the slider more to accompany his curve. Strasburg’s curve produced a 19.5 swinging strike percentage, which sits well above the league average of 13 percent.

If Strasburg’s fastball velocity does not rebound, throwing more changeups and curves could offset it. But, as noted, he’s relied more on working off of his fastball despite its sometimes ineffectiveness. Here’s a look at his pitch arsenal courtesy of Baseball Savant:

As illustrated above, throwing his four-seamer up in the zone while burying his change, slider and curve will allow Strasburg to rack up strikeouts. Health casts a shadow of doubt. Here’s Strasburg’s projections from three different systems:

  • Stephen Strasburg THE BAT projection: 12 wins, nine losses, 177 innings, 196:52 K:BB, 3.64 ERA, 1.17 WHIP
  • Stephen Strasburg ATC projection: 13 wins, eight losses, 193:48 K:BB, 3.53 ERA, 1.17 WHIP
  • Stephen Strasburg Steamer projection: 12 wins, nine losses, 177 innings, 192:51 K:BB, 3.66 ERA, 1.19 WHIP

Strasburg’s eclipsed 150 innings once since 2015, with 175.1 innings in 2017. When healthy, he can produce wins, strikeouts and effective ratio statistics. Ultimately, velocity and pitch usage make him an alluring target in drafts.

However, seeing how Max Scherzer reacted when Strasburg took himself out of a start last year along with the articles questioning his toughness, it must be weighed when drafting him. Ideally, Strasburg makes for a starting pitcher two with starting pitcher one upside in fantasy. He’s not proven to be durable nor deployed his best pitch nearly enough. There’s time for Strasburg to adjust, but paying for a career year at age 30 seems precarious.

Use last year as his baseline with his three-year averages and projections as his upside. Stephen Strasburg represents the ultimate risk versus reward candidate. Act accordingly.


Statistical Credits:,,,, THE BAT courtesy of Derek Carty, ATC projection on Fangraphs,