While many didn’t want it to happen, Washington right-hander Stephen Strasburg succumbed to the ageless narrative of an injury following a career-high workload. Is it directly related to that? Perhaps not, but it is ultimately what happened for the former first overall pick. He was limited to just five innings of work in 2020, as carpal tunnel neuritis cut his season short. The only real thing you can take away from his 2020 season from a statistical perspective is validation from the velocity of his pitches.
Yes, velocity was down across the board, but the main one that I’m going to highlight is the fastball. That was a substantial drop and a lot of times a decrease in fastball velocity is the first thing that points to an injury or ailment. Strasburg is no different. After just two appearances, he went to the injured list, and his 2020 season came to an end. The drop in all of his pitches is certainly noteworthy, but the quality of the decrease in his fastball velocity, and sinker for that fact, outweighs the quantity of decrease across the board. It’s notable nonetheless, but the drop in fastball is the biggest issue.
The narrative for pitchers is that following large workloads, especially if they haven’t handled it before, they succumb to injury the following year. Well, perhaps the better verbiage there is that they are more prone to succumb to an injury the following season. Just because a pitcher has a sizable increase in workload from one year to the next, or from one year compared to recent seasons, it doesn’t mean that he’s guaranteed to deal with an injury in the next season. However, I’d argue that his chances are certainly increased. Strasburg is a perfect, or imperfect, two-for-two going up against this narrative.
Strasburg has reached 200 innings twice in his career. He did it back in 2014, and then logged a whopping 245.1 innings in 2019 (including postseason). He had some arm issues leading up to the 2014 season, but it didn’t slow him down en route to his first 200-inning campaign. However, the years that followed were vastly different from that 2014 season.
Following that 2014 season, he averaged just 24 starts and 145 innings per year from 2015-2018, spending time on the disabled list each of the years. Here’s a list of issues that caused him to miss time during those four seasons, per Baseball Cube.
Shoulder, nerve issue
Then, in 2019, Strasburg was electric. He logged over 200 innings in the regular season, and another 36+ in the postseason, giving him a new career high in innings pitched at 245.1. Then, when it came time for his season debut, he was scratched before the game. He went on to get surgery for it, but Strasburg even admitted that he had been dealing with numbness in his hand for quite some time. Imagine trying to throw a baseball with a numb hand? The only relatable thing I can say is when your foot falls asleep and you try to walk on it. It’s a completely different experience.
Last we heard, Strasburg was working through physical therapy and reports are that he will be ready and “full-go” for Spring Training. However, keep in mind that light tossing here and there is far from max effort on the mound, so this will be a situation worth monitoring as Spring Training progresses and we get closer and closer to the start of the 2021 regular season.
Currently, Strasburg is the 24th starter off the board, per NFBC data, and there’s a potential for a massive buying opportunity if your league(s) draft early. If Strasburg truly is healthy and fully recovered from the surgery, I’d expect his ADP to continue to creep up, likely into the teens if rave reviews about his health and performance emerge throughout the spring.
Drafting later gives you clarity on the matter, and you’ll have more information in your back pocket come draft time, but the risk there is that Strasburg is going to be going a full round or two earlier than you might have thought weeks ago. If you draft earlier, Strasburg can be your SP2 or even SP3 and you could have a massive steal on your hands, especially if he remains elite on a per-inning basis. The injury concern is obviously there, and with more injuries than one would like to admit, he’ll likely always carry that with him.
At his current value, you can consider me intrigued, and willing to take a gamble on a guy to be my SP2 or SP3 that ends the year as a top seven or eight starter, health willing.