Stephen Strasburg’s maiden outing of 2014 was a tad underwhelming, in spite of the end result, a 9-7 victory over the New York Mets. While horses must be held on the prognostication of an entire 30+ start season based upon one start, needless to say Game 1 was not vintage Strasburg, despite the double digit K’s racked up. In particular, the righthander’s typical command of his pitches and thus, the strike zone were sub par, as this graphic from Brooks Baseball exposes:
The first inning appears to have been troublesome for Strasburg, but after adjustments to the weather, umpire, and probably the regular season setting, his strike throwing improved until the fifth inning. However, the above shows the tone set by Strasburg, one where strikes were somewhat tough to come by and finding a way to get outs without your best stuff would rule the day. Let’s look at those hits briefly, with the help of some PITCHf/x data:
First, we find one quirk of Strasburg’s outing—he neutralized left-handed hitters, with only righties putting meaningful wood to his pitches. He was hurt most trying to pound the inside part of the plate, with some of his offerings appearing to drift over the heart of the plate—Andrew Brown’s three-run homer in the first inning came off of a fastball that got too much of the plate, despite catcher Wilson Ramos calling for the pitch outside.
How did the outs he made by getting hitters to put the ball in play look like?
Here, we see that while Strasburg did flirt with the heart of the plate, he got away with it, getting hitters to just miss on offspeed and breaking pitches. However, you do see another subtle trend—pounding lefties down and in with the breaking ball.
Let’s again look at Strasburg’s misses—called balls—and see how those broke down pitch- and location-wise:
Here, we have the location and pitch type of each of the balls Strasburg threw Monday. 46% of his misses came from his fastball and another 30% coming from his changeup. He appears to have missed up in the zone quite a bit with the heater, with a lot of pitches just off the plate down and away to righties also dominating the landscape. We again see the plan against lefties—a steady supply of pitches down and in with a few fastballs up in the zone to change planes and eye-levels, more than likely to optimize his breaking ball.
Again, we can’t draw any grand conclusions based on one game’s worth of information, but we do have a glimpse of where Strasburg’s head is at with respect to his plan of attack; whether is arm has followed and is in lock-step with his mind is a point of contention for now. We also see that the touch on his pitches is still a work in progress, with the effortless painting of corners and burying of changeups in the dirt not quite to his usual standards just yet, despite an impressive strikeout total. None of this is foreboding and Nats fans should continue to enjoy the budding mastery of Strasburg as he continues to develop ace stuff into ace production and performance.