With Strasburg’s shutdown looming, I have been thinking about how great he has been this season. He is 5th in WAR among pitchers right now. And since WAR is a counting stat, you have to factor in workload. All four pitchers ahead of him have at least 19 more innings pitched than he does. Three of the four have 40 more innings. He is first in FIP (my favorite one-stop pitching stat), Gio is second by the way, Zimmermann is 26th. Strasburg is also first in xFIP, 2nd in K/9, and 11th in ERA.
To summarize w/ the familiar old school stats, he is 15-6, with 2.94 ERA and 195 Ks. Brilliant season by any measure, indisputably one of the best pitchers in the game this year. If he continued this for the rest of September, he would obviously be a leading Cy Young candidate but would probably lose out to Dickey or Cueto with their superior ERA and win totals which the voters still seem to value over more modern measures. Even with the limited innings, he will likely get some votes.
What stood out to me in all this was his FIP. Partially because of my preference for that stat but also because of how strong he is in it. His is 2.64, Gio is 2.76, Kershaw is 2.95. Only three guys below 3.00 and Strasburg is significantly below 3.0. That’s remarkable. Then I started wondering about his career numbers. Brace yourselves because he has actually gotten worse this year. His career FIP is 2.35. Hard to imagine that he was even better before this year.
Then I wondered how that career number stacks to recent history. Before I go there, let me make the obvious acknowledgement of the silliness of this ‘analysis’. By going back 10 years, I am now comparing entire careers or at least good chunks of them to Strasburg’s extremely brief career. And as I pointed out, he is trending down. But, it’s all he has and I was curious about how he stacks up at this point. So, I get that it’s of basically zero real analytical value. It’s just for fun.
So, I looked at the last 10 years w/ at least 200 IP (Strasburg has 248.1). His rank there – first. Kershaw is 2nd at 3.02. Think about how big that jump is. 2.35 to 3.02. Rounding out the top 5 are Lincecum (even after his recent struggles – how brilliant was he early??), Schilling and Halladay.
Interesting side note. When you sort by FIP in Fangraphs, it first defaults to sorting from highest to lowest so you see the worst guys first. One name grabbed my attention on the 10 year version of this list - Matt Chico. That’s right, Matt Chico at 5.58 has the 12th worst FIP in the last 10 years. God bless him. And I’m sorry to report that he stayed on the first page of that list all the way back to 1912. So, yes his FIP is among the 20 or so worst in the last 100 years. Ouch. Sorry Matt.
I kept going. Last 20 years? First. Pedro was 2nd on that list at 2.91. Rest of top 5 was Kershaw, Randy Johnson and Linceum. Still Lincecum – holy crap he was amazing in ’08 and ‘09.
30 years – first, Nolan Ryan joins the top 5 now. 40 years – first, J.R. Richard jumps to 2nd and that pretty much gets his whole career of ’71 to ’80, I did not realize how good Richard was. 50 years? Well he finally drops one to 2nd place behind Koufax at 2.00. Wow. Going back 60 years though puts Strasburg back in 1st because Koufax’s career was split at the 50 year mark and he was slightly less dominating early in his career.
OK, you see the pattern. To save some time, you have to go back 100 years to get Strasburg out of 1st place. If you go back to 1912, he drops to fourth and Tom Hughes, Joe Wood, and Reb Russell are top dogs. Fun facts, Joe Wood was Red Sox teammates with Babe Ruth and Reb Russell played one game for the Black Sox in ’19.
To repeat, it’s a dumb comparison. But, I still think it’s exciting that at this extremely early point in his career, going by one particular imperfect measure, Strasburg is having the best career in 100 years.
No, I’m not saying I think he will maintain this pace for 15 years and be the greatest pitcher ever. But, I think it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch whatever he does for however long he does it.