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Stephen Strasburg gets BABIPed to death in the Washington Nationals 6-3 loss to the Mets

For the third time in three games, Ian Desmond made a crucial error behind his starting pitcher in the third inning of the Nats 6-3 loss to the New York Mets. Stephen Strasburg did all he could to bail his shortstop out, but the BABIP gods reared their ugly heads as four runs (three unearned) would go on to score in the inning.

Stephen Strasburg didn't have a great day Thursday, but to blame him for his terrible BABIP luck after Ian Desmond's error seems foolish.
Stephen Strasburg didn't have a great day Thursday, but to blame him for his terrible BABIP luck after Ian Desmond's error seems foolish.
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Stephen Strasburg has drawn criticism from the fanbase for not being able to pick up his defenders when they make a mistake in the past few years.  Since 2012, Strasburg has allowed 25 unearned runs, or an average of 8.33 per season.  This doesn't necessarily seem to be all that high.  When compared to some of his peers around the big leagues, it might be a touch above average.  Let's look at some of the better pitchers in the majors and see how their unearned runs compare to Strasburg over the past three seasons.

  • Clayton Kershaw has allowed 16 unearned runs in that same span, but he's from a different planet
  • Adam Wainwright has allowed 17 unearned runs
  • Jordan Zimmermann has allowed 17 unearned runs
  • Felix Hernandez has allowed 22 unearned runs
  • James Shields has allowed 30 unearned runs
  • Jon Lester has allowed 28
  • Johnny Cueto has allowed 15
  • Zack Greinke has allowed 12
  • Madison Bumgarner has allowed 24
  • Max Scherzer has allowed just 11 (not counting the three he allowed on Opening Day)

To be fair, we don't have much in the way of context here.  We don't know how many of those unearned runs scored because a player had reached on an error and how many scored directly because of an error.  We don't have any empirical data telling us whether that pitcher struggled or got emotional because one of his teammates failed to convert what should have been an out into a successful play.  What we do have is a list of ten of the best pitchers in baseball over the past few years.  Those ten pitchers have allowed an average of 19.2 unearned runs over the past three seasons.

I'd be lying if I said that this data really tells me much of anything, though.  It tells me that Strasburg has given up a few more unearned runs than the average pitcher on this list of top pitchers.  It tells me that a couple of those "aces" (Shields and Lester) listed have allowed more unearned runs in the past three years than Strasburg has, while two more (Bumgarner and King Felix) have allowed a comparable number of unearned runs.  Even the very best pitchers in baseball can't always overcome mistakes by their teammates.

Anyway, that was kind of a long lead.  With all of the griping, was there really any surprise that he'd have an opportunity to test his mettle in his first start of the season?

With Curtis Granderson on first base and one out in a scoreless game in the third inning on Thursday, David Wright hit what was probably a double play ball.  Shortstop Ian Desmond should have charged in to make the play, but he didn't.  Instead, it took a big hop, bounced off of his wrist and back onto the infield grass.  By the time Desmond recovered, both runners were safe.  In his season debut, Strasburg was presented with an opportunity to pick his teammate up....

Strasburg got ahead of Lucas Duda, but hit his back foot with a 1-2 curveball to load the bases.  Then these jerks decided to show up......

He induced weak contact on an 0-1 fastball to Michael Cuddyer, but Cuddyer looped it the other way over the outstretched Dan Uggla for an RBI single.  Daniel Murphy chopped the next pitch off the plate and caused a collision between Zimmerman and Strasburg... Everyone was safe.  Strasburg recovered, getting a weak popup to Zimmerman off the bat of Juan Lagares.  Unfortunately, Travis d'Arnaud followed that by hitting a 1-1 curveball off the end of the bat that ended up being a perfectly placed blooper and dropped between Desmond and Michael Taylor.

Nine batters came to the plate for the Mets in the top of the third inning.  One (Granderson) hit the ball hard.  Am I absolving Strasburg of all liability?  Absolutely not.  However, to say that he isn't mentally tough or make a comment where you're complaining that he's not "acy" enough (whatever that means) is ridiculous.  Strasburg did a fine job of trying to put Desmond's error behind him, but the Mets did a good job of putting the bat on the ball.  They just happened to hit the ball where the Nats defenders weren't.  What's that they say?

That said, Strasburg didn't have a great debut.  He didn't seem to have much of a feel for his offspeed pitches early and relied heavily on his fastball.  From the first pitch, Strasburg had trouble getting his curveball and changeup over the plate.  The Mets knew how to handle this.

Take note of all of the green we see on his pitches that were out of the strike zone.  Strasburg threw 95 pitches on Thursday.  The Mets swung at just 17 pitches that were out of the zone.  That's a 17.8% O-Swing% on the day, which is 12.6% below the major league average from 2014.  Strasburg's chase rate has been a touch above average (33%) in his career, and was 36.3% last season.  When teams notice that you're having a difficult time throwing your off-speed pitches for strikes, what do they do?  They sit on the fastball and spit on the offspeed pitches.

Strasburg didn't have a great debut on Thursday, but it's hard to throw him under the bus for some extreme poor luck after the Desmond error.  Credit the Mets for putting the ball in play, but it's not like they were rocking Strasburg around the park.  He's had a bit of a tendency to struggle more when it's cold and damp, so let's not overreact to one rough start.

Series Review

Nats hitter who impressed me most: Michael A. Taylor - OK... Harper was the best hitter in the series, but I was expecting that.  Yunel Escobar had a strong series as well, drawing a couple of walks and hitting the ball hard almost every time up while not striking out once.  I've expressed my concerns about Taylor batting in the leadoff spot early in the season, but he looked pretty solid.  He only struck out three times.  While he didn't draw any walks, he did hit the ball extremely well, notching a couple of doubles in the team's first series.

Nats pitcher who impressed me most: Max Scherzer - Jordan Zimmermann got the Nats lone win in the series (Yay pitcher wins... Where's that sarcasm font when you need it?) and got by despite not really having his best stuff.  Scherzer flat out dominated on Opening Day, though.  He worked deep into the ballgame, struck out eight, and carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning.

Mets hitter who impressed me most: Curtis Granderson - I know Granderson is good, despite all of his strikeouts.  However, I loved Terry Collins decision to move him into the leadoff spot (Hey!  People who say Werth shouldn't lead off... have a look at where the Mets best power hitter is batting!).  Granderson had just one hit in the series, but he worked four walks in fourteen plate appearances while seeing an average of 4.79 pitchers per plate appearance.  He battled every time he stepped to the plate, working the pitch counts up early against Mad Max, JZ, and Stras.  He also got BABIPed a couple of times that I can recall (one of which I wrote about yesterday against Blake Treinen).  Travis d'Arnaud's stats look sexier, but Grandy was the guy who made that Mets offense go against a trio of studs on the hill for the Nats.

Mets pitcher who impressed me most: Matt Harvey - OK.... This was a gimme.  Harvey looked brilliant in his return from Tommy John surgery.  There have been plenty of words written about it by Mets writers, Nats writers, and the national media, so I'm not going to elaborate.  This kid's filthy.

1-2 start = DOOOOOMMMMMMM - Only 159 more games to go guys.  Take a deep breath.