For as long as Stephen Strasburg has been a member of the Washington Nationals, the narrative around him has remained fairly consistent: A subdued pitcher who can absolutely dominate when he’s at full health.
So far in 2019, that dominance from Strasburg has been on full display.
He currently holds a 14-4 record with an even more impressive 3.26 ERA and 168 strikeouts in just 140.2 innings, firmly putting himself in the NL Cy Young discussion this year.
The right-hander was just named National League Pitcher of the Month for July. He went 5-0 with a 1.14 ERA, 44 strikeouts, 7 walks in the month, as he continues to go from strength to strength.
Strasburg has been so good that he already has the second-highest bWAR of his career this year (4.5). The highest was back in 2017 (6.4), when he finished third in the Cy Young voting as his teammate Max Scherzer took home the hardware.
“He’s been unbelievable,” his manager Dave Martinez said after his most recent outing.
“Everything about him this year has been amazing. He takes the ball, the way he works, his attitude. He’s having fun.”
“I just watched him dance, so it was kind of nice, but he’s having a good time and he’s going out there every fifth day and like I said he’s competing and giving us a chance to win.”
Ah yes. We can’t forget the dancing. After Strasburg socked a towering home run over the fence in Atlanta, the quiet right-hander joined the dance line at the end of the dugout.
Cue everyone in the dugout giddy with excitement — perhaps none more so than Gerardo Parra — that the new tradition was able to win over even one of the most reserved characters in the clubhouse.
Not only was it was a moment no Nats fan will forget, but it was also the latest moment where the right-hander has looked like a new man this year.
The man who drafted him spoke about the new Strasburg on 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies last week.
“I think he’s more comfortable in his skin,” general manager Mike Rizzo explained.
“There is nobody — and I’m including Bryce Harper and anybody that I’ve ever been associated with in my baseball career — that was under such a microscope coming into his career than Stephen Strasburg. It was unbelievable the amount of attention he got.”
However, unlike Harper, soaking up all that attention just isn’t in Strasburg’s DNA.
“He’s an introverted, quiet person to begin with,” Rizzo said, “and just wants to do his business and be with his family.”
“I think one of the reasons that he signed a long-term deal with us is because he was so comfortable with the people here and the city here and fell in love with it and now is a 12-month resident here.”
“His family is growing up right in the D.C. area, so I think he’s really taken to the city.”
With an opt-out looming Strasburg will once again have to make a contractual decision about his future. The remaining part of his contract is worth $100 million for the next four seasons and there’s been some chatter about whether he will opt out or not.
Coming into the year, opting out didn’t seem likely. He was coming off a season where he posted his highest ERA as a major leaguer and saw a dip in velocity in his last few games.
But in 2019 he’s looked a lot more relaxed as a whole. It’s a factor that’s no doubt helping stay him off of the IL to this point, something he’s struggled with in his MLB career.
It’s hard to call this season a “breakout” for Strasburg. Nor is it really “turning a corner” as his performances are exactly what fans have to come to expect from him.
But the fact he’s been able to stay healthy is a testament to the work that he put in this offseason to start changing the narrative about his previous injury tendencies.
“He’s done a lot of work on his body,” Rizzo told The Junkies. “He’s tweaked his mechanics and he’s done a lot of things with his delivery to ensure that he stays healthy.”
Even though his current manager has only been here for a year and a half, he’s also taken notice of the new Strasburg and how he’s carrying himself this year compared to last year.
“His routine has been incredible,” Martinez said after Strasburg’s start against the Dodgers.
“His attitude has been phenomenal. He’s starting to communicate a lot, not only with coaching, but with his teammates, his players, he’s been teaching some of the younger pitchers, so he’s been everything you could imagine one of your star pitchers to be.”
While some fans are probably a little surprised by what they’ve seen from Strasburg, both in staying on the field and becoming a leader off it, his GM isn’t surprised in the slightest.
“Nothing this guy does surprises me,” Rizzo told The Junkies. “I’ve been saying for years, he’s one of the 10-15 best starting pitchers in the game.”
“Whenever he’s on the mound, he’s got spectacular stuff and has a will to win and works extremely hard and has been one of the top pitchers since he’s been in the league. When he’s healthy, he’s as good as anybody that ever takes the mound.”
And what is that stands out most to Rizzo about Strasburg’s ability on the mound?
“He’s got the propensity to put wins on the scoreboard,” Rizzo explained. “You look at his record and I know the win stat has been kind of negated...but this guy wins a lot of games.”
“That tells me this guy is on the mound a lot and helps his own cause by handling the bat, controlling the running game, fielding his position and having wipeout stuff.”
Some worried that we may start to see a slow decline of Strasburg this season given the dip in his velocity at the end of last season. Instead, we’re seeing him grow yet again as a pitcher and as a person.
Nationals fans hope that this isn’t the last season we see Strasburg in a Nationals uniform. But even if it is, it has the potential to go down as his very best.