Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
June 9, 2010
BASEBALL: SPOTUS Takes K Street
Stephen Strasburg's debut could hardly have gone better, even taking account of the fact that he was facing the second-worst offensive team in the majors (only the Astros have scored slightly fewer runs per game than the Pirates). He looked like Danny Almonte blowing through overmatched Little Leaguers out there, and at times like Sidd Finch. Quick rundown of his run at the record book:
-14 Ks in a major league debut is one short of the record of 15 by Karl Spooner in 1954 and JR Richard in 1971. (Bob Feller struck out 15 in his first start, but he'd made relief appearances before that).
-Strasburg set a MLB record for fewest pitches required (94) to 14 Ks.
-Strasburg broke Johnny Cueto's two-year-old record for most Ks in a MLB debut (10) without issuing a walk. At least as far as I could find from baseball-reference.com, 7 rookie pitchers have struck out 14 or more batters in a game without a walk: Kerry Wood (20), Dwight Gooden (16, twice in the same month), Mark Prior (16), Roger Clemens (15), Gary Nolan (15) and now Strasburg (14). Bill James ran an analysis in the 1985 Abstract concluding that the chances of Clemens (4.32 rookie ERA) being a really good pitcher were high just on that one game alone, i.e., that random chance would have a very low probability of allowing a poor pitcher to strike out that many guys in one game with no walks.
On the downside, JR Richard threw his last game at 30, Spooner at 24, Prior at 25 (1-6, 7.21 ERA), Nolan at 29 (4-4, 6.09 ERA), Gooden from age 29 on was 40-31 with a 4.99 ERA, and Wood since age 28 has been 13-16 with a 4.04 ERA (with 58 saves) almost exclusively as a reliever. That's a lot of falling short of potential that only Clemens, in that group, reached (the jury's still out on Johnny Cueto and his 4.55 career ERA). The greater challenge for Strasburg, as with all young pitchers, will be staying healthy.
In short, in one start, Strasburg has amply demonstrated that he has the talent to be the real deal. Now, the hard part: I'd like to see him do it again.