Average at their Worst
The 2014 Washington Nationals have a four game lead in the NL East. Ryan Zimmerman has barely played this season and all but three regulars (Desmond, Rendon, Werth) have spent time on the DL. To add even more onto the pile, both Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg are in the midst of the worst seasons of their young careers. The amazing thing about them though is that they are both right around league average. Bryce Harper's .698 OPS doesn't look good and it isn't good and it especially isn't good for a player with the talents and abilities of Bryce Harper. It is worth pointing out that Harper has a .722 OPS since the All-Star Break, but that still isn't good for him, but it is better than the MLB average OPS of .704. So in the middle of this terrible, injury riddled season Bryce Harper has basically been a league average hitter. If this is the worst that it gets then that is pretty good.
What makes it so disappointing is that we've seen Bryce Harper at his best, and his best was amazing. In the first month of the 2013 season Bryce Harper was unstoppable. He put up a batting line of .344/.430/.720. It looked like Bryce Harper was on his way to an MVP caliber season, but then he bruised his ribs on the fence in Atlanta and not much later ran head and knee first into the right field wall of Dodgers Stadium. Since that time Bryce Harper hasn't been the same. Bryce Harper hit nine home runs in April 2013 and in the ten months since he's hit 15.
Both knee and hand injuries can sap power. Bryce Harper is only 21 years old and that comes with all the benefits of having the physical characteristics of a 21 year old. Bryce Harper is going to recover. He is going to get better and at some point in the future the terrible 2014 season will be a distant memory.
The same can be said for Stephen Strasburg, but Strasburg isn't having anywhere close to as bad a season as Bryce Harper. Putting advanced stats aside and just looking ERA Stephen Strasburg's 3.68 ERA is better than the MLB average ERA for a starting pitcher of 3.89. An MLB average pitcher is a solid number three in most rotations which makes Strasburg a solid number two. For a 25 year old pitcher making $3.975 million that is pretty good. If Stephen Strasburg didn't have the hype of Stephen Strasburg or the name Stephen Strasburg then people would be pleased with having a pitcher that good, that young, and for that little amount of money in the rotation.
But as with Bryce Harper there have been a ton of expectations placed on Stephen Strasburg and if you're looking for patience, sports fans are the wrong people to ask. Also like Harper we've seen Strasburg pitch better. We've seen him go out and completely shut down opposing offenses. He hasn't done that this season. Strasburg has allowed two or fewer runs in twelve starts, but only two of those have been shutouts. Looking back at 2012 Strasburg allowed two or fewer runs in 17 games and in six of those he threw at least six shutout innings.
Despite all this Stephen Strasburg is still better than average by ERA and by advanced stats Stephen Strasburg is having almost as good of a season as he had in 2012. A well above average BABIP can be credited with some of it and the perception that anything less than the best for Strasburg is a failure can be blamed for the rest. As a 25 year old starting pitcher making just under $4 million Stephen Strasburg has been very good, but for someone expected to be in contention for the Cy Young every single season Strasburg hasn't.
If 2014 ends up being the worst season of Strasburg's career and he was still better than average then Stephen Strasburg is going to be a great pitcher. Perhaps even everything he was expected to be. It is important to remember that neither this season nor Stephen Strasburg's career have reached their conclusion and a lot can change by the time they do.