Player Preview: Stephen Strasburg
The astronomical failure that was the 2008 season lead into the astronomical failure that was the 2009 season for the Washington Nationals, but there was light at the end of the tunnel that was 2011. Because of the horrible 2008 season, the Nationals were able to draft Stephen Strasburg, who signed at the last minute and went into the Nationals Minor League system. Strasburg was one part of a larger plan for the Nationals and after a short stint in the minor leagues, Strasburg made his debut in 2010.
Strasburg came into the 2010 season and made an electric MLB debut, but the excitement didn't last long when he required Tommy John surgery that same season. Strasburg came back in 2011 and was put on an innings limit in 2012 to try and ensure the longevity of the surgery he had. The 2012 Nationals were the favorites to win in all for the entire year and Strasburg was a big part of that, but ultimately after a rough game in early September against the Marlins, Strasburg was shut down and he was unable to contribute during the 2012 playoffs that saw the Nationals defeated by the Cardinals in the first round.
2013 and 2014 were excellent seasons for Strasburg, showing he could live up to the promises he brought when he was drafted. Strasburg's 2013 season saw the big right hander go 183 innings strong with a 9.39 K/9 and a 2.75 BB/9 in 30 starts. Though the 2013 Nationals were favorites going into the season, they underperformed. Strasburg shined anyway, nailing down a 3.21 FIP. 2014 was even better as Strasburg pitched 215 innings with a 10.13 K/9, a 1.80 BB/9, and a 2.94 FIP. 2014 was Strasburg's best season to date.
2015 was not quite the season Strasburg was looking for, hitting the Disable List a couple times last season. Strasburg hit the DL in May and July, restricting him to only 23 starts in the 2015 season. Though he didn't play as many games as he would have liked due to back issues, Strasburg's peripheral stats all looked good and were mostly in line with his norms, with the exception of his ERA, which was slightly elevated, though his FIP was consistent with previous seasons.
2016 is the last year of Strasburg's contract and he has already made it clear he will test the free agent market once the season is over. Should Strasburg manage to stay fully healthy, he will likely put up similar numbers this season that he had in previous seasons. When Strasburg is on top of his game, he is untouchable and the Nationals need that from him if they hope to make the playoffs this year. As part of a rotation that also features Max Scherzer and Gio Gonzalez, the Nationals rotation still looks pretty imposing, but a healthy and reliable Strasburg is a major part of that equation.
Just like it is strange to think of a Nationals rotation without Jordan Zimmermann, it is weird to think of a Nationals rotation without Stephen Strasburg, but it is a definite possibility. With Strasburg, the Nationals season could be a winner in 2016, but we will only know in time.