Stephen Strasburg: Could Baseball’s Next Big Thing become Baseball’s Next Big What-If?

28 08 2010

Posted by Teix4MVP

Fans were excited for the new pitcher their favorite team had drafted and now signed for record money for a drafted player. He was at least 6 feet and 4 inches tall, around 220 pounds, and had a sizzling fastball, a great breaking ball, and he could finally lead the franchise out of the funk it was in.

Strasburg

This Nationals fan believes Strasburg is their savior....

The above could describe Stephen Strasburg, but it also described the phenom before him: Mark Prior. If you haven’t heard the name on ESPN, it’s because Prior, who was once considered the savior of the Cubs franchise, had his short career ended by a boatload of injuries.

In his first pro season, Prior had a season ending injury, a strained hamstring running the bases in a game. Strasburg, in his first full season, now has 2 DL stays, the first being an inflamed right shoulder, and now this one being a ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) tear, necessitating a Tommy John surgery and a predicted 12-18 months of recovery. That means he will miss the entire 2011 season, but it seems hopeful that he’ll make it to the 2012 season.

Prior and Strasburg both followed the same path to the major leagues: a few great starts in Double-A, some good ones in Triple-A, and then its on to the majors. They both lived up to expectations right from the start. However, both face the same arm action issue.

...but how will all of baseball know if he'll ever live up to his potential?

In what baseball coaches call the inverted-W motion, Strasburg and Prior both put their elbow above their shoulder when they windup. Chicago White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper was on an XM radio show on June 29th, saying, ““The real concern is what I call an upside-down arm action. I am not wishing (Strasburg) bad, but for him to be having problems right now when they are really, really watching him, what are they going to see when they are trying to get 220 innings from him? He does something with his arm action that is difficult, in my mind, to pitch a whole lot of innings on.” Cooper compared Strasburg and his arm and potential issues to, guess who, Mark Prior and another pitcher whose incredible stuff was diminished due to arm issues, New York Yankees pitcher Kerry Wood.

So what can this all mean? It could mean nothing at all. Strasburg can come back healthier than ever and better than ever, still hurling 98 mph fastballs past the major leagues. But this Tommy John surgery is a devastating blow to MLB, the Nationals, but most of all, Strasburg himself. Baseball will have to make-do with Jason Heyward being the elite player of the future for now(which isn’t so bad). But we can only look at this time as either a simple obstacle for the next big thing, or another what could have been.

Edit: 9/1/10: I was looking around for views on this, and this is Tim Dierkes’ view on MLBTR Live Chat:

3:02
[Comment From Pinetarandpocketprotectors Pinetarandpocketprotectors: ] 

Do you believe Strasburg can come back as a good pitcher in 2012? Or do you believe he’ll be Mark Prior 2.0?

Wednesday September 1, 2010 3:02 Pinetarandpocketprotectors
3:03
Tim Dierkes: I could see 2012 being disappointing but I think Stras will be an MLB star again.
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3 responses

29 08 2010
New Law Era

Chris Carpenter does this too. Thought his isn’t quite as extreme, it’s still part of the reason why the guy is so effing fragile.

I see Strasburg’s career being one where he is healthy for a few seasons, then gets hurt, then comes back and picks up right where he left off, yada yada.

But I do wonder if there will be some sort of tweak in his pitching mechanics. I don’t think it’s a question to anyone anymore about whether or not they are good.

But if altering them leads to Strasburg’s pitching becoming worse, I do wonder if the Nationals will just let Strasburg continue to pitch with these mechanics or help him change.

29 08 2010
Teix4MVP

If you looked at the throw when he suffered the injury, you could see him windup and snap that elbow. That could be an issue.

1 09 2010
Texas Flats

I’m a little late to the party, but I just thought I’d chime in and confirm the fact that, contrary to popular belief, Stephen Strasburg is NOT a modified howitzer.

Just so that’s clear.

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