A couple of days ago, Joe Posnanski wrote a beautiful post (okay, that pretty much goes without saying) called “What Strasburg Means,” in which he condensed why we’re all so excited about Stephen Strasburg: he’s limitless potential, possessed of such laughably, wonderfully, enjoyably freakish gifts that even in our era of cynicism and media saturation, we’re all reduced to anticipation and wonder. In Joe’s words, “Stephen Strasburg is Christmas morning.” And his debut did nothing but increase our wonder and anticipation for his next start. Especially in a season in which two (three) perfect games have already been thrown, there seems nothing he plausibly couldn’t do.
For us in the stat community, maybe, he might be significant for still another reason. As occupied as we often are with challenging conventional wisdom, with seeing the unacknowledged value in a pitcher like Bert Blyleven or the overvaluing of a hitter like Ryan Howard, we rarely get to join in the exact same cheers as the rest of baseball. Stephen Strasburg isn’t overvalued or undervalued: his 100 mile-an-hour-heat is exactly as blistering as it appears to the naked eye, and his knee-buckling hook is just as devastating as Lastings Milledge thinks it is. He makes our jobs easy: for once, as stat analysts, we can say that the conventional wisdom is earth-shakingly right. The kid’s legit.
I saw his first start from the upper deck of Nationals Stadium on Tuesday. I couldn’t see just how his hammer danced, but I could see the
Nationals Pirates flailing, increasingly despondent, as he pounded the strike zone again and again, brought the crowd to their feet again and again, to the point that they expected excellence — audibly sighing every time the umpire called a ball — but erupted every time he delivered yet another strikeout. I was there as the guest of my friend Alyssa Rosenberg, who wrote a report of the game for a local magazine and wanted my “sabermetric” opinion of the start, and all I could tell her was what she already knew: he was amazing.
Sometimes seeing is believing.
Alex is a writer for The Hardball Times, and is an enterprise account executive for The Washington Post.