In 2013, it was a sub-.500 record that unfairly dubbed Stephen Strasburg the Washington Nationals’ second best starting pitcher to Jordan Zimmermann. In 2014, expect him to become a front-runner to win the NL Cy Young Award.
If you had to pick a candidate for the award from each individual team, most would have gone with Zimmermann to represent the Nationals. While Zimmermann finished with 11 more wins (19), Strasburg’s 3.00 ERA, 1.049 WHIP and .186 opponent batting average were better. Not to be overlooked, Strasburg’s 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings was nearly three more than his teammate.
Los Angeles Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw rightfully took home the award last season. Kershaw went 16-9 with a sensational 1.83 ERA, .915 WHIP and 232 strikeouts. Across all of MLB, it was hard to find a pitcher as dominant as Kershaw. Rarely do you see a pitcher put together a body of work over the course of a season that he did.
This coming year, however, expect Strasburg to give him a run for his money. He’s entering his third full season since Tommy Johns Surgery and his arm has shown no signs of fatigue or wear. Better yet, he’s gotten stronger. Both his WHIP and ERA dropped from 2012 to 2013. There’s no reason why we can’t expect another drop in those numbers this year.
Even more exciting is the fact that he’s added a new pitch to his arsenal. When Strasburg missed a start last September due to discomfort in his arm, he claimed it was because he was experimenting during a bullpen session. While he didn’t tell us then, he revealed at Spring Training he’s added a slider to his slue of pitches.
Opposing batters used to have to primarily worry about his zipping fastball, swooping curve and deathly slow changeup. Now they have to decipher between a 98 mph fastball, a 98 mph breaking slider or a much slower changeup with its string about to be pulled. Not to be overlooked, they also need to be wary of his wicked and demonic 85 mph curve.
Not only does history tell us to expect Strasburg to be better this season, but the fact that he’s reinvented himself says a lot as well. He’s worked hard over the offseason to be 100-percent physically and he’s even added a new weapon to his arsenal. While other pitchers stick with their big three, Strasburg is evolving and trying to stay one step ahead of his competition.
This summer, expect to see the Nationals’ pitching staff do well, highlighted by a standout year from Strasburg. The NL Cy Young Award race should be an excellent one to watch. On one side of the country, you’ll find Kershaw. On the other side, you’ll find Strasburg. Both will have great seasons, so expect the NL Cy Young Award race to be extremely close at season’s end.