Hours before Stephen Strasburg's major league debut, Dave Nichols of the Nationals News Network did his best to look past all the hype and objectively evaluate where Strasburg stands today as a pitcher, so that you can be better prepared for what you may see out of baseball jesus tonight.
Right now, Strasburg's arsenal consists of four pitches; two different fastballs, a change up and a curve ball. Nichols took turns breaking down each, starting with the fastballs:
First, you have to talk about the fastball. But with Strasburg, nothing is easy because he has two of them. The "big one" the upper-90s four seam fastball, is something that he really hasn't relied upon too often in his short minor league career. He's shown it, but hasn't really relied upon it. He blew college hitters away with it, but it hasn't really been a big part of his arsenal professionally yet.The fastball he's relied on is the sinking two-seamer. It comes in at 94-95 and generates a lot of ground balls, and that suits everyone just fine. All of his pitches have good natural movement, so he can use all of them for "out" pitches, but if he's getting ground ball out after ground ball out, it saves pitches in his arm, and he'll be on a severe pitch count all season.
When you watch Strasburg, its clear that his fastball is his most dominant pitch. When he throws the traditional four-seam, it consistently reaches 96+ mph, with strong movement that runs in on the hands of righties and away from lefties. He also throws a sinking fastball that is faster than most pitchers can dream of ever throwing with excellent downward movement. If Strasburg gets into any trouble tonight, expect him to use the fastball to wiggle out of it
Nichols moves on to the change up:
Next is the change-up, which clocks in around 88-91. When he's gotten in trouble so far (rarely) in his 11 minor league stints, it's been on change-ups left up in the zone. Specifically in his last two starts for Syracuse, he left the change up against right handed hitters and they made solid contact on it. He needs to stay on top of the change and keep it down in the zone.
Strasburg's change up hurt him in the minors, but with some work, it can become a devastating pitch. Like the fastball, it has excellent downward movement that should help keep hitters at the next level off balance.
Finally, Nichols looks at Strasburg's breaking pitch, the curveball:
He's got the big "12-6" curveball he throws for strikes, a tighter curve that breaks below the strike zone on purpose, and a slurve (combination curve/slider) that breaks down and away to right-handed hitters, usually outside the strike zone, but with so much movement that hitters can't lay off.
Part of the reason Strasburg's curveball is so effective is that he throws it from the same position as his other pitches, as opposed to dropping down closer to a side arm like other pitchers do when throwing a breaking ball. Its never easy to hit a big league curve ball, but its nearly impossible after seeing a 99 mph fastball coming from the same arm slot.
The most important thing Nichols says is that Strasburg has enough confidence in his pitches to throw all three at any point in the count. Hopefully that confidence translates to the mound against the Pirates.