The Inside Scoop on Strassburg’s Struggles

I  just read a very detailed analysis of Stephen’s problems this year (by Dan Rozenson in Baseball Prospectus)..  It boils down to the fact the he has not been able to throw his off-speed pitches (curve and change-up) where he wants them.  Up until this year he has been able to do that, and that keeps hitters guessing and off-balance.  This year when he needs a strike he has been going to his fastball a lot more because he has to.  That is like giving candy to your 6 year old:).  All major League hitters can hit a fastball or they would not be in the major leagues.

The ability to locate pitches is essential to be successful as a pitcher.  And to do that consistently requires a tough mental makeup—call it “grit” or “determination”.   If you are not sure what that looks like, watch Max Scherzer pitch for 2 minutes:)

Those of you who have read a lot of my blog-posts know I have never been optimistic about Strassburg’s chances of having a successful career.  I now think he has already peaked and is on the downhill side of a short career in the major leagues.  This is a very tough pill to swallow for the Nats braintrust I’m sure.

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An October Preview?

I’m still savoring the just-completed series with the Cubbies!  I would not be surprised if both teams meet in October; the Cubs have improved A LOT and they are a fun team to watch, with so many young studs:)  Kris Bryant grew up playing with Bryce Harper as a kid in Las Vegas and it was fun watching the 2 of them hugging in the outfield before one game and bantering back and forth during the games.  Each game was a nail-biter and I think only 11 runs (total for BOTH teams) were scored in the entire series!

We got to see what a gem Mike Rizzo found in Casey Jansen.  He pitches like a combination of Scherzer and Fister (in-your-face aggression, only high 80s speed and good control).  And the spectacular way he fielded Dexter Fowler’s surprise bunt and threw him out at 1B was jaw-dropping. He may make us do the unthinkable and forget Tyler Clippard!

The Nats bullpen (I’ve said this before) is jelling and Mgr Matt Williams (and “Cat” too) deserves a lot of the credit for learning how to use every one of the guys from Treinen to Storen.

 

 

Nats Notes

A footnote regarding my last article:  Boz has a great article on Stephen Strassburg in today’s Wash. Post.

Harper has more HRs in the month of May than two TEAMS:  the Phillies and Braves!

Max Scherzer’s own batting average (.200) is higher than that of all the hitters he has faced thus far in 2015 (.199).  I don’t think many pitchers can say that; maybe only Bumgarner.

The Time Has come!

Stephen Strassburg no longers fits in the Nats rotation.  Tanner Roark does.  I wrote about trading him last year; it didn’t happen.  When the team acquired Scherzer, that was another good time to unload Strass.  When Stephen fails twice to back up plays, something we all learn in High School, that’s another sign.  But the clearest signs are what we all see with his body-language and his mechanics when he is on the mound.  This year  Strass looks the “least comfortable” I have ever seen him.

The easiest move would be to send him to Syracuse, take the pressure off him and see if he can regain some “will to succeed.”  Right now he is a lost soul.  Honestly, I think trying to trade him could be difficult.

If the Nats are serious about getting to the post-season, this problem needs to be addressed NOW.

Cubs Upstage Bears

The Chicago Cubs, with a new manager and a great front office, are finally re-joining major-league baseball:)  Joe Maddon, the new manager, showed his stuff while driving Tampa Bay to the post-season a few years ago.  He appears to being working his entertaining magic in Chicago this year!  He has the Cubbies gaining on the front-running St. Louis Cardinals.  The team features tons of young talent full of swagger and two excellent aces on the mound (Jeff Samardzija and John Lester).

Note (posted after the above was published):  I realize I made a big mistake above saying Jeff Samardzija is now pitching for the Cubbies:)  He used to pitch for them, but now is across town with the White Sox!  My only excuse for such a screw-up is I wrote the article at around 6am this morning after only one cup of Joe, and it usually takes me three cups to really get rolling!

So at present Lester is the ace of the pitching staff and Jason Hammell and Jake Arrietta are the other mainstays of the staff.  I must add here that i listen to the MLB channel on XM-radio a lot and i have heard some talk (it may just be speculation) about Samardzija returning to the Cubs after this season ends.

With one more quality pitcher (Cole Hammels?) and one more young stud from their AAA team (I forget the guy’s name) before the end of July, the Cubs could find themselves still playing ball after October 1.

Stay tuned!

Last Minute Ticket to Paradise!

A friend called me about 3pm yesterday to say he had a spare ticket to the game last night.  Luckily I took it!  I watched maybe the best game I have seen ever at Nats Park.

The big one was RZimm’s walk-off homer.  But Spann made an incredible catch on a tailing line-drive in right center.  When I saw it live i was impressed, but when I watched the replay several times it dawned on me (and I’ve been playing outfield for many years) how difficult a catch I had witnessed.  He had to catch it back-handed as it tailed towards him.  If he had dived for it he would have missed it.

And then we got to see Wilmer Difo’s first ever big-league at bat—a sharp single.  he had just been called up from AA (not AAA!).  What impressed me more than the hit though, was how nervous he made the Yankees once they saw him dancing way off first-base:)

And then the Nats bull-pen out-pitched the Yankees pen (a VERY good one).  Closer Miller had not surrendered a run all year!

And then I learned RZimm has 10–count em—walk-off homers.  That has him in rare company (Stan Musial, Albert Pujols, David Ortiz, Jim Thome).  and Zimm is only 30.

Note:  I left out the following:  Drew Storen striking out A-Rod in a key 9th inning situation was lovely.  And then later learning that since August of 2013 Storen has the third best stats of any reliever in baseball!

 

Curve-ball Nightmares

Yesterday a friend pitching for the opposing team struck me out on a nasty curve!  Not the first time for that, but over the years I’ve got my base-hits off curves; in fact my best hit yesterday was a sharp RBI line-drive up the middle off a curve!

OK, on the the real story:  Bryce Harper.  His OPS (on-base average plus slugging) is on a par with that of Barry Bonds in 2004, possibly the best ever.  1.206 is a crazy OPS for a whole season; it will be fun watching Bryce try to maintain this.

I looked at about 15 offensive stats and Harper is among the top 4 in most of them, for all of MLB.  Many are talking a lot about Giancarlo Stanton this year, but as good as he is, Bryce is better thus far.

It is noteworthy that Harper has publically credited his manager Matt Williams with helping him get to this level.  He says Williams helped quiet down his swing, keep his head still and stop chasing pitches out of the strike-zone.

Sleep-deprived but Happy!

I really thought the Nats would lose yesterday’s last game with the D’backs but Mikey came through:)  And the game helped us all try to stop obsessing about Strassburg.

I have thought for a long time that the team should cut their losses and deal “Sensitive Stephen.”  He is the biggest “head case” I’ve seen in the last 70 years or so.  His mechanics are off and he’s so fixated on that he is spending too much time (in the middle of games) thinking about it rather than just pitching.

I hope Jay-Dub is finally moving his batting towards his personal comfort zone.  He had some good swings yesterday.

The nats will have more trouble in San Diego that they did in Phoenix:)

Mighty Girl History

Here’s a great story for you jaded baseball buffs!

Jackie Mitchell, pitcher for the Chattanooga Lookouts, a minor league baseball team, struck out baseball legends Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig during an exhibition game. Born in 1912, Mitchell showed a talent for baseball from a young age. Her next door neighbor, future Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Dazzy Vance, taught her how to pitch as a girl, including his special “dr…op ball” pitch.

At 17, Mitchell joined a women’s team, attended baseball school in Atlanta, and was soon offered a contract by the Chattanooga Lookout for the 1931 season — one of the first professional baseball contracts given to a woman. It was during this season that Mitchell became famous for striking out two of the greatest baseball players in history Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, pictured with her below. Unfortunately, shortly thereafter, the baseball commissioner voided her contract, declaring the game “too strenuous” for women. Jackie Mitchell continued to play professionally with traveling teams until her retirement from the sport in 1937.

There are two wonderful books for young readers about Mitchell’s fascinating story: “Mighty Jackie: The Strike-Out Queen,” a picture book for 4 to 8 (http://www.amightygirl.com/mighty-jackie-the-strike-out-queen) and an early chapter book “The Girl Who Struck Out Babe Ruth” for 6 to 8 (http://www.amightygirl.com/the-girl-who-struck-out-babe-ruth).

 

The Much Maligned Bull-pen is Coming Together!

They lost the two most dependable relievers from last year:  Clip and Stammen, so the pen took much of April to sort out new roles.  Add to that the team’s bringing in 5 guys who had never thrown a pitch in the majors!

Last night, after Strass left the game after only 3 innings, the pen threw 6 shut-out innings.  Sammy Solis efficiently breezed through 3 innings while allowing only one batter to reach base.  Whatever pitch he throws seems to miss bats with regularity.

Thornton, Barrett and Treinen completed the game with no runners crossing home-plate.  Thornton does seem to be having some command issues, but has still been pretty effective.

Drew Storen, since August of 2013, has simply been the BEST relief pitcher in the National League!  See Boswell’s article in today’s POST.