Relievers compared to Strasburg

Not too long ago on The Book Blog, Tango Tiger posed the question of whether you can use closers as statistical comps for Stephen Strasburg. There just haven’t been many starting pitchers who threw as hard, had such a variety of dominant pitches, and control to boot. The few who are statistical comps in the rate of strikeouts, homeruns, and walks allowed are Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, and Randy Johnson. It’s not really appropriate to compare him to guys who had well over 200 innings per year. If I want to use historical comps to estimate a range of performance for a guy with 68 MLB innings, who better than hard throwing relievers to look at?

I looked at pitchers who had between 50 and 100 innings, walked between 1.8 and 3.0 batters per 9 innings, allowed between 0.4 and 1.1 homers per 9, and struck out over 11. I found 21 pitchers, and they averaged .7 homers, 2.6 walks, and 12.4 strikeouts in 73 innings for a 2.37 FIP. Strasburg had .7 homers, 2.3 walks, and 12.2 strikeouts and a 2.20 FIP.

His closer comps are:

Tom Henke, 1987 and 1989
Brian Harvey, 1991
Rob Dibble, 1991
Mark Wohlers, 1996
Trever Hoffman, 1997
Billy Wagner, 1999, 2001, 2006
Rob Nen, 2000
Troy Percival, 2001
Matt Mantei, 2003
Eric Gagne, 2004
Brad Lidge, 2004
Francisco Cordero, 2007
Jon Papelbon, 2007
Joakim Soria, 2009
Mike Wuertz, 2009
Joe Nathan, 2009

The following season these guys allowed 0.8 homers, 3.2 walks, and 11.0 strikeouts, not too far off from my useless projection of 0.6 homers, 2.9 walks, and 10.7 strikeouts. Useless since he’s set for Tommy John surgery.

Of the 21 comps, 5 suffered serious injuries the following season. Joe Nathan has missed the entire 2010 season after his Tommy John surgery. Mantei and Gagne pitched less than 15 innings, and Wagner (2000) and Harvey less than 30.

Among those who were healthy, Here are the FIPs by quartile:

1-4 1.69 to 2.07
5-8 2.18 to 2.94
9-12 2.95 to 3.35
13-16 3.46 to 4.50

I think I’d be comfortable with those quartile ranges if he was going to pitch another 68 innings in 2011. If he were healthy enough to pitch 150, then the median projection should stay the same but the extremes would be closer to the mean. It’s a moot point though, since we won’t see him pitch much, if at all.

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13 years ago

“There just haven’t been many starting pitchers who threw as hard, had such a variety of dominant pitches, and control to boot.”

And now we know why.

-Strasburg’s Elbow

Jeffrey Gross
13 years ago

The irony here is that Rob Dibble called Strasburg a crybaby for hurting his elbow. Needless to say Rob Dibble likely no longer works for the Nationals broadcasting co.