The 2013 season was a big one for Stephen Strasburg in a few ways.
Obviously, it was the first time Strasburg had pitched a full season in the big leagues, a milestone that he had a right to be proud of. Despite a couple of injuries that caused him to miss a few starts along the way, Strasburg still hit the 30-start mark and finished with a career-high 183 innings pitched.
He only won eight games on the season and finished with a losing record, but Strasburg posted an impressive 3.00 ERA, struck out 9.4 batters per nine innings and allowed slightly more than a baserunner per inning, strong numbers that might have gotten overlooked across the league partly because of his win-loss record.
What does the now 25-year-old have planned for 2014 as he tries to take the next step in his development? Well, he’s got a few things on his mind that he’s looking to improve on an individual level.
“Definitely working on (my) pickoff move, working on time out of the stretch,” Strasburg said. “Working on commanding fastballs both sides of the plate, sinkers more so on both sides of the plate, too. Just trying to take that next evolution. Trying to get more complete.”
The first two items in that list will certainly make pitching coach Steve McCatty and bench coach Randy Knorr happy.
The Nationals have been trying to get Strasburg to improve his time to the plate and to vary his movements and timing out of the stretch for a while now, but it’s been one area that has been tough for the right-hander to smoothly make a part of his game.
At times, Strasburg tends to get so locked in on the hitter that he loses track of baserunners or forgets to adjust his timing to the plate, allowing baserunners to get a fairly easy read on when he’s making a move home. That’s led to a number of easy stolen bases over the last couple of years.
In 2012, Strasburg allowed 14 stolen bases (most on the Nationals) and was a part of just two runners being caught stealing. In 2013, Strasburg allowed 13 stolen bases (second-most on the team) and helped Nats catchers to throw out five runners attempting to swipe a bag.
This season, McCatty and Knorr (who has been in charge of managing the running game in past years) will try and help Strasburg continue to improve in that area. The fact that the right-hander is eager to make strides when it comes to holding runners should help make that an easier process.
As far as going the distance last season, it was obviously something new for Strasburg, whose innings had been slowly stretched out the last couple of years after having Tommy John surgery in 2010, but it was a development that the right-hander was certainly happy with.
“It was definitely going to be a challenge,” Strasburg said. “I think for any guy in that situation where the leash is taken off, I was excited for it. I didn’t reach some of the expectations that I had for myself, but I thought it was still a pretty good improvement from where I was, so I’m just ready to take the next step.”
On another note, ESPN’s Keith Law ranked all 30 major league teams’ minor league systems the other day, and he has listed the Nationals 18th among big league organizations.
“The Nats’ system has a little more depth than it’s had in several years, but most of their elite prospects have already graduated, with only (right-hander) Lucas Giolito in the overall top 50,” Law writes. “Their list’s caliber drops off quickly after six or seven names.”
Most sites that evaluate minor league talent have Giolito and fellow right-hander A.J. Cole as the only Nats minor leaguers ranked in the top 100 prospects in baseball, but Baseball Prospectus recently had outfielder Brian Goodwin among their top 100 prospects as well.