David Huzzard: Stephen Strasburg and approach versus results

Stay within yourself, don’t try and do too much, and let the game come to you are all baseball clichés Nationals fans have become accustomed to over the early part of the 2013 season.

They aren’t easy concepts to understand until you see players not doing it. Up until the recent 7-4 run, the Nats weren’t doing any of these things and were quite a frustrating team to watch. In baseball, approach is much more important than results and many Nats players had poor approaches at the plate or on the mound.

Too many times would a Nats hitter find himself in a 1-0 count and swinging awkwardly at a pitch obviously out of the zone. The Nats were taking themselves out of at-bats and putting the pitcher back in control. Some of the Nats hitters seemed overly concerned with striking out and were swinging and making contact with pitchers’ pitches early in the count, grounding out meekly. It was all very frustrating to watch, but the most infuriating Nat to watch has been Stephen Strasburg.

This isn’t because his results have been bad. A 3.45 ERA, 8.9 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, and 1.0 HR/9 are all good and mostly in line with his career numbers. The issue is how he has reached those numbers, and watching him knowing he has been so much better. Part of it was a mechanical issue. During his four-walk game against the Atlanta Braves, Strasburg was stepping between first and home on some of his fastballs and these were the ones missing wildly.

The big issue with Strasburg isn’t the moderate reduction in strikeouts. It is that he isn’t getting into strikeout counts. In 2013, Strasburg has had two strikes on a batter 52.7 percent of the time. This is down from 57.6 percent in 2012. By the rules of baseball, it is impossible to strike a batter out without first having two strikes against him. Up until the game against the Pirates, Strasburg wasn’t attacking the zone, and most of that was due to inconsistent fastball command.

Looking at the game against the Pirates, Strasburg had a much better approach. Twenty-three of the 28 plate appearances against Strasburg ended with him ahead in the count and he went to an 0-2 count six times. Of the two home runs Strasburg gave up, one was an ambush job by Starlin Marte, a player having a breakout season, and a 1-0 fastball to Clint Barmes. The one to Barmes is more troubling, but when a pitcher throws in the mid- to high-90s, all a batter has to do is get the barrel on the ball and it will go. Strasburg has given up homers in his career to the likes of Delwyn Young, Kevin Frandsen, and James Darnell for this very reason.

Put the results aside and focus on the approach. Strasburg may have given up the second-most earned runs he has all season, but he attacked the strike zone, got ahead of batters, and got them out on his terms instead of falling behind, walking guys, and getting into too many hitters’ counts. Strasburg is not an effectively wild-stuff pitcher. It is his stuff combined with command that makes him the ace that he is, and up until the Pirates game, that command was missing.

In 159 1/3 innings pitched in 2012, Strasburg went to a 3-0 count 18 times. So far in 2013, he has done so 10 times. If Strasburg pitches like he did against the Pirates on Saturday and not how he has in his other starts, then the results will come and he will once again be the dominant pitcher everyone enjoys watching. All he has to do is stay within himself, don’t try and do too much, and let the game come to him.

David Huzzard blogs about the Nationals for Citizens of Natstown, and offers his viewpoints as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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