Tuesday, April 19, 2016
Washington Nationals @ Miami Marlins, 7:10 PM ET
WSH: Stephen Strasburg, age 27 (Season: 13.2 IP, 10 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 HR, 5 BB, 11 K. Last start: 7.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 K – 100 pitches, 69 strikes, 28 BF vs. ATL on 4/14)
MIA: Adam Conley, age 26 (Season: 7.0 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 HR, 3 BB, 11 K. Last start: 6.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 9 K – 93 pitches, 56 strikes, 22 BF vs. NYM on 4/13)
Stephen Strasburg had a down year in 2015, missing nearly two months due to injury and posting a career-high 3.46 ERA. Despite the relatively sub-par results, Strasburg’s peripherals were impressive, per usual, as he worked to a 2.81 FIP, 1.11 WHIP, 8.1 H/9, 1.0 HR/9, 1.8 BB/9, and 11.0 K/9. His 5.96 K/BB rate would’ve ranked 5th-best in baseball had Strasburg pitched enough innings to qualify for the ERA title.
The hard-throwing righty’s 2016 season has begun with better results, as he’s picked up two wins in two starts and accumulated a 1.98 ERA and 2.59 FIP in 13.2 innings. In his first start, Strasburg worked six innings against the Atlanta Braves, allowing one run on six hits, three walks, and four strikeouts. Eight days later Strasburg once again took the mound against Atlanta and turned in an even better start, allowing two runs on four hits and two walks over 7.2 innings of work, picking up seven strikeouts along the way.
The one major concern about Strasburg’s performance is perhaps the number of walks he’s allowed. While the 3.3 BB/9 is uncharacteristically high, there’s nothing about the way Strasburg has been pitching that is particularly worrisome. His overall strike percentage this season sits at 67.0 percent, and has been exactly 67.1 percent in each of the last two seasons. In terms of allowing hitters to get into three-ball counts, Strasburg has been consistent as well, allowing seven three-ball counts in 51 batters faced this season, good for a 13.7 percent rate. Last season, that rate was 14.0 (73-for-523).
Additionally, Strasburg has historically walked more batters than usual early in the season. In 2014 he walked 9 batters in 20.2 innings to begin the season (3.9 BB/9), and last season he walked seven in 24 innings (2.6 BB/9) to open the year. In both of those seasons, Strasburg finished with a BB/9 below two and a K/BB rate above five.
One thing that stands out positively about Strasburg’s performance thus far is his new and improved slider. Last season Strasburg threw just 11 sliders according to Brooks Baseball, accounting for just over 0.5 percent of his pitches. This season Strasburg has thrown 23 sliders already, accounting for over 12 percent of his pitches, rivaling his curveball (27 percent) and changeup (28 percent) in usage. The slider has been remarkably consistent in location for a “new” pitch, working mostly down and to the edge of the plate, with all of the misses coming to Strasburg’s glove side:
It’s been relatively successful thus far, inducing 13 percent whiffs and going for a strike over 80 percent of the time. The one concerning sign is the 13 percent line-drive rate, which has led to a .375 BABIP by opposing hitters thus far. Conversely, the pitch has resulted in no fly balls and 17.4 percent ground balls so far, which is a good sign. Hopefully as the pitch gets more usage and the results normalize, the line drive rate and BABIP will go down without sacrificing whiffs or ground balls.
On the other side of the ball on Tuesday night is young Marlins left-hander Adam Conley. Conley debuted in 2015 for the Marlins, pitching in 15 games (11 starts). Conley worked 67.0 innings to the tune of a modest 3.76 ERA. Conley’s 2015 season started on a sour note, however, as he worked just one inning against the Nationals in his first start, allowing three runs on two hits, two walks, and two strikeouts. His second outing was much better, as he worked six scoreless innings against the New York Mets, allowing four hits and a walk while striking out nine batters.
In his first start, Conley’s command failed him, as he found himself falling behind batters and failing to throw even 50 percent strikes. His fastball velocity was up over three mph from last season’s average, and he was missing badly to his glove side quite often, which indicates he could have been overthrowing in his first start:
In his next outing, Conley’s fastball dropped down a couple ticks (still higher than 2015, though) and was commanded much better, leading to far more success. While Conley still showed a propensity for working his pitches across his body to his glove side, he worked the opposite side of the plate much better and threw far more strikes against the Mets.
You can see how different Conley’s fastball was by the velocity as well as the movement statistics, and the results show that the second iteration of Conley’s fastball is the more effective version.
Another catalyst for Conley’s bounce-back performance was the use of his changeup which was arguably his best pitch last season. Of his three pitches (fastball, changeup, slider), the changeup induced the most swings and misses, the most ground balls (which don’t come often for Conley, who had a GB% five percent lower than league average last season), and went for strikes most often. In his first start, Conley didn’t get the chance to work in his changeup, likely due to his inability to get ahead in the count where the pitch would be most effective.
Against New York, however, Conley was able to mix in 11 changeups in his 93-pitch outing. Of those 11 pitches, eight went for strikes, two were whiffed on, and the only ball put in play went for an out. Conley showed pretty good command of the pitch, locating eight of the 11 pitches below the mid-line of the strike zone, with one more left a bit up but right on the edge of the plate:
If Conley can replicate the successful fastball he featured on Wednesday night as well as continue to use his changeup effectively, he should see more good results moving forward. Throwing in the low-90s from the left side with arm-side run is an inherent advantage as a pitcher, and if Conley can maximize his potential by locating effectively and mixing his pitches well, he could be on track to having a breakout season in 2016.
In this matchup, Strasburg is the seasoned veteran, and Conley is the young arm looking to cement himself in a big-league rotation. Despite this fact, however, Strasburg is still just one year older than Conley. While one is a household name already and the other is a relative unknown, this matchup will feature two talented young pitchers facing off in an early-season divisional game. Look for Strasburg to continue using his slider effectively. If he can continue to consistently use the pitch well, he could reach a new level of success this season. Watch Conley in the first inning to see which version of him shows up; the struggling, overthrowing version from his season debut or the in-control, effective version from last week.
Seattle Mariners @ Cleveland Indians, 6:10 PM ET: Wade Miley @ Carlos Carrasco – Wade Miley makes his third start as a Mariner after posting a 8.25 ERA and 1.42 WHIP in 12.0 innings over his first two outings. Carlos Carrasco takes the hill for the Tribe after working a dominant eight-inning, one-run, eight-strikeout game against Tampa Bay on April 13.
Tampa Bay Rays @ Boston Red Sox, 7:10 PM ET: Drew Smyly @ Joe Kelly – After picking up a tough-luck loss in his second start of the season — allowing three runs (two earned) off three hits and a walk with a whopping eleven strikeouts in seven innings — lefty Drew Smyly takes the hill in the series opener against the Red Sox. With Steven Wright pitching well and Eduardo Rodriguez due back from the disabled list at the end of the month, Joe Kelly desperately needs a quality start if he wishes to remain in the Red Sox rotation after allowing nine earned runs on fourteen hits and eight walks in eight innings to begin the season.