Free agent target: Stephen Strasburg


Could Stephen Strasburg have picked a better time to become a free agent? Fresh off his first fully healthy season since 2014 and World Series MVP honors, the 31 year-old opted out of the four years and $100 million remaining on his contract with the World Series champions. He might be able to nearly double those amounts in the coming months.

It’s weird to think of Strasburg as a consolation prize this winter, but that’s sort of what he is. Gerrit Cole is clearly the top free agent available, but Strasburg may be 1B. If the Yankees don’t get Cole, perhaps they turn to Strasburg. Here’s what the Yankees would get if they signed him.

He’s dominant — when healthy

Since Strasburg entered the league in 2010, he’s been one of baseball’s best pitchers. Here’s where he ranks in some key categories over the last ten years:

  • ERA: 16th
  • FIP: 7th
  • K-BB%: 6th
  • fWAR: 8th
  • RA9-WAR: 14th
  • Innings pitched: 28th

It’s pretty remarkable where he stands in both WAR metrics in spite of having fewer innings pitched than his counterparts. And this season, he was the best pitcher in baseball according to DRA. Clearly, he’s great on a rate basis, but he’s not always going to be available. His medical history makes that pretty clear.

Strasburg has been placed on the injured list 11 times in his 10 year big league career. He’s dealt with a number of different maladies, and a number of them have been pitching arm related. He missed most of 2011 with Tommy John surgery, but has also had a number of issues flare up with his shoulder and elbow. Even though he didn’t hit the injured list in 2019, which was for the first time for him since 2014, the righty’s injury history is daunting.

Including the postseason, the longtime National threw a career high 245 1/3 innings in 2019. That’s far more than 2014, his last fully healthy season, when he tossed 215 regular season frames and another five in the postseason. That’s a little worrisome entering 2020.

Now, even if an injured list stint or two can be expected annually, Strasburg can be counted on to deliver when he’s on the mound. As the aforementioned rankings show, and his career 3.17 ERA and 2.96 FIP indicate, he’s an excellent pitcher. His next team will just have to hope he’s healthy when they need him most.

Current Stuff

As expected for any pitcher 10 years into his career, Strasburg’s fastball doesn’t have the velocity it once did. He came up with the Nationals throwing triple digits, whereas now he sits right around 94.

(Baseball Savant)

The good news is that Strasburg isn’t merely a thrower on the mound. He’s got the ability to sink his fastball (19.7 percent of all pitches) while also reaching back on four-seamers (28.6 percent). Plus, he’s got a nasty curveball and changeup that he mixes in with aplomb.

Poor Corey Seager right there. Stras throws his curveball more often than anything else (30.7 percent), and for good reason. His yakker’s spin rate was in the 86th percentile of the league in 2019 and featured above average horizontal movement. He also had a ridiculous 39.2 percent whiff rate on the offering this year.

Last but not least, the changeup he threw 20.7 percent of the time this campaign. He does use it a little more against left handed hitters, as one would expect, but he’s not afraid to use it against righties (as the clip above shows). Opponents whiffed at 42.4 percent of his changeups last season.

Postseason tested

Strasburg was ridiculously good this October, but he had a few strong postseason starts prior to this season too. He started one game in the 2014 NLDS against the Giants and allowed two runs (one earned) in five frames. In 2017, he started twice against the Cubs in the division series. He pitched seven frames in both outings, struck out 22, and allowed only two runs (both unearned).

This playoff run was something else, though. It started with a relief appearance against the Brewers in the Wild Card game and finished with a deserved World Series MVP. Here’s what he did in total during the Nationals’ title run:

6 games (5 starts), 36 1/3 innings, 47 strikeouts, 1.98 ERA

After three shutout relief innings in the Wild Card game, he threw at least six innings in each October start. He saved his best for last too: in Game 6, down in the series 3-2 in Houston, Strasburg led Washington to victory with 8 1/3 innings of one run ball.

It was a playoff run for the ages, no doubt. Granted, none of what he’s done for the Nats in postseason play is predictive of what he’d do for the Yankees or anyone else, but two things are quite clear: one, he’s a great pitcher and two, he’s risen to the occasion in the past. That should inspire plenty of confidence in a big spot down the line.

Contract Estimates

Fangraphs seems too low whereas Bowden may be a tad high. Bowden’s prediction would beat the previous starting pitcher contract record, set by David Price. Of course, Cole is likely to set the record this winter and beat Strasburg. Meanwhile, MLBTR’s number seems about right.

I do anticipate the deal’s duration to be on the shorter side given Strasburg’s injury history. So to that end, I think Fangraphs’ crowdsourcing is right in terms of years he’ll sign for. I just think he’ll get more money annually. 5 years, $160 million is my uninformed guess.

Does he make sense for the Yankees?

Do I really need to answer this? Of course he does. There’s not a major league team signing Strasburg doesn’t make sense for. Strasburg would be the best pitcher on just about any team, including the Yankees. That said, I don’t expect him to be in pinstripes next year. Odds are he reunites with the Nationals or goes to play for his hometown squad, the Padres.


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  1. RetroRob

    Scott Boras controls both Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. He will use that to his advantage to drive up the contracts for both players. This will play out into 2020.

    I’d love to have Strasburg, *but* to play a bit of the devil’s advocate, you do have to wonder how long he can remain at an elite level. He’ll turn 32 midway through 2020 and has already lost about five mph off his fastball since his debut.. A five-year deal takes him through age 36, six-year through age 37, etc. He may very well be a Verlander type who remains effective into his mid- and late 30s, but he’s never had the health of Verlander, and is coming off a season when he pitched into late October and tossed over 245 innings. He blew past his career high in IP. The biggest concern? TJS. On average, a TJS pitcher needs another surgery after eight seasons and I believe around 900 innings off the top of my head. Strasburg had his surgery eight years ago and has tossed nearly 1400 innings since then. It would be a bitch if surgery number dos happened in 2020!

    That all out of the way, I’d love to see him in pinstripes, even though I agree with Derek that it’s unlikely. While he doesn’t have the health of Verlander, that curve, change and command could take him well into his upper 30s just as Verlander’s pitch repertoire has him remaining elite. A repeat TJS concerns me more than any of the other items I previously mentioned.

  2. DJ Lemeddardhieu

    Now we’re cooking, Derek. An actual post about a free agent worth getting. Him and Max carried that club on their backs in that WS and that’s exactly what we need in the postseason. I’d have our new ambassador CC call him up and tell him to name his price. Whatever he wants he’s got it unless he’d like us do him a favor, though. Between Cole and Stasburg I’d go with Cole because of Stephen’s injury history but Strasburg throwing with his left foot is demonstrably better than Happ.

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