Spring Training is a time of tinkering and of self-discovery. It is a time of betterment projects designed to make your favorite baseball player a more well-rounded member of baseball society.
Sure, most players are who they are and no amount of drills or repetition will change their ways, but that doesn’t mean they should quit trying! For the same reason you have to wait 20 minutes for a treadmill in mid-January, Spring Training is about becoming a better version of yourself.
You might look at Stephen Strasburg and see one of the best pitchers in baseball. You see his otherworldly stuff and marvel at his command and all-around dominance. He looks like he could strike out 20 hitters every time he toes the rubber! That’s good, an attribute to be envied.
But Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals are not content with the status quo for the young Boras client. They want more. They want the world! They want…to limit the number of bags opponents steal off the big right-hander???
Groan as you might, the ability to control the running game is nothing if not a decent spring talking point. Stephen Strasburg, he of the long limbs and somewhat deliberate move to the plate, was frequently victimized by base stealers in 2012, allowing 14 successful base swipes in 16 attempts over his 160 innings.
Not a great rate, one of the worst caught stealing percentages of all starting pitchers in 2012. Like most, the stolen bases didn’t exactly come back to haunt him. Justin Verlander is often victimized by base stealers and it doesn’t seem to bother him much.
But this is the focus of Strasburg and the Nats this spring. They want their ace to vary his times to the plate, taking longer pauses and all the little things designed to thwart thieves. Yet, in an outing against the Braves yesterday, a stolen base threat caused Stras to fall to pieces in the sixth inning, spending altogether too much time in his own head.
Strasburg’s initial thought when a runner reaches base is to go back to his original delivery, concentrating mostly on the batter at the plate. When he tries to speed up his delivery home, however, he tries to speed up his arm, too, which causes him to elevate the ball. The lower and upper body are then not in sync.
“Or I try to play catch up with my arm and I usually throw it in the ground,” he said. “So it’s just a fine line. But I know when it’s feeling right, it’s there. It’s just trying to keep working on it and trust it out there.”
All important stuff but, in the big picture, far less important than Strasburg revamping his two-seam fastball to induce more ground balls and become a better pitcher.
Looking through Strasburg’s game logs, there was one particularly bad outing that surely stuck with the Nats hurler. An ugly game against the Phillies, where Strasburg lasted just four innings, surrendering six runs and three steals, the most in any one start on the year.
The base stealers got to Strasburg that day, as Juan Pierre stole second and then took off for third, swiping the bag and coming home when the catcher’s throw sailed into the outfield. But the real indignity, the theft that surely stays with Strasburg to this day, came later.
That’s right. Cliff Lee made his daring dash for second base against Stephen Strasburg! How humiliating for the former first overall pick – made to look foolish in front of his home fans by the opposing pitcher!
If this isn’t enough to send you back to the drawing board, determined to be a more complete pitcher, I don’t know what does. Cliff Lee, man. He makes all men better, working in mysterious ways.
And the rest
Benny Fresh recaps the Twins off-season. [MLB TR]
The true cost of a Super Two – a Mets fan makes the case to game Travis d’Arnaud’s service time. [Amazin Avenue]
Rawlings will incorporate a sabrmetric component into Gold Glove voting! [Big League Stew]
Is Maicer Izturis ready to play everyday? [Tao of Stieb]