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Why Stephen Strasburg is having a career year

Why Stephen Strasburg is having a career year

By Cam Ellis

When Stephen Strasburg signed his 7-year, $175 million contract extension almost a month ago, the immediate reaction was mixed. On one hand, here were the Nationals, spending $175 million on a 27-year old pitcher who has already had one Tommy John surgery who only averages about six innings per start. FanGraphs suggests that the average lifespan of a surgically repaired elbow is about 650 innings pitched. It's now been almost 700 innings since Strasburg's surgery. 

On the other hand, there were those are looked at the signing as the team locking up the 2009 #1 overall pick with a career 2.83 FIP, 855 strikeouts and a career 20.8 WAR for a sizeable discount considering what any other pitcher with similar stats that hadn't had Tommy John would get. 

So far, getting the extension done in the middle of a season -- something out of the norm for someone represented by Scott Boras - looks like a savvy move for the Nationals. Strasburg is in the middle of a career year, as his anecdotal but not-really-all-that-meaningfull record of 9-0 would suggest. A look at his numbers and a couple things jump right off the page: 

The emergence of another plus-pitch

Straburg has been throwing his slider for three years now, and it's continuing to evolve into another useful pitch for him. 

As shown above, this is the first year that Strasburg has heavily leaned on his slider. His moving away from a curveball (a pitch that, by FanGraphs numbers, was never a strong pitch to begin with) towards a slider could in part help explain why his K/9 (11.39) is the highest it's been since his rookie season (12.8). Considering he only pitched 68 innings that season, it's safe to argue that this year is the most effective one of his career so far in that respect. 

Not only is the pitch better, but Strasburg is trusting it. Per BrooksBaseball, below are his usage charts from last season to now. 

Now this season:

First off, he's finally throwing it against lefties this year. Against righties, he's throwing it 23% more in general as well as 23% more while he's head. Interestingly enough, he's also using it more against both lefties and righties when he falls behind in the count. Using it when your ahead is one thing - a jump in usage when behind in the count is a better indicate of how much he trusts the pitch. You'll also notice how quickly it's replacing his curveball as the primary breaking ball. 

He's missing more bats. 

Which obviously makes sense, considering point #1. Yes, his 2016 K/9 is one of the best of his career, but a handful of other numbers help point out that Strasburg's strikeout numbers are rising. For starters, batters aren't hitting the ball nearly as hard as they usually do off him. 

His Soft% continues to rise while his Hard% continues to fall. Batters are having a harder time squaring up against Strasburg over the last three years - the same three years that Strasburg has been throwing his slider. But that's not all:

Since beginning to throw the pitch, Strasburg has been steadily throwing it faster. He's added almost three miles an hour to it; if there's anything that helps cover up for the loss of velocity when pitchers reach their late 20's, it's the emergence of improved off speed stuff - a slider right under 90mph ain't the worst thing to fall back on. 

All in all, it's not just the slider that's giving Strasburg career numbers. He's allowing less line drives, inducing more ground balls and stranding more men on base. He's basically been the Stephen Strasburg that Nats fans have come to expect, just with a new slider to go along. And 175 million more dollars. 

RELATED: Harper slips in latest round of NL All-Star voting 

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With Ross placed on 60-day DL, Nationals agree to 1-year deal with veteran reliever

With Ross placed on 60-day DL, Nationals agree to 1-year deal with veteran reliever

WASHINGTON  -- The Washington Nationals say they have agreed to a one-year deal with 40-year-old reliever Joaquin Benoit.

The team announced the move Wednesday, along with placing pitcher Joe Ross on the 60-day disabled list as he recovers from Tommy John surgery in July.

The Nationals didn't release terms of the agreement, though a person with knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press on Monday that it was for $1 million.

The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the deal wasn't official at the time.

MORE NATIONALS: FULL 2018 SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE

Benoit is a right-hander who first reached the big leagues in 2001. 

He has played for eight teams, finishing last year with Pittsburgh.

He has 764 career appearances, going 58-49 with a 3.83 ERA and 53 saves.

RELATED: 2018 MLB BETTING ODDS

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It's Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

It's Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

So if you have not heard, Bryce Harper is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2018 season.

All off-season talking heads, baseball aficionados, radio hosts, etc. were speculating on where the outfielder’s destination will be next year.

And we are still a year away from it actually happening.

RELATED: VEGAS SETS OVER/UNDERS FOR 2018 MLB SEASON

Reporting to spring training on Monday, Harper did not waste any time telling the media how his press conferences were going to play out this season.

“If guys do [ask], or talk anything about that, I will be walking right out the door.”

Entering his seventh season with the Washington Nationals, the 25-year-old is coming off the second-best season, statistically, of his career. The 2015 NL MVP has hit .285 in his career, with 150 home runs and 421 RBIs. Unquestionably he is the face of the Nationals’ organization, if not, the best player in the team’s history.

If he does end the season without a contract extension, he will join Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, and Barry Bonds as the top sought out free agents in MLB history.

One thing is for certain in terms of Harper’s free agency; Harper has given no inclination on where his landing spot will be.  The top three cities are of course his favorite childhood team, the New York Yankees; joining with one of his closest friends with the Chicago Cubs; or just staying with Washington.

Wherever he does land, it does appear that it will be the largest contract given to a free agent ever.

As for now we just wait and direct any of your calls to his agent Scott Boras.

READ ALSO: NATIONALS FULL SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE