Stephen Strasburg’s AFL Surpriseby Harry Pavlidis
November 03, 2009
Stephen Strasburg made an impressive start Monday in the Arizona Fall League. Working into the fifth inning, the top pick of the 2009 draft showcased his elite stuff. Despite the scouting on the Nationals phenom, eyebrows were raised by Strasburg's velocity.
The AFL has PITCHf/x installed in both Peoria (home of two clubs) and Surprise, leaving Mesa and Phoenix in the stone ages. Strasburg's visit to Surprise was just his second start in front of the PITCHf/x cameras and keen observers noted an increase in his already impressive velocity. On Oct. 22, Strasburg threw in Peoria, where he topped out just under the century mark. In Surprise, Strasburg broke 101 once, and threw 12 other pitches over 100 mph.
One benefit of the AFL is the sheer volume of pitchers used in each game. Of the pitchers appearing Monday in Surprise seven, including Strasburg, had also made an appearance in Peoria. The other six: Josh Wilkie, Drew Storen, Tanner Scheppers, Jeff Mandel, Scott Gorgen and Danny Gutierrez. Wilkie happened to pitch, along with Strasburg, in Peoria on Oct. 22.
Trust but verify
Isolating four-seam fastballs, let's start with a comparison of Strasburg and Wilkie in Surprise on Nov. 2 (red) and Peoria on Oct. 22 (blue) (click images to enlarge):
Two more pitched in Peoria on Oct. 21, so let's throw their fastballs into the mix
Future Nationals closer Storen worked in Peoria on Oct. 19. He was faster in Surprise, too.
I can't say the PITCHf/x system was hot in Surprise, only the Washington blue-chippers.
Getting used to Strasburg
Stephen Strasburg is proving to be everything he was hyped to be. He threw 101 and sat at 98. He threw sinkers in the upper 90s. His change-up was 90 mph. His curveball had snapping movement and was thrown as hard as most sliders. He's a nightmare for hitters already.
Strasburg is also young and developing. All pitchers have some game-to-game difference in stuff—speed, movement and selection. Surprise may have been the scene of an unusually strong outing. It may be normal for him someday. Whatever it was, the speed wasn't an illusion.
References and Resources
PITCHf/x data from MLBAM
Pitch classifications by the author
Inspiration came via Twitter (@projectprospect and @bigmike05)
Harry Pavlidis admits he has a baseball problem. He is the founder of Pitch Info LLC, His pitch classifications power the player cards at Brooksbaseball.net. Feedback, questions and comments are appreciated - Email firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @harrypav