WASHINGTON - AUGUST 10: (FILE PHOTO) Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Washington Nationals pitches against the Florida Marlins at Nationals Park on August 10 2010 in Washington DC. According to reports August 26 2010 Strasburg has a torn ligament that will require Tommy John elbow surgery. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Stephen Strasburg is, by all means, having an excellent season. Through 20 starts (117.1 innings pitched), he boasts a 31.8% strikeout rate -- by far the highest mark of any qualified starter in the majors. He's also kept his walks (6.7% BB%) and home runs (0.77 HR/9) in check, giving him a 2.52 FIP. That's good for a 65 FIP-, which ties him with Zack Greinke for first in the National League. Overall, he ranks second in the NL in pitcher fWAR (3.6) and seventh in the NL in rWAR (2.9).
But this isn't really news to anybody. Stephen Strasburg is good. Just like last year (when he was healthy, that is), and just like the year before that. Strasburg is pitching like the ace that he is, just as everybody expected.
However, there's one other element to a National League pitcher's value that's often forgotten or ignored, and that is what a pitcher does with the bat. In general, it's understandable that pitchers' hitting stats don't get much attention. Depending on how a pitcher performs and how many starts he makes in a given season, he'll generally get between 50 and 80 plate appearances. For reference, Roy Halladay led all pitchers in PAs last season, at 92 -- and he was one of just five pitchers with 80+ plate appearances. With so few opportunities to contribute at the plate, pitchers have to really stand out to make a significant impact in this respect.
But the bar is low. This year, major-league pitchers are hitting a combined .127/.165/.160, which comes out to a .148 wOBA (-17 wRC+). That means that league-average offensive production from a pitcher, even if it's over a small sample, is pretty valuable -- because it's so much better than what a team will typically get out of their starter.
Enter Stephen Strasburg. Before this season, Strasburg had one major-league hit to his name. This year, though, he's found a big-time groove. Through 20 games (37 plate appearances), he's batting .323/.400/.548 (.407 wOBA, 159 wRC+). He has hit for average, he's hit for power, and he's also drawn a few walks (and gotten hit by a pitch). Overall, he's been excellent by major-league hitting standards. By pitcher standards, he's been phenomenal. And so, unsurprisingly, Strasburg's batting value comes out to 0.9 WAR (according to Fangraphs' valuation).
Which is all to say, Strasburg is having an even better season than you (presumably) think. If you add his batting fWAR to his pitching fWAR, his already-considerable value increases by 25%. In cases like Strasburg's, where a pitcher mashes at the plate, I think it's imperative that this production and added value gets the recognition it deserves.