Stephen Strasburg is currently enjoying the longest scoreless streak of anyone this season, at a Nationals-record 34 innings. The streak started in the second inning against the Padres on August 19th, and has continued through four additional starts since. During this streak he has struck out over a third of the hitters he has faced and walked barely more than three percent of them. Surprisingly, his BABIP has not been ridiculously low during this streak, sitting at .260 starting from the second inning of that Padres game. What has really helped him out is his 97.5 percent strand rate.
Certainly having faced the Padres and the Phillies helps maintain a scoreless streak. But in his other three starts he has faced the Marlins twice, and even got unlucky enough as to draw an interleague match-up against the Astros. The Marlins’ lineup is no joke, and the Astros are having a historically good season at the plate.
Strasburg is in the midst of the best season of his career. His 2.93 RA9 is a career best, and it is over half a run better than his second-best run average in 2013. His 5.6 bWAR is the highest of his career by over two wins. Interestingly enough, his strikeout and walk rates are almost identical with his career rates. His velocity is also more or less the same as it has been since 2013. His hard-hit rate is no better than it was last year, and it is only slightly better than his 2015 season.
What has improved is Strasburg’s home run rate. He has always been a bit homer-prone, at least for a pitcher of his caliber. Over the last three seasons he gave up a home run to 2.61 percent of hitters faced. This year it is down to 2.08 percent. That might not look like much, but it is. In fact, it is a 20 percent improvement.
After that first inning against the Padres on August 19th, Strasburg had a 3.75 RA9. That means his scoreless streak has lowered his run average by 0.8 runs. That has propelled him to fourth in the NL by WAR, per Baseball Reference. The funny thing is that his WAR is only the third-highest on his own team! Max Scherzer and Gio González are tied for first, each with 6.8 WAR.
Normally making statements about a player before and after a streak would rely on arbitrary endpoints. Streaks are usually just randomness that do not reflect any change in a player’s talent level. But not this time. That day in August, Strasburg was making his first start in almost a month due to injury. He was on the DL for a nerve impingement in his elbow, which is not too serious of an injury. Perhaps there was more to it than that, or perhaps the extra rest did him a lot of good. In any case, Strasburg has been on fire since he came back.
Obviously Strasburg is not going to continue stranding almost all the baserunners he allows, and his BABIP and HR/FB will also regress. That being said, the remaining schedule is quite favorable. His next start will be against the Dodgers, but that will be at home against a west coast team in its first series of an east coast road trip. Then the Nationals face the Braves, Mets, and Phillies. Their final series is against the Pirates. Strasburg will not face all those teams, but his last few starts will be against weak competition.
Something of interest in Strasburg’s streak is, of all things, his walk rate. As mentioned before, it is at an outstanding 3.2 percent. That is exactly half his career rate. Walk rate is one of the stats that can demonstrate a change in true talent relatively quickly. Having faced only 124 batters is a small sample, but it is not that small. Maybe he figured something out, or maybe it is just health, but Strasburg might have legitimately improved his control while in the DL.
Strasburg is still 25 innings away from tying Orel Hershiser’s scoreless streak of 59 innings in 1988. That being said, he could give up a home run to the first batter he faces in his next start and it would still be a very impressive streak, and a great sign for the playoff-bound Nationals.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.