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What's in a debut performance?

Jun 9, 2010, 2:23 PM EDT

Strasburg closeup.jpgWhose major league debut was this?

Opponent: the Pirates, at home;

Line: six innings pitched, 4 hits, 2 earned runs,1 home run allowed, 10 strikeouts.

Give up? It was Mark Prior, from May 22nd 2002.

There’s a lot of that going around as people try to get their mind around Stephen Strasburg’s performance today, obviously, from references to J.R. Richard to Bob Feller to Juan Marichal to Karl Spooner.  If you extend it from debuts to rookie seasons you can throw in references to Kerry Wood, who threw that 20K, 0 BB game in 1998 to Doc Gooden, who threw two sixteen-strikeout games in 1984 and another with 14 that year as well.

I suppose there are a couple of ways to go with this. One is to freak out and make favorable comparisons to Feller and Marichal. Another is to get hysterical about, say, Frank Tanana’s or Mark Fydrich’s arm and start in with the too-much-too-soon thing.

Both seem rather silly, of course. Bob Feller and Juan Marichal would have been Hall of Famers even if they got shelled in their debut.  Nothing in Stephen Strasburg’s delivery or work load suggests the kind of injuries that Kerry Wood’s early performances did. I watched that 20K game, and even then I knew he was destined for Dr. Andrews’ office based on the torque of his delivery.

For me, I keep coming back to the Karl Spooner comparison. The guy struck out 15 dudes in his first game and made only sixteen more starts in his whole major league career. The singularity of his debut accomplishment had no predictive power whatsoever.  It just tells us that we never know with these things.

I think Strasburg is going to have a great career. After reading a whole day’s worth of reactions to his debut, however, I think I’m ready to watch it actually happen rather than sit back and try to predict it.

  1. Church of the Perpetually Outraged - Jun 9, 2010 at 2:31 PM

    I think I’m ready to watch it actually happen rather than sit back and try to predict it.

    I can’t wait to see his line after his first five or six starts, considering a normal 5 game rotation has him going against: Cle, Chisox, Bal, Atl, SD and SF. Not exactly a run through some juggernauts.

  2. Craig Calcaterra - Jun 9, 2010 at 2:34 PM

    Excellent point. So good, in fact, I’m stealing it for a post.

  3. RedOctober - Jun 9, 2010 at 3:08 PM

    same thing could be said about Ubaldo Jimenez…his starts: arizona, San Fran, arizona, houston, washington, LA Dodgers, San Diego, Arizona, Washington, Atlanta…

  4. KR - Jun 9, 2010 at 3:21 PM

    The theory now from Riggleman et al. is that Strasburg will be pitching every 5th *day*, regardless of games, which would have him skip Baltimore.

  5. Joey B - Jun 9, 2010 at 3:37 PM

    It’s the same thing with real life. Fans see a good team play .525 for the month and start screaming that they’re struggling, and fail to consider that they played 22 of 29 on the road and a WC trip. The same team comes home, plays a stretch that includes BA, KC, CL, etc., play .750, and look like warriors. It’s the same team, just a different schedule.
    Theoretically, based on RPG, an ERA of 3.26 against PT, is an ERA of 5.00 against Cincy. If Strasbourg finishes with a 3.26, he’s ROY and a future HOF. If he finishes with a 5.00, he’s a major disappointment.

  6. ecp - Jun 9, 2010 at 3:55 PM

    Seems like everybody saves their hot pitching prospect until they can debut against the Pirates, doesn’t it? First Prior, now Strasburg.
    As for his line after facing those first five or so “juggernauts,” how seriously can we actually take it? And what if – gasp! – it turns out that his line is just average?

  7. Ace - Jun 9, 2010 at 4:11 PM

    Just for my own amusement, I looked up how each of those teams ranks in the national league in terms of runs scored: 3, 14, 3, 15, 11, 5, 12, 3, 11, 2. Across 10 starts then, his opponents have been an average of just slightly better than 8th in the league in runs scored. In other words, perfectly balanced.

  8. RedOctober - Jun 9, 2010 at 4:59 PM

    fair enough. but are we really going to say Milwaukee has a more potent/better offense than Philly since the Brewers have more RS so far in 2010?
    RS seems a bit flimsy.
    ARZ has the most K’s, 4th worst among the league in BA, 4th worst in OBP…they get everything by HR’s. there’s more to the competition than Runs Scored at face value.

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