A Stephen Strasburg Warning for the Nats
- Updated: September 5, 2009
It was only a year after the club had failed to sign their 2008 first round draft pick, Aaron Crow. A circus of a situation, the Nats had failed to sign the premium pitching talent over a matter of $900,000. He only wanted $4.4 million, but the Nationals 2009 first overall draft pick Stephen Strasburg, reportedly wanted somewhere between $20 and $50 million.
Like a beaten dog, Nats fans dreaded this day. Their confidence in their front office was zero, and they knew that they would yet again not only be the laughing stock of their friends and family, but of the national sports media. It’s not easy being affiliated with what so far this season has been an embarrassment.
However to essentially everyone’s surprise, the Washington Nationals got the Strasburg deal done, with only 77 seconds to spare. Finally ineptitude did not reign, the Nationals had landed a future superstar and for once spared themselves, and their fans, embarrassment and ridicule.
But with the signing of Strasburg it’s important for Nationals fans to be patient and aware of previous savior-of-the-franchise pitchers that have flamed out. We have to look no further than to last year’s all-star, Ben Sheets.
Sheets had been drafted in 1999, 10th overall by the Brewers, and by 2000 he was an Olympic hero for the American Baseball team. He soon rode his new found fame to the Major Leagues, however many speculated that he may have been rushed. For three years Sheets produced mediocre results, which were interrupted by shoulder problems.
In 2004 however Sheets broke out in a big way. In 34 starts the hard throwing righty posted a 2.70 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 264 strikeouts to only 32 walks in 220 innings pitched. Those numbers were good enough for the leagues best strikeout to walk ratio and for a second All Star appearance for Sheets.
In the second half of 2008 Ben Sheets was joined by C.C Sabathia to give the Brewers their first playoff appearance in decades. In 130 innings Sabathia went 11-2, posted a 1.65 ERA and struck out 128. Sheets matched his brilliance with three shutouts of his own, along with a 3.09 ERA.
However the team met their downfall in the playoffs when Sheets could not pitch due to yet another arm injury. They lost 3-1 in the NLDS to eventual World Champions, the Philadelphia Phillies.
Sheets arm troubles came from years of over work in a time when he should have been developing. By the time the Brewers needed him to be the Cy Young caliber pitcher he was, his arm was already on the fritz. The Brewers were in a bind in the early part of the decade and they needed their phenom young stud to pitch in the majors, whether that would result in success or failure.
If the Nationals are lucky, newly introduced pitcher Stephen Strasburg may someday reach the level of Ben Sheets at his best. Like Sheets, Strasburg pitches above 95 miles per hour, has great breaking pitches, and tremendous strikeout potential.
Sheets and Strasburg both hold the distinction of striking out 20 batters in one Division I college baseball game, and of course they both hold the distinction of being anointed the savior of a franchise much in need of saving.
Both young starters pitched for team USA and both were considered at that time, essentially MLB ready.
Today however, the two stand very much apart in their careers, as Strasburg was just introduced into the league, and Sheets is currently on the outside looking in.
Yet another shoulder surgery in the 2008 offseason left Sheets without a team for 2009, and while he will likely be back someday, neither he nor the Brewers will find the form they had in 2008 for a while.
The Nationals must learn from the Brewers cautionary tale and protect their investment. While we all may be itching to see number 37 in uniform, lets remember that number 15 no longer is.
Patience; it’s the key to hitting, it’s the key to pitching, and it’s the key to long careers.