Stephen Strasburg's Debut

June 10, 2010

While history has taught us to be cautious of highly regarded prospects, it seems that through his first start, Stephen Strasburg certainly lived up to the hype. Strasburg picked up the win in his first big league start while going seven innings, allowing four hits, two earned runs. The most impressive part of the performance was 14 strikeouts with nary a walk. This was all good for a Game Score of 75.

Game Score is a metric devised by Bill James to determine how well a starting pitcher fared in a given start based on the number of outs recorded, hits, walks, runs, and strikeouts. An average start registers a Game Score around 55. The highest game score ever recorded in a nine-inning game was Kerry Wood's 20 strikeout performance, which netted a game score of 105.

Thanks to our friends at Baseball-Reference and their amazing play finder tool, we can find out how Stephen Strasburg’s debut compares to others throughout history. In looking at those drafted No. 1 overall since the inception of the June draft in 1965, we see that Strasburg only trails Ben McDonald in Game Score in their debut.

First Starts By No. 1 Overall Draft Picks
Pitcher Draft Year Debut Date Dec. IP H R ER BB SO Game Score
Ben McDonald 1989 7-21-1990 W 9.0 4 0 0 1 5 83
Stephen Strasburg 2009 6-8-2010 W 7.0 4 2 2 0 14 75
Kris Benson 1996 4-9-1999 W 6.0 2 1 1 3 3 64
David Clyde 1973 6-23-1973 W 5.0 1 2 2 7 8 58

We can also look to see where his 14 punch-outs rank all-time in a debut. Again, Strasburg is right at the top of the rankings.

Most Strikeouts in a Debut [1920-2010]
Pitcher Debut Date SO
J.R. Richard 9-5-1971 15
Karl Spooner 9-22-1954 15
Stephen Strasburg 6-8-2010 14
Cliff Melton 4-25-1937 13
Steve Woodard 9-28-1997 12

This list is littered with pitchers who had to deal with injuries. J.R. Richard tragically suffered a stroke warming up for the Astros one game, and Karl Spooner suffered a severe arm injury after failing to properly warm up before a spring training outing.

What’s amazing about Strasburg’s strikeout total is that he also didn't walk a batter. Since 1954, in fact, there have only been two instances where a pitcher had 10 or more strikeouts while walking nobody in their debut; Strasburg, and Johnny Cueto in 2008.

One last item to put this in perspective. There have been a lot of very impressive debuts by new pitching prospects entering the majors. Considering all MLB debuts of pitchers since 1920, where do you think Strasberg’s performance rates, based on Game Score. It’s gotta be near the top right? Nope. He ranks 74th. Here’s the list of the top five debuts since 1920:

Top Debuts By Game Score [1920-2010]
Pitcher Debut Date Game Score
Juan Marichal 7-19-1960 96
Karl Spooner 9-22-1954 93
Steve Woodard 7-28-1997 91
Jimmy Jones 9-21-1986 90
Rudy May 9-18-1965 88

 
 

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