Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Passing the Stras test

Stephen Strasburg may be the most heralded and hyped rookie to take the big league mound in a long time -- OK, maybe ever -- but he has a long way to go to stand alongside the most prolific rookie pitchers in Major League history.

Sure, Strasburg has been eye-popping in his first two career starts with the Nationals -- a 2-0 record, a 2.19 ERA and 22 strikeouts -- but there are several rookie benchmarks that may be out of reach of the 21-year-old righthander. Let's look at a few:


Hooks Wiltse, 12, 1904. Born George Leroy Wiltse, he won his first 12 starts as a rookie with the New York Giants between May 29 and Sept. 15, 1904. Wiltse finished 13-3 that season, the best of his big-league career from a percentage standpoint (.813). Wiltse was a two-time 20-game winner, going 23-14 in 1908 and 20-11 in 1909, and finished his 12-year career in the Majors with a 139-90 record, 11 with the Giants and his final season with the Brooklyn Tip-Tops of the short-lived Federal League.


Hall of Famer Albert Goodwill Spalding, 47, 1876. The pitching records pre-1900 will never be touched, simply because in those days, starting pitchers took the mound just about every day, with rest a rarity and a luxury. Consider in 1876, Spalding started a staggering 60 of the 66 games played by the Boston Red Stockings of the National Association -- roughly twice the number of starts by today's pitchers. The Tigers' Justin Verlander led the Majors in starts last season with 35.

In the modern era, Russ Ford won 26 games as a rookie with the New York Highlanders in 1910. Strasburg would have to win virtually every start the rest of the season to even come close, but in reality, it's another unreachable mark.


Dwight Gooden, 11.4, 1984. Gooden burst onto the baseball scene like a meteor, as he led the Majors in strikeouts with 276 as a 19-year-old. Voted Rookie of the Year, he finished 17-9 with a 2.60 ERA. He was even better the following season (24-4, 1.53 ERA, 268 Ks). His problems began when he "slept in" during the Mets' World Championship parade in 1986, and his career was soon dogged by injuries, drug abuse and arrests. He never came close to duplicating the eye-popping the success of his first two seasons, when he won 41 games and lost only 13. He finished his big league career 194-112.

Strasburg actually has a shot here, given his quick start. A lot will depend on pitch counts, his health and if batters can figure him out. It promises to be a fun ride.

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