A Glimpse of Things to Come

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Seeing Stephen Strasburg picked to win the Cy Young should come as no
surprise to anyone. He did finish 2012 tied with Gio Gonzalez for the best FIP
in the majors at 2.82 and led all starters with a staggering 11.13 K/9.
There are arguments that can be made that when Stephen Strasburg is pitching he
is the best pitcher in the NL and among the best on the planet. The same
argument cannot be made for Bryce Harper as an outfielder. Based on stats he
finished seventh in the NL in fWAR and tied for eighth in wOBA with Jay Bruce
and Garrett Jones. No one is picking Jay Bruce or Garrett Jones for their MVP.
In all of the NL Bryce Harper’s .352 wOBA ranked sixteenth.

In 2012 Harper was the sixteenth best
offensive player in the NL and the seventh best outfielder. While this is
impressive for a 19 year old it is not enough to make one think Harper is an
MVP candidate. There is name was alongside Joey Votto, Ryan Bruan, Matt Kemp,
and Buster Posey as a player people not only thought would be among the best in
baseball, but the best in an entire league. It is rare for so many people to
pick a player that needs at least a .150 jump in OPS to even be considered, and
it is even rarer that said player performs like an MVP on Opening Day.  

For years the Nationals haven’t just
been under the radar they haven’t even been an afterthought, but in winning 98
games in 2012 with two of the highest ceiling players on the planet a lot of
the attention of the baseball world has turned towards Washington. Harper likes
the spotlight. He will never shy away from being a star and with two homeruns
in his first two at bats of 2013 he has made an already bright spotlight even
brighter. It is hard to base anything on a player’s performance in one game,
but Bryce Harper not only handled the added pressure of being expected to
contend for an MVP, he shined. Watch the video of his homeruns. Not only did
they come on inside breaking balls, pitches Harper struggled against in 2012,
but on his second homerun Harper’s back foot leaves the ground. He hit the
baseball out of the park with his pivot foot off the ground. It could be argued
he generated that much torque or one can watch and be amazed.

Just as impressive as Harper taking on
higher expectation in 2013 is Stephen Strasburg being unleashed on the world
for a full season for the first time and starting off with an 80 pitch
performance of seven shutout innings. Strasburg didn’t even have his best
command falling behind 1-0 on 13 of the 23 batters he faced. Strasburg
finished the day with only three strikeouts and no walks giving up only three
hits, but this wasn’t the dominate swing and miss Strasburg. The majority of
outs came on weakly hit ground balls, and with Strasburg falling behind so many
batters that is more indicative of a poor approach by the Marlins. With
Strasburg being such a feared strikeout pitcher he is going to cause batters to
take weak swings just to put something in play early in the count and that
might be what was on display against the Marlins or it could be that the
Marlins line-up included Juen Pierre, Placido Polanco, and Casey
Kotchman. 

It is hard to not be impressed by seven
shutout innings however they come about. Strasburg put on a display of imposing
his will on the hitter. Even if the strikeouts weren’t what fans expected, the
results were. Strasburg did run into a little trouble in his seventh and final
inning. With Giancarlo Stanton on third base and Polanco on first with one out
and Rob Brantly at the plate a medium deep fly ball was hit to Bryce Harper.
Stanton attempted to tag, thought better of it, and returned to third. Polanco
however did not return to any base and may have been attempting to take second
on the throw home, but Harper’s throw arrived so quickly to the plate Polanco
merely looked lost and was soon caught in a rundown. With Polanco in the
rundown Stanton attempted to break for home, but was gunned out by Espinosa to
complete the routine 7-2-3-4-2 double play.

That final play of the seventh inning involved
both Strasburg and Harper. It was Strasburg’s 80th and final pitch that led to
the interesting play and Harper’s preternatural throwing arm that made it
possible. It is rare for two players on the same team to be picked to be Cy
Young and MVP in the same season, and it is even more rare that they come out
and perform like Cy Young and MVP candidates in the teams very first game. It
is a long baseball season with 161 games left to go, but Opening Day was a
glimpse of the talent and potential of Strasburg, Harper, and what could be a
historic season for the Washington Nationals. 

2 comments

  1. I just rewatched the double play on mlb.com and how Polanco was able to be caugh sooooo far away from either base in mindblowing. I had been bashing Stanton yesterday, but once Polanco was caught off his only move was to bolt for home as soon as Ramos threw to 1st or 2nd and hope he can cross before the runner is tagged. Mea Culpa.

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  2. One other thought on Harper, I hope they had a looooooong talk with him after the game about staying back, if he keeps lunging forward like that he’s going to look silly on some changups. I’m sure Slowes was watching videos of that last night to prep for tomorrow. Of course knowing Harper he’ll anticipate that, sit back on a hanging change and send it into the Navy Yard.

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