Scouting Stephen Strasburg, San Diego State University... in 40 degree weather

When Stephen Strasburg took the mound in the bottom of the first inning, it was a very breezy 45° outside. By the time he was done, it was a brutally windy 39°. The wind was blowing straight out to left at Lupton Field, and when TCU second baseman Ben Carruthers hit an 0-2 pitch just beyond the outfield fence to lead off for the Horned Frogs, it looked like it might be an interesting night.

As it turned out, the Carruthers homerun was a blip. Strasburg responded by retiring the next 14 hitters in a row, 10 of them on strikes.

Game: March 27, 2009 vs. TCU

Pitcher IP H R ER BB K
Strasburg, Stephen 8.0 3 2 2 1 14

Fastball. 91-99 mph. Strasburg fought with the wind in his face all night but maintained command and got ahead of hitters all night long. He started in the mid-to-upper 90s, but fell to 91-94 after the fourth inning when the wind really picked up. I don't think his body was responding well to the cold, and his fastball command suffered causing him to work off his curveball in the late innings.

Curveball. 81-84 mph. Even when the TCU hitters guessed correctly, they had little chance of squaring up on this pitch. Throughout the night, Strasburg located it with ease, throwing it wherever he pleased. TCU hitters chased it out of the zone all night.

Change up. Rarely thrown. I saw a pitch at 87 mph and a couple in the mid-70s. I'm not sure which was his change up or if either pitch actually was his change up. He was essentially a two-pitch pitcher for all 8 innings.

Mechanics. Strasburg has very traditional mechanics with excellent hip and shoulder rotation, but with what looks like a rough follow through. The clip below shows 4 pitches at 210 fps and 2 pitches at 420 fps with at least one fastball and one curveball at each speed. (Kyle Boddy at DrivelineMechanics.com took a brief look at Strasburg's mechanics this past winter.)

Strasburg starts his delivery with an easy leg pick-up. He then gathers himself before stepping forward and really driving off his back leg. Right before he lands, he turns his front hip to square his landing leg to the plate. He has a soft landing on the ball of his foot, but he then drives backward with his landing leg. This creates great hip rotation but stops his center of mass from moving forward.

Strasburg does not use a pendulum swing to pick up the baseball. He takes the ball behind his back and accelerates it toward third base as he brings the ball to driveline height. His flexed elbow moves well behind his back and reaches shoulder height before the ball. From there, he must forcefully externally rotate his arm to get the ball to driveline height. This causes late forearm turnover and increases the valgus torque that occurs during reverse forearm bounce. This is a risk factor for his ulnar collateral ligament.

When Strasburg's center of mass stops moving forward, his trunk flexes forward while his shoulders rotate and his elbow again moves far behind his shoulders. He drives his pitching shoulder all the way through his release. This is excellent, but it doesn't stop his arm from finishing violently across his chest. (At full-speed you can see his arm "bounce" off his rib cage.) This is a risk factor for the supraspinatus and the infraspinatus muscles of the rotator cuff.

One major plus in Strasburg's mechanics is the apparent pronated release of his curveball. It is definitely hard to see in this video, but the second to last pitch is your best chance to see it. As he releases the pitch, Strasburg's wrist quickly moves from a supinated to a pronated position. This allows him to powerfully drive the top of the baseball instead of pulling the ball down with a supinated grip. By doing this, a curveball is thrown with more velocity and better rotation.

Overall. Stephen Strasburg is a 6' 4", 220 lb beast of a pitcher. He has two plus-plus pitches right now and ace-quality command. He's putting up numbers that would have Mark Prior and Jered Weaver blushing. Whether or not he is picked by the Washington Nationals as the first overall selection in the 2009 MLB First-Year Player Draft, he will certainly command the largest contract.

Strasburg has some of the common flaws of traditional pitching mechanics and carries with him the associated risks. These risks will almost certainly not affect his draft status because it could be 10 years before anything goes wrong. Predicting injuries is folly, but identifying risk is always important.

In a few months, Mr. Strasburg will be a very, very rich man.