MLB Handicapping: The Return of Stephen Strasburg
by Trevor Whenham - 9/2/2011
The most hyped young player is recent history is poised to make his return to the major leagues after an elbow injury last season required surgery and forced him out of action for more than a year. A Tuesday night game in Washington against the Dodgers that would have meant nothing to fans in Washington or around the country has suddenly turned into the hottest ticket in sports. That’s when Strasburg — barring any last-second setbacks — will return to the rotation for the first time since Aug. 21 of last year.
In a time when baseball briefly falls off the radar because of the start of the football season, the emergence of Strasburg is going to be a big story. Here are five factors to consider for MLB handicapping when you are thinking about this game and how you are going to bet it:
This return is surprising - I am very surprised that the Nationals decided to bring Strasburg back this year. The pitcher is the future of the team — at least in concert with Bryce Harper he is. The team would have to get very hot down the stretch just to get to .500, so there isn’t a whole lot of upside to his return.
I can understand why he would be anxious to get back in action — and why the team would like to have him around to sell some tickets — but you have to think that some patience and extra healing time might have been the better course of action. After all, it’s the next decade that matters for Strasburg, not the next month.
He’s in fine form - Concerns aside, there is no doubt that Strasburg is feeling good. In his fifth rehab start of the year — his second to last — he was perfect through five innings. In 14 innings through those five starts he had 25 strikeouts and just three walks. He still has some work to do, but he clearly hasn’t lost his command or his ability to torture hitters.
He looked sharp in the minors before his pro debut last year and all he did in his major league debut was strike out 14 Pirates. It’s really as if Strasburg’s season is just starting and what he has done up until now has been Spring Training.
Pitchers have come back strong from Tommy John surgery - By now there is really no reason to be concerned about pitchers coming back from Tommy John surgery like Strasburg has had. In fact, a lot of pitchers have come back stronger than ever after the setback.
Chris Carpenter won a Cy Young and led the NL in ERA another year. John Smoltz is a legend. Billy Wagner had his moments. Brian Wilson is as unique as a guy can be. C.J. Wilson and Shaun Marcum will factor into the playoffs this year. I could go on and on, but you get the point — there is probably no long-term reason to be worried about Strasburg here.
The only possible concern is if Strasburg will still be as freakish as he was before he was hurt. Will he still be a once-in-a-lifetime talent, or is he just going to be a very good No. 1 pitcher?
The Nats will get a boost - Strasburg hasn’t spent much time with the Nationals, but because of his talent and his hype he is unquestionably the heart and soul of this squad. When he started last year the team went 8-4 — a dramatically better record than they had overall.
When he was injured you could feel the air come out of the squad. They lost the first four games after he went down, and 14 of 21. If the team was impacted that negatively by his loss then you have to imagine that a team that hasn’t had a lot to get excited about this year will enjoy a real boost from the return of their savior.
I’m not suggesting that they are suddenly going to look like a good team or anything, but I do expect more intensity and focus when Strasburg is on the mound.
The public will go crazy - This one pretty much goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. There hasn’t been a pitcher — or a prospect of any kind — who has been as hyped as Strasburg is in a long time. That means that they are going to be all over this game.
Given that the Dodgers aren’t exactly lighting it up this year they aren’t going to get a ton of attention here, so the action is likely to be very heavily one-sided.
Oddsmakers obviously aren’t going to be caught off guard by this, so you can be sure that the line is going to be inflated in this one. That doesn’t mean that you can’t bet on Strasburg if you want to. It just means that you have to be particularly aware if you do because value is going to be particularly tough to find.
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