Friday, August 27, 2010

The Next Mark Prior

Future All-Star game starter. Future Cy Young Winner. Future Hall-of-Famer.

Future Mark Prior?

Such is the all-too possible scenario of one Stephen Strasburg. The news comes out today that the savior of the Nationals (and possibly the universe the way people have talked about him) has a torn ligament in his pitching arm, needs Tommy John surgery to fix it, and will likely be out for 12-18 months. Maybe the Nats can get Bryce Harper pitching again.

You had to wonder as soon as Strasburg flashed the triple digit fastball at the major league level: can any man's arm sustain throwing that hard as a starting pitcher? "But his delivery is so effortless- the ball just jumps out of his hand." That's what we all said- myself included. Apparently it only looked effortless. Apparently the massive torque on that long right arm was more than it could handle.

It is not all gloom and doom for the future of Strasburg. There are those who have come back from Tommy John surgery to have phenomenal major league careers, most notably Chris Carpenter, who is 31-9 with a 2.55 ERA since he had his. The surgery's purpose, after all, is to be an arm/career saver. But one now has to wonder if it is more likely that Strasburg, if not the next Mark Prior, is the next Kerry Wood: a future good closer.

Wood is actually a good comparison because most folks said the same things about him that they did about Strasburg, despite the different body type. Triple digit fastball. Ridiculous slider. Mechanics and control well beyond his years. Strasburg had 14 K's in his major league debut. Wood matched Roger Clemens' still-MLB-record 20 K's in one game his rookie year. But Wood learned quickly what Strasburg is now facing: perhaps the arm cannot sustain the skill. Inigo Montoya with a dull blade.

And it all brings up this point: for all the wonder and awe that Strasburg came up with, there is simply no guarantee that anyone, pitcher or hitter, will match the potential. In a mere moment we have gone from discussing whether or not he should have been on the all-star team (almost exclusively because of how exciting he is) to waiting for at least a year to see if he'll come out on the other side with a starter's arm.

In spring training this year some of Strasburg's teammates took to calling him "Jesus" because of how much hype surrounded him. The namesake pulled off a pretty impressive resurrection. We'll have to wait and see if Stephen Strasburg follow suit.

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