- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 19, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Stephen Strasburg knows only one way: Go big or go home. If he had a choice, he would just as soon go home.

Strasburg is the polar opposite of his superstar top draft teammate on the Washington Nationals, Bryce Harper. Strasburg would like to find a hairstyle that would make him invisible.

Alas, he is very visible and has been since his days at San Diego State when he was tagged as the next phenom pitcher in baseball. And he will become more visible if he continues on track for what may wind up being an unprecedented season – an undefeated season.

This will, of course, set off another debate about the life and times of Stephen Strasburg, who remains the most unlikely polarizing figure in the game.

It wasn’t enough that he became the center of a national debate four years ago when the Nationals shut him down before the end of the 2012 season, following the team’s recovery plan from Tommy John surgery. His life, his career, lit a fuse of controversy because he was part of an unprecedented decision when the Nationals shut down a healthy player to protect him.

It doesn’t matter that with every pitch Strasburg throws – and those that other Tommy John survivors don’t, like Matt Harvey – the Nationals position is validated. People were angry, and it made Strasburg, who would prefer to just do his job and be left alone, the center of attention.

If Strasburg, at 13-0, somehow pulls off a season that we have never seen before – let’s go ahead and say it, 20-0 – it will likely ignite a passionate National League Cy Young debate about the value of wins by a pitcher, especially if there is a legitimate analytics candidate for the award, such as a Clayton Kershaw, who currently leads NL pitchers in WAR (wins above replacement) with a 4.7 mark, WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) at 0.73 and Earned Run Average (1.79).

Kershaw, a three-time Cy Young winner (2011, 2013, 2014), while not undefeated, has an impressive 11-2 won-loss record to go along with those other statistics. It’s a Cy Young resume.

But what do you do when you have a starting pitcher who winds up with a won-loss record like we have never seen before in the game?

Are you really going to not give the Cy Young award to a pitcher who goes 20-0? Something that, so far, has been impossible to do?

A handful of starting pitchers have reached this territory. In 1912, Rube Marquard went 18-0 for the New York Giants, but finished 26-11. Baltimore’s Dave McNally went 15-0 in 1969, finishing 20-7. Johnny Allen went 15-0 for Cleveland before losing one and going 15-1 (20 of 24 appearances were starts) in 1937. Roger Clemens started 14-0 in 1986 before finishing 24-4 and being named the American League Cy Young award winner. Three starters, including Strasburg’s teammate, Max Scherzer, in Detroit in 2013, started 13-0. Scherzer finished 21-3, winning the AL Cy Young.

Elroy Face went 17-0 in 1959 for the Pittsburgh Pirates before losing and finishing the year with an 18-1 mark, but that was as a reliever.

The two best undefeated seasons were turned in by Tom Zachary, going 12-0 for the New York Yankees in 1929 in 11 starts and 15 relief appearances, and Dennis Lamp in Toronto in 1985, who went 11-0 in 53 games, but just one start.

It’s not as if Strasburg doesn’t hit all the other notes as a credible Cy Young candidate. He is second behind Kershaw in WAR with 4.1, fifth in the league in WHIP at 0.99 and sixth with a 2.51 ERA.

But if he somehow remains undefeated, but falls short of the measurements that the geeks have determined are worthy of recognition, they will set their slide rules on fire and embark on a holy war, targeting a guy who would rather stick needles in his eyes than get all that attention.

Google the words “pitcher wins are not important,” and these are the headlines that come up:

“Wins not such an important pitching stat.”

“Let’s get rid of pitching wins.”

“Why wins are an irrelevant and meaningless pitching statistic.”

Except when perhaps when you win 20 and never lose.

This is the 60th anniversary of the Cy Young award – named for a pitcher who won 511 career games, far more than anyone in the history of the game.

Who do you think Cy would vote for?

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