Thursday, March 5, 2009

Strasburg and strikeouts

A few thoughts and notes following Stephen Strasburg's 18-strikeout performance today in San Diego State's 5-3 win at USD:

What we're seeing here, folks, is history. This is one of the most exciting aspects of college baseball, being able to watch a player take the national stage right before your eyes. We saw it last season at USD with Brian Matusz and Josh Romanski. This alredy is bigger.

Word has spread on Strasburg. An overflow crowd of 1,117 showed up at USD, a gathering I have not witnessed there since top-ranked Texas came to town three years ago.

If the crowds at San Diego State are not approaching 3,000 by the end of the season, then something is wrong. Heck, they should get nearly 500 a game just for the Tri-Tip ($9 with beans and potato salad).

IN THREE GAMES, Strasburg has struck out 26 of the 27 players he has faced in the starting lineup. Nevada's Shaun Kort is the only player who has avioded being a strikeout victim.

Strasburg's career strikeout numbers and averages:
2007 — 47 SO in 37 IP or 1.27 SO/inning (25 appearances, all in relief)
2008 — 133 SO in 97.1 IP or 1.37 SO/inning (13 appearances, all starts)
2009 — 45 SO in 20.1 IP or 2.21 SO/ining (three starts)

— Strasburg opened the season ranked No. 15 on SDSU's career strikeout list with 180. He struck out 27 batters in first two starts, passing Rory Shortell (192), Norm Marr (194), Noel Mickelson (195), Tom Biscotti (205) to move into 11th place. With 18 strikeouts against USD, Strasburg passed Bob Cluck (209), Bill Blount (219), Rob Brown (221) and Erik Plantenberg (224) to move into seventh.

Here are the six SDSU pitchers still ahead of him:

304 — Bruce Billings
299 — Mike Erb
243 — Rick Navarro
237 — Bill Ruzich
228 — Brian Scott
227 — Jeremy Cook

THE TWO TOP SEASONS this decade — heck, two of the best years in NCAA history — have been by USC's Mark Prior (who graduated from University of San Diego High School) in 2001 and Long Beach State's Jered Weaver in 2004.

Here are their numbers from those seasons:

PRIOR: 15-1 record, 20 G, 138.2 IP, 1.69 ERA, 202 SO, 18 BB

WEAVER: 15-1 record 19 G, 144 IP, 1.62 ERA, 213 SO, 21 BB

There was no universal start date until last season (don't get me started on that), so Prior and Weaver had the advantage of making more starts with the regular season spread over four more weeks. In addition, the Trojans advanced to the College World Series, so Prior was able to make three postseason starts, and the Dirtbags made it to the Super Regonals, so Weaver got two more starts. Prior needed that last CWS start against Georgia to break the 200-strikeout mark.

At Strasburg's current pace, he would have 215 strikeouts if he pitches the same number of innings (97.1) as last season. Prior's SO/BB ratio of 11.22 was absurd and Weaver's 10.14 wasn't far behind. Strasburg's was 8.31 (133 SO/16BB) last season. It is 11.25 (45 SO/4 BB) in the early going this year.

THE SINGLE-SEASON NCAA RECORD for strikeouts is 234 by Hawaii's Derek Tatsuno in 1979. Of course, that was before the NCAA limited schools to a 56-game regular season and teams could play virtually as many games as they wanted (former SDSU shortstop Rigo Rodriguez holds a record that can't be broken — 90 games played in 1982).

The pitchers who have recorded at least 200 strikeouts in a season:

234 — Derek Tatsuno, Hawaii (1979, 22 G, 174.1 IP)
229 — Gary Gentry, Arizona St. (1967, 22 174.0 IP)
220 — Mike Loynd, Florida St. (1986, 25 G, 164.0 IP)
217 — Evan Thomas, Florida Int’l (1996, 20 G, 146.2 IP)
217 — Floyd Bannister, Arizona St. (1975, 21 G, 157.1 IP)
213 — Jered Weaver, Long Beach St. (2004, 19 G, 144.0 IP)
213 — Floyd Bannister, Arizona St. (1976, 25 G, 186.0 IP)
213 — Eddie Bane, Arizona St. (1972, 20 G, 144.0 IP)
208 — Brian Barnes, Clemson (1989, 23 G, 146.0 IP)
205 — John Hoover, Fresno St. (1984, 22 G, 176.2 IP)
204 — Kris Benson, Clemson (1996, 19 G, 156.0 IP)
204 — Greg Swindell, Texas (1985, 26 G, 172.0 IP)
202 — Mark Prior, Southern California (2001, 20 G, 138.2 IP)
202 — Ben McDonald, LSU (1989, 26 G, 152.1 IP)
202 — Richie Lewis, Florida St. (1986, 28 G, 127.0 IP)

The biggest thing that stands out to me is how many more innings it took these guys to get into the 200-club than it will take Strasburg at this pace. Even if his pace slows, as it likely will, he should still approach 200 strikeouts.

One other thing: What in the heck was Floyd Bannister doing throwing 186 innings in 1976?

THE NCAA RECORD for strikeouts/9 innings is 16.8 by Houston's Ryan Wagner (148 in 79.1 IP) in 2003. Strasburg is averaging 19.9 strikeouts/9 innings through the season's first three games.

I would include more numbers, but my head might explode.

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