Stephen Strasburg’s Debut: Not As Great As You Think


“Cy Young Award To Be Renamed After Stephen Strasburg,” writes Frank Coffey on

Not quite yet. The Washington Nationals’ Steve Strasburg‘s major league debut last night against the Pittsburgh Pirates was pretty darned good, but by one measure it wasn’t even one of the 10 best debuts in big-league history.

So exactly how good was it? As measured by Bill James‘s “Game Score,” which evaluates the quality of a pitcher’s performance in any particular game, it wasn’t among the very, very best.

To calculate Game Score: A pitcher starts with 50 points, adds points for innings pitched and strikeouts, and loses points for hits, walks, and runs allowed.

And here’s the rub: According to Game Score, the all-time best major league debut belongs to another Steve, last name Woodard.

Strasburg’s Game Score was 75 Tuesday night, compared with Woodard’s 91 in his first start for the Milwaukee Brewers against Toronto in 1997. Woodard’s team won 1-0, and he allowed just one hit and one walk in 8 innings, fanning 12. Steve Woodard lasted seven seasons in the bigs with four teams, but started only 93 more games and won only 31 more (against 36 losses) over the rest of his career.

We suspect that Strasburg is going to have a longer and better career than Woodard. However, we should all heed the advice of Dave Cameron of the cutting edge website, who cautioned “”not to read too much into tonight’s performance, no matter how well he does.”

In the midst of a blizzard of hype, Cameron made the best pre-game projection, expecting Strasburg “to pitch well. The Pirates aren’t a good baseball team, and Strasburg has legitimate top-shelf stuff. As long as he can overcome nerves and throw strikes he should be fine.”

But imagine the kind of pressure that’s going to be on Steve Strasburg in his second start.