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Why You Should Be Rooting For Stephen Strasburg

"Chicks dig the long ball." That's something we've heard for a long time now. While it sure is fun to watch the sluggers of baseball, it might be more fun to watch a fireballing pitcher that can make those sluggers look silly. If you're a fan of the game of baseball - and if you're reading this, I can't imagine you're not - you should be rooting for Stephen Strasburg to have a successful rehab and return to his 2010 form next year.

If you recall, Strasburg was the first overall pick in the 2009 amateur draft. The Nationals paid him a record $15.1 million to sign, and he showed that he was worth it the following season. He started at Double-A, made all of five (dominating) starts, and moved up to Triple-A, where he was possibly even more dominant. He made his big league debut after just 11 professional starts, and it was hyped almost as much as a World Series game. Strasburg did not disappoint, striking out 14 Pirates while walking none (7 ip, 2 er) in a 5-2 Nats win. In front of a sell-out crowd (only the second of the season, after Opening Day) and a national audience, Strasburg set a ML debut record for K's in a game. I watched (as I'm sure many of you did too) as mesmerized as if he was working magic - not just for the Nats - but for the whole sport.

He started 12 ML games that year before going down with an elbow injury that would lead to Tommy John Surgery. But before the injury, he put up the following line:

68 IP, 2.91 ERA (2.08 FIP), 92 K, 17 BB, 1.07 WHIP

Those are fantastic numbers for any pitcher, let alone a 21-year-old rookie. In fact, the only rookie starter with more K's per 9 (with at least 60 ip) was Kerry Wood (a somewhat dubious honor considering the path of Wood's career).* And the only rookie starter with a better K/BB rate was Roy Oswalt. That's how good Strasburg was.

Anyway, he made his fifth rehab start on Saturday, and apparently looked very much like his 2010 form. He reached 98 MPH with his fastball and 90 with his changeup for the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs. He K'ed seven in five frames (against no walks) and allowed one earned run on two hits. In five rehab starts, he's striking out more batters and walking fewer than he did in his first minor league go-round (25/3 in 14.1 ip). Usually the toughest thing to regain after TJS is control. It's a great sign for Washington and for baseball.

Why is it great for baseball, you may ask? Allow me a tangent. I went to college in Boston from 1999-2003. If you saw Wraithpk's FanShot on the subject, you know how good Pedro Martinez was during that five-year stretch. Living in Boston, I experienced first-hand the excitement that one player brought to the town. Every game he started was an event. Even though I personally didn't get excited, it was evident wherever you went or whatever kind of media format you tuned into. I've never seen anything like it anywhere else in baseball. Strasburg has Pedro-like ability. He averaged over 97 MPH on his fastball last year and you've already seen his ridiculous stats. If he stays healthy (which might be a big "if," inverted W and all), he could put up a decade of numbers similar to Pedro's five-year prime.

So imagine a "homegrown" pitcher with true electric stuff, with the weight of a whole franchise on his shoulders, pitching in a pretty large market, becoming the best pitcher in baseball, and leading a formerly inept team to the playoffs (and possibly further).

MLB doesn't do a good enough job of promoting its stars (perhaps due to the fact that English is a second language for many of them), but if Strasburg reaches his potential, he could be the Michael Jordan of baseball. Jordan, of course, was the first global NBA star, and turned basketball into a worldwide game. Strasburg could do that for baseball.** He's that extraordinary. Let's just hope he stays healthy.

If you're a fan of baseball, you have to root for him.


* How much Dusty Baker had to do with that is hard to say.

** I know baseball is big in Latin America and East Asia, but I want to see it gain ground in Europe, Africa and South America.

Thanks to B-Ref and for most of the stats.