The Washington Nationals won the World Series in seven games—not the six games we suggested in our revised playoff predictions back on October 11. Our bad! Meanwhile, Nats starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg won the World Series MVP, and his entire postseason was one of the best in history (5-0, 1.98 ERA over 36 1/3 innings with 47 strikeouts).
It’s right in line, too, with Strasburg’s overall postseason history prior to 2019, where he had allowed just one earned run in 19 innings combined in 2014 and 2017, while notching 24 Ks in the process. Overall, his 1.46 ERA in 55 1/3 innings during October baseball ranks among the all-time greats.
The thing is this: Strasburg was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 MLB Draft, and this kind of performance is not out of line with his regular-season efforts since he debuted in the majors during the 2010 season. Over 10 seasons now, which includes a Tommy John surgery and subsequent recovery, Strasburg has posted a 3.17 ERA and a 10.6 K/9 rate over 1438 2/3 innings.
In fact, his 209 IP in 2019 were his career high, so he fits the expected statistical model of a MLB player peaking at age 27 and maintaining that peak for a handful of seasons afterward. Strasburg turned 31 on July 20, and he should have a season or two more at this peak level of performance.
This fits very much in historically with performance norms, and considering Strasburg’s high ceiling as a No. 1 overall pick, again it’s not surprising to see him be so dominant in October—especially with his relatively low regular-season innings totals.
In contrast to Madison Bumgarner and his October 2014 efforts, which are suspect in ways explained here before, Strasburg’s numbers seem pretty normal. To recount:
During that 2014 regular season, Bumgarner tossed a (then) career-high 217 1/3 innings (with a 2.98 ERA) and then proceeded to throw another 52 2/3 innings in October at an even higher level (1.03 ERA). In era when MLB teams often protect their young arms from overuse, the Giants benefitted from Bumgarner’s seemingly endless reservoir of arm stamina and strength. At a time when his arm should have been falling off, MadBum improbably got stronger like no other MLB great before him or since.
Prior to the 2014 postseason, Bumgarner had posted just a 3.68 ERA in 36 2/3 postseason innings, however, making his 2014 effort even more abnormal statistically. Strasburg was technically “worse” this postseason than in his October career prior, and his overall career numbers are consistent with historical expectation based on statistical analysis.
Meanwhile, Bumgarner’s efforts in 2014 now stick out like a sore thumb in his career statistical line: His career postseason mark is over a run higher than those insane innings he threw in October 2014 after tossing a career high in that regular season. It should not have been physically possible for MadBum to do what he did in 2014, based on historical precedent and overwhelming statistical probabilities.
[This is why one CBS writer at the time compared MadBum to Barry Bonds—”his World Series pitching records may last as long as former Giant Barry Bonds’ home-run records”—and that is not a good thing.]
The Giants pitcher also did all that October 2014 “magic” at age 24, and it represents the peak of his career, for he turned 30 years old on August 1 and just posted the worst season ERA of his career in 2019. He has been in decline for awhile like his teammate Buster Posey, since both peaked at too early of an age under suspect circumstances for a suspect franchise.
All this points to the reality that Strasburg’s 2019 postseason should be the benchmark for “normal” excellence in October—not Bumgarner’s 2014 postseason. Sadly, the mainstream sports media may not be willing to argue this, despite the clarity in the statistics.
That’s why we’re here.