Commentary

Stephen Strasburg's new career arc

With surgery behind him, Stephen Strasburg's career projections are revisited

Updated: September 6, 2011, 12:05 PM ET
By Dan Szymborski | Baseball Think Factory
Stephen StrasburgGreg Fiume/Getty ImagesStephen Strasburg is back from Tommy John surgery, and that's good news for all baseball fans.

The Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers square off Tuesday in a game that is irrelevant to the playoff hunt.

But what makes Tuesday's game a must-see -- or at a bare minimum a must-follow -- is the return to the majors of Nats phenom Stephen Strasburg, who will start his first big league game since Aug. 21, 2010, when he went down with an elbow injury and was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery.

About 15 years ago, Baseball Prospectus's Gary Huckabay coined the acronym TINSTAAPP as homage to science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein's coinage of TANSTAAFL (There Ain't No Such Thing as a Free Lunch).

TINSTAAPP -- There Is No Such Thing as a Pitching Prospect -- doesn't mean there are literally no pitching prospects, but a quick reminder of the frailties of young pitchers.

After being selected No. 1 overall in the 2009 draft, Strasburg breezed through minors, posting a 1.30 ERA in 55 1/3 innings with 65 strikeouts across two levels in 2010.

Even after proving Strasburg belonged in the major leagues, Washington took great care of his arm by monitoring his workload and never letting him throw 100 pitches in a single game. All that care didn't prevent Strasburg from elbow soreness, a scarier opponent for a pitcher than Jose Bautista or Albert Pujols.

Fast-forward a year, past the Tommy John surgery and the rehab, and Strasburg's back in the majors. With a 29-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 20 minor league rehab innings and only one homer allowed, Strasburg's recovery appears to be on track.

Projecting injured players is one of the greatest challenges for any forecaster. A player with such a short professional résumé compounds that challenge.

Luckily, since Tommy John surgery is a well-established and frequently used technique, we have enough data to make reasonable guesses about a pitcher's performance in the years after his unfortunate visits with Dr. James Andrews.

With basic Tommy John recovery data contained within the ZiPS projection system (spent about a week in early June implementing it), how does Strasburg project from here?