The Washington Nationals shut Stephen Strasburg down again this week and reports suggest they don't think the three-time All-Star and 2019 World Series hero will ever pitch again. Strasburg is dealing with "severe nerve damage" which could prevent him from ever being healthy enough to get back on a mound. While he's a legend for Nationals fans, the contract he signed after the 2019 season will go down as the worst in MLB history.
After leading the National to the World Series title in 2019 with an MVP performance, Strasburg signed a seven-year, $245 million contract. At the time, the annual average value of $35 million was the highest for a pitcher in baseball history. He has been on a major league mound a grand total of eight times in the three-plus seasons since.
Strasburg started the 2020 season on the injured list and didn't pitch in the COVID-shortened season until August 9. Five days later he left his second start after facing just three batters, and sat out the rest of the season due to a nerve issue in his pitching hand. His finished the season 0-1 with a 10.80 ERA, a 1.80 WHIP and two strikeouts against one walk in five innings.
He opened the 2021 season healthy, but after two starts he went on the injured list with shoulder inflammation. He returned in late May and made three more starts before landing on the IL with a neck strain. On July 27 he was shut down for the season and underwent surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome. He finished the 2021 season 1-2 with a 4.57 ERA, a 1.38 WHIP and 21 strikeouts against 14 walks in 21.2 innings over those five starts.
After a long recovery, Strasburg was finally activated from the IL on June 9, 2022 and made one start. He allowed seven runs in 4.2 innings and returned to the IL five days later with a stress reaction in his ribs. A year later he has yet to return to the major leagues. He finished the 2022 campaign 0-1 with a 13.50 ERA, a 2.14 WHIP and five strikeouts against two walks in those 4.2 innings.
Since signing that contract, Strasburg has made eight starts. He's 1-4 with a 6.89 ERA, a WHIP of 1.56, has 28 strikeouts against 19 walks and has surrendered six home runs in 31.1 innings. He has made $140 million in that time. The kicker? After this season the Nationals still owe him $105 million over the next three years.
It's a sad story. When healthy, Strasburg was a truly dominant pitcher. During Washington's run to the World Series win in 2019, he pitched in six games, making five starts. He went 5-0 with a 1.98 ERA, a 0.94 WHIP and 47 strikeouts and four walks in 36.1 innings. It was an all-time great postseason performance.
The issue with Strasburg has always been availability. Since entering the league as a phenom in 2010, he has only topped 30 starts in a season three times. He's only reached 25 starts five times. The whipping arm action on his delivery took its toll on him. It really is sad because he was so much fun to watch at his best. But the Nationals knew all of his issues when they inked him to that big deal. They gambled and lost.
If Stephen Strasburg is truly done, it's a bummer for baseball fans everywhere. And his massive contract is quite clearly the worst in MLB history.