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Tale of the Tape: Skenes and Strasburg

How two of the game's best pitching prospects ever match up
May 9, 2024

Paul Skenes could be Stephen Strasburg. Stephen Strasburg could be Paul Skenes. Send Skenes back in time or bring Strasburg forward, and one easily could stand in for the other. Both overmatched college hitters, leading CAA Division I in strikeouts while posting the highest K rates in D-I history for

Paul Skenes could be Stephen Strasburg. Stephen Strasburg could be Paul Skenes. Send Skenes back in time or bring Strasburg forward, and one easily could stand in for the other.

Both overmatched college hitters, leading CAA Division I in strikeouts while posting the highest K rates in D-I history for pitchers who worked 100 innings, en route to going No. 1 overall in the Draft -- Strasburg in 2009 to the Nationals and Skenes last July to the Pirates. They're the best mound prospects in Draft history, with little to separate them.

Both were big and physical, with the 6-foot-6, 235-pound Skenes slightly larger than the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Strasburg. Both probably could have gone straight to the big leagues, instead dominating the Minor Leagues for a couple of months before getting called to the Majors just shy of their 22nd birthdays. Both bullied hitters with similar arsenals.

How similar were those repertoires at the same stage of their careers? Let's take a look:

Strasburg and Skenes threw as hard as anyone in their day. Strasburg pitched in a time when radar guns didn't measure velocity as close to coming out of a pitcher's hand as they do now, and also when fewer guys reached triple digits, yet he consistently sat around 96-99 mph and topped out at 102. Skenes averaged 98 mph at Louisiana State last spring and has parked at 100 in shorter Triple-A stints this spring, also reaching 102.

Neither four-seamer stands out in terms of induced vertical break, which wasn't in vogue when Strasburg broke into pro ball, but they make up for it with overwhelming velocity and quality fastball command. Skenes produces significantly more arm-side action on his four-seamer, though Strasburg mixed in upper-90s two-seamers to achieve more sink and run.

Skenes also utilizes a difficult-to-categorize offering that he considers a sinker but others categorize as a splitter, splinker (a hybrid splitter/sinker) or changeup. It parks at 94-96 mph with the velocity and run of a two-seamer and the depth and deadened spin of a changeup.

Breaking ball
This is the most obvious difference between Strasburg and Skenes. While they both employed a wipeout breaking ball about one-fourth of the time, Strasburg relied on a curveball and Skenes leans on a slider. Strasburg sometimes got around his bender and wound up with an upper-80s slider and Skenes is working on a mid-80s curve, but both clearly went with one distinct breaker.

Strasburg's curveball was fairly ordinary in terms of depth but stood out in terms of power at 82-85 mph, as much velocity as a typical slider had 15 years ago. Likewise, Skenes' slider is more notable for operating at 85-88 mph than it is for its horizontal or vertical action. Both graded as plus-plus weapons and made it difficult for hitters to try to cheat to catch up to overwhelming fastballs.

Both guys had quality changeups that got overshadowed by their fastballs and breaking balls, not to mention the fact they didn't need them very often. Skenes uses a Vulcan grip on an upper-80s cambio that features more fade than Strasburg's changeup, which was slightly harder with an average velocity around 90 mph and had more depth. Strasburg used his change more often than Skenes has, though it was Skenes' best offering and he went to it 20 times in a College World Series victory over Tennessee last June.

The operative word for Strasburg's delivery was "loose," while with Skenes' it would be "powerful." Though Skenes is 2 inches taller, Strasburg got about a half-foot more extension in his delivery, enabling his pitches to get on hitters quicker. Neither threw with much effort, though some Nationals officials raised concerns early in Strasburg's career that his follow-though put stress on his shoulder.

In the past 25 years, no pitching prospects have married power and precision better than Strasburg and Skenes. Both were the most unhittable pitchers in D-I and struck out 10 times as many hitters as they walked during their final college seasons, then continued to rack up many more whiffs than baserunners during their brief times in the Minors.

It's next to impossible to differentiate between the two. Both Skenes and Strasburg will get the nod for having the better fastball, the best breaking ball or the better delivery according to different scouts.

"I think Skenes has a better fastball and command and Strasburg has better secondary pitches," a special assistant with a National League club said. "The big separator is Skenes has a much cleaner arm action and less effort to his delivery."

"Strasburg's pure stuff was better at the same stage, but Skenes might be a little more usable because his arsenal is wider and his slider is more usable than Strasburg's curveball, even if Strasburg's curve graded out better," an American League front-office executive said. "They're pretty comparable overall by strikes."

"I never saw a college pitcher with the combination of power and command that Mark Prior had, until Strasburg," a scout with an AL team said. "But I have never seen anyone like Skenes. No one moves like that. No one that big generates that much arm speed and that much electricity. He’s just an electric mover."

Whether Skenes eclipses Strasburg's big league career will depend in large part on how well he holds up. Strasburg won a World Series MVP Award, led the NL in wins and strikeouts in different years and made three All-Star teams. But he also went on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation after nine starts for Washington, blew out his elbow three starts later and only had three completely healthy seasons in the Majors.

If Skenes can avoid that parallel to Strasburg, he could wind up in Cooperstown.

Jim Callis is a reporter for Follow him @jimcallisMLB. Listen to him on the weekly MLB Pipeline Podcast.