Nats Handling Of Strasburg Deserves Criticism

The Washington Nationals entered play on Monday with a 6.5-game lead in the NL East standings.

Come mid-September, they will likely start putting plans together to set their rotation favorably for the NL Division Series. And those plans won’t include their ace.

Nats manager Davey Johnson announced this past weekend that Stephen Strasburg will make just two more starts this season, with his final appearance on Sept. 12 against the New York Mets.

Johnson is following through on general manager Mike Rizzo‘s opinion that Strasburg pitch between 160 and 180 innings this season. It’s Strasburg’s first full season back after Tommy John surgery sidelined him for almost all of last season.

Strasburg has been nothing short of dominating, posting a 2.94 ERA in 156 1/3 innings, striking out 195. Opponents are hitting just .225 off of him.

The Nats are pitching deep like no other team in baseball. Their 477 runs allowed are by far the fewest given up in the NL. However, there really is no replacing a guy like Strasburg.

I’m left asking myself: How can this happen? As former NY Jets coach Herm Edwards reminded us so many years ago, you PLAY to WIN the GAME! Yet the Nats, by benching Strasburg for the postseason, seem content in just getting to the playoffs rather than trying to do something when they get there.

A playoff appearance alone would be considered a huge milestone for a franchise that hasn’t been to the postseason since 1981 when – as the Montreal Expos – they reached the NLCS.

But how many opportunities does a team get like this to win a World Series? And the Nats with their pitching would be among the favorites. No team would want to face a Strasburg-Jordan Zimmermann-Gio Gonzalez-Edwin Jackson staff.

I have no problem with the innings limit for Strasburg. There seems to be little evidence that an innings limit benefits his long-term health, but I realize that the environment in Major League Baseball thinks that it does, and Rizzo would be under intense scrutiny if something happened to Strasburg.

And Strasburg is a valuable investment that must be protected.

But the Nats seemed all season long to be ill-prepared for the innings limit, almost as if they just decided to hold firm on it two months ago.

You can’t shut Strasburg down now, then re-start him for the postseason. That seems like a terrible idea.

But why wasn’t his turn in the rotation being skipped in the early and middle parts of the season, allowing him to extend his season into October? That’s what I don’t understand.

It’s not like the Nats had a late-season rally to get into first place. They’ve been there almost all season. October baseball has been within reach for them since April, yet it’s like the organization itself never believed it was actually attainable until recently.

The Nationals have a chance to do something really special, and bring Washington its first World Series title since 1924. Those hopes take a hit without Strasburg, but it really should have never come to this.

5 Responses

  1. They didn’t decide to hold firm on it two months ago. They made this decision in the off season and they’ve never altered their plan. I’m in the Nats media market so I’ve been hearing about this since February. The locals are almost universally understanding on this decision, the message has been consistent, Rizzo has never wavered, and the plan has never changed. The national media led by the 4 letter network is pumping this story every day.

    Reasonable people can disagree but they ran through all the scenarios and decided that he’d pitch every 5th day beginning April 1 and go until he reached the number and that would be it. Some people say skip starts, the Nats response is, he’d have to pitch on the side anyway, and the kid is a creature of habit he wants/needs a regular routine. Some people say they should have just held him back a month and started him May 1, the Nats response is, if he then experienced a minor injury or set back he wouldn’t get enough innings to be unrestricted next season, and games in April count the same as games in September. It follows that if you want him unrestricted next season you can’t reserve innings this year for hypothetical playoffs starts that may never happen either because you don’t make it to the post season or because you fail to advance. Some people say screw the innings limit, the Nats say that the best elbow surgeons in the world say that’s a bad idea.

    1. coming.And Merry Strasmus to all. Even to the perpetually gprumy Mister Muleboy (who as I recall, correctly predicted that Strasburg would spend only half a season in the minor leagues. I thought he needed more time to make the jump from college. Shows you what I know.)

  2. jgraening

    The best elbow surgeons in the world say an arbitrary number like 160 innings is a good limit to follow? No matter how many or how few pitches are thrown in said innings? I always thought that pitches put strain on an elbow, not innings.

    I know the Nationals want to protect their investment by imposing this innings limit, but I just can’t get behind their reasoning. I can’t help think about the Nationals being eliminated in the first round and hearing the questions of “what if we didn’t decide to shutdown our pitcher with the best team strikeout rate and WHIP before the postseason started?”

    Yes, it is easier to get into the postseason with another wild card spot, but their time is now. Sure they have a lot of great young talent, but with their track record, who knows when they will get a opportunity to be in the postseason again.

    1. Yes, pitches put strain on an elbow, not innings, and fastball put less stress than change-up which put less stress than breaking balls,… There’s a ton of variables and there has to be a public metric that people can understand, that has been 160-180 innings, a range that presumably allows the Nationals to monitor the more detailed issues while maintaining a consistent, simple, understandable public stance. One that if you were hearing it twice a week for 6 months in the local media rather than every other morning for two weeks with no context from Jack Sprat and Spouse in the Morning on ESPN along with whatever national talking head they have on who doesn’t know anything about anything.

      The idea that pitches not innings stress the arm would bolster the argument against skipping starts. It’s fine if you can’t get behind the reasoning. Reasonable people can disagree, I just want to make sure that you actually understand what the reasoning is because most of what you get from the National baseball media has been terribly incomplete and more outside opinion than facts about what the Nationals are doing and why.

      Even if you disagree with Rizzo’s plan for Stras, I don’t think you can disagree with how he’s handled the situation once he made that decision. He’s owned it from day one. He’s taken the responsibility away from the player and the manager and put it all on himself. He knew there was going to be criticism and he’s done everything to protect everyone but himself from whatever the fallout is.

      I’ll end by returning to the idea that he wasn’t going to be available for the playoffs no matter what because he had to throw enough inning or pitches or whatever metric it to be unrestricted next year. There’s no way to do that and preserve innings, just in case you make the playoffs.

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