Stephen Strasburg is likely to be shut down by GM Mike Rizzo of the Washington Nationals at some point this year.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
As of July 18th, the Nats’ ace and pitching foundation for years to come has thrown 105 innings in 18 starts to compile a 10-4 record with a 2.66 ERA.
His next start will be against NL East rival Atlanta Braves, who have hopes to track down Washington and claim their berth into October. Strasburg will be pitching for the first time as a 24-year-old as his birthday is tomorrow.
While it’s only July, every inning has already been placed under a microscope for the first overall pick. I’ve compiled a list of pros and cons on how ending Strasburg’s All-Star campaign will affect the Washington Nationals
1. It Helps Avoid Injury:
While Strasburg has the type of talent every father hopes their son could one day possess, there aren’t exactly instructional videos on how to replicate his mechanics.
Many scouts have said that his delivery results in a pitching coach not avoiding injury with him, but rather prolonging it from inevitably happening.
2. Help Ease Him Into a Major League Work Load:
Stephen Strasburg has never pitched more than 123 innings in a season. Would 160 innings (I’m aware Rizzo has backed off that number, just using it to make a point) not be a pretty substantial increase in his work load?
Yes, he was coming off injury last year, but he only compiled 44 innings of work in the 2011 season. At 160, the Nationals are now asking their ace of both now and the future to work over 100 extra innings in 2012. That’s a lot to ask for
3. Protect the Future:
This could be looked at both ways, and I will address it in the cons list.
Most baseball minds say it’s safe to assume this team will be competing for years. The core of the team is both young and talented, and outside of Jayson Werth there isn’t really any giant contracts that aren’t justified.
Shutting down Strasburg still leaves you with a solid pitching staff that could likely get the job done. It would require Edwin Jackson to pitch more in the playoffs. While he is a drop off talent wise from the Strasburg-Gonzalez-Zimmermann option, it doesn’t mean that the Nationals would not still have a average/above average rotation come October.
1. You Can’t Predict an Injury:
For all we know, Strasburg could blow out his elbow on the first pitch of tomorrow’s game and then have that pitch hit for a line drive resulting in a shattered left ankle. Yeah, that’s extreme, but you can’t tell me it’s not a possibility.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Strasburg could very well throw 215 innings, clinch a World Series title for the Nationals and never feel an ounce of pain.
The best thing the Nationals can do is monitor that prized arm. Couldn’t any player get hurt at anytime? I understand the reasoning, but you can’t just assume you know when a guy will get hurt.
2. Innings Aren’t the Issue:
In the thousands of innings that I have watched in my lifetime, I’ve seen guys take the mound and launch three pitches towards the plate before going right back to the dugout. I’ve also seen guys pass the 100-pitch mark in the fourth inning.
Pitch count is the issue here, not innings. With the way the Nationals appear to be looking at things (I’m talking general public perspective, that is where the backlash comes from. I’m aware the Nationals look at his pitch count as well) It seems like more value is placed on an inning’s count.
Does this mean that a 35-pitch inning is held in the same category as a three or four pitch inning when it comes to avoiding an injury. That makes little sense.
3. The Future Is Not a Guarantee:
I keep hearing the phrase “they are set for the future” as if Stephen Strasburg is the only player on this roster with the ability to get hurt.
Nothing is guaranteed in baseball. Nothing.
Joba Chamberlain was supposed to be a huge part of the New York Yankees’ plans this year and he got hurt on a trampoline. While with the Houston Astros, Lance Berkman destroyed his knee in a church flag football game. Sammy Sosa injured his back while sneezing.
You can assume that the Nationals will be right back at it next year, but you can’t just pencil them into October for the next five years.
A team from Washington hasn’t made the postseason since the 1930’s and this specific franchise hasn’t made it since the 80’s (Montreal Expos). If you have the chance, you have to pursue it. It may not happen again in the projected time frame.
If I were Mike Rizzo, I send my guy out to the mound. Move the rotation around if you have to in order to give him an extra day off between starts here and there. If the Nationals are winning a game 9-0 after four innings, go ahead and pull him. A win on your regular season record isn’t near as important or fulfilling as a win in October.
There may be no right answer here as none of us can predict the future. Because of this, I welcome your perspective on the situation in the comments below.