Nationals Lose by Shutting down Strasburg – Phillies Nation

Nationals Lose by Shutting down Strasburg

He may be shut down for the season, however, the Stephen Strasburg topic will not die. I know, I know, this has been beaten like a rented mule – but until now I haven’t been able to put my feelings down on paper.

As the Nationals approach the postseason with one of the best records in the game, they’ll be second guessed time and again for their decision to cut off one of the best pitchers in the game at 159 1/3 innings, well before he’ll get a chance to make his mark in the playoffs.

No one has broken down the decision as eloquently as Rany Jazayerli from Grantland and Baseball Prospectus. If you’re going to do some light reading today, this should be it.

Jazayerli basically says it’s a ridiculous move for the Nats to close up shop with Stras this year, and I could not agree more. He provides a steady stream of numbers backing the school of thought that shutting down the flamethrowing righty is bad for the team and does little to save his surgically-repaired arm. This isn’t Mark Prior or Kerry Wood 2.0.

With pitch counts as prevalent as ever, the work had already been done for the Nationals. They needn’t continue to put the shackles on their prized possession.

Two paragraphs stood out to me and captured my very feelings on the decision:

Major League Baseball before the turn of the century was like a highway with a speed limit of 80 mph. Baseball today has a speed limit of 55 mph, seat belts are mandated, and air bags are standard. What the Nationals are doing is lowering the speed limit to 40 mph and arguing that it will reduce car accidents further.

They might be right, but given that the injury risk has already been reduced so significantly, it’s likely that any further benefit to shutting down Strasburg will be minuscule. Meanwhile, the risk that shutting him down costs the Nationals the NL pennant or a world championship is a lot more than minuscule. The point of having a pitcher like Stephen Strasburg is to help you win a championship. Preventing Strasburg from helping you win a title this year — so that he might be more likely to help you win a title in the future — is causing certain harm to your team in the present for a theoretical benefit in the future. That is, in a word, dumb.

Couldn’t have termed it better myself. Dumb. A franchise that was laughingstock just a few years ago has a real opportunity to win a World Series, and will have to do it without a franchise-changing hurler because of an innings limit that MIGHT help. There is no science to it, but they’re putting the emergency brakes on him.

I’ve been asked about whether or not the Phillies would use the same approach with one of their own. It’s impossible to say because Strasburg really is in a league of his own.

What’s your take on the Strasburg situation? Before you comment, read the column, and then see if you still believe it was the correct move. And if you’re with me in thinking the Nats are dumb in this approach, this article should only strengthen that thought.

Click the link below to see my thoughts on Strasburg, on TV:

Philadelphia News, Weather and Sports from WTXF FOX 29

Click to comment


  1. Chris

    September 14, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    The Nationals could have “preserved” his arm and allowed him to compete in the playoffs if they had him skip a few starts or put him on the DL for a bit during the regular season. The Nats have not put him on the 60 day DL yet so it is possible he could pitch in the postseason

  2. Ross

    September 14, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    Major league baseball teams carry insurance on players to be compensated in the event of the loss of that player’s services due to injury. Going against the medical advice could have violated the terms of that insurance policy on Strasburg, which could have led to legal complications.

    • Lefty

      September 14, 2012 at 2:47 pm

      That’s very interesting, and the most common sense reason I’ve heard. When Mike Rizzo specifically pinpointed to 160 innings at the beginning of season I was suspicious because it was the same amount he used for Jordan Zimmerman, and such an arbitrary, yet specific number.

      Your reasoning would provide a reason for that if it was in a written insurance policy. Do you know this for certain? Can you provide a link?

  3. Brian Michael

    September 14, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    Why was he put on an innings count and not a pitch count for the season?

    And why didn’t they rest him in April? Is it because they didn’t think they’d be contending come fall?

  4. pamikedc

    September 14, 2012 at 4:50 pm


    Bad decision- but baseballs a business. And they want to protect their stock. If winning the championship was really their #1 goal- he would be pitching.

    Is it an ego thing w Rizzo??- or a foot in the mouth bc he went so public w it and couldn’t take it back. That’s what happens in politics- you say something and he feels he had to pull him- bc if he didn’t and became hurt- oh NO!!!!!

    Lose- Lose situation bc he went to public w it. Rizzo had zero clue they would be so dominant this season. He also had no clue that the Phils would stink as much as they did to begin the year.

    Go Phils

  5. pamikedc

    September 14, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    dcMikey retired…I logged in as pamikedc now.

  6. George

    September 14, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    This thing could be argued every way imaginable. Injuries do happen, even with pitch counts, particularly to young pitchers like Strasburg. Relief pitchers have even had TJ surgeries, and they never rack up high pitch counts. Same with 6 inning soft tossers. That long, repetitive, and boring link never even mentioned any of that.

    Until medical records are made public, who can really say that Strasburg wouldn’t be at a higher risk of injury with more innings pitched? Sure, it’s been a year plus, but some injuries can take more than a year to fully heal.

    The “pitch count” vs “innings count” argument is a little silly, too. Strasburg had never been allowed to go much past 100 pitches per start. I’m sure the Nats did the math on 100 per to determine how many pitches he’d throw in 160 innings, and that’s why it wasn’t 170 innings or 150 innings.

    My own feeling is that if the Nationals want to err on the side of caution, that’s way better than erring the opposite way. So what if it costs a chance to advance deep in the post season? (It probably won’t, anyway, given the rest of the Nats’ superior rotation.) If Strasburg was allowed to continue, and did actually start pitching badly in coming years, the negative publicity from that would far overshadow the poor reactions from shutting him down during one pennant race. People still trash Dusty Baker and Tommy LaSorda years after the demises of Wood, Prior, Ramon Martinez, and Fernando Valenzuela.

    • EricL

      September 15, 2012 at 12:22 pm

      Sure, because as all Phillies fans know, the team with the superior rotation wins the post-season series, right?

      People rightly trash guys like Dusty Baker because he was instrumental in ruining careers. Mark Prior had more 130+ pitch outings in September of 2003 than all pitchers in major league baseball combined had in 2012.

      And the point most who are critical of Strasburg’s handling are making IS NOT “SS shouldn’t have had an innings limit,” it’s, “If you’re going to put Strasburg on an innings limit, why not creatively manage those innings so that he pitches fewer innings over the summer and more innings in September/October.”

      They could have easily done things like have him pitch once a week instead of every five days, skip a few starts here and there, or even put him on the DL for a few weeks this summer when it was apparent they were likely headed for the post-season. The innings limit isn’t what’s stupid here; it’s the handling of the innings limit.

  7. Ken Bland

    September 15, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    There’s a point to be considered that gets ignored by the thinking that the Nats could have stretched Strasburg out and still controlled the number of pitches or innings.

    This is a young (24) year old, professional career further abbreviated by a stop in college, where he threw once a week.

    Now, he’s in an environment where at this point in time, pitchers are conditioned to throw on a schedule that usually places them in assignments every 5th day. As you look at Strasburg’s development, and from the long term, unless 6 man rotations become popular, he’s got about a decade or more of a schedule he’s not pitched in that much.

    Bringing him along slowly by pitching him once a week, or taking breaks delays that process. Condensing his season teaches his body and mind to become conditioned to a schedule that will be needed for 10 or more years. And still rebuild from increasing by about 100 innings from last year.

    There simply is no right or wrong answer to this mess. What I’m saying is not to say the decision was right. It just offers one reason you do it the way the Nats are. If you thought the Nats should have stretched him out over the year in the pre season, it’s one thing, but so many people are just offering that opinion in retrospect, as evidenced by the fact, or at least liklihood that most everyone that heard about the “plan” during the spring scoffed at it figuring Rizzo would bend if the Nats proved playoff worthy. However it works out, while flexibility is so critical in so many walks of life, I respect Rizzo a lot for staying with his plan, and reflecting confidence in the rest of his rotation. It’s tough on Stras, but from a wider perspective, it’s interesting to watch it play out and potentially see Rizzo considered a bright guy.

    I wonder whether arm problems of career length weren’t Mark Prior’s destiny under any circumstance. Not to overly defend Dusty, but it’s not like any pitcher that avoids injury isn’t incredibly fortunate. Unless Greg Maddux knows something the rest of us don’t. And very few others.

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