The countdown had been coming for months. It was just a matter of what would happen when it ended. We’re of course talking about the Washington Nationals’ declaration that they would shut down starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg at 160 innings pitched, something that the club had said they would be doing after the no. 1 draft pick and Scott Boras client had Tommy John surgery in 2010 to replace the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.
We counted. We watched. We never made it that far.
Saturday, the Nats pulled the plug. His projected last game Wednesday at Citi Field against the Mets? Not happening. His last game of 2012 against the Marlins on Friday at National Park is not exactly the way you want to be remembered. Tying his season low for innings pitched in a game, he went just three frames, allowing two runs in the first inning, one run in the second, and two more in the third. That was enough, and Davey Johnson pulled the plug.
So, one of the most closely watched marches to an arbitrary number in recent history will be speculated ad nauseum for the remainder of the season, possibly through the offseason and into next year. After all, the Nationals have painted themselves into a corner by making nothing less than a World Series championship the only way that the topic goes away.
Davey Johnson tried to frame the decision as a way to remove distraction and tried to shoehorn in that physical signs were beginning to show.
"I just told Stephen that his year is over. He's had a great year. I know what he's growing through," Johnson said. "The media hype on this thing has been unbelievable. I feel it's as hard for him as it would be anybody to get mentally, totally committed in the ballgame. And he's reached his innings limit. So we can get past this and talk about other things for a change.”
"My job is to do what's best for the player. And this is what's best," Johnson added. "If you're not there 100 percent mentally—he's a gifted athlete, his velocity can still be there—but I don't see the crispness. I don't see the ball jumping out of his hand. I'm a firm believer that this game's 90 to 95 percent mental and he's only human. I don't know how anybody can be totally mentally concentrating on the job at hand with the media hype to this thing, and I think we'd be risking more by sending him out."
To Mike Rizzo, Davey Johnson, and the Lerner family, the general sentiment is, “You’ve created your own monster.”
At 159 1/3 innings, a 15-6 record, a 3.16 ERA, and 197 Ks, one can’t help but wonder, “What if?” The players on the staff (especially the rotation) will be asked about it repeatedly the remainder of the way. Then there’s John Lannan, who pitched his last two games at Triple-A and is being called up to replace Strasburg in the rotation. Lannan is no slouch (he was the Opening Day starter for the Nationals in 2009 and 2010), but for every pitch thrown, there will be that undeniable urge to compare him to Strasburg. Nothing like heaping unneeded pressure on the guy.
This is what we’ve come to. Players are no longer players; they’re assets to be protected. The Nationals should have never said anything about the innings limit in the first place. In baseball—an industry where every comment is carefully measured for public consumption—silence is often the preferred response. Instead, the Nationals opened their mouth and, with it, put a bull’s-eye on Strasburg for the season.
It’s one thing to say that pulling Strasburg was about his elbow, but neither he nor the club has made even a whisper about any discomfort. The self-inflicted media attention is to blame, not his arm.
Strasburg may have been the most wildly anticipated rookie pitcher to debut in the last decade, and this is where the marketing element collides with the real matter at hand: winning a World Series. It’s been two years, but if you work in the front office of Nationals Park, you can’t help but remember his debut. Here’s just how much interest there was:
- Leading up to the game, I penned an article titled “Ticket Prices for Stephen Strasburg Debut Skyrocket on Resale Market.”
- At the time of the game, it was ranked as the second-highest attended game by Nationals fans for 2010 (Opening Day was 41,290). The attendance figure would be surpassed on his second start at Nationals Park against the White Sox.
- Over 200 media credentials were granted for his debut.
- MASN set a viewership record, earning a 7.1 HH rating with more than 165,000 households in the Washington region tuning in.
- Among the key demographic of adults aged 25-54, the game earned a 4.4 HH rating, also an MASN record.
- Ticket prices on the resale market went for 146 percent more than a month earlier for Nationals games (see details).
- The game draws an 0.4 household rating with an average of 588,000 viewers on MLB Network (see details).
- After the game, it is announced that Strasburg will do David Letterman's "Top 10" on Thursday, June 10.
- The game after Strasburg's debut drew 18,876 at Nationals Park, a 53 percent decline from Strasburg's debut.
- Strasburg’s Debut on MLB Network Averages Over 960,000 Viewers
To go with the hype, Strasburg backed it up on the field that day as well:
- Strasburg established a Nationals’ single-season record (2005-present) with 14 strikeouts.
- He matched a Nationals’ record set by Chris Schroder with seven consecutive strikeouts (which is more impressive since Schroder did it over three days, September 17-19, 2006).
- Strasburg’s 14 strikeouts was only one shy of the all-time mark of 15 for most strikeouts in a debut, set by Karl Spooner in 1954 and tied by J.R. Richard in 1971.
- He did not walk a single batter for the game.
- In the second inning, Strasburg hit the radar gun at 99 mph (twice) and then made it to 100 mph.
- In the seventh inning, he threw his fastest pitch of the game (103 mph).
- In his MLB debut, Strasburg became only the second pitcher since 1987 (the year STATS, Inc. began charting pitches) to fan 14-plus and throw fewer than 100 pitches in a game. On April 9, 2003 at Wrigley Field, the Expos’ Javier Vazquez struck out 14 in seven innings and needed just 96 pitches to do so.
The Nationals remember this. He earned $3 million this season as part of his four-year, $15.1 million deal that he was signed to before he had ever stepped on a major league diamond. The fans know he’s a key piece. So what went wrong, and could it all have been avoided?
The answer is, yes. This mess—and that’s what it is—could have been avoided by having him come in late to Spring Training. Okay, if that would have been a media nightmare, then they could have eased back on the throttle and figured out how to have him miss maybe four or five starts over the course of the season. That would have allowed Strasburg to be within the self-appointed window of 160 innings pitched through the postseason. As one prominent agent said to me, “They did it ass backwards.”
But it comes back to that thing. That thing that can drive some closely watching the game nuts. Why put a player on an innings pitched limit in the first place?
I can’t help but be reminded of the Winter Meetings in 2008. The Texas Rangers had just made Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan president of the club, and he was there to talk about it. There in the back of the cavernous media room at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, I asked Ryan what he thought of putting pitchers on pitch counts. He said (and I’m paraphrasing), “I don’t like them, and I’m not saying that because of my days as a player. We’re going to go about things differently. We’ll watch a guy at 100 pitches in a game, but if he’s looking sharp, we’re going to let him go to maybe 105 or 110 pitches. If he’s not sharp in the following game, we may pull back and only let him go 90 pitches. The point is, why get into a pitcher’s head that there’s some number? Why not measure them by how well they’re doing and adjust from there?”
Mike Rizzo and the Nationals should have simply done that with Strasburg. That was all that was needed. “We’re monitoring him,” they could have said. “We’re not sure if he’ll pitch the entire season, but if he’s fine, we want him to help us win games for as long as he can.” It would have all been that simple, if for no other reason than to set up a better excuse for shutting him down.
Instead, in the first year that D.C. baseball has been truly relevant since the 1930s, there’s this mess. The fans aren’t happy. The media is bewildered. And the player that is at the center of it all is right there with us.
“I don’t know if I’m ever going to accept it, to be honest,” Strasburg angrily said Saturday after the shutdown. “It’s something that I’m not happy about at all. That’s not why I play the game. I play the game to be a good teammate and win. You don’t grow up dreaming about playing in the big leagues to get shut down when the games start to matter. It’s going to be a tough one to swallow.”
“All I can do is be the best teammate possible for these guys. I think everybody overlooks all the great contributions that we’ve had this year. I know they’re going to keep going that way, and I’m going to do everything in my power to support them.”
Except Strasburg was never signed to a $15.1 million contract to be a cheerleader. He was signed to do what he had been doing. Instead, the Nationals will use the “we’re protecting him for the long-haul” and “we need him for next season” party line. But no one knows the future. No one knows if the Nationals will be in this position next year. No one knows if, heaven forbid, after shutting him down, he winds up injuring his elbow early next year. You can’t second guess. You don’t have to be reckless, but at the same time, you can’t treat high-paid players like a Ming vase. There will always be risk. You have to use the tools at your disposal to win, and Strasburg is certainly one of those tools for the Nationals.
There may never be an opportunity like this again for the Nationals to win a World Series with Stephen Strasburg in the rotation. They have all the makings of one that will, but in the immortal words of that great scholar Yoda, “Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.” Grab some popcorn, and pull up a chair. The questions surrounding “The Shutdown” are far from over.
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I understand that the doctors advised that keeping him in a routine was safer than skipping starts here and there - that's why the Nats went with him pitching every fifth day until his quota was used up. Additionally, it seemed likely at the beginning of the season that you might need every single start to have a chance to reach the playoffs.
The only reasonable alternative position is that you're going to keep running him out there against medical advice, because the chance to win a World Series this year is worth that risk. Obviously, you can look at whether he's tiring or not, but that isn't anywhere close to being foolproof - plenty pitchers get hurt without showing signs of injury or fatigue in advance.
If he started spring training late, he would've faced major league hitting later and as Behemoth said, if Strasburg had to miss a start or two because of injury, he wouldn't hit that 160 IP threshold. Skipping a start each month would've also thrown off his routine.
Besides, let's say the Nationals kept throwing Strasburg through September and into the playoffs. Which Nationals pitcher sits during the playoffs? And what if, even with all that effort, the Nationals lose the first round 3-0.
The process worked with Zimmerman so it makes sense to use it with Strasburg.
Strasburg isn't the best, or even the second best pitcher on the Nationals right now and at best, he throws six innings at a time. We're not talking about a CC Sabathia throwing three 8+ inning games in a short time frame or a Halladay who tends to throw complete games so the impact Strasburg would have on the playoffs is minimal.
Two years from now, though, he could be the best pitcher. Is it worth risking three or four more games just so he can become the next Mark Prior, whom I might add, he is frequently compared to? I don't think so.
He *could* absolutely be one of the premiere pitchers over the next 5+ years, maybe longer. But, I get back to that thing... I haven't heard word out of the Nats camp that currently there is anything medical. Davey said he wasn't "crisp" which can happen to both healthy and unhealthy pitchers.
I guess I'm asking this... Should limits be set across the board? Do each player respond identically? Should you look at the Zimmerman shutdown in a season where the team wasn't contending and say, "We will apply identical rules"?
I'm reasonable. Give me a compelling argument and at the middle of next season, if it all lines up in the "could" department, I'll offer up a mea culpa.
He will not be an outlier among those aces in that like the rest (Kershaw 171, Sabathia 180, Verlander 186, Hernandez 191, Halladay 105) he didn't get to 200 IP in his first full or mostly full year in MLB.
Why would a pitcher with a TJ in his past be more aggressively pushed in his formative years than all those eventual aces were, when none of them had a rebuilt pitching elbow? Stopping him now increases the chances he becomes a "number one" (using the Goldstein definition which includes 220 IP/year). I'd argue that the chances that Strasburg *could* become a Top 5 pitcher only increased with this decision.
Look, if Strasburg was the ace of the staff, or even the second best pitcher on the Natioanls, there would be a more compelling argument to keep him pitching into the playoffs. However, the Nationals of today aren't the Cubs of old that we're talking about. In those days, Wood and Prior were the two best pitchers for the Cubs. Strasburg isn't in the top two Nationals. The marginal difference between Strasburg, a six inning pitcher, doesn't suggest that appearing in a playoff would be that much of a difference between that Nats #3/#4 options. So, why risk it?
Or, the flipside. If the Nationals as an organization decided to limit innings on young pitchers like Zimmermann and if those rules have been formed based on the Nationals research, then why change those rules and show favoritism just for Strasburg?
And then, there's something else to consider. Strasburg was "angry" though he knew the decision was coming. Other articles in the mainstream media have suggested that the innings limit affected him mentally in his last start. If you have someone who is that emotional recovering from an injury pitching in a playoff atmosphere for the first time, they would be even more likely to overthrow a pitch, hide that they are tired and/or hide an injury. So, again, why risk it? Remember, Strasburg hit the disabled list in 2010 with shoulder soreness. Three starts after his return from the DL, he went back on the DL for Tommy John. This year, according to his BP player card, he had right upper arm tightness.
Again, why risk it? And, again, how much of a difference would there be between Strasburg and the alternatives, especially for a six inning pitcher?
The fact is that the Nats are at least a full year ahead of most fans' wildest dreams and Mike Rizzo's and Davey Johnson's decisions are in large part responsible for that. If Rizzo and Johnson, who have access to medical information that no one else does, say it's time to shut him down and say that they've considered all the other "creative" options to stretch out his season, few Nats fans will argue.
We're too busy smiling at the MLB standings each morning and muttering "who woulda thunk it?".
I hope Strasburg realizes that beyond the frustration and disappointment of being shut down this season, the Nationals decision was made entirely to protect Strasburg's health and Strasburg's career, and I don't think he needs to split the hair that they did it because they see him as an 'asset.' If he's so upset now, then when Boras takes him to free agency and he walks from DC, maybe he will look back then and thank the Nationals for helping him stay healthy enough to earn what is certain to be an amount of money that none of us can fathom.
All of our lives are full of decisions that could be second-guessed. Management did what they could with the information they had. Oops, their team was better than they thought. And they still know far more about Strasburg's health than I do. They have every reason to get every penny they can out of him, and yet this is the decision they think makes most sense.
As for Strasburg's reaction, I respect that he wants to support the guys he spends every day with. But that wish doesn't drive this train, and it may even be counterproductive.
Rather than spending more time on this (except to keep up relations between Stras and the team), I hope and expect that Rizzo and crew are prepping for a playoff run. I myself will be stretching out my rally caps and otherwise getting into form.
Also, the Nolan Ryan point seems to relate to in-game pitch counts, assuming a healthy pitcher, as opposed to innings limits on a pitcher coming back from Tommy John. The two seem different enough that the quote doesn't have much power, based on my limited knowledge of the injury issues.
While I know this is all irrelevant because none of us are experts in rehabbing and coming back from Tommy John surgery, I'm curious why you think you know better than the Nationals' doctors, who know as much as there is to know currently about this.
Did I miss a pun?
Please don't ask such silly questions though. We're not ignorant of baseball value. It demeans your audience.
It's also blatant Monday morning quarterbacking, wondering why a team that most people picked to maybe challenge for the second wold card in the NL didn't let their #1 starter skip in-season starts or otherwise reserve him for late in the season. By the time it became clear that the Nats were the overwhelming favorites to win the NL East it was too late to stretch him out and get him to the postseason.
Finally, there's no discussion of the fact that Strasburg simply hasn't been very good lately. His starts since the all-star break are very much hit-or-miss. He's gotten shelled in two of his last three starts and four of his last ten. He's struggling with control, which is uncharacteristic for him but characteristic for guys returning from TJ surgert. Bottom line, there's very little chance that Stephen Strasburg going forward in 2012 would approach career-average Stephen Strasburg. SO the loss is not as significant as the author seems to believe.
This is the kind of analysis I'd expect from the simplistic major media outlets, not BP.
Why say anything? That's what's most confusing. Said it in article, but if you follow the league, silence is almost always preferred.
As to the Lannan comment...
If you're "happy" about the move, you're basically saying at this point and this time, Lannan is a better option than Strasburg.
On his last two starts...
Well, Friday was a stinker. No doubt there. His previous start? A win. Pitched 6, 2H, 1BB, 9Ks... How is that "bad"?
As far as replacing him with Lannan- who do you think they would have replaced him with if they'd skipped starts in May, June, July or August? You got it- Lannan. A win in May counts the same as a win in September. And come October, he'll be replaced by Edwin Jackson or Ross Detwiler, as the Nats will only need four starters. So it's not about Strasburg vs. Lannan. It's about post-ASB Strasburg vs. post-ASB Jackson or Detwiler.
You also vastly oversimplifying the argument. The argument isn't one guy vs. another. You HAVE to factor in the possibility of increased risk of injury in the future if he continues to pitch. We don't know what that is, but you can't assume it's zero.
Basically it's a cost/benefit calculation. It's fine if you think the benefits of Strasburg over Jackson/Detwiler in the playoffs outweighs the cost of potential increased injury risk. That's a reasonable position to have- I'd disagree, but the position is reasonable. The problem with what you wrote is that you mischaracterize both the benefit (by casting it as Strasburg vs. Lannan instead of the #4 starter and by ignoring what they would have lost earlier in the season if they'd sat him them) and the benefit by completely dismissing the increased injury risk and the fact that the Nats have researched that far more thoroughly than you or I.
Also, Nats fans are strongly in support of the move. So if you're not willing to correct the other errors in reasoning in your piece, you should probably at least correct the statement that "fans aren't happy." There's overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
â€œOne of my rules of managing is I try to do whatâ€™s best today, with an eye on tomorrow,â€ he explained. â€œAnd whatâ€™s best for Strasburg is looking ahead in his future, and if all the reports that I get is the best thing we can do is after 160 innings shut him downâ€¦
â€œThatâ€™s what we did with Jordan Zimmerman last year, although we were in third place, so itâ€™s a little bit different this year. Itâ€™s the same deal: You do whatâ€™s best for the player, not only today but for the long haul.â€
To the rest of your comments... Good points.
I don't know if "happy" is the right term, but as a Nats season ticket holder I appreciate the club has clearly and consistently communicated its intentions from the start of the season, and stuck by its own best judgement.
No you're not. What you're saying is that you don't believe the drop-off from Strasburg to Lannan is likely to cost the Nationals the division, nor is the drop-off from Strasburg to Jackson or Detwiler in the postseason rotation significant enough to put Strasburg's arm at a higher risk of re-injury. A direct comparison between Strasburg and Lannan is only relevant if you take the risk to Strasburg's health out of the equation, which is absurd considering that's the one variable which created the controversy.
For a Strasburg-Lannan comparison to matter, you have to either assume that Strasburg could go 200+ innings with no trouble, or that they could have skipped his starts earlier in the season with no loss of production at that point. Both of those premises seem ridiculous to me.
(2) More importantly, your argument about them keeping quiet assumes that Stras's recent performance was affected by the shutdown. There's no proof of that causation, and he's such a professional that I'd be surprised. The argument also implies that the team shut down Stras because it was hemmed in by its prior statements. I don't think they did this because they went public about their intentions and needed to follow through out of pride. They thought it was the right thing to do, and followed through with their plan, irrespective of the opinions of some media and unnamed agents (as opposed to the fans).
I had hoped coming from Maury AND being in a Bizball column that it might take a look at comparing attendance numbers from 2 years ago Strasburg vs. non-Strasburg starts to this year (or TV ratings, etc). If there's still an impact, that is a legitimate argument for possibly doing something different as there is a clear economic impact. But you didn't do that. In fact, there is not a single legitimate piece of information culled from this year in the article.
If you are pissed at the decision, right it up as a blog piece...there we (or I at least) expect BP writers to be less formal in analysis and more opinionated.
And I have to say that the idea of starting him later so that he could have continued to pitch into October is nuts. If they had followed this strategy and the team missed the post-season by a game or two, then you really would have seen the fan base erupt at Rizzo, et al. It would be crazy for a team that had never made the post season not to take maximum advantage of Strasburg during the regular season.
I'll also go with Thomas Boswell to this extent - if the Nats had made the opposite decision, most of the people currently protesting the shutdown would instead be protesting the decision *not* to shut him down: "Oh my God, it's Prior all over again." Not saying that's you, Maury, but it does apply to the MLB Network and ESPN crowd. The so-called controversy is a media creation. No issues at all here in DC.
I predict that we will look back on this era of hyper-sensitivity to pitch counts and innings limits as a time of silly hysteria.
This whole discussion sort of reminds me of the time Jeter dove into the stands. Do you remember there being some discussion on BP and elsewhere that maybe Jeter should not be diving into the stands, given how easy it would be to hurt himself?
I'm sure you see the connection here. Though I realize it isn't a perfect analogy, I do recall there being some backlash against the people saying that Jeter shouldn't be diving into the peanut gallery to go after a pop-up, because at a certain point we have to draw a line and let the competitors compete, let them go after it. No one was saying that every player should completely throw caution to the wind, but there were a lot of people making the case that we can't stop players from going after the ball and doing other things that might be potentially dangerous just so that we can preserve them because, after all, what are we preserving them for?
Now, even if you believe that Strasburg has a better chance of being injured than Jeter did in his box section dive (I think you'd be crazy, by the way - the evidence for the effectiveness of coddling pitchers this way is flimsy at best, as I see it) you have to admit that there is a line that needs to be drawn when it comes to what we decide to try to control and what we don't. I believe that line is being drawn too conservatively here, and people who point this out should not be reflexively scoffed at just because everyone has decided that there is more conclusive evidence of this phenomenon than there really is. This shouldn't happen any more than the pro-pitch count people were scoffed at by the old baseball establishment when the idea first came up. It deserves a seat at the table. That being said, I've seen a few incomplete but possibly compelling arguments for it, but 98% of what I read is confirmation bias, conjecture, post hoc ergo propter hoc and a host of other Latin and non-Latin logical fallacies at work.
There might be some minor risk associated with Strasburg making several more starts this season, but the man has a chance to pitch his team to a Championship, and I don't think you take that chance away from someone if he wants to do it, especially if there's nothing wrong with him physically. Anyone who insists that this is being done for Strasburgâ€™s own good is either being his agent or is insulting the man. It suggests that those who say it know neither the exhilaration of that level of performance nor the kind of focused energy that has been devoted to it.
The Nationals are doing with Strasburg what they did with Zimmermann. Zimmermann turned out well.
Strasburg is not, at this point, marginally better than the Nationals top three pitchers. Note that Zimmermann has had a comparable if not better season than Strasburg.
So why risk it?
And to address your specific point about "the man has a chance to pitch his team to a championship", it is in the Nationals best interests to do what is best for the Nationals. They don't "owe" Strasburg a chance to pitch in the playoffs, especially if they feel it has the chance of hurting his future contribution to the Nationals. As far as the exhilaration goes, it's that kind of intense atmosphere that can lead to further injury. On top of that, throw in tougher lineups and the idea that many starters pitch on short rest and there's even more risk of injury.
And, as I said earlier, Strasburg could throw a few more "relatively meaningless" September games, further taxing his arm, just for the Nationals to get swept in the first round.
Let me throw something else out there too. If Strasburg was extended into the playoffs, the drama wouldn't end. The media would be pressing for more Strasburg on shorter rest or coming in out of the bullpen in extra inning games. It's not like the drama dies out just because Strasburg is allowed to go over his innings limit.
Again, Strasburg is a six inning pitcher who is not marginally better than the Nationals top three starters. His chance of pitching a team to a "Championship" is in the same range as the other Nationals starters. As the Braves of the 90s will tell you, having three future Hall of Famers in your rotation doesn't guarantee you a Championship either. Meanwhile, Strasburg has the potential to be a Hall of Famer, but he ain't there yet.
Recall the rash of relievers who went down with injuries at the beginning of the season- that certainly could NOT have been due to high pitch counts/innings. On the other hand, I guess perhaps the ONLY thing we know is that pitching puts stress on the arm and therefore pitching any amount at all increases risk for injury. Which circles back to the Jeter diving in the stands argument...
About 99.8% of the time, I disagree with people who say "Hey, baseball isn't just numbers, and when you boil it down to the numbers the way you're doing it ruins the fun of the game." I've disagreed with these people one hundred thousand times in a row, it seems. This time I would have to agree with them. Because you can theoretically demonstrate that the Nats odds are barely hurt by removing Strasburg from the equation is not in itself a sufficient argument for removing him. He has worked for this for a long time. I don't know what information the Nats have, and I could be wrong, but I'm doubting they have much more information that we have, in part because it is a very, very complicated issue that features an endless number of variables. They are just being cautious, and I think it's too cautious. Strasburg thinks it's too cautious. thegeneral13 disagrees, but he's not a person trying to live out one of his lifelong dreams.
I don't know the risk curve. YOU don't know the risk curve. I'm sorry, but you don't. You implicitly admit that, in your defense, as you say to remove him when you "felt" like you were at the inflection point. But see, all I want is for people to admit that that's what this is. We don't have a lot of evidence for a clearly drawn curve here. Now you may find some problem with my Ryan Zimmerman example above, and you may have a very good point as to why it's different, but you have to admit that there is a line we draw between protecting our assets and using them, and that that line should be drawn to the best of our abilities. All I'm putting forth is that I believe we might be making a mistake when we draw this line for pitchers, especially in this kind of circumstance. Just ask Strasburg if he agrees.
John Lannan is 27 years old and was the Nationals best starter during their "lean" years from 2008-2010. For his efforts on an unrecognizable Nationals squad, he was demoted to the minor leagues twice and fought his way back. One could argue he's had to work harder and deserves to be in the playoffs.
Or, we could say Chien Mein Wang had to overcome even more adversity to get back to he playoffs.
Sorry, the idea that Strasburg "worked hard and earned the playoffs" is dismissive of the other players on the roster who have had to work as hard, if not harder.
But with a pitcher, the injury probability accumulates over the course of a season due to the susceptibility to repetitive stress injuries, so every pitch/inning that passes makes injury more likely. The relationship is exponential, so the increase in risk from inning 0-50 is very small while the increase in risk from inning 250 to 300 is much larger. With perfect information you could map this curve and have a team policy that no player would be allowed to exceed the number of innings that increased risk of injury beyond some predefined percentage, depending on your risk tolerance. With someone coming off of TJ surgery like Strasburg, the entire curve is shifted upward and the injury threshold occurs at a lower innings count.
Of course that level of specificity is impossible in practice, but that's in theory what the team should be doing to the best of its ability based on the information available. And that's what the Nats are doing. My point in my other post below is that there's no reason to believe that you or I can map that curve for Strasburg any better than the Nationals, so we have little room to question the medical merits of the decision. It sounds more like you question their risk tolerance (i.e. their injury threshold) or their right to take an opportunity to contribute in the postseason away from one of their players.
One final point, as you note elsewhere in relation to Dusty Baker, one can't conclusively prove that he destroyed Mark Prior's arm because there are so many other factors that influence injuries. But just because there are other factors you can't control doesn't mean you should ignore those that you can.
(And of course to Maury, not just for his insight on my comment, but for providing a good topic for discussion.)
For a whole host of reasons, it does not appear that Dusty Baker is a very clever man. But do you know what? We DO NOT know that Dusty Baker ruined Mark Prior's career. I said it! Now where's the bolt of lightning?
Everywhere you go to read about it it is treated as a foregone conclusion that it is true, and I mean everywhere. A decision was made that this is true, and everyone seems to have forgotten that we really don't know that. It's really weird, frankly, given the kind of people who like to visit these kinds of sites. You would think it's a particularly skeptical group, so I find it really strange that the book has been closed on this kind of thing.
People love to pretend that they have control over more outcomes than they have in reality because it makes us feel safe. We have a host of massively profitable industries as the result of this. We feel that if only we find the right combination of supplements, juuuust the right diet, etc, that we can ward off what we see as a terrorizing array of maladies that are all around us, ready to pounce at any moment. We underestimate the chance aspect for our own piece of mind, and the cost is at the very least money and time, and at the very most a not insignificant measure of enjoyment. Ironically, the cost can be piece of mind.
It's the same with pitchers. We pretend that if Prior were used juuust the right way, he could have been simultaneously kept healthy and performing at a Hall of Fame level. It is such a strange thing for a group like this to take for granted.
These Dusty Baker "jokes" are very common in message boards, by the way. Not for me (this is the first time I've ever chimed in on this matter) but any suggestion that maybe we shouldn't be "babying" our pitchers is immediately met with the Dusty Baker jokes, here, at Hardball Times, at Fangraphs, etc. In essence they are saying: "Ha! You medieval DUMMY. You're not in the know like WE are when it comes to pitcher injuries. How can you be so DUMB?"
Call me ignorant, but number one, I haven't seen any compelling evidence that we're doing much at all to prevent pitcher injuries. Number two, we can't control everything. Stuff happens. This doesn't mean Strasburg should throw every day, like Old Hoss Radbourn, but I don't think we should take it as gospel that shutting a guy down at 160 innings is the right thing to do because being cautious is ALWAYS the right thing to do. I don't think it is, and when a guy has a chance to live a dream of his and is healthy, I'd argue that it is not.
I also don't think anyone is taking the 160 inning as gospel since the Nationals are trying something new, hence the controversy. But, with Strasburg just as they did with Zimmermann, they use it as their own team policy.
I admit, Strasburg has lost velocity. He only throws 98 right now. Shut him down!
Strasburg could hit the playoffs and punch out 15 batters in a game. It wouldn't be that surprising, would it, with all that adrenaline? Or maybe his arm would jsut feel good that day. Who knows! I tell you what we do know though. Lannan's not going to do it. He might pitch a great game at some point, sure, but he's not going to do wht Strasburg is capable of when he's on.
Note that right now, the Reds are considering shutting down Chapman for not throwing 100 mph. His average pitch has dropped to 95mph-ish.
Lannan won't be in the postseason rotation. But, if I was to take a starter and put them in the bullpen, I'd prefer to put Lannan since he's got a bit more experience with changing routines. Basically it's Strasburg vs Detwiler as a Game 4 starter since Gonzalez, Zimmermann and Jackson have all thrown well.
Going the other way, and saying we know nothing about these issues is equally unhelpful though. It simply isn't true to say that - there has been good research carried out on, for example, building up the number of innings that young pitchers throw as safely as is possible. Even if you ignore the Tommy John surgery, this is applicable to Strasburg, and letting him go to, say, 220 IP if he pitched through the end of a World Series run, would be a big jump over what he's done previously.
Additionally, when Tommy John surgery does go wrong, it's apparently most common in the second year following surgery (according to either Andrews or Yocum, I forget which). It would also suggest a relatively conservative approach is in order, especially when dealing with a pitcher who doesn't have years of experience of throwing 200+ innings a season.
I mean, you can make a value judgement that the chance to win the World Series is worth the added risk of destroying Strasburg's arm, but to try and pretend there is no added risk or no significant added risk because we are unable to fully quantify it is dishonest.
If we're being realistic, the added value of Strasburg pitching over the alternatives is much less likely to make a difference than most people will think (and that can be quantified pretty much). I would imagine that the Nats have a pretty good idea of the real equation - something like increasing your chances of winning the WS from say 15% to 17%, against an added 5% risk of ruining Strasburg's arm (probably plus an additional risk of doing some damage that has a shorter-term impact) - and can make an intelligent decision on it.
My main point is you overvalue Strasburg, this year, to the point that you are devaluing everything else. That's why I'd buy your land for pennies on the dollar. If I was in your kepper fantasy league, I'd trade you Strasburg for Jackson + a star player and a prospect and walk away happy.