Pseudoscience & Stephen Strasburg

Fantastic column from Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports on the decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg next month:

Stephen Strasburg’s innings limit is not rooted in science, but Nationals believe it’s prudent

And for what it is worth, here is my take-away quote from the piece:

The most fascinating part of the Nationals plan to shut down Strasburg is that in spite of not knowing, they don’t care, either. The Nationals are potentially jeopardizing their fantastic 2012 season to do something that they have absolutely no idea will protect his arm from further damage. Rizzo has cited advice from medical experts, but in reality he’s hearing what’s convenient for him to hear, unless the Nationals know something the rest of the baseball world doesn’t.

I understand Mike Rizzo and the Nationals are in the position they are in because of the wrapped in a nappy environment pitchers have been raised in the last 20 years.  But perhaps even more dangerous than the assumption that shutting Strasburg down will protect him from future injury is the foolish belief that today’s wonderful success will necessarily translate to tomorrow and beyond.  A typical comment on the Strasburg dilemma I have come across scanning the blogs and message boards:

nats24
2:06 AM EDT

Nats fans have to get used to this: Stras will not be pitching in playoffs that, it looks increasingly likely the team will be in.
I look at it this way: If the Nats win it all without him, look out in ’14. A Washington dynasty? I like it.

Dynasty?  I would be as happy as a fat kid in a candy store if that were to be the case.  But we live in a dynamic world, where the game of baseball is played by fallible humans, and not widgets which can produce just the same tomorrow as they do today.  Sure, the lineup could continue to surge, and Jordan, Gio, Edwin (if he returns), Ross, and yes, Stephen, could pitch just as well next year and heck, maybe even better.  But maybe they won’t.  And I don’t want the Nationals to look back in 2017 without a World Series ring saying, “2012.  What might have been.”

3 Comments

I completely agree with “nappy enviornment” today’s pitchers work in is not a gurantee of no arm injuries. Today’s pitchers go 5-6 innings and call it a night and get credited with a “quality start”. I can’t imagine Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Tom Seaver, Warren Spahn, Nolan Ryan, etc. being happy and satisfied with a “quality start”.

Times have changed. Maybe it’s evolution or whatever, but there is no question that pitchers of today aren’t geared to throw the type of innings and pitch counts that those guys threw without injury. And while shutting him down is certainly no guarantee that he won’t have another injury, Rizzo claims that there is evidence that he will almost definitely suffer another arm injury down the line if he’s not shut down. Of course his only examples are Josh Johnson and Kerry Wood.

I would agree that they are foolish in thinking they are gearing for a dynasty and that by shutting him down they are helping to preserve that. It is a fickle game, and the Nats should make the most of any opportunity they have to take a World Series. Having said all that, I don’t disagree with Rizzo that Strasburg should be closely watched and possibly shut down if he appears to labor in his pitching. I just don’t understand why they wouldn’t have a plan to stretch the innings out (skip starts, mysterious DL appearance, etc.) so that he is available to pitch in meaningful games in September or October.

I couldn’t agree more that it is perplexing given the way the Nationals have been playing, for months now, that they couldn’t come up with a plan that would have both limited Strasburg’s innings and kept him in the mix for playoff baseball. At the high-end, Strasburg would be looking at around six playoff starts, assuming the Nats hold on to the Division crown. If you treat him as your fourth starter, you would probably shave that in half. Given he is basically a six-inning pitcher as is, it wouldn’t have taken much maneuvering to “move” those innings to October.

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