It’s been more or less confirmed that the Nationals are actually going to go through with shutting down Stephen Strasburg after he hit his innings limit, which has been solidified at 180. After months of speculation, Washington has established that they are, indeed, going through with this really dumb idea.
I am not nor have ever been a major-league GM, nor will I pretend to be privy to the thinking going on at the Nationals front office. But I can say if I were a Nationals fine, I would be irate.
Everyone understands, of course, that the Nats are thinking of the future with this decision. Strasburg is their most valuable asset, and he’s coming off major surgery to his elbow. They don’t want to leverage their future for one playoff push when there is possibly a lot more coming. Maximizing the return on your investment is important, but according the all-knowing Fangraphs, Strasburg has already provided over twice the value of his $15M contract, and that’s with only pitching 24 innings in 2011.
With the exception of perhaps the Reds, I don’t see any real challenge to the Nationals (in their current state) once the postseason starts. That certainly doesn’t mean they are unbeatable, however. The Nats are starting to get some of their better hitters (Zimmerman, Werth) healthy again, but they still rank below average in runs scored. If they are going to make a run in the playoffs, they will need to pitch well. Shutting down their best starter to “save his arm” is going to make their team worse at the time when they need to be their absolute best.
And what are we talking about in the end here? If we assume that the Nationals make the World Series, and take every previous series to the last game, Strasburg will pitch about 30-35 extra innings when it’s all said and done.
And since when are the Nationals experts on keeping pitchers healthy? If your friend flips his car (multiple times), he’s in no position to give you driving lessons.
This great run could end quickly for the Nationals. Nothing is certain. Maybe the Reds are on the verge of a dynasty. Perhaps the Mets are really going to challenge the AL East next year. Maybe the Phillies trade Cliff Lee in the offseason for some young pieces that can contribute right away. That injury bug the Blue Jays have this year? Who’s to say Washington won’t catch it?
Please pitch Strasburg to the end, Nationals. If the team falls short this postseason, and Strasburg is just sitting in the dugout like a pile of car parts, a lot of fans won’t forgive you. I wouldn’t. Imagine the boos you’ll hear when John Lannan has to come in to spell a struggling Ross Detwiler in Game 4 of the NLDS, and your dynamic fireballer is just staring into the middle-distance from the bench. This is your chance to win the franchise’s first World Series. Don’t start pulling punches now.
Dave Cameron did some Dave Cameron things and plotted out how Washington can limit Strasburg during the rest of the season, and still have him for the playoffs. But even if the Nats subscribe to this well-thought-out model, that still leaves only one start for Strasburg in the postseason, assuming they don’t need him to secure their spot in the playoffs. One playoff start from Strasburg is better than none, but it’s still gonna suck big time to see him shut down during the postseason.
Success for mid-market clubs is gained by finding windows. Washington’s window is wide open at this moment. Shutting down one of the best pitchers in the league due to a completely arbitrary number is closing that window a little. And once it’s totally closed, it’s anyone’s guess when it will be open again.
This is your moment, Nationals. Don’t mortgage the present for a lottery ticket on the future. Flags fly forever. You have a chance to raise the first in team history. Grab that chance by the haunches and hump it all the way to the World Series.
People with absolutely no stake in Strasburg's career or having no financial responsibility to pay his salary are awfully free with advice to get as much out of him right now and to hell with the future.
The Nationals are making their best judgement call on how to protect their investment in Strasburg. It's true that they are working on limited information, but they have a lot more information than the people recommending to keep putting him out there as long as possible.
I guess there wouldn't be much as an article to say that the Nationals are doing their best to get the maximum long-term use out of Strasburg.
This is the most interesting debate of the season. I tend to agree with your conclusion, but do so with reservations.