Nationals Shutdown Strasburg

Last night’s 3-inning outing isn’t the one Nats fans, or Strasburg himself, will want to remember as his last start of the 2012 season, but as of this morning, Davey Johnson announced that would be his last start of the year.  Trouble with fastball location was a problem last night, and when he was getting his heater over the plate, the Marlins were wrecking them. 

The final totals for Strasburg read as follows: 159.1 innings pitched, 15 wins, 6 losses, a 3.16 ERA, 197 strikeouts, 48 walks. 1.09 WHIP, 2.4 BB/9, 11.2 SO/9. He’s 4th in wins, 11th in ERA, 7th in Win-Loss ratio, and 1st in Strikeout per 9 innings, and 2nd in strikeouts. By all stretch of the imagination, it’s been a phenomenal season for the young pitcher, especially when you consider he’s still recovering from Tommy John surgery.

The shutdown has been contentious throughout the sports media, with many national sports media figures calling on the Nationals to ignore the doctors’ advice, pitch him through the limit set by his surgeon and doctor, and keep plowing right through.  Young pitchers don’t burn out, they say; they explode, they say. You only get one shot at the World Series, they say.

These are the striking voices of those who would ignore Stephen Strasburg’s future in exchange for a shot at a world series title. They are the myopic who can only see the next few games, the next month, instead of the future ahead.

Some would say that the Nationals were foolish to charge Strasburg out of the gate, instead looking to Atlanta for an alternative method of rehabbing from the difficult surgery. The Braves have said this week that hurler Kris Medlen will be available through the end of the year and into the playoffs.  Medlen and Strasburg were both operated on in August of 2010, but the Braves opted to prolong and slow his spring training period at the beginning of the year instead of putting him in the rotation out of the gate in April.

This should hardly mark the end of the effective season for the rest of the club, who only benefitted from Strasburg’s excellence every fifth game. The Nationals’s staff leads the NL in ERA (3.30), is third in strikeouts (1140), and has allowed the fewest number of earned runs (460), the fewest walks & hits per inning pitched (1.20 WHIP), and hits per 9 (7.8).  

If you need a defense of the Nationals’ incredible pitching staff, I point you to the Dean of DC Baseball writers Tom Boswell’s column from Labor Day

Look at the pitching hegemony the Nats would have brought to bear in the postseason when all teams use four starters. They’d have four of the top 15 in ERA among all starters in the NL. Only one NL team has more than one such pitcher (the Giants).

Also, the Nats would send out four of the top 15 NL starters in WHIP (walks and hits per inning), as well as four of the top 21 in lowest OPS (on-base-percentage plus slugging).

Finally, the Nats would have an overpowering staff with four of the top nine average-fastball-velocities in the NL. That’s almost insane.

Oh, I’m sorry. I seem to have made a minor mistake in my calculations. The team I have just described is the Nationals without Strasburg.

It will be frustrating, I’m sure, for the Nationals to be without their most dominant pitcher in the final road to the playoffs and to the World Series, but this will not be the death sentence that so many of the national media have made this into. It ignores incredible contributions from Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler, as well as two solid starts from the new fifth starter John Lannan in key positions this year.

This is just the start of a long career for Strasburg, and this shutdown will be good for his arm in the future, but I worry about the effect that this might have on the psyche of the pitcher. Davey Johnson indicated last night that he thought the shutdown might have been weighing heavy on the young pitcher, and that ended with him talking with Strasburg this morning and ending his season.

Instant analysis is hard in a business where the future is so unclear, and made cloudier by the sheer number of different variables facing the entirety of the situation. We shall see in the coming years if this handling of the future of the franchise’s pitching ace will have been the correct choice, or if the Atlanta model that they’ve chosen for Kris Medlen will have better results. I suspect this will be something that causes Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo a few sleepless nights in the weeks to come. But Rizzo is playing the long game, taking the risks designed to make the franchise a contender for years to come, not win a quick title and ruin some arms along the way. \

Here’s hoping he’s right.

I live and work in the District of Columbia. I write at We Love DC, a blog I helped start, I work at Technolutionary, a company I helped start, and I’m happy doing both. I enjoy watching baseball, cooking, and gardening. I grow a mean pepper, keep a clean scorebook, and wash the dishes when I’m done. Read Why I Love DC.

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