Recently, it seems that everyone and their grandmother has weighed in on Stephen Strasburg’s innings limit, from ESPN basketball analyst Stephen A. Smith to the namesake of the surgery that started this whole thing, ex-MLB pitcher Tommy John, not to mention everyone who follows baseball everywhere. In writing this article, I intend to cut through the noise. I do not intend to offer an opinion, as the rest of the world has. I want to list all the facts, so that you, the reader, can form your own educated opinion. Both sides have merit, and, quite frankly, we will never know which side was right. But if you simply cannot get enough arguing, then feel free to use the information I will provide.
With that said, allow me to present the arguments.
Regardless of how much online pontificating takes place, Strasburg will be shut down. GM Mike Rizzo has said it time and time again, and he will not change his mind. The main logic behind his decision is based off of medical advice. Dr. Lewis Yocum, who performed the surgery on Jordan Zimmermann in 2009 and on Strasburg in 2010, originally advised that the Nationals limit Zimmermann and Strasburg’s innings in the seasons after their surgeries. The logic is that limiting the pitcher’s workload in the first year after his surgery will decrease the likelihood that he is plagued by injuries later in his career, and this theory seems to have merit. Former pitcher Kerry Wood, another young phenom and flamethrower, had the surgery at 22 and immediately went back to throwing a full workload, and dealt with many injuries throughout his career. A similar example is current Marlins pitcher Josh Johnson, who had Tommy John surgery and threw over 200 innings in his first season back, and has also had injury struggles despite flashes of brilliance. However, many pitchers, such as the original Tommy John himself, have had the surgery, returned to a full workload, and had no real injury troubles. John threw 200+ innings in each of his first five seasons back from the surgery, throwing over 250 innings twice. While there is no guarantee that limiting Strasburg’s workload will keep him safe, it appears that doing so will reduce the likelihood of future injury.
Beyond the main position, there are many arguments that support the Strasburg shutdown that serve to oppose the anti-limit arguments. Many have proposed the creative solution of skipping starts or going to a six-man rotation to limit Strasburg’s innings, but Rizzo has shot those proposed ideas down. Rizzo wants Strasburg to become accustomed to the regiment of a normal MLB season since he has never pitched anything close to a full major league season before. If he were to skip starts, then he would still have to do side work to stay warm, which would constitute more wear on his arm.
In response to the outrage over a team shutting down it’s best pitcher for the stretch run, those in favor can point to the fact that Strasburg has the rotation’s third best ERA since the All-Star break, and the team is 5-5 when Strasburg starts since June 25th, a stretch during which the team is 34-17. Throughout the entire season, the team has a .597 winning percentage without Strasburg, better than all but one team in the MLB.
Another interesting claim is one brought up by District on Deck’s own Darlene Langley: there was no controversy over the Zimmermann shutdown last season. If the baseball world saw the Nationals’ actions last season as sound baseball logic, why is that logic no longer sound now that the Nationals are in contention?
To state every refutation of anti-shutdown arguments would make this article far too long to read, so one more will have to suffice. Claims that an outraged Strasburg will leave the team as a free agent over his treatment seem quite unlikely, given his agent’s, Scott Boras, strong opinion in favor of the shutdown. Boras said that he would have considered legal action if the Nationals had decided to ignore the innings limit, so suffice it to say the shutdown will not negatively impact any free-agent negotiations.
For the first time since the Depression-era Washington Senators, a Washington baseball team is in position to make the playoffs. The Nationals have baseball’s best record and are gearing up for a run at the World Series, looking to bring an MLB championship to DC for the first time in 88 years. So why exactly are the Nationals trying to shut down one of their top pitchers? While you can argue for hours over who is truly the best pitcher in the Nationals’ killer rotation, there is no denying that Strasburg is a huge contributor to the team’s success. They have a .708 winning percentage in games that he starts, as opposed to a .600 winning percentage in starts by Ross Detwiler, Strasburg’s presumptive replacement in a 3-man playoff rotation. The team’s winning percentage with Edwin Jackson, the other candidate to replace Strasburg in the playoffs, is .391. In the playoffs, the difference between a 71% chance to win and a 60% chance or a 39% chance can mean all the difference.
While there is no denying the health benefits that Strasburg could get, there is no certainty in this whole process, as the pro-shutdown side has said. There is no guarantee that keeping Strasburg from pitching will prevent him from being injured. What happens if Strasburg gets shut down, but is troubled by injuries for the rest of his career anyway? Then the Nationals will have thrown away their best shot at a championship, all for naught. And even if Strasburg does stay healthy, there’s no guarantee that the Nats will ever be this good again. Their pitching staff has been incredibly fortunate with injuries, so what happens if Gio Gonzalez or Jordan Zimmermann gets hurt and is never the same? As unlikely as these scenarios may be, consider that everything has to come together for a team to have a season like this. Everything is coming together in 2012, but no one knows if it ever will again. The decision comes down to which you think is more likely: The Nats with Strasburg win the World Series this year, or the Nats potentially with Strasburg, win a World Series at some time in the future. Given the unpredictability of baseball, it makes sense to bank on the first one, even if it means a slightly increased chance of injury for Strasburg.
The anti-shutdown position is founded mainly on attacking the logic, so there are no additional arguments that exist solely to refute pro-shutdown arguments.
Well, there you have it. I could go on for pages and pages if I included everyone’s opinions, such as that of former MLB pitching coach Leo Mazzone, who says the shutdown is “pathetic”, or those of the frustrated, but somewhat understanding Nats players. As they say, opinions are like bellybuttons: everybody has one. This guide should tell you everything you need to know about both sides of the Great Strasburg debate, so you can be fully armed for fruitless debates all the way until Shutdown Day, or as it is now being called: StrasNoMas. Just keep this in mind: no matter how much you type, debate, or shout, nothing is going to change, and we will never know who was right, so if you are looking for a satisfying answer, you will be looking for a long time.