DoD Round Table: Should Strasburg Be Shut Down Now?


Last week on ESPN’s Mike and Mike In The Morning, analyst Buster Olney proposed the idea of shutting down Stephen Strasburg now, giving his rotation spot to returning starter Chien-Ming Wang.

Olney cited that Strasburg is dealing with a bit of soreness, and “You can’t be too careful with a guy like him.” Another reason Olney says is because this will let Strasburg miss some starts, allowing him to pitch into September (“when they’ll need him most”) while still sitting under his 150-160 innings limit.

Personally, I thought the proposal was rather intriguing, though, I’d rather wait until the next off day, slide everyone up a slot, and put Wang as the fifth starter, as to shutting Strasburg down today and slotting Wang into his slot (it was unclear how exactly Olney thought that should be handled).

If an impressive early record (reached even without numerous key pieces) is any indication of where this team is headed, the playoffs are certainly in sight for the Nats, and it would be an absolute shame if Strasburg weren’t a part of it. However, I guess we can deal with that absolute shame by celebrating the absolute joy of our first postseason action (not a terrible tradeoff if I do say so myself). Bottom line: Keep him throwing unless that soreness is more than just soreness.

I recently got to discuss this very topic with fellow District on Deck staffers Aaron Somers, Bradley Herring, Mike James and Andy Linder. Here’s what they had to say:

Aaron: The fact that Stephen Strasburg would face an innings limit this season is nothing new. We’ve known this was coming for months. Yet suddenly it’s become a big topic of discussion with everyone hoping to provide their thoughts on the subject. But the simple fact of the matter is this – nothing has changed.

The Nationals original intent was to shut Strasburg down once he got close to the 160 inning mark, roughly where Jordan Zimmermann was shut down last season. They plan consisted of doing that no matter what place the team was in with regards to the postseason. And Washington should simply continue as planned. Strasburg should continue on his normal pitching schedule, taking the mound every fifth day.

If he’s a little tired or needs an extra day of rest inbetween starts, so be it. But there is no reason to drastically mess with his routine at this point in time. It would do more harm than good for his longevity and the team’s future. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see the Nationals reach (and go deep into) the postseason this year. But I’d take multiple years of sustained success over a one year run anytime. Strasburg’s health, continued dominance, and the team’s ability to build around him will be key in that sustained success.

Bradley: The Nationals should NOT shut Strasburg down. It’s ludicrous to play for a theoretical future event without doing everything one can in the short-term to reach that point. It’s a good way to ensure the future as you imagine it will never arrive. Were this a less competitive division such as the AL Central, perhaps it would make sense, but the NL East is too full of credible competitors to seriously plan for a playoff run in May. To shut Strasburg down now is an admission that games early in the year don’t matter as much as games later in the year, a common baseball fallacy. Each win matters just as much. And how can the Nationals make the case that fans should care enough to come out early in the year when the Nationals can’t be bothered to put their best team on the field for them to watch? Beyond the perception problem, it’s not as simple as shutting him down for a month, then letting him spring right back into action. He will inevitably need a rehabilitation period, and this would be work putting additional strain on his arm, for which the Nationals receive no benefit. Every bit of work he does for the remainder of the season, whenever it ends, should be for the express purpose of helping the Nats win, not striking out AA hitters.

Mike: The idea of shutting Strasburg down now to have him available in September should the Nats be in a playoff race is an interesting one, and not necessarily a bad one, but one I think would likely be derailed by logistics.

Let’s say you stop Strasburg now, at 53 innings through nine starts. You could then assume, using Jordan Zimmermann’s 160-inning benchmark from last season, that Strasburg could be expected to make 18 more starts for another 100-110 innings or so. At this point, that would mean he would have to sit for about a month before getting started again, with about 90 games left in the season. Or, do you push that back another couple of weeks, hoping to still have a few postseason innings available should the Nationals get there? Right off the bat, there isn’t a clear answer.

In either case, a pitcher who is shut down has to be built back up, almost have a second spring training to get his arm stretched out again. Do you send Strasburg out for rehab starts in the minors? Those innings count toward the limit too, but you wouldn’t be getting them at the major league level.

Ultimately, I think shutting him down now might be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. My thought is you want him to spend his entire innings limit, whatever it is, as a starter at the major league level, and shutting him down would likely preclude that. It would be frustrating to see him shut down in September, but we will all have time to prepare for it, and convince ourselves that the team will be OK with the other horses we have.

Andy:  I personally don’t believe it would be a smart idea for the Nationals to sit Strasburg now as opposed to later in the season.  First of all, multiple sources, including Nats’ pitching coach Steve McCatty and manager Davey Johnson, have noted that the soreness to which Strasburg may have referred is a non-issue.  Strasburg seems good-to-go for his next probable start this Saturday against the Braves, so this decision clearly should not be impacted by his health.  For those who have watched Strasburg pitch (and hit!) recently, you have noticed that this man is HOT.  In nine starts, he sports a 2.21 ERA, which puts him in the top ten in all of baseball for that category.   In addition, Mr. Strasburg has hit three doubles and a home run in only 16 plate appearances this season!  While all Strasburg’s stats are commendable, what’s best about this player is the attitude and passion he brings to the game and his teammates on a daily basis.  The Nats can’t make it to the playoffs without winning right now, and I think sitting Strasburg now would completely hinder the momentum of the Nationals lineup.  Whether on the mound, at the plate, or in the dugout, Stephen Strasburg is a special, dignified baseball player.

The Verdict: The majority consensus appears to favor keeping Strasburg in the rotation, rather than shutting him down in the hopes of having him available for a playoff run in October. One small shot at a World Series (and I do mean small) is not worth jeopardizing several more realistic chances down the road in future seasons. Strasburg is our ace, and we don’t want to lose him.