The Washington Nationals plan to shut down their ace starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg after two more starts, even though they are in the middle of their first ever pennant race. This is his first season back from Tommy John surgery, only his 3rd season as a big league pitcher, and there is (apparently) some evidence to suggest that restricting innings pitched[*] by athletes early in their careers (and after surgery) is correlated with better long term outcomes. There has been a lot of ink spilled over this decision ever since it became clear that the Nats might actually make it to the playoffs this year. Everyone’s got an opinion. (The bigshot journos who cover the White House (ahem) even asked Obama’s Press Secretary what Obama thinks of the issue.) So, here’s mine:
We have been following this team since it came to town in 2005. My four-year-old kid is a bona fide homegrown fan of the team (unlike his father and I, who each have our own favorite teams we grew up with, in addition to our adopted Nats). And I am perfectly comfortable with shutting Stephen Strasburg down, for the following reasons:
1) They followed a similar strategy with Jordan Zimmermann after his TJ surgery and he has had an amazing year.
2) Related to 1), the rest of the Nationals pitching rotation is amazing – Zimmermann and Gio Gonazalez in particular have been (in my view and some stats bear this out) just as sharp as Strasburg and, for that matter, just as fun to watch. The rotation is deep and they stashed John Lannan (last year’s best pitcher) in AAA all year (paying him millions) just for this eventuality. It will be ok.
3) As a fan, I’m much more interested in watching Strasburg pitch for years to come, in hopefully numerous playoff situations, than in running the (real, at least from what I’ve read) risk that they blow out his arm this fall (or otherwise damage it in terms of the long-term).
4) Ever since having the kid, I can no longer think about these players without a twinge (or even more than that in terms of the young guys like Harper and Strasburg) of parental sensibility, and if he were my kid I’d be ok with this decision.
As I said, a lot of people who know a lot more about baseball, the business of baseball, pitching, and the intricacies of managing pitching arms than I do. So if you start Googling around for “Strasburg shutdown” you’ll find the full gamut of opinions out there. (Here’s Mark Zuckerman writing about it just recently; some of the comments are thoughtful. I especially liked the Werth quote). But as a local fan who’s followed the team since the beginning, who turned cable tv back on to watch the pennant race, it’s just fine with me.
[*] – innings pitched, as I understand it, is a convenient shorthand for total workload, since clearly pitchers have to be throwing pitches and doing other maintenance and such between official starts.