Washington Nationals Fail To Innovate: Stephen Strasburg To Be Shut Down Sept. 12
Strasburg, 24, was placed on an innings limit by the Washington Nationals in his first full season since returning from Tommy John surgery in late 2010. Though the team never announced an exact number for Strasburg's limit, teammate Jordan Zimmermann had the baseball taken away after 161 innings last season. Strasburg will likely finish this year with about 168 innings pitched.
"This is a developmental decision," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo told the Washington Post. "We've made it five months ago and we’re going to stick to it.”
At this point in the season Rizzo made the right decision, with Strasburg having already thrown 156.1 innings on a reconstructed elbow. The Nationals have control of the former No. 1 draft pick through the 2016 season. With four more full seasons of ace-level starting pitching at his disposal, Rizzo is right to be careful and not risk further injury that could send Strasburg back under the knife.
But in the process of those 156 innings, and all the sound and fury surrounding the controversial innings limit, Rizzo demonstrated a complete failure to think outside the box.
Not all innings are created equal. That's obvious. Pitching an inning in the playoffs is vastly more important than, say, pitching the 6th inning of an August game against the last-place Marlins with your team leading 4-0.
That being the case:
- Why was Strasburg pitching the 6th inning of an August game against the last-place Marlins with his team leading 4-0?
- Why did he pitch the 6th inning against the Red Sox with his team up 7-2?
- Why did he make four straight starts against teams the Nationals were ahead of by 10 games or more, the Mets, Phillies, Marlins and D-Backs?
- Why did he pitch to 68 hitters this season with the Nationals trailing or leading by four runs or more?
The decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg before he reaches 170 innings is the right one for his arm and the Nationals' future, but the path by which he reached 170 innings was paved largely against bad teams (games that had less bearing on Washington's playoff chances) than against good teams like the Braves or Reds. It was paved with low-leverage situations. It was paved with a curious lack of creativity.
Manager Davey Johnson could have replaced the starter earlier in ballgames, or the team could have had him skip starts in less pivotal games. Anything the team could have done to ensure Strasburg could pitch in the playoffs, where the games are of paramount importance and championships are won? They didn't do.
According to Baseball Prospectus, the Nationals had a 95-percent chance to make the playoffs as early as July 26. On that date, Strasburg had only tossed 117 innings. The team had a chance to readjust their star pitcher's schedule to have him available for the playoffs.
The team chose not to, and now they will reach the postseason a decidedly weaker team than in the regular season. In a world of closers being limited to save situations and teams rarely straying from five-man pitching rotations, the Nationals failure to innovate is not surprising. It's just disappointing.