Why Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo Is Dead Wrong About Stephen Strasburg
Stephen Strasburg may be riding high as a fantasy baseball phenom and a possible National League Cy Young candidate with a 14-5 record and a 2.91 ERA at press time, but there is also something the Washington Nationals pitcher will be riding soon – the pines.
Mike Rizzo, Washington’s general manager, recently confirmed that he would not only indeed be shutting the 24-year-old Strasburg down before the end of the season, but he would also be keeping his team’s No. 1 pitcher out of the postseason. That sound you heard was the moaning of Nationals fans – and fantasy baseball players – who are irate over the idea of Strasburg being shut down in September.
Rizzo is enforcing these “Strasburg Rules” even though the National League East-leading Nationals have the best record in baseball in 2012, and would be favorites to win the World Series if they had Strasburg for the entire year. While it may be understandable that Rizzo wants to protect his team’s crown jewel, who underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery in 2010, Rizzo is also putting the Nats’ chances of winning in the postseason in jeopardy, all for a future that may not be as bright.
Washington and baseball: A century of futility
To put the Nationals’ season in perspective, and what Rizzo is turning his back on by putting Strasburg on the bench, think about these things:
- There have been three teams to play in Washington, D.C. — two Washington Senators teams, and the Washington Nationals. The last time a Washington team won the World Series? 1924. The last time a Washington team made the postseason at all? 1933.
- Douglas Wallop wrote the book “The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant,” the text that the Broadway hit musical “Damn Yankees” was based on, in 1954. This was the story of the Faustian deal with the devil that Senators fan Joe Boyd made in order for his team to win the pennant that year. This was only after 19 years of futility.
- The Montreal Expos, the franchise that the Nationals were created from when they moved to D.C. after the 2004 season, started MLB play in 1969. They made it to exactly one postseason in their existence, and never made it to a World Series. And the Nationals have never made it to the playoffs.
Even though the Nationals are a very good young team, there is no guarantee that they will ever have a season like this one. They could be beset by other injuries next year, or just not have the magic they seem to this year. For that matter, for all the protection for Strasburg, he could end up injured next season by something that has nothing to do with overuse. Look what happened with the New York Yankees. They were as careful as they could be with Joba Chamberlain, even instituting the Joba Rules to protect him, yet those rules still did not protect him from a variety of injuries, including undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2011. Not to mention Chamberlain just being a flat-out bad pitcher these days.
If the Nationals weren’t likely to make the postseason this year, Rizzo’s decision to shut down Strasburg soon – most think that the figure is between 160 and 180 innings, and Strasburg is at 139 innings at press time – would make a certain amount of sense. Not this year.
Strasburg’s workload for 2012 has not been excessive
It’s not that Strasburg is being overworked. In 24 starts so far, Strasburg has pitched 139 innings and has averaged 5.79 innings a start. That puts him as having the 56th most innings pitched in the majors this season. (Felix Hernandez, who just pitched a perfect game, has thrown 180 innings so far, tops in the big leagues this year.)
There are potentially eight starts left in the season for Strasburg, and the possibility of between one and eight starts in the postseason for him, depending on how well the Nationals do in October. Most likely, if the Nationals were to win the World Series, Strasburg would have five or six starts. If Strasburg were to pitch his season innings average for the remaining eight starts of the regular season, he would have approximately 185 innings on the year, which would be over the maximum 180 innings that it is speculated the Nationals have for Strasburg, but not that much over. At any rate, many aces heading into October may skip a start down the stretch, so Strasburg’s numbers could be even lower.
Granted, if Strasburg were to pitch, say, five games in the postseason for six innings each – one in the NLDS, two in the NLCS, and two in the World Series, this could add at least 36 innings to his record, with another start possible if the series were to go to their maximum number of games. But those 36 innings could not only change Strasburg’s career; they could change the nature of an entire franchise.
Pitching Strasburg in the postseason wouldn’t add that much to the workload
At any rate, we’re talking about what may only be a few dozen more innings above 180 innings for the year for Strasburg. That seems a small price to pay for the potential to vastly increase Washington’s chances of winning the pennant or a World Series. Again, there’s no guarantee that Strasburg won’t pull up with some sort of injury next year, despite all the special care.
Unfortunately for Nationals fans – and fantasy baseball fans – it doesn’t look like the Nationals GM will budge on his plans for Strasburg. That means that if you are in a season-long fantasy keeper league, and you are close to winning your own championship, you might want to trade Strasburg to a rebuilding team in your league for somebody who can help you win today. Of course, many Nats fans may be wishing that Rizzo had more of a “we play today, we win today” philosophy.
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