Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Strasburg and his Innings Limit
The Nationals are in serious contention for a playoff spot for the first time since, well since they've moved to DC. They currently hold the majors best record. The last time they have done that was in 1994 when the were the Montreal Expos. A strike cancelled that season, and probably led to the departure of the Expos to Washington. This is a franchise with little history of contention. They have only made the postseason once, and that was in the strike shortened 1981 season. So this year with the Nats in first place, they are planning on shutting down their best pitcher.
Stephen Strasburg was in the big leagues only a year after being drafted #1 overall. Unfortunately, he injured his elbow and had to undergo Tommy John surgery in 2010. The Nationals young phenom didn't come back until September of last year. This year, Nats GM Mike Rizzo placed Strasburg on a 160 innings limit. Right now, Strasburg is at 133.1 innings, only 26.2 away from his limit. He did a similar thing to Jordan Zimmerman last year, and wants to protect his young arms. The difference this year is the Nats are in contention.
Chances to make a World Series run don't happen every year. The Nats do have a young team that should have a window of opportunity to win for awhile. Still, you never know about that either. Strasburg is the best pitcher on this staff, but this is a deep staff. Gio Gonzalez, Zimmerman, Edwin Jackson, and Ross Detwiler is still a good playoff rotation. It's still quite possible for them to make a deep run in the playoffs without Strasburg. However, Strasburg is still the unquestioned ace of this staff. He has the best fastball, a knee buckling curve, and a guy that you would want starting Game 1 of the Division Series(or Game 7 of the World Series).
Nationals management has been unwavering in its decision to shut down Strasburg. The GM said it would be his decision, and not manager Davey Johnson's. Strasburg himself said that, "they would have to rip the ball of his hand." Missing out on a playoff run will be a bitter pill for a competitor like Strasburg to swallow. I can understand why Rizzo is being careful with Strasburg. He doesn't want to repeat the same mistakes the Cubs made with Mark Prior. Still, there is no guarantee that the innings limit will keep Strasburg from getting hurt.
Currently, the Braves and White Sox are using six man rotations. With John Lannan toiling in Triple A, I don't understand why the Nats don't do the same thing. Lannan is a capable big league starter that doesn't belong in the minor leagues. A few years ago he was the best starter the Nats had. Lannan has a career ERA of 3.99 in four plus seasons, which isn't bad for someone on the back end of the rotation. Strasburg would be able to get more days off between starts, and could pitch into September. If the Nats clinch early they could even skip Strasburg's starts in favor of Lannan or bullpen lefty Tony Gorzellany(who used to be a starter for the Pirates).
Even if that did happen, Strasburg would likely reach his innings limit before the end of the year. Right now, Strasburg is probably 5 starts away from it. It would be impossible for him to pitch in the postseason and stay under the 160 innings limit. The Nats have also said that they will not start Strasburg back up this year after they shut him down. There could be a lot of second guessing in Washington this October if the Nats don't finish well without Strasburg.