Stephen Strasburg: Nationals Can't Afford to Keep Star Pitcher on Innings Limit

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistMay 16, 2012

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 10:  Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Washington Nationals pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the game on May 10, 2012 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Stephen Strasburg is the crown jewel of the Washington Nationals' pitching rotation. He is a difference-maker like very few starters in Major League Baseball when he steps on the mound every fifth day. 

And you can see how he has changed everything else for the Nationals in his eight starts so far this season. His ERA of 2.25, WHIP of 1.02 and 56 strikeouts in 48 innings put him in the top 20 in baseball in all three categories. 

But the Nationals have backed themselves into a corner by saying that Strasburg is not going over the 160-inning limit they put on him before the season started. Manager Davey Johnson reiterated that those plans won't change and Strasburg will not be skipped. 

While you have to respect what the Nationals are trying to do—protecting one of their most valuable assets for the future, while getting what they feel is the most out of him this season—they don't really understand that innings aren't the problem. 

Strasburg was protected like few pitching prospects in history when he was in college at San Diego State, then when he was working his way through the minors in 2010 before making his big league debut.

Yet all their efforts failed, because Strasburg's elbow did not cooperate, and he had to undergo Tommy John surgery.

The point of that is that there is no direct correlation between innings pitched and arm injuries. Pitchers are most susceptible to injury not when they are throwing a lot of innings but when they are throwing when they are fatigued. 

By keeping him on an innings limit, the Nationals are telling their fans and everyone else in the National League East that, even if we are in first place, we are going to put our best pitcher on the bench for the rest of the year once he hits 160 innings. 

Given the strength of their starting rotation, the Nationals have a chance to do something special if they are able to make it into the postseason. But they need Strasburg to make it that far, much less win a series. 

As long as the Nationals monitor the number of stressful innings that Strasburg throws and don't force him to go crazy, he should be able to make it through the season relatively unscathed. 

For more analysis on pitch counts, innings limits and why they are pure evil, be sure to check me out on Twitter.