Blown Opportunities to Preserve Stephen Strasburg's Innings into October
It's a date.
Following Sunday's victory against the Cardinals, one in which Stephen Strasburg threw six innings of scoreless baseball, Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson finally revealed to the world when his ace's season would reach it's abrupt ending. Via ESPN:
"I think two starts, unless I let him pitch 10 (innings) in the next one out, which I'm not going to do. I think his last start will be on the 12th."
This comes as no surprise to anyone who is a fan of the game, as the Nationals, mainly GM Mike Rizzo, have been telling people virtually all season that Strasburg would be on a strict innings limit, and when they felt he was done, that was it.
Always the competitor, Strasburg was predictably not on the same page as his manager, telling reporters after the game, ""I am going to fight with him to the end. That is all I got to say" (via Yahoo! Sports).
While it's understandable why the Nationals are playing it safe with the most valuable asset in the organization, taking Strasburg out of the equation as the team prepares to not only win their first division title, but make a run toward a World Series appearance, simply didn't have to happen.
Here's how the Nationals could have preserved his arm while giving the team the best chance to succeed in October.
Get Him off to a Late Start
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It's always special for a player to be named his team's Opening Day starter, and Stephen Strasburg is no different.
“It’s a tremendous honor. There’s still a lot of work to be done. It’s just one game. Hopefully the games will be mattering at the end of the year for us.”
That's a telling statement right there—it's just one game.
Would the Nationals' remarkable season have turned out differently had they held Strasburg back until the beginning of May? Possibly, but it's far from a sure thing.
Strasburg made five April starts, going 2-0 with a 1.12 ERA in 32 innings of work. While John Lannan likely would not have thrown to such a minuscule ERA, he has certainly shown himself to be a capable major league closer.
Instead, the Nationals banished Lannan and his $5 million salary to Triple-A, where any value he once had has all but disappeared with his uninspired performance.
As for the 32 innings that Strasburg threw? They certainly would have been enough to finish the month of September—and still have at least two starts leftover for the playoffs.
All-Star Game Comes with Consequences
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With a 9-4 record, a 2.82 ERA and 128 strikeouts in 99 innings pitched, there's no question that Stephen Strasburg was eminently worthy of his selection to this year's Midsummer Classic.
The Rockies, playing in the National League West, posed no threat to the Nationals' division title hopes on July 6. Couple that with the fact that Washington ultimately lost the game 5-1, and they could have achieved the same result with anyone else on the mound that day.
As for the Marlins, whom many expected to be a legitimate contender for the National League East title this year, they found themselves nine games behind Washington before games started on July 16. While Strasburg shut the Marlins down, throwing six shutout innings, the Nationals ran away with a 10-4 victory.
Again, almost anyone else in the club could have been a serviceable option that would have delivered the same ultimate results—a Nationals victory.
We can take another two starts and 12 innings off of Strasburg's total—and now he'd be sitting with an additional 44 innings in the bank.
August Would Have Been a Great Time to Implement a New Strategy
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When we awoke on August 1, the Nationals sat atop the National League East with a slim two-and-a-half game lead over the Braves.
From August 1 onward, the Nationals could have chosen to throw Strasburg only against their potential playoff opponents. Of the six starts he's made since the beginning of August, three have come against contending teams.
Had they adopted such a strategy, Strasburg would have missed two starts against the Marlins and one against the Diamondbacks (sorry, but I no longer consider the D'Backs to be legitimate contenders, they simply have too many teams to get ahead of).
His next two starts, against the Marlins on Sept. 7 and the Mets on Sept. 12, could have been avoided as well.
That would have saved an additional 17 innings of work, bringing the total saved to 61. If we add in the estimated 12 innings of work over his next two starts (he's averaged six innings a start this season), the total jumps up to 73.
Or...Go to a Six-Man Rotation in August
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If the previous suggestion doesn't work for you, how about the more traditional approach?
A six-man rotation, starting in August,
Instead of six starts, Strasburg would have made four—against the Marlins on Aug. 5, against the Diamondbacks on Aug. 11, against the Mets on Aug. 18 and against the Phillies on Aug. 25.
Going back to his six-inning average, we can add an additional 12 innings of work to the 44 innings he'd already put in his pocket, giving him 56 innings heading into September.
While he ultimately wouldn't have had enough saved innings to pitch the entire postseason using the six-man rotation, he certainly would have been available to the Nationals in the National League divisional series for sure.
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Scott Boras is telling everyone who will listen what he wants us all to believe (via the Washington Post):
This is the only industry I know where people are saying, ‘Excuse me, I want to risk a benefit of years of performance, years of productivity, for a one- or two-month benefit. What industry would someone say that? If you’re asking me, you’re taking severe risks if you violate the protocol.
That's great and all, except this has less to do with Strasburg in 2012 and more to do with Strasburg's next contract—more specifically, Boras' commission from that next contract, which is sure to set a new record for starting pitchers.
That's fine, it's his prerogative, and as most of us wouldn't behoove anyone from making as much money as they possibly could (there's nothing wrong with cashing in on your success and considerable talents), I certainly can't speak ill of Boras' stance.
This hurts the Nationals' fans—those who have packed the stadium to a tune of nearly 30,000 people a night, putting the team 14th overall in the league—a considerable increase from their 20th-place finish in 2011.
This hurts the Nationals themselves, who are depriving themselves of a key component to their success when the games mean more than they ever have before.
And this hurts Strasburg, who while the physical benefits may be scientifically proven, there's no possible way to gauge the mental impact it could have on the 24-year-old—an age that puts him closer to being a kid than it does being an adult.
All he wants to do is take the field with his teammates every fifth day, trying to finish what they started more than five months ago,
Is there anything wrong with that?
I don't think so.