Will the Nationals FINALLY Let Stephen Strasburg off His Leash in 2013?

Robert Wood@@bleachRWreachrCorrespondent ISeptember 9, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 04: Pitcher Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Washington Nationals looks on from the dugout during the Nationals 11-5 win over the Chicago Cubs at Nationals Park on September 4, 2012 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

It is official: Stephen Strasburg has been shut down. 

According to Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider, Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson decided to shut down the ace of his staff, effective immediately.  Stephen Strasburg pitched only 3.0 innings in his most recent start on Friday against the Marlins, giving up 5 ER. 

It was Stephen's third outing of five innings or less in his last 10 starts, and the fourth start during the same period in which he surrendered four or more earned runs.  

But as Johnson explained to Zuckerman, the exact timing of Strasburg's shutdown had more to do with the pitcher's mental state than any physical concerns:

He's had a great year. I know what he's going through for the past couple weeks. The media hype on this thing has been unbelievable. I feel it's hard for him -- as it would be [for] anybody -- to get mentally, totally committed in a ballgame. And he's reached his innings limit that was set two years ago, so we can get past this and talk about other things for a change. 

After Friday's start, Strasburg's inning total reached 159.1, just shy of the 160-inning limit that Johnson alluded to.  After 28 starts, Stephen will finish the season 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA and 197 strikeouts. 

Since Stephen Strasburg will pitch no more during the 2012 season, no matter how long it lasts for the Washington Nationals, it is now appropriate to look to next season, when Strasburg will pitch again for the first time. 

So, will the Washington Nationals FINALLY let Stephen Strasburg off his leash in 2013? 

First of all, calm down. 

Second of all, yes.  The Nationals will absolutely let Stephen Strasburg off his leash in 2013. 

Look no further than how the team handled the recovery from Tommy John surgery of another starting pitcher in their rotation, Jordan Zimmermann.  After his start on July 18, 2009, Jordan Zimmermann was diagnosed with a torn Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) and like Strasburg, his rookie year was ended prematurely by the identical injury. 

Zimmermann slowly recovered from the serious injury, which had been career-ending before the revolutionary surgery which bears the name of its first patient, long-time pitcher Tommy John. Despite pitching 16 more seasons after the operation for a total of 26 seasons in the big leagues, Tommy John was still a little disappointed with the results:

When they operated on my arm, I asked them to put in a Koufax fastball. They did, but it turned out to be Mrs. Koufax.

After undergoing Tommy John surgery in the summer of 2009, Zimmermann did not pitch again in the major leagues until Aug. 26 of the following year, and his first full year back in the majors was 2011.  During that season, Zimmermann was subject to the same innings limit that Strasburg was subject to this season.  Of course, with a little less fanfare. 

And now, looking ahead to Strasburg's 2013 season, we can look at Zimmermann's workload and performance with and without the innings limit to project Strasburg's performance next year. 

Jordan Zimmermann threw 161.1 innings in 2011, and was shut down after his 26th start on Aug. 28.  He finished with a record of 8-11 and a 3.18 ERA, to go with 124 strikeouts and only 31 walks. Jordan had an opponent's batting average of .251 and a 1.15 WHIP. 

This season, Zimmermann has thrown 171.1 innings in 28 starts.  He currently has a 10-8 record with a 2.99 ERA, 131 strikeouts and 34 walks.  Opponents are batting .251 against Jordan, and he has a 1.15 WHIP. 

Comparing Zimmermann's numbers during last season and this season proves that the inning limit is an effective means of rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery.  Jordan's strikeouts and walks are comparable, his opponent's batting average and WHIP are identical, and his win-loss record and ERA have improved. 

If Jordan had carried too large of a load last season and further damaged his reconstructed elbow, he would not have seen these positive results this season. 

And now that the Washington Nationals have shut down Stephen Strasburg, he can expect to see a similar progression next season. 

That is a scary proposition for hitters.  Stephen Strasburg may be a young pup at 24, but once the Washington Nationals let him off the leash, he can finally become the lead dog of the National League.