Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg has certainly lived up to all the hype surrounding him when he became the #1 pick in the 2010 Major League Baseball draft. Despite his elbow injury during his rookie season, which required Tommy John surgery, Strasburg has bounced back to nearly 100% health and strength. But a lot has been made on the Nationals decision to shut Strasburg down, no matter what, when he reaches 160-165 innings this season. With a legitimate shot to go all the way, is this really smart by the Nationals?
A few years ago the Nationals were dreadful, one of the worst teams in baseball. Actually, they were the worst team in baseball. They finished 59-103 in 2009 and 69-93 in 2010, the year they drafted Strasburg and the same year he injured his elbow. They struck gold again in 2011, landing the #1 pick for the second consecutive season. They selected high-school phenom Bryce Harper.
This season, both Strasburg and Harper have contributed tremendously to the Nationals 73-45 record, which happens to be the best in all of baseball. Strasburg is 14-5 with a 2.91 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and 173 strikeouts in 139.1/3 innings. He was my preseason pick for National League Cy Young.
On the other hand, Harper has hit the “rookie wall.” His averaged has dropped-off, significantly, since the All-Star break, but he is still batting .245 with 10 home runs and 32 runs batted-in and is playing great defense in the outfield.
These aren’t the only two players contributing on this team. Free agent pitcher Gio Gonzalez is having a career year, boasting a 15-6 record with 158 punch-outs. Jordan Zimmerman hasn’t done much wins-wise (9-7), but he holds a 2.38 ERA. And despite injuries to key players such as Michael Morse, Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth, the Nationals have gotten production from nearly everyone who has been penciled into the lineup. Their fielding is great (68 errors; .985 fielding percentage) and the bullpen is even better, even with All-Star closer Drew Storen out for more than half the year.
But everything comes back to Strasburg because he is the “future” of this franchise. No one, not even the Nationals, thought they would be in this position. They have a legitimate to win a World Series and not every team can say that. It’s not like this team is filled with perennial All-Stars; they had four this year (Strasburg, Gonzalez, Ian Desmond, and Harper). All of them are extremely young, and to a point, still unproven. The Nationals might not be in this position next year or the year after or maybe ever again.
Are they setup for the future? Certainly, but signs are telling me the future is now.
Do you remember how good A.J. Burnett was when he came into the Majors in 1999 for the former Florida Marlins? He threw a fastball in the upper 90’s and had a devastating curveball. At times, his control seemed to elude him and it still does, as he walked a high volume of batters in his first four years (260 walks in 524.2/3 innings). In 2003, he underwent Tommy John surgery just four starts into the season, ending his season and keeping him away for most of 2004.
When he returned late in the season in 2004, Burnett seemed to be back to his old-self, erratic but effective. He pitched over 200 innings in 2005 (209) just a year and a half removed from the surgery. In 2006, he landed a five-year, $55 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. In 2009, the New York Yankees gave him another five-year deal worth $82.5 million. As we know, he struggled in New York but managed to start 30 or more games in his three years with the Yankees. He was traded this past offseason to the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he sports a 15-4 record and only 43 walks in 145 innings pitched.
Since his elbow injury and Tommy John surgery, Burnett has incurred only minor elbow and other non-elbow injuries that forced him to miss time on the disabled list.
The only way someone is able to prevent injuries or death is if that person doesn’t leave his/her bed in his/her house. We face risks in everyday life. Every time you drive our car, you are facing dangers. Every time you cliff-jump, swim in the ocean, mow the lawn, wash the dishes, cut down trees, use a toaster or oven, or start a fire, you face dangers. Strasburg throwing a ball, repeatedly, is no different. The only thing that is different is that some group (the Nationals organization) is looking after him. Minimizing future risks is what the Nationals are after and I understand that, but let’s say that Strasburg hurts his elbow in his next start. Then did the Nationals fail at their job? Let’s just say that they didn’t “shut him down” soon enough.
To make-up for the lack of an Ulnar Collateral Ligament, which can tear at any given time when throwing a baseball, doctors replace it with the Palmaris longus tendon. If you would like to know more, click this link (baseballprospectus.com). Over time, the tendon adapts and becomes a “ligament” even though, technically, it’s a tendon. The failure rate of recovering from Tommy John surgery is less than 20%, so it’s not like we are dealing with something that is 50-50. This article I read on ESPN.com also has a lot of good information about trying to avoid elbow problems. In short, it talked about a pitcher’s delivery and if his timing is off, extra strain is put on the elbow which leads to an increased risk of injury. Since the elbow is one of the weakest points during a pitcher’s wind-up, all the pressure and strain is put on that join. An overhand delivery only complicates matters. Randy Johnson threw harder than Strasburg, but never had elbow problems. Why? It was because he threw side-arm.
I do believe that the way Strasburg throws, he puts himself at a greater risk for re-injuring his elbow. But if he is unwilling or doesn’t want to change his mechanics because it has gotten him to this point, being one of the top pitchers in baseball, then I think the Nationals should let him pitch until his arm falls off.
When you try to prevent injuries, that’s when more occur. You are more likely to be injured going half-speed because you are more care-free – thinking you can’t get hurt – and then you do.
With a chance to make a run at a World Series, the Nationals would be foolish to sit Strasburg. Protecting him is stupid because what if he gets hurt next year? It’s like buying stocks and then having the market crash.
Did people, who lost a lot of money during the market crash in 2008, predict something that bad was going to happen?
No, but things happen.
I don’t care what professional doctors have to say. They are not in Strasburg’s shoes. They don’t truly know how well his elbow feels when he wakes up every day. More importantly, they aren’t Stephen Strasburg.
Pitch Strasburg, for the sake of the National’s fans and baseball fans across America.