The Strasburg Shutdown and What We Don’t Know

On Friday night, Stephen Strasburg took the mound in Nationals Park for the last time in 2012. Since I live about six hours from DC and I hadn’t seen him pitch in person yet, I figured I shouldn’t pass up on the opportunity to see him for myself, so I made the drive up on Friday afternoon. As you’ve undoubtedly heard, Strasburg wasn’t particularly sharp on Friday, getting removed after throwing just three innings, and so the Nationals decided that Friday was his final start of the year, moving his shutdown up one start and ending his season at 159 1/3 innings.

It’s obviously a rather controversial decision, and I’ve advocated for the position of more aggressive usage, skipping starts and manipulating the off days to try and make him available for the postseason. Watching him struggle in his final start didn’t disuade me from believing in the merits of that kind of approach, and I do think that perhaps there were alternative ways of handling his workload that might have allowed him for pitch deeper into the season. However, the unavoidable reality of this situation is that everyone is dealing with a great quantity of unknown variables, and for any of us to say that one decision is distinctly better or worse than another is probably an on overestimation of our own knowledge.

The secret to keeping pitchers healthy is still perhaps the biggest unknown entity in baseball, and our ability to predict which pitchers are going to stay healthy is not much better than simple dart-throwing. As more focus has shifted to the causes of physical breakdown, workload has gotten more than its fair share of attention, and efforts to avoid overuse have become far more commonplace in the last 10 to 15 years. However, even with this focus on responsible workloads, we haven’t seen a sea change in how often pitchers are getting hurt.

Given that pitchers have different physical strengths and weaknesses, it’s likely that a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t all that useful, and what might be good for one pitcher could be bad for another. So, while we can say with some certainty that Strasburg would have been at a higher risk of injury if he would have thrown 250 innings this year rather than the 160 he actually threw, we don’t really know where he lies on the reasonable usage spectrum. You could probably make a case for any number between 160 and 250 and have a reasonable amount of evidence on your side that the total innings count wouldn’t be significantly more harmful than any other number in that spectrum. And, with a knowledge gap that large, it’s just hard to have any kind of strong opinion about what the right number for Strasburg this season actually was.

The Nationals obviously erred on the side of caution, giving their ace a number pretty close to the lower bound, and refusing to shift his starts around to maximize the leverage of those innings. They wanted to allow him to maintain his regular patterns, and again, this is an area where we simply don’t know the effects of alternative options. There just isn’t much historical precedence for this kind of situation, and the uniqueness of each pitcher’s body limits what we could learn from earlier cases anyway.

So, the Nationals chose something like the most conservative usage path possible, but given how little is known about keeping pitchers healthy, their decision is certainly within the bounds of what one could consider reasonable. And, of course, health isn’t the only variable in play here.

As we saw on Friday night, there is some evidence that Strasburg is currently somewhat less effective than he was earlier in the season, and perhaps a full season of pitching is starting to catch up with him to some degree. For instance, take a look at his PITCHF/x velocity chart:

While he has mostly maintained his average velocity throughout the summer, his peak velocity is down from earlier in the season. In May and early June, he was regularly getting up into the 98-99 range, but lately, he’s topped out at 96 or 97. It’s not a smoking gun, but given that velocity tends to increase as the season goes on, the fact that Strasburg’s fastest pitches have gotten a little bit slower suggest that there is some legitimacy to the idea that he’s beginning to wear down.

There’s also some evidence of declining dominance in opposing batters swinging strike rates. In his first start of the season through July 15th — his first 18 outings — opposing batters only posted a swinging strike rate below 9% twice, and they were over 13% seven times. In his last 10 starts, however, he only posted a swinging strike rate over 9% five times, and only once got over 13%. His command also wasn’t as crisp as it was earlier in the year, as he walked three or more batters in a game four times in his last 10 starts after doing it four times in his first 18 starts.

Early season Strasburg was the most dominant pitcher in baseball, at least on a per-innings basis. Recent Strasburg has been more human, mixing in some good starts with some clunkers. If this trend was going to continue, it’s certainly possible that the gap between Strasburg and Ross Detwiler in October wouldn’t be so large that swapping them would result in a huge change in expected outcomes. In fact, you could argue that the outcome differences now aren’t even that large.

Strasburg’s posted a 2.82 xFIP this year, just about 1.50 runs per nine innings better than Detwiler this season. Strasburg’s posted higher than average BABIP and HR/FB rates, while Detwiler has been below average at both, so you might want to adjust that gap down slightly to account for the fact that there might be some difference in skills in those FDP areas. So, maybe the gap is 1.25 runs per nine innings instead. That’s certainly a big difference, but we also have to remember that October baseball is not the same as regular season baseball, and that managers can be much more aggressive in their bullpen usage in the playoffs. Given how deep Washington’s relief corps is, it’s unlikely that either pitcher would be asked to go beyond six innings, and five is probably more likely against a good offensive opponent. So, instead of 1.25 runs, we’re probably dealing with something closer to 0.7 runs per start difference.

And that’s using Strasburg’s full season line. If you think he’s wearing down, maybe he’s more of a 3.25 xFIP guy going forward, and that would push the difference more towards 0.5 runs per start. Don’t be fooled by those “ERA since the All-Star break” graphics that say that there’s no drop-off here, but a half run gap isn’t overwhelming, especially if you think that the trade-off is getting a healthier Strasburg for the future.

And then, of course, there’s the significant variance around player performance in small samples to begin with, and we’re not just talking Strasburg and Detwiler here. There’s a real chance that the playoff games that Strasburg would have pitched in wouldn’t have been close enough to be decided by the quality of the starting pitcher anyway. If we built a histogram of the potential outcomes of any Strasburg playoff start, there would be a tail on one end that represented a blowout by the Nationals, in which they could probably roll out any pitcher they wanted and still win the game. Likewise, there would be a tail on the opposite side of the spectrum that represented a dominating performance from the opposing starter so that even a great performance by Strasburg would still result in a loss.

The starting pitcher is an important factor in the end result of a ballgame, but it isn’t the deciding factor, and it’s certainly possible that the decision to use Detwiler instead of Strasburg ends up not having much of an effect on the Nationals playoff chase at all, simply due to outcomes that have nothing to do with the quality of each pitcher. Combine that with the volatility of projecting Strasburg going forward, the huge unknown that is pitcher injuries and reasonable workloads, and the fact that the Nationals do have a good team even when Strasburg’s not on the mound, this decision by the Nationals is certainly defendable.

It’s not the only defendable decision that they could have made, but this is an area where it just doesn’t make much sense to take a strong stance one way or another. There are so many unknowns that the best thing we can do is admit that we don’t know enough to have a strong opinion either way. The Nationals are doing what they think is in their franchises best interests, and they very well may be right. They may also be missing a chance to take a deep playoff run, and the reward that comes from that kind of run might be worth the extra risk. There are a lot of maybes here. When there are this many questions that we just don’t have the answers to, the best thing we can do is acknowledge where our limits are. On handling Stephen Strasburg, we just don’t know enough to say whether any one decision is better than another. The Nationals made a decision and stuck with it. That’s probably all they could have done.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


77 Responses to “The Strasburg Shutdown and What We Don’t Know”

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  1. Aggie E says:

    This might have been an interesting issue, but it has been shoved down baseball fans mouth so much that I am just hoping the whole issue disappears like a puff of smoke…

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    • Ron says:

      I am not really sick of this issue yet. It is a bold and interesting decision that will be discussed for years. What if Strasburg’s arm blows up next year or the year after that and they don’t win this year? Then people will say they should have just let him go on. If the Nats don’t win it will be because they shut down Strasburg, not because their lineup is largely inexperianced playing in postseason.
      This decision will be looked at for the next few years and it will be interesting to see how it plays out and how other teams handle their pitchers.
      I am tired of hearing how the Nats could have avoided this by holding him out earlier. First, the spring training routine is considered important, so what do they do? Keep him down in the minors? Pitch him in relief? There is a different sort of pressure to getting him in relief than spring training. So getting him ready with the normal routine was good. Second they didn’t know how good they were going to be. Some saw it coming but part of the Nat’s success could be traced to their good start. Third, what difference does it make now they can’t go back and change it and it does not change the fact that he is approaching an innings limit, that part of the topic in relation to Strasburg I am tired of hearing about.

      This decision is a bold decision that Mike Rizzo will only hear complaints for a few years unless the Nat’s win the series without Strasburg. Even if Strasburg has an injury free career there will be those that will say he could have pitched more. But one thing is for sure, this discussion is not going away and will continue thoughout his career and will be brought up with every new top prospect pitcher.

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  2. tz says:

    Dave – does it just make more sense to start Strasburg off some time in early to mid May, and then just take off the kid gloves?

    If the Nats fall out of the race, you can shut him down early, but if you’re in the race you can still have him available for the postseason. This usage pattern forces the Nats to move into the postseason without their best starter, which could be demoralizing if that’s what Strasburg has to look forward to each year.

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      This is one year thing, not an every year thing. Next year, they’ll take the gloves off, and he’ll throw until they’re done playing.

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      • Crumpled Stiltskin says:

        It is a one year thing, but for that one year, if you know you are going to shut him down between 160 and 180 innings, this proposal of starting him off a month to a month and a half late would have make a lot of sense.

        I agree with Rizzo’s prudence to a great degree, but seeing as having Strasburg avaialble for the playoffs, whilst still maintaining the normal patterns for a starting pitcher, was a possibility then Rizzo definitely deserves whatever criticism he gets if the National flop in the playoffs.

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      • DD says:

        This is what the Braves did, tho not likely on purpose, with Kris Medlen.

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      • John C. says:

        The problem with ALL of the “play around with Strasburg innings” methods (start him in the bullpen, skip starts, prolong Spring Training, etc) is that they assume at least one fact not in evidence when the decision was made: that Strasburg, who had all of five ML starts last year, could go out and make 28 starts without missing time. If you cut his innings and THEN he gets hurt (hamstring twitch/oblique/etc), you end up leaving Strasburg innings on the table at the end of the year … which hurts your ballclub now as well as into the future. Because less Strasburg this year runs the risk that he will be innings limited next year as well.

        It also assumes a knowledge that the Nationals would have a 5.5 game lead for the division entering mid-September. Hell of an assumption to make with the Phillies coming off a 102 win season, a young Braves team smarting from last year, and a Marlins team that loaded up on free agents. Add the Mets’ surprising beginning, and well into June it was anyone’s division (the whole Division was over .500 at that point, and only a handful of games separated first from last). Even as the Marlins, Phillies and Mets feel off the pace, it wasn’t until late August that the lead got anywhere near comfortable. And while the Braves face an uphill battle, it’s not anywhere near an insurmountable lead even now. So even if you assume that varying the rhythm of his appearances doesn’t affect Strasburg’s results (unknowable without testing; on the Nationals it seems to affect Zimmermann negatively and Detwiler positively), less Strasburg holds the team back up until now. And the whole season may well have been different with the Nationals chasing the Braves instead of vice versa.

        And this really matters because of the need to avoid the wild card game. The team really hurt by the new format is the #1 wild card, who before went into the playoffs essentially on par with the division leaders. Now, of course, you have to essentially go through a preliminary coin flip of an elimination game just to get to the NLDS with your best starting pitcher off the table (presuming he starts the wild card game). Given a choice of Strasburg (but have to play the wild card game) versus division lead/possible #1 seed overall (but no Strasburg), I’d take the first one every time.

        Medlen is on pace to finish with about 135IP. If the Braves close but lose the NL East by a game or two, and then get bounced in the wild card game, I expect to see critiques of the Braves for leaving Medlen innings “on the table” and thus costing themselves a straight entry into the NLDS.

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      • Crumpled Stiltskin says:

        That’s only if you have a strict limit though, which I think is the wrong thing to do. They are only shutting him down now because there’s no insentive to pitch him if he’s not going to pitch in the playoffs, but if they had started him later, I’d guess the limit would be higher, if it allowed him to keep a natural schedule for a pitcher and to pitch in the playoffs.

        It would have been possible to set him up for the possibility of 150-160 regular season innings and twenty to thirty in the playoffs.

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      • KDL says:

        @ Crumpled
        You would have to know at the beginning of the season that you would be as successful as the Nats have been in order to use this May-shutdown tactic. Did you know the Nats were going to be this good? If yes, congrats on all the money you’ll make from Vegas come season’s end.

        I’m just not sure how, after April, a team that has been not good for a long time (I’m a fan since the franchise wasn’t in this country so know), and has had a couple fast starts over the years (as you would statistically expect to happen from time to time) can reasonably think…”Let’s scrap our long term plan, because we’re ‘x’ games over .500 in late April!”

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      • Crumpled Stiltskin says:

        Why would you have to know that? If he pitches those innings in April or September what’s the difference? Save in September you don’t need as rigid a limit on innings pitched, because you don’t need to shut him down and start him up again.

        155 innings is 155 innings no matter which months in which they are pitched.

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  3. Baltar says:

    Congratulations to the Nationals for putting the future of the player and the team above the short-term consideration against an avalanche of opposition.
    A ton of comments about what the Nationals “should have done” are sure to follow. Any of them could be right; almost all of them are probably wrong.
    The only thing we know for sure are that the Nationals got 160 very good innings out of this player without jeapordizing his health.

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    • Chris Needham says:

      _The only thing we know for sure are that the Nationals got 160 very good innings out of this player without jeapordizing his health._

      This is almost something certainly that we don’t know either.

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    • El Vigilante says:

      What’s the argument against starting him every Saturday, as proposed by Tom Tango? Same amount of starts but over 162 games, and it would only mean 2 extra “sixth starter” games for the Nats. Surely an extra day of rest between starts cannot be seen as more harmful.

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      • Baltar says:

        Thanks for helping to prove my point.

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      • El Vigilante says:

        How did I prove your point? “Almost all of them are probably wrong” – How is this plan wrong? Or at least in any way more wrong than the inflexible one utilized by the Nats.

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      • John C. says:

        See my comment above. It boils down to: saving Strasburg innings for October may jeapordize the Nationals’ ability to make the playoffs, and despite the fierce urgency of now innings in the regular season truly are interchangeable.

        It also has the ripple affect of constantly juggling the other four starters around Strasburg. The Nats’ rotation isn’t a “Spahn and Sain and three days of rain” set up – the other four starters are quality pitchers in their own right. To essentially tell them from the start of the season that they aren’t as important as Strasburg isn’t a great team building exercise. And that’s putting aside issues of messing about with their routine – Zimmermann especially has been less effective on uneven days of rest, and that might well spread through the rest of the rotation.

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      • El Vigilante says:

        The Saturday-only plan just spreads out his innings over the whole season. And has minimal juggling. Like I said, just two extra “sixth starter” games.

        http://www.insidethebook.com/ee/index.php/site/comments/inflexible_strasburg_plan/

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      • KDL says:

        Long-term, if your goal is to teach Strasburg’s body to work and recover like a normal pitcher, it can be viewed as harmful.

        SOOOOOO many of these ‘solutions’ take the commenters own goals, plans into consideration…but leave out the bits about what the Nats wanted out of this season.

        Yes, this weekly-start plan is feasible, but it doesn’t accomplish A LOT of the goals the Nats set out for Strasburg. So…even if Rizzo had a crystal ball, and knew the playoffs were a certainty…he would still be wrestling with more than just a raw total of innings.

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    • jim says:

      says the man who sold out humanity to the toasters

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  4. TheoK says:

    He’s going to pitch in the playoffs. Mark my words.

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    • Rex Manning Day says:

      He definitely won’t start in the playoffs.

      But in a series-deciding game, late innings, close game? I would not be surprised at all. And if it’s a home game, the place is going to explode.

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      • joser says:

        Yeah, it’ll be like Randy Johnson jogging out of the dugout to relieve Schilling in 2001, or in the Kingdome in the 1995 playoffs.

        Here’s the thing though: for that to be even possible, he has to be on the roster for the series. And if he’s on the roster, people will notice, and ask questions. Questions like, why isn’t he starting. Especially if they get to a game 7.

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      • TheoK says:

        He’ll be on the post-season roster, and he’ll pitch a good amount.

        I personally think he will probably start at the very least a game or two.

        That said, the Nats’ rotation is very good, and having Strasburg out of the pen is a huge weapon, one that I think would be used far more than just in a series-deciding game.

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  5. Bowdenball says:

    What a great analysis. It is baffling to me that nobody else has chosen to do a thoughtful comparison of the differences between Strasburg and Detwiler in a playoff start as you have done here.

    None of us know the benefit side of the cost/benefit analysis of the Nats’ decision- certainly those of us without medical backgrounds have no idea. But few people have taken the time to understand the cost side of the equation, which is something we can project reasonably well based on recent performance. I don’t know if they lacked the intelligence to do it, or simply preferred to stir the pot by pretending Strasburg is circa 2011 Verlander and Detwiler is circa 2011 AJ Burnett. Either way, this Nationals fan would like to thank Dave for the great article.

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    • Pig.Pen says:

      Detwiler has been better than Strasburg of late. I don’t know that xFIP is the best comparison because Detwiler and Strasburg both have a relatively SSS with regards to their career so it’s impossible to say whether Detwiler will go all Matt Cain on xFIP. However, Detwiler has pitched much better, even when got ridiculously squeezed on Saturday (See: 4 pitch walk to Carlos Lee that included 3 strikes).

      Still, as a Nats fan it’s nice to see someone take a measured approach to the StrasNoMas topic.

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  6. Average_Casey says:

    While I agree that it’s refreshing to see the Nationals try to care for their best pitcher over the playoffs, this is just another reason for a true bio-mechanical study of pitchers. MLB teams or the league themselves should study what actually contributes to the injuries of pitchers and address it accordingly.

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  7. Oliver says:

    I know I’m tired of reading about it when all we’re doing is speculating without access to the same information the team has.

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  8. When I was his age I threw 600 innings, all complete games, uphill both ways in the snow.

    What is this hobnobbery?

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  9. dan w says:

    Something that I haven’t seen beyond the TJ surgery angle is that he’s never pitched more than 68 professional innings in any season. There’s a decent chance that even if he wasn’t coming off TJ, he might be fatiguing anyway.

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  10. Chris says:

    I agree with what the Nationals are doing. Look back at what happened to the Cubs after they ran out Mark Prior to make a run. He was never the same again and the Cubs fell to crap since. This guy only pitched 123.1 innings in 2010, 44.1 innings in 2011(minor league rehab included) and then 159.1 this year. The Cubs pushed Prior from 116.2 innings in 2002 to 211.1 innings plus playoffs in 2003. After that he had 118.2 innings in 2004, 166.2 innings in 2005 and then 43.2 innings in 2006 for a total of 329 innings. I for one wouldn’t want to see all this young talent wasted over the next 5 to 6 years. Morse, Harper, Zimmerman, Desmond, Rendon, Zimmerman, Clipard, Gonzalez and Storan are a real nice young core but Strasburg can put them over the top by matching up with any pitcher in the game. I’ll take 5 years of that group. Plus they still can make a run without him. It’s not like they don’t get to play in the playoffs because of this. From a buiness standpoint also it’s worth more to have 5 years of contending teams with a chance at playoffs every year then one single playoff run.

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    • NS says:

      Prior threw 115 pitches per game that year and more than 120 in a game nine separate times. Strasburg has thrown 93 per game this year, 89 per game for his career, and never eclipsed 120. They are not similar situations.

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    • Dan says:

      Jsut asking: Has it been completely decided then, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Prior’s usage is THE reason why he had injury trouble for the rest of his career? The way everyone talks about it, you’d think so.

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  11. fresheee says:

    Great article, Dave. The only thing I disagree with is the post date. This should have been posted a month ago before this discussion was over. Concepts in your article that were missing the pre-shutdown conversation:

    1. Refutation that the Nationals wanting to win and shutting down Strasburg are mutually exclusive.

    2. Analysis of what we can know is far more important than analysis of what we can not understand.

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  12. Omar Little says:

    This is idiotic, you take your chances at the WS when you get them.
    I see no evidence at all treating these pitchers like babies is helping them. It seems like there are more injuries to pitchers than ever.

    I have a great idea for that Nats next year. Have him pitch 0 innings. VERY good chance he won’t get hurt that way.

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    • cass says:

      I am so glad that Fangraphs has commenters who are more knowledgeable than people like Dr. Yocum who actually performs surgeries on young pitchers for a living and has a track record of success. I’m so glad I don’t have to rely on informed opinions like those..

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      • Omar Little says:

        Being able to preform a surgery has nothing to do with any of this.

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      • Rex Manning Day says:

        Yeah man, medical knowledge of the procedure and its rehab, with specific knowledge of how the tissue responds to workloads following said procedure, is totally beside the point.

        I mean, if internet commenters haven’t seen any evidence at all about this, then that evidence simply can’t exist. Presumably the medical professionals who have studied and performed this procedure have kept no records and performed no studies, because every commenter would have read them. And baseball teams, lacking both the interest and the resources to maintain medical and baseball records, would similarly not have any sort of information available.

        Some people on the internet haven’t seen evidence, therefore it doesn’t exist. We simply cannot know anything at all about this 30 year-old procedure, so any and all decisions are based on guesswork. Especially those decisions with which some people disagree.

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      • El Vigilante says:

        Because he can perform surgery he knows the best possible usage of a pitcher for a team trying to balance health and maximize wins? He has more information, but it is far from perfect. The Nationals had a very inflexible plan that was still centered around a traditional schedule of rest. What medical/scientific evidence is there that is the best practice? Would only pitching Saturdays really be more harmful to Strasburg and could these doctors prove it?

        I respect a medical degree. But it doesn’t provide even half of the answers here.

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      • NS says:

        It’s easier to put together three paragraphs of sarcasm deriding someone else’s position than one paragraph of a positive argument for your own, which in this case amounts to a blank appeal to authority.

        What does Dr. Yocum know specifically and what does he claim the risks are, specifically? Do you even know?

        “He’s a renowned Doctor” is not an answer. His expertise is qualification of his argument, not a substitute for it.

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      • Mike says:

        Thank you, cass! I’m with you.

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      • Wally says:

        Rex,

        “Yeah man, medical knowledge of the procedure and its rehab, with specific knowledge of how the tissue responds to workloads following said procedure, is totally beside the point.”

        Except, they don’t know that. They are making educated guesses at best when it comes to returning to pitching at a professional level for a prolonged period of time. They can tell you how to return to mostly normal function over a period of months, but how to avoid injury 2, 3, more years later? No. The data is just not there.

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  13. db says:

    The things we don’t know about pitching injuries and workloads:

    Is it tied to innings pitched in a year? Pitches in a game? In an inning? A single particularly taxing start? The types of pitches thrown? The days of rest in between? The amount of work between starts? The temperature when the pitcher is pitching? The color of the uniform? Some amount of interractions among all these factors?

    Some of this probably could be investigated. Starters today don’t pitch as many innings as they did in the 1970s and 1980s. Do we know whether injury rates have even changed? And which way?

    Rizzo is guessing, Boras is guessing and the naysaysers are guessing. I am not sure in this situation anyone has a bit of non-anecdotal evidence to base a decision, so the debate is about what we think the evidence might show, if we had it or analyzed it. Crazy.

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    • Baltar says:

      If, as you probably correctly say, nobody knows anything about this subject, isn’t it better to be cautious?

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      • El Vigilante says:

        There isn’t only one way to be cautious.

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      • John C. says:

        Many of the critics come from a position of “absolute knowledge is impossible, so all data is meaningless – let the man pitch.” My grandmother smoked and drank for 60+ years and lived to be 93, but that doesn’t make smoking and drinking healthy.

        Further, the Nationals position was prepared based on as much research as they could possibly get their hands on, both the research from the surgeons (and care does not stop when the patient leaves the ER; any surgeon, much less a preeminent one, is up to date on outcome data because it affects the recommended treatment for future cases) and their own empirical research including analysis of TJ results from HS and college pitchers.

        Everyone has a right to an opinion. But that doesn’t make all opinions equal.

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      • El Vigilante says:

        Re: John C.
        I’m not advocating for “Let the man pitch” ideas. But don’t try to tell me that pitching every fifth start is, according to medical science, recommended over pitching only on Saturdays (greater than or equal rest between starts). The data just doesn’t exist because pitchers aren’t used in such creative methods.

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      • NS says:

        Strasburg doesn’t think so. What’s your argument?

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      • KDL says:

        I understand the idea behind “is every 5th day the best medically” argument”? But it’s a bit of red herring. It may be the WORST way to do things…but right or wrong…that’s the EVERY TEAM (not just the Nats) works their rotation.

        It may be a bad way to do things, of course, with no evidence, it may be the best. (Funny how skepticism always ‘proves’ one’s point…makes you think it’s not really skepticism.) Finally, regardless of the efficacy of the 5-man rotation…that’s what teams use. Is it so odd to think a team would prepare their players to pitch in that cycle…as opposed to cobbling some new approach together.

        It seems to me, the Rockies have been trying a new approach…and the same traditional-sounding voices have mocked it. But when a new approach serves the “man-up” argument, all of a sudden it’s time to embrace new rotation strategies?

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    • Richie says:

      Once the steroid sanctions kicked in, SABRery types wrote how we had no evidence on which to conclude that players weren’t still using, via masking agents, other substances, what have you. Bill James suggested they just use their eyes. The players were so much smaller now.

      Many years back James did a study of ‘best at 18; best at 19; best at 20 … ‘ and so on, all the way up to geezerhood. The best young hitters overwhelmingly went on to become huge stars. The best young pitchers overwhelmingly flamed out very quickly. With many of the best old pitchers being guys who got a late start to their careers for some reason or another.

      The evidence is overwhelming that you don’t abuse your very young starters.

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      • El Vigilante says:

        Define “abuse”, please.

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      • Dan says:

        Number one: Define “abuse”

        Number two: Given the extremely conservative threshold that has been defining abuse in the last handful of years, you are wrong. The evidence is not only not overwhelming, it is barely there at all.

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  14. BillWallace says:

    My position is that it’s indefensible for Strasburg not to be available for the playoffs. Whether the playoffs should constitute his 140+, 160+ or 180+ innings is a matter of reasonable debate.

    But these two different decisions are being muddled into one that obscures both.

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    • Aaron (UK) says:

      The Nats were expected to be fringe contenders for the wild-card, not 5.5 games clear with 20 to play.

      Assuming they had a finite amount of Strasburg (it’s obviously not simply an innings thing) and that his recovery called for him to be used in a continuous block (i.e. not shut down and started up again), then it might well be the mathematical case that they maximise their theoretical chance of winning the World Series by pitching him as they did.

      They certainly maximise their chance of making the postseason (and as division winner, not a WC, which is a very big consideration now) by having him pitch purely during the regular season.

      If previous postseason experience is genuinely relevant to winning the WS (any studies done on this?) then a team that reasonably hopes to compete over the next 5 years ought to be doing everything it can to get that experience. Not to mention the beneficial effects on attendance etc.

      +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • John C. says:

        All the same points I made, and more succinctly. I should have finished the thread before commenting :-)

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      • Aaron (UK) says:

        That’ll be because I’ve already written comment-essays on this before, and have started to get the knack of editing it down :-)

        Your Medlen point is excellent; the Braves are being hailed now as “what Washington should have done” but that will be little comfort if and when they lose to Wainwright – and then the Nats only have to face Wainwright once.

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  15. JKB says:

    Strasburg is also one of the best hitting pitchers in the NL. Among pitchers with 40 or more ABs this season Strasburg ranks highest in AVG, OBP, SLG, wOBA, wRC+ (107) …

    Maybe they are planning to use him as a pinch hitter ROS :-)

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    • MW says:

      Was just about to post the same thing, but you beat me to it.

      Seriously Fangraphs, find out where Strasburg ranks among the Nationals pinch hitting options for the playoffs.

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  16. Ariel Cohen says:

    The Nationals are doing what they think is right with Strasburg, and if limiting his innings is the way to go, then they have good reason for it. And if they wanted not to skip starts, give him extra rest, they have good reason for it.

    But what I would suggest … is that if you know in advance that he would have this type of innings cap (and they stuck to it no matter what the playoff possibilities were going to be), the they should have capped his innings in APRIL, and stared pitching him in MAY.

    A lot of teams get by with a 4 man rotation in April anyways. There are less injuries in April, so more pitchers available. The Nationals had Lannan and Detweiler, who could have filled in as the 5th starter for April, while Strasburg was given a later spring training.

    Same situation – a month of no Strasburg – so why not make it APRIL, not SEPTEMBER. If the Nationals did it this way, they would have him for the playoffs.

    The right logic should look like this … If the Nationals aren’t a playoff team – then who cares if he pitches in April or September. But if they are – wouldn’t you rather have him in September ??

    Again, I won’t say that the innings cap was a bad idea, and I won’t say that the regular rest was a bad idea. But if that was the plan … then he should have started his season in May.

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    • Aaron (UK) says:

      Do playoff innings magically not tire an arm?

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      • Crumpled Stiltskin says:

        It’s not that. It’s that they wouldn’t have to shut him down and start him up again which many people think is the most damaging thing.

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    • John C. says:

      The “skip one or two months” plan runs into the same problems that all the other plans do:

      (1) it assumes a knowledge that the Nationals were going to be competitive;
      (2) it assumes that not pitching Strasburg in April would have allowed the Nationals to retain their current position in the standings; and
      (3) it assumes that Strasburg would not get hurt/miss time in 2012.

      On the latter, even aside from the issue of asking the pitcher to throw a lot more innings than he ever has before (and possible injury there), any significant DL time for a tweaked hamstring, oblique pull or a line drive off the shin (etc.) would mean that you are not even getting 160 innings out of Strasburg this year. Which affects both the standings this year and his potential workload next year.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Crumpled Stiltskin says:

        1) If he’s getting hurt, they are not going to be playing with the kid’s glove much earlier.

        2) of course, it’s impossible to predict exactly what will happen in any given scenario save the one that has happened, but its hard to see how 155 innings starting a month later would be 5.5 games less valuable than 155 innings starting on opening day, even given variance of team performance.

        Strasburg was going to pitch this year and pitch well. If you even thought the playoffs were a remote possibility and you knew you were going to shut him down, you should have picked a plan that made him available. Either that plan or the Saturday plan would work to degree.

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  17. Dandy Salderson says:

    Imagine of a truly great player like Ackley was shut down. Now THAT would be a story!

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  18. DodgersKingsoftheGalaxy says:

    I always thought this story was about the regular season, surely they aren’t crazy enough not to pitch him in the Post? Say whaaaaatttt……i’ll definitely be rooting against the Nationals now so everyone can laugh at them. A World Series is the main reason we’re all here

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  19. KCDaveInLA says:

    Has there been even a little thought about using him out of the ‘pen during the postseason? Just saying…

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    • KDL says:

      No.
      He is a starting pitcher. Part of the reason a lot of the proposed “solutions” won’t hold water is the Nats, above the innings limit (which is the only thing anyone seems to know about or think about,) employed the plan they did…innings total, regular 5-man rotation, etc…to ease him into being a starting pitcher.
      Playing games by putting in the ‘pen is about 276% less likely than him starting a game in the playoffs. And he only pitches (I think) in the playoffs if 2-4 Nats starters go down suddenly.

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  20. Tom says:

    Why has noone mentioned one of the reasons the Nats (I think it was Rizzo) gave early on about the innings limit… it wasn’t simply the innings quantity, but apparently the doctors also advised them on time off / absolute rest period before starting up next season.

    There are too many people saying skip a start, manipulate the rotation at the all star break, start him in the pen, start his season late but if the doctors were also advising the Nats on a shutdown period after the season none of these options are actually viable.

    I’ll see if I can dig up a link on this, but this seems to be a consistently overlooked issue that all the internet GM’s miss when talking about how they could have managed this better.

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  21. Hurtlockertwo says:

    Washington hasn’t had a team in the WS since 1933, sometimes you hust have to go all in.

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  22. b says:

    have the nationals said whether he would/could come back if one of the starters were to get hurt down the stretch or during the playoffs?

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  23. Dan says:

    Every team that is not in contention should rest all of their future contributors for the rest of the season. If one of them breaks a leg or hurts an arm it would be disastrous.

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  24. Dan says:

    Strasburg’s feelings on this are never brought up. Of course you cannot let a player exclusively decide his own usage, but it deserves a seat at the table. He’s the one who has worked for this, and he’s been focused on it for most of his life. There is nothing wrong with Strasburg physically, so I don’t see how you can deny him a chance to shoot for a championship.

    Someone please post the very, very compelling and conclusive evidence that what we’re doing with pitchers is preventing injuries. I don’t believe it’s there, but if it is post it, and at least we can all be better informed as we continue to discuss this.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

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