Stephen Strasburg has been dominant this year. In 25 starts he has posted a 15-5 record, a 2.85 ERA, and 183 strikeouts in 145 1/3 innings. Yet, while he may be leading the Nationals to D.C.’s first baseball playoff trip since 1933, the team seems intent on shutting Strasburg down to protect his health. Nationals executives believe that Strasburg’s arm is not ready to take on so much strain, especially when the pitcher has recently undergone the dreaded Tommy John surgery. Therefore, Strasburg’s season is set to end when he reaches around 160 innings. Critics of the decision believe that the National’s are being overly conservative. Who shuts down their best player right before the playoffs? It comes down to a classic debate between the present and the future. Should the National’s go full-throttle now and risk their ace’s future or hold back at the cost of hurting this year’s shot at a title?
Both sides provide compelling arguments, but I have come to side with the Nationals’ front office in this debate. Stephen Strasburg is too valuable of an asset to lose at the age of 24.
First, we should assess the injury risk. The most innings that Strasburg had thrown in college was 109 during his senior season at San Diego St., 51 less than the proposed 160-inning boundary. In his rookie season, he threw 55 1/3 minor league innings and 68 major league innings before his arm needed Tommy John surgery. After the surgery caused him to miss most of 2011, Strasburg made it through 44 1/3 innings between the majors and minors. It is hard to believe that Strasburg’s surgically-repaired arm is ready to make a jump past the 200-inning mark that he would need to finish the season. Just look at Chris Carpenter, one of the heroes in St. Louis’ World Series win. After throwing 237 1/3 innings last season, he has not pitched since due to shoulder surgery. While it may be worth it for Carpenter (age 37) to give everything he has, Strasburg’s future is too bright to wreck on one chance at a championship.
Second, we should look at Strasburg’s value. Ever since the pitcher was signed he has turned the “Natinals” from a joke when they misspelled their name into a legitimate contender. He is also one of the most marketable stars in the game and the face of the franchise. Strasburg has been projected to be the best pitcher of his generation. It will be sad if the Nationals cannot win this year without Strasburg. However, it will be much worse if the organization burns out Strasburg’s arm before he reaches his prime.
Finally, we should look at how much of an impact Strasburg makes this season. The Nationals already have the best team ERA in the MLB 3.23. Meanwhile, Jordan Zimmermann is also having a great year and can anchor the pitching rotation. The team would only miss Strasburg once every four nights. Also, the nature of the MLB playoffs is fluky because the winner is often the team that gets hot in October. Just because the Nationals have had the best regular season does not mean that they are a lock to win it all.
Perhaps resting Strasburg now may be the answer. However, a two week break will not erase all of the strain Strasburg’s arm has taken throughout the season. If the organization chooses to keep Strasburg pitching they must be cautious. Resting now might help him play in the postseason, but the team should still monitor him closely.
While it is hard for an upstart organization like the Nationals to restrict their best player, it is an action that they have to take. Strasburg is only 24 and has his whole career in front of him. I am not trying to sound like his mom, it is just that Strasburg’s arm needs to be taken care of. Strasburg’s future is the best investment in the game, which is why the team should do all it can to protect it.