People are constantly asking Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo about Stephen Strasburg's innings limit this season his his recovery from Tommy John surgery. Most recently, Rizzo told Casey Stern and former Nats GM Jim Bowden on MLB Network Radio's Inside Pitch that, there will be a time where they shut down Strasburg, but "I can't put a concrete number" on when that may be. Mike Rizzo and the front office are right to do this, even if it means a Strasburg-less September and October.
When Strasburg was drafted in 2008, he was supposed to be the end to the Nationals' search for an ace, and he didn't disappoint. Before being sidelined for a year with a torn ulnar collateral ligament, he posted a 2.91 ERA and a 1.074 WHIP in 12 starts. After returning from the surgery, he hasn't missed a beat either. Since returning at the end of last year, he's put up an absurd 1.47 ERA and a 0.814 WHIP in eight starts. He's still striking out an average of a batter per nine, and his changeup and curveball look as incredible as ever.
So how can I possibly argue that the team should let him sit in a playoff run? First, let's not get ahead of ourselves. The Nationals are off to an incredible 10-3 start, and even with low offensive production, the pitching has been insanely great. I took some flak for this earlier this week, but it's worth noting again: it is April 19th. The Nats are 13 impressive games into a 162-game schedule. I don't want to be the pessimist here, the Nationals look the best they've ever been. It seems possible, even likely, that the team will be a playoff contender come September, but I'd rather see what happens May through August first. I think we'll like the results, but let's just see.
Second, Stephen Strasburg is 23-years old. He is at the very beginning of what the Nationals hope will be a very long and very successful career. If the team pushed Strasburg to pitch in September and into October including at least one playoff series, you risk serious injury and perhaps permanent damage of what is probably the best young arm in the game. The Nationals have Strasburg under team control through at least 2016, and if his current performances continue, they'll likely try to lock him up longer than that. The Nats need to protect one of their most valuable investments.
The Nationals front office has set up the team to contend not just in 2012, but for the next several seasons. A few key moves in the next couple years could ensure success for even longer. It is the team's job to ensure that it is in the best position to win for as long as possible, and Mike Rizzo and his team want to be sure that Strasburg is around for all of those years.
The 160-innings limit that Jordan Zimmermann and countless other starters have been subjected to can help prolong a pitcher's career, and while Strasburg might not be on that strict a limit this season, monitoring his progress is wise. If the Nats want to have success for years to come, Strasburg is a significant part of it. They have to protect their investment by shutting him down when they feel it's right.