Stephen Strasburg is a monster. From the start of the 2009 college season, to Major League Baseball‘s amateur draft, to his big league debut and on through his start that took place this evening, Stephen Strasburg has met and exceeded the hype and expectations. In terms of raw filth, there are a handful of starting pitchers (literally five or fewer) that can claim to be in the same class as Stephen Strasburg (I like to call him “The Stras”), but there is not one starter that can surpass him. Unfortunately the Washington Nationals are threatening to add an unnecessary road bump to Strasburg’s rise to super-stardom.
In fairness, the only reason the Nationals have imposed a 160-inning cap on Strasburg’s 2012 season is to protect his arm in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. I don’t really have a problem with that. I mean, it’s better than if they decided to subject him to Dusty Baker‘s School of Pitcher Abuse. A cap of 160 innings is silly though. Consider that a lot of Strasburg’s innings are going to be of the 10-or-fewer-pitches variety. Does it make sense for an eight pitch inning in which Strasburg barely breaks a sweat to count against his season cap? Hell no. There are several other things that the Nationals could and should do to protect their young arm – manage pitch count and manage fatigue for example. Pitching fatigued is probably a larger culprit in pitcher injuries than simply “racking up innings”.
Before I get someone riled up and ready to jump through the screen at me (highly unadvised as that would result in a karate chop to the Adam’s apple), let me say that I am all for Strasburg remaining healthy and enjoying a long, successful career that lands him in Cooperstown. Let the guy pitch though. The way I see it, if a pitcher’s elbow is going to go out, it’s going to go out. Remember Joba Chamberlain‘s “Joba Rules”? Those sure worked out well. Remember Mark Prior‘s “flawless mechanics”? So much for that. How about the talk that Justin Verlander‘s violent delivery was going to lead to injury? Maybe the industry simply doesn’t know as much as they think they do regarding pitching mechanics, workloads and injury prevention.
As Stephen Strasburg inches closer to the predetermined 160 inning limit, the Washington Nationals are going to be faced with quite the dilemma – especially if they remain in playoff contention. If they handle things correctly now though (don’t let him labor through long stretches, don’t let him crank out any 120+ pitch starts, etc.), they won’t have to fret over letting him pitch 180-185 innings this season.
If you are on board with the ‘Free Stephen Strasburg’ campaign (or if you’re not), let’s on Twitter @craigmwilliams.