Stephen Strasburg Does Not Need Strict Innings Limit

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.

Around the Web

  • Matt Wagner

    I completely agree with you Craig on how the Nationals should handle this situation. Last year since Washington was not in contention for anything, I would have no problem with it. Now that they are actually in contention for a playoff spot, I would as you said, carefully monitor his fatigue and pitch count.

    Washington actually has a good team now and it would really be a wrong decision if they were to put their ace on a strict innings limit rather than keeping an eye on his pitch count and fatigue. It will be really interesting to see how they handle this situation down the stretch.

    • Craig Williams

      I’m not 100% convinced that they will stick with it. The mistake was throwing that number out there in the first place. Now the media will be all over it and will be asking a thousand questions about it. Like you, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how this situation gets handled.

      • gilgerard

        They’ll have no choice. You won’t be able to justify to a starving fanbase- the benching of their best player when they’re up 5 games on September first.

        Not to mention, innings doesn’t matter. Pitches do. Hold him around 90-100 pitches per start and he’s fine. He’s the same red flagged pitcher he was 5 years ago, and he will be in 10 years.

        • Craig Williams

          As a Stephen Strasburg fan, I hope that is the case. He’s one of the top three pitchers to watch in MLB. Playing devil’s advocate though, the Nats could certainly declare that the future is more important than 2012.

          • gilgerard

            Sure- but when do u let a man be a man? Babying pitchers does more harm than good. The only way to build arm strength is throwing. As long as they don’t go nuts and have him throw 125 pitches every start- stras has the same risk he ll be over his whole career. If they baby him this year and he blows it out next again- who cares- ya know? Go for gold bc u never know if the same opportunity will happen.

            Sorry for the choppiness- responding via phone

          • Craig Williams

            Yea, you won’t get too much of an argument from me there. That’s why I like what they’re doing in Texas with their pitchers. I think there is a difference between being responsible with young arms and babying them, but a lot of teams don’t see it. Not that I have all (or any) of the answers, but you see arm injuries to all sorts of pitchers – young, old, power, finesse, starter, reliever – so it’s not like anybody else has a firm grasp on what is really going on.