The Washington Nationals have been threatening to shut down Stephen Strasburg all season, and now they’ve finally done it. Strasburg was called into manager Davey Johnson’s office this morning and informed that he’s pitched his last ball in 2012.
The move is shocking, perplexing, and downright ludicrous. The Nationals are in prime position to contend for a deep playoff run. They’re 85-53, which is 2.5 games ahead of the Cincinnati Reds for the best record in the major leagues. Strasburg has been flat out dominant following his ’11 Tommy John surgery, as he’s 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA, a 1.16 WHIP, and a ridiculous 197 strikeouts in 159.1 innings pitched.
The Nationals are doing this to protect Strasburg’s long-term health, but what they’re doing is completely sacrificing one of the game’s premier four of five starting pitchers to go with a call-up from Triple-A every five days. The Nationals have the division all but locked up, as they’re 6.5 games up over the Atlanta Braves in the NL East race and it would be almost unprecedented for the Nationals to not win the division.
With Strasburg, the Nationals may have been odds-on favorites to win the World Series. They boast a deep and formidable pitching staff along with an offense that ranks fourth in the National League in runs scored. The Nationals seem to be under the impression that if Strasburg gets to 170 or 180 innings pitched, his right arm will completely fall off.
The 2008 Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series with a stellar season from ace Cole Hamels, who accounted for 262 innings between the regular season and the postseason at the ripe age of 24 – Strasburg’s age now. Since 2000, there have been 188 pitchers to throw as many innings (159.1) as Strasburg at his age (24) or younger. Seventy two of those have thrown at least 200 innings.
Case in point: Strasburg is in no way the first pitcher of his age to throw as many innings as he did. In fact, he’s only averaging just 5.7 innings per start, and his 159 innings isn’t a lot at all for a starting pitcher of any age. The Nationals are obviously taking it easy given the fact that he was a number one overall pick with the ability to be one of the best to ever play the game.
But what they’re doing by shutting him down is taking away an opportunity that may never come again – win a World Series. The Nationals have a deep and talented rotation that should be able to get them right back to the postseason in 2013. Then again, the Atlanta Braves are going to be right in the thick of the hunt and the Philadelphia Phillies will probably be a talented team again, which means there’s really no guarantee the Nationals will even see the postseason.
While they’re here in 2012, they would be wise to take advantage of the opportunity they have to win it all.