07/13/12 5:30 PM ET
Shutting down Strasburg is right move for Nationals
By Richard Justice / MLB.com
The Nationals will be criticized for this decision. Never mind that it's absolutely the right thing to do.
Talking heads in particular won't like it. It's unlikely a single one of them will examine the reams of medical data the Nats have, but why muddy up a good, strong opinion with facts?
Former players will come out firing, too. They'll tell us how it used to be. They all walked nine miles to school in the snow and wonder why the Nationals are babying this kid.
Strasburg won't like it, either. He'll argue that he's feeling good and wants the ball. Of course, he does.
Strasburg is on his way to becoming the pitcher every other is measured against. He would pitch until he drops. Nevertheless, some people will blame him.
There's no way of knowing how much the Nats will be impacted by Strasburg's absence. At the moment, they appear to be the National League's best team.
Their starting rotation might be baseball's best, and Strasburg is in the NL's top 10 in virtually every statistical category.
There hasn't been a postseason baseball game in Washington in 79 years. FDR had been in office only seven months when the World Series began.
For the people who worked so tirelessly to bring Major League Baseball back to the nation's capital, this season and this team have been a dream come true. To have the World Series played a few blocks from Capitol Hill would be one of the real special moments in the history of this great game.
Can the Nationals get to the World Series without Stephen Strasburg's 100-mph fastball? Maybe not. Does it matter? No, it does not. Nor should it.
Could Strasburg still get hurt? Of course.
Washington general manager Mike Rizzo made the decision to shut down Strasburg after 160-170 innings based on almost four decades of research from people who have studied young pitchers, including those who have undergone Tommy John surgery, as Strasburg did in 2010.
Strasburg pitched 44 innings last season after returning from surgery. He pitched 123 innings in 2010 before getting hurt.
Logically, does it make sense to increase a 23-year-old power pitcher's workload from 123 innings to 200 innings in back-to-back full seasons? You don't need to phone a surgeon to answer that one.
Rizzo is following the same script he used in Jordan Zimmermann's successful recovery from Tommy John surgery. That one got virtually no attention because Strasburg is a bigger name and the Nats weren't in contention anyway.
Again, nothing is guaranteed. Pitchers do get hurt, sometimes pitchers who do everything right in terms of conditioning, exercises, etc.
All the Nationals have done is study the data on the topic and come up with a plan that makes sense.
Rizzo is thrilled his team is in first place, but simply refuses to take a short-term approach to a pitcher he hopes to build a staff around for the next decade.
There are two basic guidelines. One is that pitchers under the age of 25 should have their workloads monitored.
Remember the Joba Rules? Yankees general manager Brian Cashman limited Joba Chamberlain's innings and pitches when he arrived in the big leagues.
The other area of concern is limiting the year-to-year increase in workload for young pitchers. To arrive at the 160-inning figure, Rizzo simply took the 123 regular-season innings Strasburg pitched in 2010 and added roughly 30 percent.
Will it work? Rizzo has absolutely no idea. All he's trying to do is minimize Strasburg's injury risk.
Some have suggested that Strasburg skip a few starts or that he be shut down now and brought back for the stretch run.
The Nats looked at those options, too, and decided skipping starts didn't really cut down on the workload since Strasburg would still be doing his intense between-starts work. And shutting him down and having him go through another Spring Training in August made no sense, either.
There'll be plenty of people telling the Nationals to throw caution to the wind and go for it in a year when they might very well be baseball's best team. If a player gets hurt along the way, so be it. Other organizations might do that very thing.
But the Nats got to this point by doing things right in player development. Long before they were winning, their first priority was the care and feeding of their young players.
Rizzo is an old-school baseball guy who made his reputation in this game by being able to identify and develop talent. He cringed more than a few times as some college coaches overworked young pitchers.
Rizzo also knows younger players don't come with guarantees, and that Strasburg could still get hurt next week or next season. But he has done his best to come up with a plan he thinks is in Strasburg's best interest. Rizzo would have trouble living with himself if he did anything else.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.