When Mike and I sat down to talk about written content for the North Shore Athletics Club, we developed the idea of the “Get Better Series” as a way to tell stories that would inspire and motivate young athletes. This week, we are going to take the phrase “Get Better” a little more literally, and talk about the personal well being of one individual who may completely alter the MLB playoff picture on his own.
It’s Edwin Jackson’s turn in the rotation, and Stephen Strasburg comes up to you the night before the big game and says, “I want that ball.” What do you do?
Through more than 90 games, the Washington Nationals still have the best record in the National League, due largely to their incredible pitching rotation. The Nats’ starters lead the majors in every major pitching category (3.28 team ERA, 61 Quality Starts, .234 Batting Average Against). Even though Stephen Strasburg hasn’t been the best pitcher in the rotation this year (by the numbers, it’s Jordan Zimmermann, and in the W-column it’s Gio Gonzales), the 24 year-old Strasburg is unquestionably the most important.
Strasburg, who leads the team in strikeouts and has 14 Quality starts in 19 appearances, is in his first season after recovering from Tommy-John surgery to repair his right elbow. As the surgery has become more common in the majors, doctors have been able to create a reliable recovery timetable that usually requires pitchers to miss one season, and then pitch on a strict limit of 160 innings the next. The Nationals have said since last November that Stephen Strasburg will be pulled for the season at 160 innings under any circumstances (it’s worth noting that last season, Jordan Zimmermann was held to that timetable after getting the same operation in 2009; and this year he has been the best pitcher in the Nationals’ rotation).
Right now, Strasburg is two-thirds of the way into his innings limit. And as we cruise towards August, it’s beginning to look more and more like pulling the plug on Strasburg could also pull the plug on the Nationals.
As good as the Nats are, they are still a part of the NL East, which is consistently one of the most competitive divisions in all of baseball. The Atlanta Braves have caught fire, and are now only 2.5 games back of the Washington for first in the division. If the Nationals fall out of first, they subsequently enter a five-team scrum for the two Wild Card berths. This is where Strasburg becomes very important. Strasburg is one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball right now, and he puts the Nats in position to win every time he is on the hill. Washington being in the playoffs is not a done deal with Strasburg in the rotation. Clearly it’s going to be even more difficult without him.
The Washington Nationals want to protect their investment. Strasburg was signed to the largest rookie contract in baseball history and has the potential to be an All-Star caliber pitcher for the remainder of his career. But in the same token, sports have always taught us to never take a day for granted. Even though the Nationals clearly have what it takes to be contenders right now, they are in a division that will constantly try to get better around them.
There are no teams like the Kansas City Royals in the NL East. The Phillies, Mets, Marlins, and Braves are all big time spenders with very strong farm systems. The Nationals have been great this season, but it hasn’t happened in a vacuum. The Phillies have also totally fallen apart due to injuries and old age, the Mets had to start over after learning their new stadium was built with fake money, and the Marlins are struggling to balance their interest of winning baseball games and being a sideshow attraction. These sorts of issues will be resolved with trades and free agent acquisitions (and in some cases, cognitive therapy), and these teams will get back on the saddle. There is no guaranteeing that the Nationals will be a perennial playoff contender, especially in this division.
Essentially this boils down to a debate over financial policy. Do you protect your investment in the name of always having something in the bank, or do you risk your investment in hopes of achieving greatness. Keeping Strasburg in past 160 innings would certainly not help his arm, but it would give the Nationals the best pitching rotation in the postseason should they make it that far. Pulling Strasburg helps his arm, but does not guarantee the future success of either Strasburg or the Nationals.
I can see it either way, so I’m going to need the help of my followers and the community over at North Shore Athletics Club.
You are Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo. Washington is in the one-game Wild Card playoff. It’s Edwin Jackson’s turn in the rotation, and Stephen Strasburg comes up to you the night before the big game and says, “I want that ball.”
What do you do?
Article Written By: Jared Zeidman, Executive Editor, TakeOverTheGame.com
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