Friday, August 3, 2012

The Limit

This pose should also be limited
So we're starting to get to that magical part of the season where the Nationals decide that Stephen Strasburg's future is more important than the present of every other player on their roster. A future that they are more than a little bit likely not to own.

Davey Johnson says they are leaning towards a 160 inning limit, which means he's got 39.2 innings left at this point, or less than the rest of August. But honestly... the Nationals are 62-42 as I write this, up 2.5 games on the Braves, which means that they are very likely to reach the playoffs, either through the front or side door. Strasburg is no worse than their second best starter (Jordan Zimmerman, the reigning pitcher of the month in the NL, might actually be better), unless you've got a misguided faith in Gio Gonzalez or Ross Detweiler. The Nats aren't winning due to their offense; any team that's really happy to have a decent year out of Adam LaRoche is not a world-beating offense. The end of game is well in hand with Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett and Drew Storen, but you don't win playoff games on the strength of your last 3 relievers; you win them from great starters.

Which makes the Nats' treatment of Strasburg so puzzling. This is a team that started off 7-2 and has been in the lead role of the division for most of the way. A playoff run isn't a from the blue consideration; at this point, they've been making pretty routine progress towards October for a long time now. So where have the skipped starts for Strasburg been? Dude hasn't missed a turn all year. Where was the concern that he couldn't possibly go to the All-Star Game, since they needed to conserve every pitch? Why haven't they been smarter than gross innings, since pitches are a far better measure of wear and tear, and in particular, pitches under stress or in long innings? And why not just give him a month or two in the bullpen, if keeping his pitch count down is such a big deal?

The plain and simple fact is that they haven't. Instead, they've held to the current fashion of spare the innings count and spoil the team. Forget, for a moment, the idea that Strasburg is a grown man of 24 and not necessarily going to curl up in a fetal position and pule for elbow surgery just because he goes to, say, 180 innings. Forget as well that he's probably going to like the idea of not pitching while healthy about as much as, well, nothing. And finally, forget the idea that his absence might lead to the Nats giving back their lead and worsening their playoff position. All for some arbitrary level, and all so that the Nats' brain trust won't be judged in the history books as those evil Neanderthals that ruined his arm.

Instead, consider the tone this sends to Zimmerman, or Gonzalez, or star third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Strasburg's health and long-term viability is important; yours, not so much. Storen's worked through problems; that's nice, kid. And even better yet, think of the message this sends to the paying customers. The future is more important than the present, the present that you are paying for.

It is, of course, untenable on its face, insane on every level, and damn near scandalous in its hubris, stupidity and silliness.

And when push comes to shove, they'll cave.

Or, if they are really lucky?

Strasburg will get hurt again, and fulfill their wildest, um, dreams...

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