Ken Rosenthal is a very good reporter. He is, without a doubt in my mind, the best that baseball has to offer. He is so good at what he does that he makes reporting on baseball appear effortless, much like the athletes who play the sport which he covers make pitching, batting and fielding look easy to fans.
However, there is a difference between reporting and writing.
In his most recent piece for FOX Sports, Mr. Rosenthal offers a satirical take on the much-discussed innings limit for Washington Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg. It’s a fun little article, and most likely not meant for very much of a critical reading. However, it serves a measure of discredit to Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo that I believe to be unfair.
As we’ve discussed on this blog a few times now, the decision to shut down Mr. Strasburg at x amount of innings is far more nuanced than what most pundits would suggest when offering their opinion. Mr. Rizzo hasn’t gone about arbitrarily deciding to shut down his best pitcher before the postseason just to stir up a controversy. It’s an informed decision.
Last week, Thomas Boswell wrote a column for the Washington Post giving us insight into what exactly is informing the General Manager’s decision, and it’s nothing at which to poke fun. Mr. Rizzo and Washington’s front office are leaning on data from previous instances of Tommy John surgery rehabilitation, measuring the effect of increases in work loads on rehabbing pitchers and the likelihood of re-injury. Perhaps even more importantly, the team has been in constant consultation with Dr. Lewis Yocum who performed the surgery.
Nevertheless, Mr. Rosenthal, with a mocking tone, sarcastically suggests:
Dr. Lewis Yocum, Dr. Mike Rizzo, Dr. Scott Boras — they all know exactly what they’re doing. Strasburg surely will jeopardize his future if he pitches beyond 180 innings this season, or whatever righteous number the Washington Nationals choose.
The statement implies that the people planning on shelving Mr. Strasburg are uninformed and out of their element in reaching the decision that they have. Mr. Rosenthal lampoons Mr. Rizzo and the player’s agent, Scott Boras, for their intentions by referring to them as doctors. As a result of the satire, Mr. Rosenthal is claiming that in this specific situation, he knows better than the individuals he’s targeting for purporting to know more than they do. However, by using the doctor title, he’s failing to realize that Dr. Lewis Yocum is an actual doctor, and that he, in fact, is not.
Mr. Rosenthal is criticizing Mr. Rizzo and Mr. Boras for making a decision that their level of expertise does not qualify them to make. However, in his attempt to do this, he groups them in with someone whose level of expertise specifically qualifies him to make such a decision, thus hitting himself with the insult targeted at Mr. Rizzo and Mr. Boras.
Reading through the rest of Mr. Rosenthal’s take is reminiscent of someone who would discredit an expert projection on the basis that it claims to know more than it does. However, no one is claiming anything is for sure. The Nationals front office is dealing in the realm of likelihood. It’s not pretending as though it has a working crystal ball or that it employs the Oracle at Delphi. The organization is taking historical information, attempting to put it in the proper context and then comparing their research with the dynamic results of Mr. Strasburg’s work load, all while adhering to the opinion of an expert in the field.
Throughout the FOX Sports piece, Mr. Rosenthal seems to be using elements of satire to suggest that Mr. Strasburg’s ongoing dominance of opposing batters means that he is fine to continue pitching beyond the limitations that the franchise overseers would deem necessary to place on him.
He opens his article like this:
Please, I can’t stand the sight of this any longer.
The sizzling 97-mph fastball. The sharp-breaking 90-mph changeup. The mind-numbing, body-bending 82-mph curveball.
Please, shut Stephen Strasburg down.
However, such a view misses the point of protecting his valuable arm. The plan is to avoid trouble, not wait for it to pop up, and then respond. It doesn’t matter how well Mr. Strasburg does, it matters only how the long-term health of his arm is affected by his current work load.
This article is but one example of an overwhelming amount of misplaced arrogance being perpetrated in disagreement with what Mike Rizzo and the Washington Nationals are setting out to do. The large majority of what’s being written and what’s being said about this topic seems to be easily translated into something like this:
I don’t really understand rehabilitation from elbow injuries, but I do understand pennant races and how difficult it is to win a World Series. What you’re doing is limiting the chances of the element that I do understand from happening, and so therefore what you’re doing is wrong.
Such one-sided views are insulting to Mr. Rizzo and the Washington front office staff who have gone above and beyond due diligence in understanding both sides of the issue. Mr. Rosenthal’s poorly directed satire only serves to discredit his own underlying opinion, which comes across as uninformed as he attempts to make the Washington Nationals appear.
I don’t know if the plan for Stephen Strasburg is the right one. We can look to Jordan Zimmermann, who embarked upon a similar regimented work load last year leading to an early season shut down. We can look at his success this season, and say, “Hey, it certainly worked for him.” However, bodies, arms and mechanics are all different from pitcher to pitcher. What works for one might not work for another. And even if it did, there’s no guarantee that an even further improved Stephen Strasburg in 2013 would have the same opportunity as he does in 2012.
When I must make a decision on an issue for which I am not an expert, I will learn as much information as I can about that specific topic and trust someone who is an expert in the field. It seems to me that this is also the route that the Washington Nationals are taking as it pertains to Stephen Strasburg’s innings limit. Whereas, those criticizing their plan simply have not.