Welp. Nationals manager Davey Johnson told reporters this morning that Stephen Strasburg’s ballyhooed shutdown begins immediately after last night’s lackluster effort against the Marlins. Which is to say…they’re really doing this, aren’t they?
Davey Johnson made the decision on Strasburg. He believed the media distraction had become too much and affected Strasburg’s performance.
— Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP) September 8, 2012
To say the Strasburg Shutdown is incredibly complex is an understatement (as well as an overstatement, but that is a debate for another day. Get well, Brandon!) The half-truths and assumption related to this unique treatment of a unique pitcher are now well-worn and well rehearsed.
Yes, the Nationals know what they are doing. They know the physiology of their pitcher and they know how much risk is too much for their long-term vision. They know how much they already committed to Strasburg and, more than anyone else, they know Stephen Strasburg. If Johnson and the Nats think the media circus is distracting him and their ball club, they are well within their rights to step in.
That said, this “media circus” of the Nats own creation. By broadcasting loud and proud since March that this was in the plans for Strasburg, they opened themselves to, at the very least, extra levels of attention. The criticism lobbed their way surely doesn’t bother them and this decision, delicate as it is, is not one the braintrust in DC took lightly. If they expected the entire baseball world to just shrug their shoulders and say “trust the process” in unison, however, they’re naive. (The local cheerleaders, on the other hand…)
The Nationals have a rare talent in Stephen Strasburg and, to their ultimate credit, they built a terrific team around him. Can they absorb the loss of their best starter and still reach the post season? Of course. Their rotation is deep and their lead significant.
Can they win the World Series without Strasburg? Can they win the World Series with him? One player in a short series can make a significant impact but, then again, maybe they can’t? A seven game series is so random by nature, maybe the Nats think they’re rolling the dice either way?
The opportunity for hindsight and second guessing here is off the charts. If the Nats win the whole damn thing, they were right in saving their pitcher and the finite number of pitches in his tender arm. If he gets hurt again, at any point during his Nationals career, might this decision look even more foolish than if they crash out of the playoffs in spectacular fashion?
Congrats to the Washington Nationals, for losing Stephen Strasburg to free agency.
— Jason Parks (@ProfessorParks) September 8, 2012
The long-term impact on Strasburg and his teammates is a calculated risk for the Nationals, one easily salved by a World Series title in 2012 (no pressure.) The what-if opportunities are many, the Nationals excellent core still might not find itself in this position ahead. The players can only go out and play, do their jobs with or without Strasburg taking the ball every five days.
There is just so much we don’t know. The Nats must own this decision and own it they shall – no matter the potential outcomes. Will this fateful decision come to define the careers of Nats GM Mike Rizzo, manager Davey Johnson, Strasburg himself, or even his agent Scott Boras? Probably not. More importantly, who cares?
The Nats are down their Opening Day starter for the rest of the year. They head into the playoffs with a very strong rotation and a stacked lineup. Flags fly forever, you only live once, whatever. The ripple effect from this decision will last a long, long time. All we can do is wait and see.