In the least surprising development since Cheez Whiz on toast tasted good but regretful, Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals is reportedly upset that his season was ended prematurely over the weekend, with manager Davey Johnson deciding that the mentally and physically drained pitcher would be shut down for the season following an uncharacteristically poor outing against the Miami Marlins on Friday evening. The end of the pitcher’s year comes one game earlier than what was originally planned by his team’s general manager Mike Rizzo, who had decided since the beginning of the season to limit the amount of innings Strasburg pitched as a means of protecting his arm as part of his recovery from Tommy John surgery.

Considering the likelihood of the Nationals reaching the post season combined with Strasburg being the team’s best pitcher, it proved to be a largely unpopular decision with many pundits, and ultimately the pitcher himself. According to the 6’4″ right-hander:

I don’t know if I’m ever going to accept it, to be honest. It’s something that I’m not happy about at all. That’s not why I play the game. I play the game to be a good teammate and win. You don’t grow up dreaming out playing in the big leagues to get shut down when the games start to matter. It’s going to be a tough one to swallow.

At this point, second guessing the team’s decision in this matter has become old hat. Those outraged over the organization’s sheltering, or as they might suggest: babying, of Strasburg suggest that Washington’s opportunity for a World Series title may never come again, and that the team is far more likely to find itself victorious with the young pitcher on the post season roster than off of it. Those supporting Rizzo’s controversial decision suggest that the General Manager has done his due diligence in collecting analytical data on injury recovery and relying on the advice of experts in the field.

While I wouldn’t argue that Strasburg’s inclusion on a post season roster wouldn’t contribute to the increased likelihood of success, Rizzo’s cautious approach with his ace is one that should be celebrated, not denigrated. Far too often, we as fans tend to only consider the cost/benefit of baseball transactions in terms of how it affects the team, and not the individual players. A contract is labelled “good” if it provides value for the team; and “bad” if it favors the player.

While our collective tendency to side with groups over individuals is probably deserving of more investigation, Jason Wojciechowski of Baseball Prospectus addressed the phenomenon, relating it back to Strasburg’s situation last week:

Analyzing which franchises are good at this is well and good (and it’s the lifeblood of this very website), but it can cause us to forget that, to steal a hoary anti-stathead cliché, the players—the guys without whom none of this winning and money-making happens—aren’t robots. I don’t mean that in the sense that players have emotions and don’t perform the same way every day. (It’s true; it’s just irrelevant.) I simply refer to the fact that these players aren’t machines toward whom the teams (the owners) have no moral obligations. Robot baseball, whatever downsides you may perceive, does have one virtue: Teams can use the players until they’re no good and discard them (ideally recycling the recyclable bits). Of course, owners can do that in real baseball, too (minus the recycling, probably). The question is whether they should.

In this situation, Mr. Rizzo, has refreshingly decided that he shouldn’t.

The Washington front office hasn’t come to this decision easily or without proper consideration. They’ve relied on data from previous instances of Tommy John surgery rehabilitation, measured the effect of increases in work loads on rehabbing pitchers and investigated the likelihood of re-injury. Perhaps even more importantly, the team has been in constant consultation with Dr. Lewis Yocum who performed Strasburg’s surgery.

They’ve also seen the results of this approach before with the performance of the now innings limitless Jordan Zimmermann who was shut down early at the end of last year in his first full season back after Tommy John surgery. However, the Nationals weren’t the best team in baseball last season when his year was ended prematurely.

They are this year, but it’s not by accident. Washington has built itself an impressive roster whose core of players are all under contract or team control for multiple seasons after this one. Considering this in combination with the crap shoot that Major League Baseball’s playoffs tend to be, it’s not only forgivable, but commendable that the organization would be looking at the bigger picture and ultimately protecting its assets to the degree it is.

And The Rest

The Vancouver Canadians are the back-to-back champions of the Single-A Northwest League. [Bluebird Banter]

Roger Clemens made his second professional start for the Sugar Land Skeeters on Friday night going four and two thirds innings without allowing a run. At the age of 50, he hinted at a comeback attempt for 2013 with the Houston Astros. [Globe And Mail]

New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi and New York Post beat reporter Joel Sherman had a heated argument following the team’s loss on Saturday afternoon. [River Avenue Blues]

The verbal fisticuffs occurred after the game ended like this. [The Yankee Analysts]

After hitting three home runs in his team’s victory over the Texas Rangers, Tampa Bay Rays outfielder B.J. Upton lost his wallet, but then regained it thanks to a generous person on Twitter who found it. [Twitter]

Things go from bad to worse for the Boston Red Sox, as they were swept over the weekend by the Toronto Blue Jays. [Over The Monster]

Baltimore Orioles outfielder Nick Markakis could be out up to six weeks with a broken bone in his hand. [MASN Sports]

Wind back the calendar to 1975. If you could have told MLB then one thing about the game, what would it be? [Baseball Think Factory]

First came food carts, then food trucks, now we are entering the next era of food delivery: a food barge. [NBC Bay Area]

Members of the St. Louis Cardinals front office get real candid with bloggers. [RetroSimba]

Somehow, the Philadelphia Phillies are only six games back of the second National League Wild Card spot. There’s still a long way to go, though. [Crashburn Alley]

Thanks to Barry Zito, the San Francisco Giants have a commanding National League West Division lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers. [McCovey Chronicles]

Comments (24)

  1. JaysProspects.com has a thorough recap of last night’s Vancouver Canadians’ win. It was a pretty fantastic series for anyone who tuned in. http://jaysprospects.com/2012/09/10/canadians-are-the-nwl-champions-again/

  2. When was the last time any pitcher went from 40 innings to 150+ the next year, let alone one who is just coming off surgery?

  3. Why are you surprised that fans cheer for teams rather than individuals? I think it would give most (all?) Nats fans far more satisfaction if they were to go all out for the WS than if Strasburg were to get his $200M contract from the Yankees.

    • I’m not surprised. I just think it’s interesting how we’re more likely to assign good/bad labels according to how it affects the team, and not individuals.

      • Because it’s a team sport? Maybe it’s because I don’ t play fantasy sports, but I cheer for the uniform with the individual coming second.

  4. When the Nationals have Harper, Stras, et al. depart for the Yankees without a World Series ring, remember this post.

    • +1 (6 years from now)

      • Great point – would you rather, as a player (a) have one 1 WS win and 2-3 seasons of elite performance or (b) a long career with possibly no WS victory but consistently elite/healthy performance?

        • As a player, I’d rather have one massive contract, then worry about winning.

          As a fan (which I am) I would rather my team win a WS and the player be satisfied with maybe only getting his initial $15M contract.

        • I think this thought underestimates just what a crapshoot playoff baseball is.

          • True, though I think yours underestimates how difficult it is to get there in the first place.

  5. I totally agree with shutting the down of Strasburg. I am reminded of a young phenom pitcher who was going to help his team push for the playoffs only to hurt himself and have to undergo Tommy John for a 2nd time…..Wait, what do you mean it’s not the same with Drabek and the Jays.

    Anyhow on a serious note, I understand. However why the hell have they not been monitoring this all season. Skip a start here and there through out July and August and he’s available to you when the playoffs or meaningful games begin.

    I’m kind of rooting for an epic collapse from the Nats now. Not because shutting him down wasn’t a smart thing in the long run. But because management could have done in much more intelligently.

  6. I believe Dr. Yocum is better qualified to make this decision than any of us.

    • By that logic, Ricciardi knows more about being a GM, so we shouldn’t question the Wells contract.

      • I don’t see the connection between a contract issue and a health issue.

      • If I spent the majority of my day reading medical websites and watching surgeries, I might be in a better place to criticize Yocum over Ricciardi. I do not, and am not, though.

        • You would be a better blogger/journalist if you didn’t accept everything a doctor is implied to have supported as gospel.

  7. Parkes do you know a website that says teams magic number to clinch divisions, playoff spots

  8. I find it rather ironic that these players which command huge signing bonuses and contracts complain when those forking out the cash want to be careful with their investment.

  9. I never regret when I eat Cheese Whiz on toast. Also, if robot baseball was anything like “Base Wars” for the NES, it would be a culture defining sport.

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