Still, With The Strasburg Shutdown

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In an otherwise excellent Grantland piece outlining the Nationals for what they’re projected to be — a 100-win team, which is an increasingly rare creature in MLB — Rany Jazayerli strikes a nerve:

It is widely assumed within the industry that Boras was a driving force behind Rizzo’s worst decision as GM of the Nationals: shutting Strasburg down in September 2012 with the team barreling toward its first playoff berth since moving to Washington. It still makes no sense that the Nationals would jeopardize their postseason chances in order to theoretically protect Strasburg’s long-term health, but such is the cost of keeping Boras placated.

Regardless of Boras’ influence and what you think of Rizzo’s decision, the move made sense then and makes even more now. The facts:

*Strasburg was in his first full post-Tommy John season, and the plan heading in was to limit him to 160 innings.

*When Strasburg hit 160, in early September with the Nats up 6.5 games, he was shut down.

*Buzz bombs went off left and right about how silly the Nats were for this, especially as compared to Atlanta, which was in a similar situation with Kris Medlin. He was used in relief through July before moving to the rotation in August, effectively keeping his innings down.

*The Nats lost in the first round of the playoffs, dropping a heartbreaker to St. Louis. Strasburg’s would’ve-been start was given to Ross Detwiler, who pitched six innings, allowing one unearned run.

*The Cardinals were in that series because they beat the Braves in the Wild Card game. Medlin started and picked up the loss, allowing five unearned runs.

*In the two seasons since 2012, Strasburg has thrown 398 ace-level innings, posting a 3.08 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 433 strikeouts. Medlen was very good in 2013 but required a second Tommy John Surgery in 2014. He’s now attempting a comeback with Kansas City.

So yeah, flags fly forever and all, but the Nats had a plan, they stuck to it, and it’s working out pretty well. This is the same plan, by the way, that they executed to similar effect with fellow ace Jordan Zimmermann.

Rather than risk the future by squeezing a few playoff starts out of Strasburg, they attempted to bolster their fortune for years to come, effectively spreading more bets across the roulette table that is the MLB Playoffs.

That’s the thing with October baseball, you never know. From the same Grantland piece linked above:

Since 1986, 26 teams have won 100 games, but just two of them — the 1998 and 2009 Yankees — won the World Series.

Two out of 26! The Nats won 98 games in 2012 and 96 in 2014, yet didn’t make it out of the first round either year. The Braves made the playoffs 14 times in 15 years but only won it all once. The A’s have made it eight times in 15 years without even winning a series.

The point being, while this year’s Nats are as stacked as a modern team can be, they probably won’t go all the way. The best-case scenario is they win the division and get about a 1-in-8 chance of winning three straight playoff series. That was the best-case scenario in 2012, too.

7 thoughts on “Still, With The Strasburg Shutdown”

  1. That last paragraph about summarizes nearly every DC Sports fan’s attitude towards their teams (myself included). Logically, it doesn’t matter how good we are… these DC teams have broken our hearts so many times we know it is a heartbreak waiting to happen. Pre-Season of nearly every sport we talk about how good we might be or are…. and how we will NOT go all the way.

    Then the season starts. We win 96 games/6 games straight/lead the NHL in points. We get to that Playoff game (Or Game 5, or Game 7). Its down to the last inning or quarter. Emotions take over. There’s a chance… we just might do it…

    And we blow it.

    Every. Single. Time.

    But it is a fun ride, so we might as well enjoy it! LETS GO NATS!!

  2. I was living in NYC when the Nats shut down Stras. I had to listen to every ‘expert’ with a non-rooting interest at work and in local media tell me how the Nats would have won that series with the Cards if he was available.

    Bullfuckingshit. There are no locks or guarantees in October.

    Two words: Clayton Kershaw.

  3. Not to mention that Stras had never pitched more than 135 innings in a season.

    Or that Rizzo laid out the plan before the season and none of the experts questioned it.

  4. It was the right decision no matter which way you slice it.

    That said, I can’t help to read this post and think, “are Nats’ fans already making excuses for the upcoming post season letdown from their very talented roster who dominated the weakest division in baseball for six months?”

    I find very few thing more enjoyable than watching former Orioles’ fans experience a devastating finish to their current, superior franchise’s playoff run.

    1. It’s not so much excuses as it is reality. Only 8% of the past 100-game winners have won the World Series! Chances are the Nats, even if they’re easily the best team all season long, aren’t going the distance. So yes, I’m mentally preparing for that now.

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