In all likelihood, 24-year-old Stephen Strasburg’s season will end within weeks with the Washington Nationals likely in a fierce pennant race.
If the Nationals were to reverse course and allow Strasburg to pitch, would the workload hurt his performance? History suggests it wouldn’t.
No one is asking or even wondering this, because the question isn’t if Strasburg would struggle in September-October; the question is if he’ll eventually suffer another major injury from throwing too much too soon.
What the Numbers Say
Since 2001, 20 pitchers fit the profile of a young arm with a considerable workload. The criteria:
• The pitcher needed to be 23 years old or younger.
• It was the pitcher’s first season throwing 150 innings.
• The pitcher had not previously thrown 150 innings in his pro career.
There’s kind of an important bullet point missing here. Can’t quite put my finger on it, though. Something to do with elbow ligaments.
One of my favorite baseball happenings of 2012 occurred yesterday, when John Lannan returned from minor-league exile to stop the Nats’ two-game skid and extend their NL East lead to 2.5 games. It was a big game, as far as July goes, both for the team and the man, who was demoted this spring in favor of Ross Detwiler and Chien-Ming Wang after being the rotation’s bedrock through four very long seasons.
Though this was just a spot start, it foretells what’s likely to happen in September, when Stephen Strasburg hits his fast-approaching innings limit and a new starter is needed. If/when that occurs, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Lannan replaces Strasburg in the rotation; it means Gio Gonzalez replaces Stras, Jordan Zimmermann replaces Gio, Edwin Jackson replaces ZNN, Detwiler replaces Jackson and, finally, Lannan replaces Detwiler. But really, what we’re talking about is Strasburg leaving and Lannan entering a pennant race.