Why The Nats Were Stupid With Strasburg

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The same variances in human beings that allow a pitcher like Stephen Strasburg to throw 100-mph logically dictate that he is different from another pitcher who achieves his results in another manner. So much goes into throwing a baseball and determining velocity, control and movement that it’s absurd to come up with a baseline that applies to every pitcher and expect it to work.

Arm speed, flexibility, leverage, mechanics, timing, hand size and other factors are relevant when determining how a pitcher does what he does. Would it make sense to compare Strasburg, a tall righty with an effortless motion, with Tim Lincecum? Lincecum is listed at 5’11” but is probably closer to 5’9”; he has a violent, all-out motion. How do you look at both pitchers and say that they should be smashed into the same category when they’re unique individuals?

Without getting into the randomness of innings limits and pitch counts when adhering to an all-encompassing set of rules for every pitcher, I have a question: If the Nationals were so intent on limiting Strasburg’s inning to 160 this season, why didn’t they do something to make sure he wasn’t going to surpass that number without being forced to sit him down for extended periods in August and September?

Why didn’t they use a 6-man rotation?

Years ago the 4-man rotation was what every team used. Then teams slowly began incorporating a fifth starter amid the perception that pitchers were being “babied”. The 5-man became the norm. Then managers like Tony LaRussa began delegating responsibilities to certain relievers for specific situations. That was copied and eventually twisted with LaRussa being blamed for managers who couldn’t think for themselves becoming brainless automatons whose decisions were based on not being criticized for doing something against current convention than for making a team-oriented move to win without caring about perception or having a robotic answer when they’re second guessed.

The 5-man rotation and bullpen-based strategies have been in practice since the late-1980s. Since some teams are now obsessed with pitch counts and innings limits, why are they sticking to what is now an antiquated strategy in the amount of times their pitchers are sent to the mound?

A 5-man rotation averages 32.4 starts each per season. A 6-man rotation would average 27 starts per season. Strasburg has thrown 99 innings this season in 17 starts. That’s an average of 5.8 innings per start. If he had the reins taken off—within reason—and was allowed to make 32 starts, that would come to 186 innings. In 27 starts, that would come to 156 innings. That’s exactly where they want him to be without counting the post-season. A post-season which the Nats are well on their way to participating in and will need Strasburg if they want to have a chance at a championship.

Presumably veterans Edwin Jackson and Gio Gonzalez wouldn’t have been happy about the extra rest between starts, but perhaps making this strategic change would allow them to increase the volume of pitches they’re allowed to throw per start to something commensurate with the extra rest. If Jackson is limited to, say, 115 pitches in the 5-man rotation, why not raise it to 130 in the 6-man and not have to use the bullpen so much?

What makes this worse is that the Nationals weren’t going to be digging for bodies to fill out the sixth position in the rotation. They have veteran lefty John Lannan toiling in the minors, earning $5 million and wanting to be traded. They’re not a club that was short on starting pitching and they had the personnel to do it.

Now they’re in a box. Everyone knows the innings limits and pitch counts attached to Strasburg and the Nats are stuck to giving him extra rest between starts or shutting him down completely to prevent him from surpassing his limit. This is not the way for him to keep his rhythm, maintain his command and stay sharp, but it’s where they are. It could’ve been avoided if they were smart. But they weren’t. Now they have to figure something else out because they didn’t do the obvious thing and use six starters instead of five.

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4 thoughts on “Why The Nats Were Stupid With Strasburg

  1. I’m typically with you on the way pitchers are babied. But since I have been in Washington, I’ve been reading a lot about the Strasburg situation and how they are modeling his season on the way they handled Zimmerman last year.

    Since the Zimmerman rehab worked out very well, I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt, if only because its not as willy nilly as the stuff the Yankees and other organizations use with their young pitchers.

    1. Last year they weren’t contenders with designs on contending. It’s different this year and since they have the horses, why not go with the 6-man?

      1. I would have totally bought into the 6 man rotation at the beginning of the year. But once they got into May and June, it is very tough to change up the rhythm of the team when they are playing that well.

        But, I think they could have tried just because the drop off after Strasburg and Gio isn’t as huge as it is with most teams. Their 3 and 4 starters are legit 2s on most staffs.

      2. Oh, if they were gonna do it, it had to be at the beginning of the season. Now it wouldn’t make much sense.

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