Nationals Baseball: Last thoughts on the shutdown (one hopes)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Last thoughts on the shutdown (one hopes)

As someone that doesn't live in DC or the nearby area, covering the Nats gives me an interesting view on Washington sports. While writing this blog, in the columns I read, the interactions I have, I feel I gather a pretty good knowledge of how the DC area as a whole feels about a topic. At the same time when I'm not looking into Nats things, I'm exposed to the national view of DC topics. This has rarely been relevant, because since covering the Nats DC has rarely been relevant (in football or baseball, at least) but with the emergence of the Nats I have begun to hear the national media chime in on the Nats here and there. Of all things, this Strasburg shutdown has been crazy to follow.

Inside of the Nats world most people have either put their faith completely with Rizzo and his staff, or accepted the arguments they were making after deliberating the pros and cons. That's not to say it's been completely harmonious. A small but vocal segment did want Strasburg to pitch but even they understood where the Nats were coming from, and could be forced to choke down the maddening consistency of their decision making process. Outside of the Nats world, however, there was almost universal bewilderment and, surprisingly, actual anger. Not just from sportscasters, who you can't really trust since they are paid to spout nonsense to attract attention, but from regular fans. Guys just calling in to talk about sports in New York or North Carolina would express their disgust with the fact the Nats, a team they don't follow or care about, made this decision. I'm not talking, "Oh 2/3rds of the people out there wouldn't have shut Strasburg down" I'm saying I can probably count those that I heard either agreeing with the shutdown, or even saying "they get it", on one hand.

It's an incredible split, and one that in all honesty probably helps separate the people in DC that are in tune with the town, from those that are more national level guys who occasionally pose as locals. Again, not that you can't disagree with Rizzo, but if you read someone berating the shutdown decision and they back it with a knowledge that is clearly little more that "Strasburg is good!" then it's more a cry for attention than adding anything to the conversation.(and it's these people that did the most to hurt the cause of Strasburg pitching into October. Too much ignorable noise in with the reasonable analysis on the detractor side)

Now that the Nats have lost the "What if" game begins. We can never know exactly what would have happened but we can address some of the newer questions that have arisen.

If they kept pitching Strasburg then they wouldn't have pitched Jackson, who was terrible! 
Nope, they totally would have, for reasons we went over.  That's why he was 3rd even though that set up a R-R situation, which Davey likes to avoid.  Detwiler was the clear 4th man and in a Strasburg led rotation would almost certainly have been 1st man out.

It's good the Nats pitched Strasburg like they did because if they pitched Strasburg like Medlen then the Nats are a Wild Card team. 
It's possible, but rather unlikely. In Strasburg games before August the Nats were 14-7. To end up behind the Braves they would have had to have gone (assuming all else being equal) 9-12 instead.  Not impossible, but consider that in the non "Big 5" starts by Lannan, Wang and Gorzelanny, the team went 6-6.  Then also consider that Strasburg would have been pitching from the pen, strengthening that unit (imagine no Lidge or a lot less H-Rod).  Do they still manage to go under .500 over those 21 games?  The Nats were a very very good team, and it's likely while they were 14-7 with Strasburg, they'd have been like 12-9 or 11-10 without him. Not enough to change the tide.   Now if the Nats pitched Strasburg like Medlen and the Braves pitched Medlen like Strasburg...

If the Nats had planned early to pitch Strasburg all year long then they wouldn't have needed Edwin Jackson and therefore... something?
There have been a lot of hard feelings about Edwin Jackson since the end of the year.  He finished September with a 6.54 ERA and blew up in the playoffs. But for the 25 games before that he was a quality pitcher. If they don't sign Edwin then they are not only using Detwiler, who might have reacted poorly trying to pitch through that first rough patch where he lost his role, but probably Wang, who's early injury trouble seemed much more like an excuse to see how Detwiler pitches than an actual inability to start the season. They'd be more inclined to give Wang chances than they even seemed to be this year. Lannan also would have been in the mix, and he's fine, but could he have put up the 3.50 ERA Edwin did from April to August? I'm not sure. And at 166 IP, Ross Detwiler was already pushing his arm to it's season max.  What if he was at 190 now? Would he have been as effective? I would bet not. "The Nationals + Edwin Jackson - 5 starts of Strasburg" are better than "The Nationals + 5 starts of Strasburg - Edwin Jackson"


Froggy said...

Ironic that I would be the first poster to this question, and much to your dismay right Harper? LoL

Seriously, I think your synopsis is pretty right on. And you do make the good points of perspective from a DC fan verses everywhere else as far as seeing how the opinions trended.

However, even though I was a vocal minority on shutting down Strasburg, my biggest gripe was never that he should have his innings limited. It was more of what is the strategy for the near term big picture (end of season, and playoffs) and how next season bigger picture was mapped out. I think it came down to Rizzo feeling like he had no choice to do anything BUT shut him down, or he would have looked like he had been influenced and was 'not in charge'. Cajoled, bullied, second guessed, whatever, etc.

As well, I don't think it was a clear 'either or' situation choosing Strasburg over Lannon, or EJax and Det. I mean what are we talking about here in September...3-4 starts? A simple weaning of innings in the last month and skipping a start or two to keep him as an OPTION going into the offseason were all I was proposing.(I haven't forgot our bet...will hit you up via your gmail address to honor my part)

I was at all three homegames last week. And I can tell you to a person in the stands, when Ejax came out to the mound in that last game, you could see the look of worry on people's faces, everything changed. And then he barely survived that inning. Now imagine if that had been Strasburg and all we were asking him to do was take care of one innning?

I can't help to think it would have changed the momentum a bit not to mention the place would have gone berserk. If Stras would have stunk it up, then at least we would know that our ace got a chance and it would have ended the discussion right there on the field where it belongs.

Last time I bring it up. Promise.

Harper said...

Froggy - No dismay here. You're pretty much dead-on. Rizzo painted himself into a corner then sat there while the paint dried saying "I wanted to relax here anywhere". A simple "We'll see how it goes" for the season would have been fine (He might have even been shutdown (or bullpeneded) at the same time anyway given his performances at the end).

As for the use in that last game... yeah it could have mattered though I think if he was "penned" he'd have been used a couple times before that so it depends on how/when those happened. but still if he got game 4 action, then ZNN is free for game 5, etc. etc. It would have been more fun at least.

Nattydread said...

First comment from my Atlanta-fan buddy after the Nats lost Game 5: "See, they shouldn't have shut down Strasburg!". Lord.

blovy8 said...

All this stuff about Strasburg doesn't bother me, the guy is a starting pitcher recovering from surgery and not a machine, and I'm inclined to believe this was the clearest path to aid his development even if might have been too rigid to expend some risk in order to have him pitch a little in the postseason. If you believe there had to be a limit and you accept that shutting him down after a certain point without being able to re-start him this season without unacceptable risk (to me this would be like ANOTHER re-hab) then this is how it had to go. Sticking him in the bullpen uses his innings to lesser effect and doesn't help his development as a starter much. He needs more stamina, not less, he needs to learn how to get the same guys out three and four times in a game.

The indications are that's going to be the "Zimmermann plan" for every young starter, so why fight it? It would be like arguing that Ankiel playing all those games in April kept Harper from being a better hitter in the postseason since he missed out on more MLB experience to be able to adjust. The team was just not at its best in that series, and the Cardinals clobbered them once more than I would have given them credit for.

You could argue Mattheus would have been better than Jackson, or that using Storen three days in a row took away some command, or whatever you want, but that was a team loss. There's no guarantee Strasburg would have been used. No guarantee they'd have scored more than he gave up in a start despite all the RH matchups, those two guys got SHELLED.

Christ though, I used to like the Cardinals as a kid. That is over.

Froggy said...

blovy8 - you are probably right that there are no guarantees, and that it was a team loss. Not sure I buy the need for continued development of getting guys out 3 or 4 times a game that late in the season. He was already 15-6 by then, so I don't think going to the pen would have made any difference in that regard. If anything, it sends the positive message that 'you are so valuable to the team, and we have confidence that if we need you in the post season you can get that guaranteed out'. Not to mention, it doesn't cost anything to keep him on the roster in the NLDS. But in Rizzoworld, the sky is a different color and like Harper said, he painted himself into a corner and altering that course would be perceived as a sign of weakness and uncertainty of judgement.

All that said, we have to give credit to the Cardinals players, their coaching and their experience. Because they never gave up the game, they came out on top.

At the end of the day, Rizzo was not a genius, he flipped a coin in spring training and Strasburg's elbow is still intact. He protected the Lerner's investment and we have next season to deal with.

Anonymous said...

Froggy, if all Rizzo's world was the Strasburg shutdown then the coin landed the right way...except it's a 2 headed coin. There's no "lose" for the business on his decision. Rizzo's wins are that this team will sell tickets and merchandise next year and will win games and be in the playoff hunt again and for the next 5 years, minimum.

Chaos...venal fan vs. souless automaton?

Ben said...

This is a pretty interesting take on Strasburg:

It is pretty long and takes a while to get to the bottom line but I found it pretty persuasive. Not that I hate the shutdown now, I'm still in the camp of deferring to Rizzo and actual Doctors but this is at least an elevated argument.

blovy8 said...

Well, everyone uses the numbers they like for their argument and ignores the ones they don't. While each pitcher is an individual, you really can't know what's going to work. All we really know is that Rizzo is cautious with young pitchers. If you think that's stupid, you're going to be unhappy with the way this club is run. Hell, they DRAFT guys who need TJ.

Chris Needham said...

The quick no-analyis-or-deep-thought take on the Shutdown and its effects can be boiled down to this. In the end, the Nats showed they were one effective pitcher short. While Strasburg mighn't have been that pitcher, maybe a bullpenned Detwiler would've.

That's the beauty and horror of the whole shutdown debate. There is absolutely nothing that could happen, short of Detwiler having gagged and Stras blowing out his arm next May, that would prove whether or not this was the right decision. We'll never be able to know.

Not even 20 years from now when he enters the Hall wearing a Red Sox hat!

Harper said...

ND - Did you respond by asking where Medlen was golfing that day?

blovy8 - yeah Strasburg as a post-season bullpen guy wouldn't make much sense. Either you let him pitch through or he scales up like Medlen did. Problem with that is that he already had started games last year, so scaling up only makes sense if you are sure of being in October, which the Nats were not.

Don't blame yourself for liking the Cards - assuming it's the back-flipping Ozzie cards you liked. Those guys were fun (and good counterparts to the jerk Mets)

Froggy - you know I don't agree. If he can't pitch as a starter, he just shouldn't pitch. Not that he'd get definitely hurt or anything but it just doesn't make much sense given the idea of shutting him down to save his arm. Now, other ideas, like pacing out his starts to save him for the playoffs or such - that is more interesting and viable, I think.

Chaos - It's more of a 12-sided die. Most options good but say Strasurg blows out his arm, Bryce wrenches his knee in a drain pipe, Nats are perennial also rans. Not going for it in 2012 becomes a lose situation in hindsight.

Ben - I read that and I remember having several issues with it. I can't recall all off the top of my head but the big one is Rany just makes the assumption that now is perfect. MLB was at 80 MPH, now is at 55MPH, any further reduction would be 40MPH. But we don't know that and what he shows to "prove" that is extremely questionable. It's true that gains in injury reduction have happened but can further gains be made and are they useful gains is something that hasn't been answered. (or flipside maybe we've gone to far and the same amount of injury reduction could be made with less restrictions)

Needham - It's the perfect argument topic.

I disagree with your Strasburg future though. How can he continue pitching so well for the Red Sox when he's facing Bryce on the Yankees 19 times a year?

nicoxen said...

Harper, here's my take.

Not having your #1 or #1A starter available for the postseason was failure. There were numerous methods that could have been employed by the Nats to keep Stras available for the #NLDS, and they choose to do nothing. That's what aggravates most people.

The Nats gambled by shutting down Stras in Sept. They could have lost the division. Yet the gamble paid off. Not only did they win the division, but they won #1 overall seed. At that point they were playing with house money. Had they kept Strasburg sharp with a throwing program or perhaps a simulated game, they could've pitched in any of the first 3 games of the series. If Strasburg dominates the Cards in that game (like he did in his most recent starts against St. Louis) the Nats are up 2-1 with 2 games to clinch with less taxed bullpen.

However, they decided to double down on their predetermined decision to protect the future. My question is if your not going to field your best team when you have the #1 seed in the league, when do you decide to roll the dice? As far as playoffs seeds go, the Nats will never finish better than they did this year. Not having Strasburg available was a tactical error by management.

Zimmerman11 said...

I think its pretty funny that people think it was an obvious choice to use Stars like the Braves did Medlen. First no one thought Medlen was going to be THAT good... second the nats were a .500 ball club last year... it is revisionist at best and no one can honestly say they expected the nats to win a wildcard when the season started... they used Stars the way they should a starter... for as many games as they could... IMO that maximizes their chances of making the postseason so they did the right thing... now do I wish Stars had sprained an ankle or something running the bases and needed to spend a coupla weeks on the DL? Knowing what we know now I would say yes that may have worked out better... honestly I don't see what the fuss is about. The shutdown was not a surprise AND given the way Stras was wearing down at the end ...all this outrage is kinda funny.

Froggy said...

For me, it isn't outrage, it's just disagreement in how it was handled. I fully supported an innings limit, but once it was clear we were in a good position to get to the postseason, I thought there was time to adjust how those innings / starts / pitches whatever (so arbitrary in the end...) were achieved. Just my opinion, and I lost beer backing it up.

It is water under the bridge for sure. I just don't think that Rizzo should be left off the hook as some genius for being stubborn. And as Anon says, more butts will be in seats and merchandise sold next year. Win / Win for the Lerners.

The bright side is bright for us next year and maybe by March I'll feel rejuvenated again.

PS: Harper you need to change the subject so I will finally shut the heck up

Anonymous said...

The plan for the GM is to build as many Verlander's as possible. Verlander was not what he is today overnight. He spent time developing for several years and was eventually ramped up to the 200+ innings dominating machine he is today.

You can see Zinn on that path. It was evident he was wearing down at the end of the season and into the playoffs this year. Where was he at 190-200 innings? That was another ramp up from the 160 the previous year. I fully expect next years team having a very dominating Zinn for 200+ innings or well into October. Stras will be on this same plan. So we will start to see the fatigue setting in again next September. Fortunately for us a Fatigued Stras will still be pretty dominant.

What most people fail to realize is the shut downs were not just a product of the surgeries, but the young arms. When pitchers go from 80-100 college innings to the Majors, it takes time to build up the stamina needed for the workload.

Two years from now, if all goes according to plan, the Nats will have the most dominating 1-2 combo in the league... and oh yeah a dominating lefty who is the savy veteran on the staff as the #3.

The Championship window was forced open this year and, if we can avoid misfortune and bad luck, the window should realistically remain open for the next 5+ years. It is good to be a Nats fan! -Vdub

314fav said...

I enjoy your work, Harper. One quibble here: you say, "but could [Lannan] have put up the 3.50 ERA Edwin did from April to August?" And this, alas, from a Lannan-phile like you...

The simple answer to the question: yes. How do we know that? In 2011, Lannan's ERA from April through August was... wait for it... 3.54. His full year ERA was 3.7 versus Jackson's 4.03 this year. And, though Jackson has a reputation as an innings-eater, he pitched just five more innings this year than Lannan did last.

The truth is that the Nats already had Edwin Jackson on the team before this year, and at half the price tag. They just called him John Lannan.

I know that Jackson's intermittent good starts make everyone think that he's thisclose to a breakthrough, but after six full years in the majors, plus parts of four others, it may be time to admit that Jackson is who he is -- a guy with some talent but who is too inconsistent to be a front-line starter (or, heaven help us, to be used in relief in the 7th inning of a deciding playoff game)-- and nothing more. The Nats, in this case, would have been better served actually treating one of their own guys decently (which would have made a nice departure from team history) instead of emptying the wallets to improve not at all.

Anonymous said...

I can't see Philly staying healthy enough to compete next year and Miami rests on Stanton, one way or the other.
Anybody look at next year's schedule? Before a season-ending road trip to STL and ARI, the Nats play 26 of 27 days against the NL East. Might as well ignore the division standings until the last week of August.