Nationals Baseball: Shut it down.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Shut it down.

As Strasburg gets ready to pitch Game 1, we all know what's coming. Pretty much our favorite thing in the world. Articles about the 2012 Shutdown!

Here's the thing to remember as people say "Shutdown was smart!" until the NLDS is over, where, if the Nats lost, it becomes "Shutdown was dumb!" again.

We know nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

We know nothing at all about whether the shutdown was a good idea because it was based on a hypothetical for which proving the negative is impossible. Here's what we might have, maybe, you can stretch and make an argument for, decided when it comes to the shutdown.
  • If the Nats didn't shut Strasburg down and he was injured in the playoffs or in Spring of the following season, you could say the shutdown was probably a good idea. 
  • If the Nats didn't shut Strasburg down and they went on to win the World Series and he was a big part of the winning, you could say the shutdown was probably a bad idea. 
  • If the Nats did shut Strasburg down and they went on to win the World Series, you could say the shutdown was probably a good idea. 

These equivocating, mealy-mouthed, maybes based on immediate results are the BEST we can say. For the first one, maybe he gets injured anyway. For the second maybe they would have won it anyway and maybe this hurts him long term. For the third, maybe they would have won it easier with him. We don't know. We can never know. We can't run alternate realities to see what would have happened. It's all conjecture.

Now we're years later. There are so many influencing factors on today outside of the shutdown that even mentioning it is idiotic. I'm more stupid for writing this piece about how it's stupid. Just because Strasburg is healthy right now proves nothing. Maybe pitching in the playoffs in 2012 would have made no difference on his arm. Maybe it would have hurt him, but the Nats would have made a trade for David Price and he'd be dominating, or rushed up Giolito and he'd be dominating. Who knows? Not you. Certainly not them.

What can you say about the shutdown? Same thing you could have said in October of 2012. I like it or I don't like it.  Rizzo basically admitted a few days ago that he punted on 2012 by shutting Strasburg down when he said "I think the best team wins" in regards to the playoffs. He made the Nats worse. Of course that's how I see it. BUT maybe Rizzo figured the Nats weren't the best even with Strasburg, so losing him didn't matter. Or he thought that the Nats were the best even without Strasburg, so again losing him doesn't matter. Neither of these make sense to me but hey, I'm not in his head.

What I'm saying is you can basically ignore any article in the next few weeks that talks about the shutdown, unless it's titled "What I thought about the shutdown and why that moment has little to no bearing on the Nats of today" Anything else is a steaming pile of nothing.


We've kind of joked Strasburg's biggest problem is not himself but Kershaw. Strasburg was supposed to be the best and the fact someone else clearly is hangs over Strasburg regardless of how well he actually pitches. But that first part "Strasburg was supposed to be the best" is a bit unfair. If you take a look at Stras' early major legaue numbers and Kershaw's you can see that Kershaw had a leg up on being the best because he's always been unhittable. (led the league in H/9 in 2nd year never above 7.0 after that). Kershaw's issues were control based and the eternal question for guys like that are can they get control and remain unhittable. For 99 out of 100 guys the answer is no. For Kershaw the answer was yes. Strasburg seemingly can max out his talent and it'll be hard for him to pass Kershaw because Strasburg has never been as unhittable. (best H/9 in a full year was 6.7) He can get close, but the numbers aren't favoring him.

The way I'd describe the two is Strasburg is Mark Prior if he was healthy. Kershaw is Kerry Wood if he had great control. That chase, the goal of harnessing the ultimate raw talent and creating a "best ever" pitcher, is the goal that keeps scouts coming back for more. That's why the Henry Rodriguez's get their share of chances. In 2012 for the Nats his H/9 was 5.8. That's impressive. Problem is his BB/9 was 6.8. That's the worst. But it's that 5.8 that keeps people coming back and why the Nats, Cubs, and Marlins all took shots with him since then. 

I suppose Oakland could still choke out (they lost another 2 one-run games bringing them to 2-9 in their last 11 one-run games, which they've played since the start of September, which is a crazy amount of 1-run games) but Seattle doesn't look inspired.  The Tigers too could choke out but I'm just not seeing it.   Really the race to watch is the NL Central. The Pirates have a tougher road (@CIN) than the Cardinals (@ARI) but one game is one game. Let's tie 'em up and make Sunday decide the division (because a 163 to decide a division isn't all that fun to me)


Jimmy said...

Shutdownapocalyse Part Duex: The Rehashining.

Donald said...

I was for the shutdown, though not because I know anything about the medical science behind it. The limits themselves seem so arbitrary and don't reflect actual pitches thrown, or type of pitch, or amount of warm-ups or throw overs or whatever.

I was for it because it seemed like a matter of integrity. Rizzo said he would shut Strasburg down when he reached that limit. He made that decision well before he knew what the impact would be, but he stuck by that decision. He kept his word that he was going to put the player's health first and I respect that. I also think to some extent, the shutdown may have helped the Nats sign Giolitto. Certainly any young pitcher with arm troubles would have to put the Nats high on their list.

EmDash said...

I think a game 163 would be interesting, it's just hard to say whether it's fair - the one that ends up with the wild card would have to maybe burn their best pitcher and deal with the travel/letdown of losing the division in two days before playing San Francisco. And the team going to the NLDS wouldn't be able to start their best pitcher in game 1 vs. the Dodgers, a big disadvantage when they can start Kershaw.

Of course, you could argue that not being able to win your division outright *should* have competitive consequences...

From a Nats' fan perspective I'd like it, at any rate, because I'd rather they play the Giants than the Pirates or Cardinals and this would give them an advantage.

Jimmy said...

How would there be a game 163? I thought in the case of a tie you compared head to heads, in which case the winner would be the cards.

cass said...

I remember you making a post before Strasburg game to the majors - maybe after he was drafted - asking if Nats fans would be okay if he was just a 3.50 ERA pitcher. And I think we mostly said yes. Obviously, the run-scoring environment has changed quite a bit since then and that'd be closer to 3.25 or something now. But the idea was a good pitcher but not a great one.

But once he went through the minors and debuted in the majors, well, I think it was easy to see the Hall in his future if he remained healthy. And it still might be. We'll see.

One week till Game 1.

Harper said...

Jimmy - nope. that was only the case in the single WC era if both teams were guaranteed a playoff spot. Extras game has always been the case for winner in / loser out situations. Now with a WC game that's been extended to the division winner / wild card team split as well.

Frank said...

I think this is pretty fair and even handed, but I think looking back on a column of naysaying doom that the Nats would never, ever make it back and they had ruined everything by shutting down Strasburg (See Feinstein 2012 AND 2013) can be held up for derision.

You can't know how things would have turned out in 2012 (Or how they might have affected other things) but I think it is fair to hold up reality to someone who relished writing slippery slope forecasts.

But that's a very small part of a big picture.

Jimmy said...

Sweet I now have something to pull for this weekend after the nats win a game.

Jimmy said...

if your the Pirates why would you even want to risk tying the division at this point though? It almost makes sense to just play the wild card game against the giants. But I guess you get two shots at the playoffs instead of just the one.

Richard Parker said...

Nats clinch the regular season NL "championship." I guess you don't have a champagne celebration for that after the first game of a doubleheader. Harper, your 94-win projection was a pretty damn good one--I'm even kind of hoping they lose their last three so you can hit the nail on the head.

cass said...

Can we just be old school and go straight to the Series against the Angels?

John C. said...

Oh, boy, the Shutdown. Thanks a lot, Harper. ;)

My reaction is a resounding "meh." No, we can't say the shutdown was a "success" despite the facile attraction of the Medlen comparison. Which is stupid anyway because the Braves did have Medlen on an innings limit, they just handled the innings limit differently. The question that should have been asked is whether less Strasburg (preserving him for the playoffs" and more Medlen during the 2012 regular season would have swapped the teams' finishing spots and gotten the Barves out of the coin flip game. An interesting debate, but a different one.

But for two years many of those who hate the shutdown have assumed that, but for the shutdown, the 2012 Nats would have won it all. That's at least as much of an assumption, probably more. But generally goes unspoken.

Sure, the shutdown may have made the Nats a bit worse in 2012 - whether and how much is up for debate (see, e.g., Detwiler's Game 4 start). But it also quite possibly improved the team from 2013-16. Again how much is up for debate. I get the argument, and I have no reason to believe that the team would act irrationally. They may have had bad information, but I'm sure they had reasons that led them to believe that any minor decrease in 2012 was more than offset by MOAR STRASBURG from 2013-16 while he was still under Nats' team control - which also tracks with the "window" that most see as the Nats' best shot at a WS title.

So: meh.

Froggy said...

I was pretty vocal in 2012 for a 'throttling back' of Strasburg's innings in order to get some playoff use our of him. The whole innings limit thing is arbitrary, non-evidence based mumbo jumbo. Regardless, it does no good (nor does it change history) to speculate that Strasburg's arm would have disintegrated or not.

One thing I can't help but believe is, having him ON the postseason roster would have made a difference on Davey Johnson's pitching options in game 5. Can you imagine bringing in Strasburg instead of Edwin Jackson? The place would have come apart.

John C. said...

There are a couple of problems with "throttling back" Strasburgs innings. First of all, if you throttle back and he gets hurt (hamstring/oblique strain, HBP, whatever) then you could end up leaving innings on the table at the end of the season. Which would not only have affected success in 2012, but could have affected his innings limit in 2013. No bueno.

Also, less Strasburg would have meant more John Lannan and Chien-Ming Wang. Which could easily have meant the Nats would not have taken the division but instead ending up in the wild card.

This is, incidentally, what did happen to the Braves. They throttled Medlen back by starting him in the bullpen. He ended up about 35 innings short of the limit (about 180). The Braves did have him available for the Wild Card game - but lost, at home, anyway. Because in one game anything can happen.

With the shutdown, the more you think it through the more you realize that the team thought it through.

Froggy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KW said...

Medlen, Medlen, Medlen - it can't be said enough, John C. First of all, let me say that it's terrible what happened to him. But it was also ridiculous how the Braves and much of the national media bought the narrative that the Braves had it right in 2012, while the Nats had it wrong. Well, here we are two years later, and Stras looks stronger than ever, while Medlen will be lucky to salvage his career.

Frankly, the 2014 Nats make me realize how not-ready-for-prime-time the 2012 group was. Stras or no Stras, the 2012 crew wasn't going beyond the NCLS. And Stras or no Stras, the Nats would have still been outplayed over the course of the series by the Cards. And the Nats would have still been starting EJax, and Storen would still have, well, we're trying to purge those memories. The 2012 Nats wouldn't have won the World Series even if Stras had pitched like Kershaw. Anyone who was paying attention to how the whole team was playing knows that.

And of course anyone who watched the Nats regularly in 2012 knows that Stras was fading. He was fighting it as hard as he could, but it was time for him to go to the showers.

Also never mentioned in the shutdown counterfactual narrative is that the Nats' handling of Stras contributed mightily to their ability to sign Giolito. That may be a gift that keeps on giving long after Stras is gone.

Froggy said...

...and if Strasburg gets hit by a bus his season is over too. Oh wait, his season was already over. So your comparison to Medlin is faulty, somewhere between a masked man fallacy and a conjunction fallacy.

My only point was having Strasburg on the roster assuming:
A) he has not been hit by a bus, or
B) his arm has not fallen apart
only would have given more options to Davey Johnson.

But, to KW's point, Strasburg looked like was fading at the end of the season and needed a break.

KW said...

Medlin wasn't MY comparison; he was THE comparison that the national media made in 2012-13, as did the holier-than-thou Braves. Somehow you don't hear that comparison mentioned much anymore, however.

Who knows how much the respective courses that the Nats and Braves followed in 2012 have to do with where we stand in 2014. But we do know that the Braves stand 17 back, and that their rotation was decimated. The Nats haven't been perfect in their handling of young pitchers, as Purke and Solis are prime examples of the injured who continue to struggle. But Strasburg and Zimmermann sure look like success stories, for whatever reasons. I thought the Nats made the right call in 2012, and I still do.

Froggy said...

Sorry KW my comment was directed at John C.

Bjd1207 said...

Looks like pitchers played "whoever gets an earned run in their last start has to sit out the playoff rotation"

We called it, Roark out

Donald said...

Do you think Sousa improved his chances to make the post season roster with that catch on Sunday?

John C. said...

Froggy, let's agree to leave Medlen out of this. The fact is that, once you accept an innings limit, the Nats handled it the best way. And once they shut him down, they weren't going to ramp him back up to game speed weeks later in the playoffs. From an injury perspective that would probably have been worse than no innings limit at all. Stras wasn't going to be coming out of the bullpen in the 2012 NLDS

Kenny B. said...

At this point, I suppose we need a summative post discussing how 1) the playoffs are a crapshoot and 2) this team has had a remarkable season, even if they lose in the NLDS.

I mean, really, Span's hits, Zimmermann's season-closing no-hitter, Desi's 20/20 season, all this from guys that are not even particularly well-known outside the Nationals fan base. The rotation ended up better than anyone even thought, which is saying something. There was a 10-game win streak, with (IIRC) 5 out of 6 consecutive games won by walk-off, there was a 14-inning seesaw win in Los Angeles, Strasburg ties for the strikeout crown in the NL, the emergence of Anthony Rendon, these are just things I can recall off the top of my head. Truly a fantastic season.

The team has also been remarkably healthy in the second half, demonstrating that at full health, they deserve all the pre-season hype they received (now and before 2013). I said in 2013 that I would look at 2014 as the big factor in answering the question "who are the real Nationals?" The team answered emphatically that 2012 was closer to reality than 2013. That's a good feeling.

Froggy said...

John C. - You missed the whole point of my argument. It wasn't what to do after they shut him down, it was how they could have managed his innings before...oh, never mind.

What's more important is the fact that I was at Zimmermann's no-hitter today.

Bang Zoom History.

John C. said...

Nah, I didn't miss your point Froggy. I may well have failed to express myself clearly. Once you accept an innings limit at all, the Nats handled it the right way. It was the best way to ensure that Strasburg actually reached the innings limit, which was important both for Strasburg and his future development (ensuring that he wasn't subject to a further innings limit in 2013) and to increase their chance of success in 2012, in both the regular season and the postseason if they made it that far.

For the regular season, limiting Strasburg's innings would have meant that a far inferior pitcher (John Lannan or Chien-Ming Wang) would have pitched more, and earlier in the season. Just a couple of games in the standings could easily have put the NL East title at risk. Which is the reason for the postseason impact. It's quite rational to assume that the Nationals chances for postseason success were greater without Strasburg (but avoiding the Wild Card game) than with Strasburg (but having to play the Wild Card game).

But it's wicked awesome that you were at the game yesterday. For that, sir, you win the internets today!

Donald said...

Just to add, Davey and Rizzo were asked at the time about limiting Strasburg's innings during the season in order to allow him to pitch in the post season and they said that it could cause even larger risk of injury. I think they were talking about having him skip starts rather than pulling him after 5 innings. The gist of it being that pitchers need routines and you start messing with their schedules and it impacts mechanics. I have no opinion on that, just saying that was the rationale at the time. I think with Medlin they started him in the pen, right? That's how the Braves limited his innings early in the season, as opposed to skipping starts.

cass said...

We're really still arguing about the shutdown after Sunday's game?

Potential post idea: Do the Nationals have the hottest rotation (the main 5 guys) going into the postseason of any team in the history of baseball?

TPTGopher said...

Also favoring the shutdown: we wouldn't have won the Series or even the pennant, because those last three games in the NLCS, when they drove in more runs than they gave up, the Giants pitchers would've shut down the '27 Yankees -I'm eternally grateful to them for not only beating the Cardinals but doing it in a way that, I never thought we would've won.