Nationals Baseball: Redux

Wednesday, July 26, 2017


Since the All-Star break Strasburg has had issues getting loose, despite not pitching in the game. He's showed a distinct lack of command recently.  Strasburg's velocity though remained good so instead of choosing to do an MRI the Nats are hoping just giving him a chance to reset will be enough. It's the prudent thing to do.

Oh sorry. That's not about 2017. That's what happened 11 months ago.

Some people took issue yesterday when I said (on Twitter) that I thought it was obvious that Strasburg's arm wasn't going to hold up. My argument is that last year we saw A B C D and E happen. Strasburg got more rest in the offseason than usual given that he only pitched once for two innings after August 17th. This year we have seen A and B happen. It is not crazy to believe that C D and E will follow. It is not crazy to believe that we will see A and B happen again next year.  The counter argument appears to be little more than "maybe not!"

Do I think Strasburg's career is over? No. Do I think he has to miss the rest of 2017? No. Do I think he will miss as much time this year (about a month) as last? Probably so! Do I think that he will have to have some sort of procedure or otherwise exist as a 3/4 of a year pitcher in the recent future? Seems likely! 

If this were completely another injury; hip, back, neck, finger, than fine. We don't know. But a forearm injury less than a year after a very very similar set of circumstances and another forearm injury? Please. Once is a chance, twice is a pattern. This is a pattern.

Strasburg may be able to last the year, throw in every start, and be reasonably good. But the smart money can't be on that.  The smart money has to be on missed time. The argument should be about how much, not if.

Side Note : Edwin Jackson stinks, but as we discussed Nats will win division. Who the 5th starter is, assuming it's not someone brought in to pitch in the playoffs, doesn't matter. Now should the Nats bring in someone to pitch in the playoffs? I think so. Said that yesterday. If you are on the "Stras will pitch in playoffs and be effective" side - it can be one more pen arm. If you are on the "Stras will miss playoffs" well it's gotta be a starter, right?


Anonymous said...

These are reasonable takes. What you said yesterday on Twitter - "Strasburg's arm is not going to last much longer" - implies that you think a second UCL tear is on its way and is NOT reasonable based on the information we have.

The second UCL tear is always a worry, and the probability that it's going to happen has increased since this time last week. But we don't have enough evidence to say it's now likely to happen or even to put a range on a probability estimate.

Also, let's be clear about this year vs last year. Last year he was nails for 20 starts before the all star break, had three terrible starts, complained of a forearm issue and was put on the DL for a month, came back and threw one start (during which he was very good) and left with a forearm tendon issue (diagnosed via MRI!) that the medical staff said was an acute injury (occurred on one pitch).

This year before the all star break he was good but not as good for 20 starts before the break, suggesting that the forearm tendon issue was either healed or not affecting performance in a meaningful way. He had one great start (11Ks and 1ER on a solo HR) and one start where he left early but didn't pitch poorly. The two post-break starts were preceded by a bad start against ATL, but not in the same category of bad as his 2016 pre-injury bad starts.

Yes, he's complaining about the same forearm issue that put him on the DL before the season ending tendon issue last year. But his performance hasn't suffered in nearly the same way. That, to me, is a meaningful difference. He was pitching with an injured arm last year before he went on the DL. This year it looks like he put the breaks on earlier in the injury cycle. Maybe that difference isn't meaningful, but it is a difference that could turn out to be important.

Like you say in this post, it's perfectly reasonable to assume Strasburg is going to miss some time this year and that 160 innings rather than 200 is a more reasonable target for him in future seasons. But I don't think this portends doom, at least not yet.

Anonymous said...

Another piece of the puzzle I have to think is usage. Stras (and the rest of the staff) are consistently being left in the game longer than necessary thanks to the pen issues. So I'm just as inclined to think that it's coincidental that both last year and this year are forearm issues as I am to think it's a pattern.

Either way, Stras isn't going to pitch on Saturday I have to think. I also have to think he'll miss at least 3-4 more starts throughout the rest of the season. That in and of itself isn't enough to warrant a trade for a SP, but we also have to put a HUGE question mark on whether Stras can pitch in the postseason. That's why I think Rizzo's going to be kicking the tires on a #3/#4 type starter. I don't think it's worthwhile to trade for Gray given the current info, but maybe making a move for say Nova or Feldman or (if you want to go super cheap) Chacin may make sense

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised no one responded to you with "Small Sample Size!!" ;-)

Chelsea Janes said...

Ryan Zimmerman's defense is rock solid! No seriously, I'm not a shameless propagandist shill or anything like that at all. I'm just another straight-shooting reporter who tells it like it truly is.

Anonymous said...

Seems like "small sample size" only applies to good things on this blog!

Harper said...

Anon @ 7:07 - "Strasburg's arm is not going to last much longer AS IS" People keep ignoring that part. Doesn't mean another TJ necessarily, but some sort of procedure/surgery. It doesn't even mean in-season. Just that as it is now he's going to keep running into this wall, perhaps earlier each year. Maybe it's rest each year - a month off - I don't know.

My assumption on last year vs this year is that this year he didn't try to pitch through it. He recognized a similar pain and they all agreed to sit him down, whereas last year - at least he recognized it but kept throwing. I do think that could be a meaningful difference like you say (though I'd tend to doubt it) but it only makes sense that it matters if they use the early detection to give him rest. Making next start doesn't make much sense to me in that scenario.

Anon @ 7:20 - possible but not really true for Stras. though 19 games in 2017 119.2 IP, 1927 pitches. Through 19 games last year 127.2 IP, 1982 pitches. I guess you do see more burden per inning but that's not a bullpen thing.

Anon @ 7:31 - Boras tried.

Chelsea - Such a harsh take on yourself! Basically Zimm can't range but he can dive, has a good glove, and good instincts. He's not a good 1B but he's hurting the team far less there than he would be anywhere else.

Anon @ 8:25 -I've given guys like Zimm, Wieters, time. I never really came down on Trea even though he didn't hit well until the very end. I let Roark flop around for two months. I thought the bullpen wouldn't stay as bad (and was completely wrong). This isn't about sample size - it's about a pattern of injury from last season. He could have pitched well v Colorado over 2 IP and I'd still be writing this.

This reminds me of the Kelley scenario. The guy WALKS OFF THE MOUND IN A DECISIVE PLAYOFF GAME because his arm can't go on and everyone just shrugs and says "He'll be fine come March". When a guy pulls himself from a game I don't see how to spin that optimistically. Guys push through even when they shouldn't. That's why I think at best this is going to mirror last year.

Alex Freeman said...

I love the comment on Janes' article. What is she talking about? He has 10 errors and his UZR/150 is -11.8...that's abysmal.

But yeah I think Rizzo has to at least entertain the idea of a starter. Harper what do you think it would take to get Verlander? High salary for this year and next and decent numbers, not stellar so I wouldn't think the price is too high

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Kelley, I'd love to hear whether the fancy stats say he's worth bringing back given his health issues and HRs given up. To me, a gut feelin' kind guy, I imagine it's him or...Blanton goes right? Personally, the way Grace keeps pitching, he has to stay.

Also, from a gut level with a health dash of hopefulness, I don't think we absolutely need another starter to win the division or get far in the playoffs given the way Gio is pitching this year, and with the hope that the last outing (I know small sample size!) for Roark looked like he was back to form. For the rest of the season, I'm uncertain that EJax is the way to go, but we'll see...

Anonymous said...

"When a guy pulls himself from a game I don't see how to spin that optimistically. Guys push through even when they shouldn't. That's why I think at best this is going to mirror last year."

Who on earth is spinning his last start optimistically? There's no way to feel better about Strasburg after the last start than before it. Nobody is saying this. It's a straw man.

But it is possible to spin what's happened in 2017 as better than what happened in 2016, which is why "I think at best this is going to mirror last year" is an absurd thing to say. What happened last year was a 1 month break followed by a 2+ inning start that was ended by a tendon injury that had a 2 month return timeline, which caused him to miss the playoffs. It is undeniably true that we're in a similar place with Strasburg to where we were around this time last year. There are differences, maybe meaningful, maybe not, but it is similar.

But it's asinine to say that last year is the best-case scenario at this point (and I don't take calling you asinine lightly, Harper, I think you do a great job the vast majority of the time). At this point, it's very easy to envision Strasburg pitching in the playoffs, which would obviously be better than last year. He has forearm stiffness. He should probably take at least one start off. We're nowhere near the DOOM you're forecasting. DOOM may come, but there's not enough info to get there yet. There is enough info to question whether Strasburg is ever going to pitch a full season again, but that's different from saying he's definitely going to undergo some sort of surgical procedure or that last year is the best we can hope for.

Prolestes said...

Last year he was nails for 20 starts before the all star break

Strasburg didn't start his 20th game last year until August 1st. He was on the DL three times; once in the middle of June for about 2.5 weeks (upper back strain) and then again after his short 2IP on August 17th and yet again after September 7th. He only put up 24 starts last year, the last 2 of which were 2 and 3 innings. Until proven otherwise, he's the very definition of "fragile."

Scott Boras said...

This is fine. Everything is fine.

Harper said...

Anon - I don't think last year is the best-case scenario.... well I guess I should say I don't think in some broad, macro, universal sense that it's the best case scenario. It's the best case scenario I see. But we can differ.

The question in best case / worst case is always one of reasonability. If we were being silly, best case in a vacuum is "He has best ever two months to end season! Carries Nats to World Series" Worst case "His arm is broken and he pitches to the worst ERA in two months and injures Bryce and then never plays again" I don't think either is reasonable.

For me the idea that this can be just a one-game skip (or not even that) and he pitches well rest of the year is not reasonable. I draw a straight line from last year to this year. I see the shortened season in 2015 as well. When I say something like last year is the best I see I think we see an extended period of missed time (>2 wks, more likely a month). If we keep going - could he come back and pitch well after that? Sure! So I guess if I had to describe it exactly best case would be he misses say... 3 starts and pitches well upon return including playoffs. That's what I think is a reasonable best case.

You can argue,and you do, that because it's just one game there's room for this to be better. My question is how many similar seasons would it take to divert from that thinking? Let's say he misses 3 weeks this year - 4 starts or so. If next year if first start after ASB he throws a good game, but then decides he should skip a start because of forearm tightness, would you again say "Well better than last year so maybe it will be just one start?" Or at that point is history enough to sway you that it's not likely to be as simple as that?

I see a near exact mirror of last year - the only difference being Strasburg taking himself out rather than gutting through three starts. I'm reacting to that. Overly negative? You can have your opinion. To me its a matter of "fool me once, shame on you. fool me twice, shame on me"

Anonymous said...

"When I say something like last year is the best I see I think we see an extended period of missed time (>2 wks, more likely a month). If we keep going - could he come back and pitch well after that? Sure! So I guess if I had to describe it exactly best case would be he misses say... 3 starts and pitches well upon return including playoffs. That's what I think is a reasonable best case."

I agree with this. Within the universe of all possible outcomes, pitching on Saturday and like Scherzer for the rest of the season is probably the best possible case, but it's not reasonable. Given what we know, missing 3 starts and pitching like he has for the past ~2 years and into the playoffs is a reasonable best case. This is NOT what happened last year though, as you recognize. It sounds like you meant something different, but I had beef with the idea that pulling himself after 2 innings in a start in July means that the best case we could hope for was last year, which was "out for the rest of the season but not surgery."

I'm already willing to conclude that Strasburg should never be expected to throw 200 innings in a season (perhaps even 180). It would take at least two consecutive seasons of throwing 200 innings to get me off that. In the other direction, what will I think if the exact same thing happens again next year - he makes it to the ASB and then has forearm tightness? The unfair answer is that it depends on what happens this year, which we don't know yet. If he misses 3 weeks and comes back the same and pitches in the playoffs, my thinking will be "Strasburg is good for ~170 innings. When he pitches he's arguably a top 10 SP but he just doesn't pitch enough to have that sort of value." I won't think he definitely needs surgery.

My major beef is the thinking that he's on a path toward another surgery and/or another injury like the one he suffered in September last year that kept him out of the playoffs.

Harper said...

Anon - Yeah I meant very literally like last year, meaning he will miss the same amount of time (about a month). Rather than the general thing that happened last year in missing the playoffs. After he comes back - well that's a complete question mark but because we never saw him pitch after a month we really don't have any frame of reference. Therefore as well as he has been is reasonable.

I won't back down from the surgery though. Don't think you can keep on keeping on missing a month of starts each year. Either the team gets tired, you get tired, or whatever's wrong gets worse. (I'm expecting the latter) It would be interesting to settle into that pattern for another 2-3 years though. Is what he's doing good enough to try not to rock the boat? Kershaw now is getting the same worrying talk but what he does for 20 games is so special...

Anonymous said...

If you can give me a month off and back for the playoffs as before right now I'll take it every day and twice on weekends. The next month is completely irrelevant. We're 12 up in the loss column and the rest of the NL East are sellers at the flea market.

Anonymous said...

The forearm thing he has is now officially recurring. I don't know enough to know whether there's a surgical repair or whether it's the kind of thing that "pops up from time to time" or if the injury is cumulative, i.e., it gets worse each time it happens. That's really my point - I don't think anybody who's not a doctor knows. Compared to last year, the reasons to be less concerned are that his performance has been fine - he was clearly pitching with an injury last year before he shut it down for a month - and his velocity has been fine. The reason to be more concerned is what you articulated: the same thing has happened again - either his original injury didn't heal fully, the fact that he injured something once made it more susceptible to be injured again, or something about his throwing motion or body makes him susceptible to this injury. To evaluate the significance of this latter point requires expertise we don't have - what exactly is the injury, how much does it matter that he pitched through it last year but stopped this year etc.

There are lots of examples of position players who miss ~30 games a year like clockwork and are still valuable. Pitcher injuries tend to be lumpier - 33 starts for 3 years, then 10, then 18, then 33 again, etc. I wonder if there are examples of good or very good starting pitchers who consistently make 25-28 starts but never 33.

Anonymous said...

OK, I'm in...go for it. It looks like the Yanks have the inside track on Gray, but what do you think about Gerritt Cole, Harp??

BxJaycobb said...

actually you said that he's not capable of getting through a full season. Meaning 2014 and 215 innings didn't happen. Fake news apparently.
What I don't understand is why don't we just wait to see what happens. This non doctor prognosticating is so dumb. "He had a forearm issue last year. Now he had to leave a game this year and it was forearm related. Must be that he has a chronic issue that will never be fixed without surgery!" Like....I'm sorry but that that is such nonsense. This isn't Steven Matz. He's a guy that has shown himself to be capable of pitching a full season post Tommy John. Because he came out of a baseball game a year after he had his first* arm issue in like 5 years since TJ, that means that it's a wrap on a vaguely healthy strasburg? Like...Harper. There's just no reasonable defending of the definitiveness of that opinion. Frankly it would be much more* reasonable to say "Kershaw has now had two years in a row where he had back issues thus without surgery Kershaw will never pitch a full season again." Why? Because we know Kershaw is going to miss a couple months already, whereas it's feasible Stras misses 0-3 starts. To be clear, he could easily be incredibly hurt. He could also have just left a start early and will take 1 or 2 off and finish the year strong. Just a really silly over the top hot take.

BxJaycobb said...

Stras has averaged probably about 150 innings a year since 2012 and has been top 8 in WAR since then among pitchers. So he's been incredibly valuable while still missing time. (Unless you're talking playoff value).

BxJaycobb said...

Well Strasburg has been worth about 26 WAR since TJ (more than Bryce). Gio, the very model of durability, has been worth 19. So yes, you can indisputably be incredibly valuable as a guy who misses one month per year and tallies 4 WAR/year as a starter.

BxJaycobb said...

Let's all step back from the precipice here. The following events have happened:
1. Strasburg misses a month with a forearm issue.
2. Strasburg comes out of one game the next year with something related to forearm. He is currently following his routine and might* make his next start.
I really can't believe that based on the above events, our discussion is "do we accept strasburg missing a month every year for the rest of whatever career he has left, or make him have some random surgical procedure?" Like...what? The dude may not even miss much time! And if it's a couple starts who cares? Only a sports team fanbase could spin off its axis into future nightmare scenarios like this.

PhthePhillies said...

Nice, thoughtful piece, Harper. Enjoyed it and the discussion that followed.
Change of subject. Isn't it time to move Rendon to clean up and Zimm to the #6 spot?
Ryan seems to be heading back to his 2016 ways of late (I know, it's not that bad, but still). I suspect we'll see a righty-lefty platoon at first base by the end of the season. (Unless Lind's stellar play in left field becomes too valuable for the team for him to play another position.)

Josh Higham said...

I type this just after Zimm hits a 2-RBI double with two outs:

Maybe Zimm got all annoyed with the launch angle talk and decided to deliberately hammer the ball at the ground again. We can't rule it out.

Anonymous said...

Stras to the DL, Fedde to start on we go!

Harper said...

BxJayCobb - I am specifically not paid by you guys to not let things play out! Or something like that.

Bringing up 2014 - ok I was trying to keep to recent history but let's go back shall we?

Seasons missing at least 3-4 starts : 5
Seasons not missing at least 3-4 starts : 1

Where are we supposed to land on this. You can say my "oh he's going to need surgery in a somewhat recent season" take is "hot" I guess. But if a hot take is a tenuous claim meant solely to provoke discussion then I think the "maybe it will all work out" take is the opposite. It's a cold take. A tenuous claim meant solely to dissuade discussion.

Sammy Kent said...

Shawn Blake Doolittle fitting in quite nicely to the Nats' bullpen. :-/

Josh Higham said...

Stras to the DL but "nothing has changed from yesterday," according to Dusty.

Rosenthal reports Nats not actually trying to get a Gray/Darvish type.


mike k said...

For me the issue isn't the quantity time Strasburg has missed, it's the unfortunate timing. He's missed more playoff games than he hasn't. The fear is it may happen again. Bx is right that we aren't doctors, and Strasburg's been less injury prone than our perception, but I still got the "here we go again, no Strasburg in the playoffs" thought when he left the game. And I'm going to keep that thought, whether based on logic or fallacy, because it's not something I can control anyway.

mike k said...

Also, to me, "Nats not in on Gray/Darvish" is better evidence that Strasburg is ok than anything else that's been said so far.

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