Nationals Baseball: Jesus, Dibble.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Jesus, Dibble.

So "I played the game" Rob Dibble of course takes the "rub some dirt on it" position on Strasburg. If you read the comments from yesterday you know that I'm not necessarily against Strasburg going out and pitching if he's deemed healthy (though I can totally sympathize with the Nats front office if they want to sit him). However continuing to pitch when you think you might be hurt, that I can't get behind. Of course Dibble is a man, sorry A MAN, who was an inaugural subscriber to STUFF magazine and uses only body wash that comes from dark blue bottles, so of course he thinks Strasburg should just keep playing through the pain.*

Dibble brings up three comparisons to show Strasburg what he should do; Himself, Chris Sabo, and Josh Willingham this year. Let's take it in reverse:

  • Josh Willingham presumably got injured... let's just say the 1st of July for arguments sake. By playing through pain he managed to hit .256 with 2 homers possibly hurting the team with his continued presence. Now he's out for the year and hopefully will be ready for next season.
  • The only mention I could find of Chris Sabo missing significant time due to injury was in 1992 (though I guess it could have been 1989). Sabo, who was a great player in 1991, would go on to be very average in injury shortened 1992, 1993, and 1994. He would be out of baseball in 1996, though presumably this was at least partially due to aging out (he was 29 when he was injured). Still, the lack of average and power immediately post injury is noticeable and I think his exit was a bit premature for someone that rocked in 1991.
  • Dibble's steel plate injury took place in early 1993 (he didn't pitch from April 21st to May 30th). Prior to this injury he was one of the most dominating relief pitchers in baseball. In '93, Dibs would go on to have by far the worst season of his career (6.31 ERA after surgery). He would miss the entire next year with a new injury to his rotator cuff and he would be out of baseball after 1995 at the age of 31.
Maybe Dibble was being sarcastic.

*I thought about this some more and here's the thing : Dibble is arguing that Strasburg should understand that pain is part of the game and that as long as he's not hurt he should go out there and pitch. The second part of that argument is exactly right and I don't think many people disagree with Rob on that. I was surprised that the comments I got yesterday basically fell in that line instead of the Boswellian "Put Strasburg in a bubble and start praying" philosophy. It's the first part of the argument that causes concern because how does a player know exactly what is a pain you can work through and what is pain that signifies a greater injury? It's only through trial and error that you find those things out - but "error" in the wrong direction could have catastrophic consequences. You don't want someone playing through a real injury and making it worse. You want them to be cautious. Especially pitchers. Especially young players. Super-duper especially young superstar pitchers.

If he finds out that there is no issue with his arm after that fancy arthrogram thing, then Strasburg knows that the pain he felt is something he might have to work through in the future. He learns. No harm done.


Unknown said...

When Luis Atilano went on the DL, it was revealed he'd been pitching through serious pain with bone chips in his elbow. Mike Rizzo's comment: "I give him credit for gutting it up."

That's the culture you're dealing with. It's a huge problem since, as you say, players just aren't really gonna be in a position to tell if they are injured or just hurting.

Guys like Atilano only get a few shots so it makes sense like hell for them to hide injuries unless an organization really commits to valuing players who are honest with the med staff. In the narrow case of Stephen Strasburg, things are a little different because he knows he has a major league job if he's healthy and the big money is for him to make it to FA, and the team is already owes him $15M. But this is such an unusual circumstance.

Anonymous said...


This is the most reasonable view I've seen on this topic - seems to me that you can learn by being cautious just like you can learn by rubbing some dirt on it, but the risks of doing so are greatly reduced. The comment box won't let me do it, but you can imagine a little 2x2 matrix with "Stays In/Comes Out" on one side and "Serious Injury/Just Sore" on the other side. In either case, if he comes out, he learns what the pain was - serious injury or just sore. But if he stays in, and it's serious, all of a sudden he's undergoing TJ and maybe he's never the same pitcher.

Harper said...

Sam - It's a huge problem with no solution as long as the game is dominated by people who think that the best way to help a team is not cautious evaluation of the situation, but balls-to-the-walls, damn-the-torpedos effort.

But I don't see that changing anytime soon. Sports, for most, is not about the consistent success - it's about the singular goal of a championship. Since the goal is so specific, it's hard to think outside the context of a single season and for a single season the latter philosophy may in fact breed just as much success.

Anon - Exactly - assuming an organization does not overreact - the potential "lost value" for sitting someone while evaluating an injury will be far less that the potential "lost value" for playing someone who is seriously hurt. It may be different for a team that is a game or two away from the playoffs or division, (depending on what they value most, immediate or future success), but the Nats are not in that situation.

Hoo said...


Wasn't this exact same line about Stammen last year and maybe Mock this year too? Then we have the Dettweiler hip injury fiasco in the offseason.

I think that part of it does boil down to those guys who really want to make it will cut some corners and hope their aches aren't serious.

Still, the Nats seem to have a problem diagnosing injuries/recovery times. Hola Jesus Flores!

Bryan said...

For the majority of players, who are just hanging on or trying to make a roster, it makes sense to go out and play. The upside - playing well but hurting yourself more - beats the downside - not playing but being healthy. At least in the short term.

Likewise for the team - for 99% of players, the team benefits from them playing, even if it burns them out 2 or 5 years later/early. Teams rarely can replace a guy on THIS roster. They can always plan to replace a guy on a roster two years down the road. Teams NEVER get in trouble for burning out "never was" players.

Stras throws all this out the window, as its in both his and the teams interest to protect him.

Harper said...

Bryan - I don't know. You're making a big assumption - that a injured player is still good enough to be useful to the team. For a player I can see playing regardless simply because they don't know how bad they'll play and like you said it's better for them to keep playing. But for a team, if these guys are so replaceable, wouldn't it be better off bringing in another guy the know has similar talent and let this guy heal rather than possibly wear him into a position where he's hurting the team?

Bryan said...

Harper - from the team's prospective, I think the thinking goes like this...

We have a .285 hitter, sure he might be dinged and hitting .265, but he's a .285 hitter and he'll bounce back. His replacement is a .265 hitter, tops.

There is more upside to keeping the regular guy in under that logic.

Another Rob (not Dibs) said...

Let's not miss the Nat's front office position in all of this. Especially since Dibs criticism was misplaced. Kilgore and Zuck reported that (in both DL trips) Strasburg was upset to be pulled and wanted to pitch through the pain/ discomfort. This is not Stras's decision, it's Rizzo's.

If Dibs should be criticizing anyone, he should criticize Rizzo. But he can't becuase Rizzo HAS talked to the doctor's and is WAY more informed and knowledgable about "injury" versus "pain" than Dibs, right? So Dib's argument falls flat, doesn't it? Dibs should just STFU.

Harper said...

But a .285 hitter is likely someone, let's say "harder to replace". Like I said, I can see the team's interest in burning out such a player in a season where it might matter, but in other years they probably should (would?) protect him to replicate that performance next season.

To bring up a specific example : while Josh Willingham would play through pain because he's not sure how injured he is, what's the incentive for the Nats to want him to do that in July of this particular season?

I'm not really disagreeing with you though. For fungible talent there is little incentive for the team to protect the player, and potentially big consequences for the player if he tries to protect himself.

Harper said...

Another Rob - I think Dibs response would be that he was bothered by Strasburg (assuming he WASN'T actually injured) showing enough discomfort to start the FO worrying. Real men laugh at pain because "pain don't hurt"

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