Nationals Baseball: 2-1, 3 games to go

Friday, May 20, 2016

2-1, 3 games to go

Some games are given to you. Some games are taken. Two nights ago, the Mets gave the Nats a win putting thirteen men on base without making them get a hit, while barely working the staff to the tune of 131 pitches over 9. Last night, the Nats took the win, pounding out 8 hits in 2 2/3 innings while Strasburg & company struck out 14 Mets and allowed no XBH. Last night was the type of win you want to see. A complete victory full of hard hit balls and dominant pitching. Now the Nats have a solid lead on the Mets and have a chance to put even more space between the two teams with a series at home coming up after this weekend. For the moment the pressure is all on the Mets.

Strasburg again came up strong with a solid game. Personally I think the change we've seen in the past 120 innings of his career is about accepting the type of pitcher he is. Strasburg strikes out a lot of guys. That's who he is. The Nats wanted to change that a bit. They wanted him to tone down on the K's a little, get more weak contact, last longer into games. That's great in theory but in practice it took away Strasburg's strength. While by no means bad, his performances in 2013, 2014 and the first four months of 2015 were to me a step behind what he did in 2010, 2012, the last two months of 2015, and what he's doing now. Maybe this means he doesn't go 8 innings. That's up to the Nats. But I'll take 6 innings of this guy every day.

But god forbid we take anything about Strasburg and not make it a memorandum on something bigger. Last night and today we're hearing more and more "shutdown" talk, as Strasburg, who was shutdown, looked great while Harvey, who wasn't, looked terrible.  I don't like repeating myself but when the world does not listen, or understands but willfully ignores for the sake of a story, I have to keep yelling.


If Strasburg wasn't shutdown maybe the Nats win the series, maybe they lose the DS in 3. Maybe he pitches the same as he is now, maybe worse, maybe better. WE DON'T KNOW

If Harvey was shutdown maybe the Mets get knocked out earlier, or maybe they win it all. Maybe he pitches the same as he is now, maybe worse, maybe better. WE DON'T KNOW

Let me repeat


The GMs with their gut don't know. The agents with their binders don't know. The players, the very people who's arms we are talking about, don't know. And the media and us? HAHAHAHAHA. We REALLY don't know. 

Arrgh. It's so frustrating. In part because those talking on either side of the shutdown talk with such conviction, be it the two-thirds who say "keep pitching" or the one-third who say "protect the arm". They are so sure of themselves, that their way is the right way, when assuredness should be nowhere near this conversation.

All you can do is make a guess on what's the best course of action and hope it works out. There isn't even a good chance for being right in hindsight here. You pinch hit Tyler Moore and he comes up with the winning hit, while it might not have been the optimal choice at the time, in reality it was "a" right choice. It worked. Nothing else matters for that team in that moment. Well for the shutdown "it worked" boils down to winning the World Series and having the pitcher be healthy for years. Good luck getting that to happen.

Even more annoying is the sense that the one-third are changing the way to look at shutdowns entirely. Strasburg is pitching better than Harvey. Therefore the shutdown worked. Harvey's playoff performance somehow becomes inconsequential. That's just luck. The long term performance is what really comes from the shutdown. Not only then do people who say this think the decision to shutdown was right, they think the decision to shutdown CAN'T BE WRONG. In essence, they are infallible. It's insanity.

I'm angering up the blood over here. Look I was for the shutdown. Made sense at the time. Glad to see he's stayed healthy and pitched well. THE END.


yin yang said...

Nice post, harper.

Another point I keep reminding people: Strasburg was laboring right before they shut him down. In contrast, Harvey was dominant right to the end of the 2015 post-season.

Bjd1207 said...

Eh I'm not sure I agree entirely. I absolutely agree that the alternate realities where Strasburg is not shut down, or Harvey is shut down, are unknowable. So those that point to the shutdown as arrogant by the Nats, or the reason they didn't win the World Series, are off their rocker. However, one thing cannot be disputed and that's that neither team won the World Series, which of course is the ultimate goal that the rest of the decisions are aiming toward.

However, on the topic of pitcher health, both sides of the argument I think put forth testable, falsifiable claims. We probably still need to wait to see it play out, but if Harvey continues to struggle and its found that some medical problem is at the root of his struggles, and that those injuries are attributable to stress or returning to early, I think that lends a ton of credence to supporters of the shut down. Before Strasburg was shut down, the warnings were that coming back too fast could put added stress on the shoulder, forearm, or lats/upper body as the pitcher tries to compensate for the surgery. If medical teams determine that's what's going wrong with Harvey, you'd have to do a helluva job proving that its unrelated to ignoring the doctor's advice about the innings limit. And you have the alternate case as well where JZimm and Stras were kept to their innings limits strictly and did not develop those sorts of stress/coming back too early injuries.

So the debate will still rage about what's the proper call in terms of getting your team to the world series (either in this season or in season's to come). But the fact that pitchers like Medlen and Harvey are literally falling apart before our eyes while Strasburg and JZimm are seemingly flourishing is a pretty decisive blow in the arguments surrounding pitcher health. Obviously doesn't prove the case incontrovertibly, but adds A LOT of evidence in support of the shut down camp.

Chas R said...

The output or product (or non-product) of the shutdown can't be known, but there are indications SS (and probably Boras) appreciated the careful handling and the prioritization of SS's health by the Nats organization. It promoted a sense of comfort and confidence that seems to havecontributed to SS's willingness to give the Nats a likely a pretty good deal to stay a Nat.

Harper said...

BJD " and that those injuries are attributable to stress or returning to early,"

ay, there’s the rub. You say we have to prove no relation. That's not how it works. You have to prove the link first and I haven't seen any proof, just conjecture (in fact proof is probably never possible given the population we are talking about are major league pitchers coming back from TJ - sample is never going to get large enough). Stras/ZNN connection is interesting but just two points and the fact that two guys post TJ are breaking down again really doesn't add anything. Guys break down again post TJ all the time careful increase in innings or not.

Chaz R - that's something different. Important but different

Bjd1207 said...

@Harper - "Guys break down again post TJ all the time careful increase in innings or not."

Are you sure? Do we have enough cases at this point to start building data sets? You say it's a small sample size and I'll buy that but if we're talking something like an 80/20 split then I'd say that's indicative even with the SSS.

And I guess my broader point is that in the absence of proving the link, if there's a preponderance of evidence stacking up on one side or the other then that's enough to base rational decisions off. Basically I'm saying that the claim from the shutdown camp was established prior to the results on either side. With some give or take regarding the actual number, it shapes up something like: "Sending a pitcher out for more than 180 innings the year after their Tommy John surgery results in further injuries to their shoulder, forearm, or upper torso in the following 2 years." Certainly that claim can be evidentially confirmed or denied, although as I admit not proven outright. And then we can begin the debate about mitigating factors (injury X is actually not related to the surgery because Y) and small sample size.

BxJaycobb said...

Harper: I agree with your entire post here. But with respect, I've read you multiple times in the past---usually when Strasburg was hurt or not pitching well, or the Nats didn't win the World Series in subsequent years--write posts saying things like "This really makes the shutdown look worse in retrospect...because they shut him down but it didn't keep him from getting injured in the future and they didn't win in the future!" Obviously I am paraphrasing and adding exaggeration to this made up quote, but just trying to approximate the points you have occasionally made. So I agree that taking random subsequent events and then retroactively justifying the shut down are stupid, since we don't know what's connected and what's not connected, nor do we know what would have happened in alternative realities. But to be fair----you've written about it in the past. Not to rail against the media or others, but to opine on its wisdom in retrospect. I don't think either approach of fair or logical. Maybe you'll say 'I was just responding to the Nats' confidence that shutting him down would leave time to win future titles in next few years.' This always struck me as a straw man. Who ever said this in the Nats organization? Sure, you'd like them to have taken advantage of years of a healthy Stras immediately, but again...we simply don't know how the Nats would have done with Stras that year, as you say. So....LIVE BY YOUR OWN RULE! :)

Robot said...

I'm always hesitant to weigh on these discussions because, as Harper said, we can't know what would have happened in the alternative scenarios. I also agree that all of this is just too small a sample size to draw any sweeping conclusions from.

What we do know is that Stras was shutdown and the Nats didn't win the World Series; Harvey wasn't shutdown, and the Mets didn't win the World Series. 31 teams don't win the World Series every year, however. There's very little you can conclude from that.

I'm glad Stras and JZimm (even if he's a Tiger now, I'll be a fan of the guy any time we're not playing him) remain healthy, while it's Harvey who struggles, rather than the reverse.

Robot said...

Also (obligatory):

That washed LOOOSER ANT-ony RendPWN'D lucked into three hits last night but THERES NO FRICKIN WAY HE CAN REPEAT THAT because he belongs in AA ball. Not even AAA! And Tanner will be lucky if he goes 1/3 inning and gives up fewer than 6,000 runs!!! HE SUCKS AGAINST TEH MERLINZ!!!! ALSO NO WAY BRYCE WILL REPEAT WHAT HE DID AGAINST THE MIAMIS LAST MAY!!! He belongs in Highschool ball!1!1!!!!oneoneone!!!! angryface emoticon!!!11!!

DezoPenguin said...

I am happy that Strasburg is pitching well, because he is on my team and will be for the next three years at least. I am happy that Matt Harvey is not pitching well because he plays for the Mets and I want players on the rivals of my team to play poorly so that we win more games. I am happy that the confluence of these two things has led to fewer media articles saying stupid things like "the shutdown cost the Nationals the Series in 2012" or "the Nats folded in 2013 and 2015 because the shutdown gave them bad baseball karma" because stupid headlines insulting my favorite team annoy me.

And frankly, that's enough to make me happy. ^_^

(Now, if Roark can just have a decent game against the Marlins, that would be nice.)

G Cracka X said...

I fully agree with the point that we can't truly know if either 'shutdown' decision was 'right' or not. However, there is still some nuance to each case. You can look at the data for each pitcher at the time the potential 'shutdown' would/did occur, and see if the decision was sound based on the available data at the time. For Stras, the decision was based on perceptions of him being 'gassed' and data indicating that injury risks for pitchers increase when they are in that physical state. Harvey had more time off and wasn't 'gassed'. Maybe both decisions were sound, maybe neither were. But the main point here is the there's a difference between 'we will never know if it was the correct decision or not' and 'based on the available data, was the path selected a reasonable course of action?'

BornInDC said...

Harper, I would understand where you are coming from except for one thing: The amount of criticism the Nats received for the SHUTDOWN from the national press and local reporters who didn't even follow the Nats closely, such as John Feinstein, for example. It was way over the top and lasted for years.

Speaking of Feinstein, from 2015:

>>Earlier this week, Feinstein took this theory a step further, suggesting Strasburg’s struggles this season may be directly linked to Rizzo’s lingering negative karma from 2012, when the Nats’ General Manager was “so cocky, he thought he could shut the guy down and still win the World Series.”<<

Given this situation, is not fair for some Nats fans to enjoy a little schadenfreude?

I will also note that the sports reporters never seem to mention Kris Medlen's career when the SHUTDOWN is discussed.

Eric said...

Yeah, I dunno. I'm not quite sure what the timing is between Stras' surgery and his 'struggles' late in 2012 compared with Harvey's surgery and his Struggles this season. But, it seems possible it's not entirely a coincidence that both pitchers hit a wall during their first full season back after TJ. And, it seems possible that not Harvey not easing back in has caused him to hit a much harder wall.

Anyway, at the end of the day, we're most definitely talking about the human body's ability to recovery from a specific type of injury, and the body certainly has limits. It seems entirely possible that there's an optimal way to recover and a suboptimal way to recover. I have no idea if Stras and Harvey represent one or the other, and it probably varies from person to person to an extent. But, again, we're talking about human tissues with limits and pushing them to the absolute extremes of those limits over and over again for 6 months a year.

I do agree that anyone outside of a medical expert in this particular type of injury is basically peddling BS though.

Eric said...

Er, correction to my last post: Harvey hit the wall at the outset of his second full season back, but in the grand scheme of things, it's not all that far removed from his first full season.

JE34 said...

@BorninDC: Absolutely. John Feinstein is arrogant and annoying, a guy who loves namedropping to show everyone what access he has. He's a perfect example of the noisemakers Harper mentioned.

A Nats World Series win would help matters, of course.

Kris Medlen wasn't a #1 overall pick who was held out of the playoffs... much less interesting story for those who need to fill column space.

mike k said...

I'd probably split the difference among opinions here regarding whether we can "know" if the shutdown decision was good or not. Generally speaking, since we don't see alternative worlds and there is and will be incomplete data for a long time, we will probably never know whether the shutdown decision was good for Strasberg or not. But I do think that there's enough pitchers getting TJ surgery now, that, especially if shutting down becomes more popular, if the correlation is strong enough we *will* know whether shutting down is worth it or not. Eventually. Like bjd said, if it's 80/20, and continues to be so for the next 50 pitchers who get TJ, I'd bite and say that's enough data.

The issue is I don't think we'll know before then. BJD also points out that we can know if doctors come out and say "Harvey is doing bad because of post-TJ surgery stress" then that would be good evidence, but even if Harvey never plays well again or gets injured again, I don't think we will know the real reason. Is medical science good enough that doctors can be in agreement on the *reason* someone's arm fell off? Unsure.

Also, I'm offended that Harper would imply that I don't know. I know. I know...

Also, considering this is Harper's blog, is the faceless automaton the only person who doesn't have to "prove [he's] not a robot?" Scary stuff.

Harper said...

BJD - I could go through it but the point wasn't the careful innings increase it was the get injured all the time. Like guys will not pitch well the next year, go in and out. Plenty of guys have re-injury or performance issues that are unrelated to IP post surgery (a lot or a little) but as lingering effects of the surgery itself.

"Sending a pitcher out for more than 180 innings the year after their Tommy John surgery results in further injuries to their shoulder, forearm, or upper torso in the following 2 years."

The problem is when your sample size here may be 2, evidentially can't be relied on. It just can't. The quick reutrn from TJ is a last 5 years thing, used to be 18 mo more common and thus you get half a year "warm-up".

I can start pulling data here. Right now I'm just talking off the top.

BX - I think we're getting into that hindsight point there. There's "was it right" and there's "did it work". The first is simply unproveable and thus is more an opinion question that anything. However it's treated as fact, this annoys me. (I thought it was right but know I don't know). The latter is eminently proveable but does depend on your markers of success. It can be a WS, it can be better seasons, it can be good performance from that one guy (though that's the low bar IMO - you want him to pitch better because you want better seasons because you want more playoff appearances because you want to win it all). If we take this and use Strasburg as an example, he's had good performances, but better seasons is questionable and more playoff appearances didn't happen. I have a high bar - I see "it worked" as winning in playoffs then and/or winning in playoffs later. The Nats haven't done that so even though I think the shutdown was right, I also think that it didn't work.

If any of that makes sense.

Dezo - "the Nats folded in 2013 and 2015 because the shutdown gave them bad baseball karma" Yes. Less of this is nice. I mean saying you know what happened bc of shutdown/no shutdown is silly, but that's practically an immutable law of science compared to karma talk.

GCX - But the main point here is the there's a difference between 'we will never know if it was the correct decision or not' and 'based on the available data, was the path selected a reasonable course of action?' Yes. Now find me the lenghty discussions like that!

BorninDC - Unfortunately you'll never get shaudenfreedao. The Nats didnt win so those guys are never going to say the Nats were right and they were wrong.

mike k said...

Sorry, meant soulless, not faceless. Harper probably has a face.

Harper said...

Eric - too reasonable. shout something.

JE34 - also didn't help Braves tanked. If they were a pitcher away right now that might spur more interest (and yes I know he's elsewhere - but he probably wouldn't be if they didn't tank)

mike k - I also have to prove I'm not a robot. I always assumed it was one of those AI tests I needed to pass. Beep Beep Boop. Like in "Ex Machina".

Froggy said...

Looks like Matt Harvey has stage 1METS disease!

A humorous Mets blogger perspective on the 'Should Matt Harvey Be Shut Down' post TJ surgery here at:

Unknown said...

I'm just glad that the shutdown talk looks to be in the Nats favor since SS is pitching well. I believe it's time to really talk about how SS should be among the elite pitchers in the NL. Happy to see everything is working out for SS to include his new contact to stay with the Nats and pitching great!

It's awesome to see Revere hitting and running those bases!

Kenny B. said...

Even if you accept the premise of the argument (no shutdown=WS; shutdown=no WS), I think the result is inconclusive as to which was the better course for the team. No, the Mets didn't win the WS, but they *went* to the WS, which is still really, really good. So even if you could say not shutting down MH was a cause of the Mets in the WS in 2015, and shutting down SS was a reason the Nats were not in the WS in 2012, you could still make good arguments either for or against the shutdown(TM).

Of course, I'm on the side of the OP, which is to say I think there is no way to correlate shutdowns and the World Series. Just pointing out that keeping SS active and going to the WS in 2012, even if we didn't win it, would still have been awesome. And I would have felt good about the decision even if SS were now the tire fire that Harvey is in 2016.

FWIW I was in favor of the shutdown in 2012. I remain in favor of for the reasons that Chaz R. describes above.

Kenny B. said...

Also, I 100% agree (and may have even posted before on this blog) that SS is a naturally high-K pitcher in the majors (he apparently was not this prior to arriving in the majors that fateful day), and the efforts to morph him into something else were misguided. It always annoyed me that McCatty et al. pushed for high contact, efficient starting pitching, because I think it makes more sense to build your team around the players you have than to try to fit the players you have into the team you would prefer.

And why wouldn't you want more Ks? Why would you insist on leaving it to your defense, when your defense was not particularly great? Take the sure outs by the dozens. That's been the approach so far this year, and it's going really well.

I would really like to believe letting SS "be himself" is the reason for his success so far this season, because it's always better to have an explanation for things. It's like Lasik and Ramos: I can believe more in the likelihood of his sustained success because there is a potential explanation for the change. At this stage in their careers, it would be hard to believe that both Ramos and Strasburg suddenly figured something out.

Also, I think this same change in approach may be working in Gio's favor.

blovy8 said...

Admitting we all don't know crap would make blogging problematic. I do think it's interesting that Stras appears to be throwing a "slider" more and his sinker less.

Donald said...

It wouldn't surprise me if the Mets hold Syndergaard back one day so he can pitch against the Nats. That would make it easier to skip Harvey's start, which I think they will do.

Sammy Kent said...

The shutdown was one huge decision made by Mike Rizzo that I was and remain one hundred percent supportive of. Last night's game and the difference in their seasons thus far do not necessarily prove it was the right move, but you can't blame Rizzo if he feels a little vindicated.

mike k said...

Mets announcers during the Mets game today said Harvey threw a simulated game "before his next start against the Nats". So I presume the Nats will see Harvey.

Josh Higham said...

At what point do we need to treat the Marlins and Phillies like actual baseball teams and worry about the Nats' record against them? Neither team can score any runs, apparently, but they've been winning games and the East doesn't really look like a patsy right now. We have this idea that .500 against good teams and crushing bad teams is a playoff recipe, but the Phils and Fish aren't exactly bad, at a bit over .500 each.

Jay said...

I know this is a thread from Friday, but I did want to comment. I agree that we will never know if there is a difference. The only thing that bothers me is the revisionist history that occurs with this topic. The Nats and Strasburg decided based on his prior max innings and coming back from TJ that 180 was the number. Those last two starts were both against the Marlins. Both times Stras looked to be laboring and wasn't very effective. The national media tried to chalk it up to the "stress of dealing with the shut down". Also, Ross Detwiler - who pitched in place of Stras in the playoffs was great in his one start. I think he gave up either 0 or 1 run over 6 or 7 innings. If Stras had been in the rotation then Detwiler would not have been. The Nats lost that series against the Cardinals for several reasons - J Zimm stunk in his first start against them, E Jackson also wasn't great, probably biggest reason was Drew Storen. I know Harper blames Davey for that last loss, but most closers given a two run lead in the 9th closes that game out. Drew showed then that he is not a elite closer.

Now, Harvey much the same has happened. Harvey, Boras, his doctors, and the Mets all met before the season and decided 180 was the limit. The key thing in both of these cases is that both doctors recommended 180 innings as the limit. Now people will say - look at Adam Wainwright - he did need no stinking innings limit. Wainwright was older when he had TJ and had already thrown 200 innings in a season. I don't think he is a good comparison. Anyway, the Mets looked like they would have a shot at the playoffs. Suddenly, and unlike the Nats, the Mets started saying there was a soft, relative innings limit. Maybe 190ish. Well, they made it to the Series and he ended up well over 200. That's the problem with not sticking to the original 180. People also have mentioned that Harvey dominated though out the season. You're forgetting that once the Mets were comfortably ahead of the Nats in September, that the Mets switched briefly to a 6 man rotation. They had also tried to do that at the beginning of the year as well. Harvey at that point in September looked tired. That is the game the Nats scored 7 off of him. The problem is our bullpen gave up the lead and Storen walked in the go ahead run (the next night he gave up a go ahead home run to Cespedes and broke his hand). Harvey looks tired now. You worry that he could be having shoulder problems as well - the real fear of coming back from TJ surgery to aggressively (bc shoulder surgery success is lower than even a 2nd TJ surgery). I agree that everyone thought the Braves were genius for hiding Medlen in the bullpen for most of the year following his TJ surgery. He went on to dominate in the second half of the year with "innings to spare". Of course, Medlen and Brandon Beachy blew out their arm the next year.

Anyway, both the Nats and the Mets have held true to their respective organizational approaches. The Nats drafted and rehabbed both Giolitto and Fedde. The Mets continue to grind through pitchers. Harvey will most likely eventually be fine - he has too much talent. Still his velocity is down 2-3 mph. deGrom's velocity is also down 2-3 mph this year. Earlier in the year the media tried to play this off as spring training. He is still down 2-3 mph. Matt recently skipped a start due to forearm tightness and had a MRI. The MRI was ok, so he is right back into the rotation. Syndergaard evidently was having elbow pain and had a MRI on May 1. It was reportedly ok, and he didn't even miss a start. As a fan would you rather your organization grind through it's most important assets with no regard for tomorrow, bc hey we need to win now? Or would you rather they be conservative and try to protect those same valuable arms? Neither has won a world series, but one my have more chances to try over the long term.