I can’t help but be repulsed by the mentality that seems to think something wise was done this weekend by the Chicago Cubs and the Washington Nationals; both of whom took their best pitchers and decided to end their seasons now – even though there is nearly a month to go with in the season.
It bothers me more in the case of the Nationals than the Cubs. The latter ballclub isn’t accomplishing much of anything this season – and the presence (or lack thereof) of Jeff Samardzija isn’t going to radically change anything.
BUT THE NATIONALS are actually a first-place ballclub in their division. They could very well be a playoff-bound ballclub. It really would be pathetic if Washington were to have a ballclub make its first World Series appearance since 1933 WITHOUT its top pitcher.
What happens if this IS the Nationals’ year, and pitcher Stephen Strasburg winds up never pitching in a World Series because his team doesn’t make it back? Strasburg could wind up being just like Frank Thomas – whose only appearance on a World Series team was entirely from the bench. Injuries kept him from actually playing much of 2005, and not at all during the playoffs or World Series.
Even the great Walter Johnson managed to pitch in the 1924 World Series for Washington (being the winning pitcher in the seventh and final game).
For Strasburg, it is a shame. But it was one brought on by physical injuries.
IN THE CASE of Strasburg, it seems to be a case of a short-sighted ballclub gambling on a future that may never arrive.
The fact that the Nationals ballclub would think this is some sort of strategic move is evidence that professional baseball has changed – and not necessarily for the best!
It is part of the modern-day strategy that believes in pitch counts and innings limits, and ignoring that a pitcher who truly is worth anything is capable of reaching limits beyond the levels that too many managers artificially set.
The theory with Strasburg is that he was recovering from anterior cruciate ligament surgery (the proper name for the procedure originally tried by Tommy John back in the mid-1970s) meant to rebuild his arm after he suffered what once would have been a career-ending injury.
THIS WAS SUPPOSED to be the year that he got limited use, with future seasons intended to be when he would have his full comeback.
In the case of Samardzija, it would seem that team officials figure this was the first time he ever really pitched a full season of baseball in the major leagues (more innings this year than his whole career to date combined).
Does this mean the Cubs believe that NO one is capable of pitching a full season of professional baseball?
It’s definitely a long ways away from 1974 when Nolan Ryan pitched 332 2/3 innings for the California Angels, or when Wilbur Wood of the Chicago White Sox kept getting sent out to pitch every four games even though he nearly lost 20 games that season.
IN WOOD’S CASE, he also managed to win 20 games (with a 3.46 earned run average that season). He was the best arm on a mediocre ballclub, which used him repeatedly because it was their best attempt to win ballgames.
Nowadays, Wood would have been shut down to “spare” him some embarrassment – not taking into account the fact that Wood would have been more embarrassed by not pitching.
Now I know some claim that these innings restrictions can add on seasons to a ballplayer’s career. They’ll cite cases like Sandy Koufax or Fernando Valenzuela of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Koufax suffered from arthritis and retired at age 30 because his arm couldn’t take the strain any longer, while Valenzuela’s last years as a ballplayer were incredibly mediocre. Both will claim they were overused by the Dodgers, and could have lasted longer had their pitching stints been rationed out.
YET I’M NOT convinced. It’s as though some people think they can erase the chance of the fluke incident that cannot be statistically predicted.
In fact, I’d like to think that Strasburg these days is disappointed that he’s not pitching in the heat of a pennant race – even though Nationals’ management has said uncertainty over whether he would continue to pitch was actually causing him more mental anguish.
A part of me would like to think that Strasburg and Samardzija are capable of “sucking it up,” bearing down and going for another month.
Because there really is no guarantee that there will be a “big game” in the future that he’s being saved for by shutting him down for now.