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John Smoltz says smart things about the Stephen Strasburg shutdown

Aug 22, 2012, 8:52 AM EDT

John Smoltz was on NBC SportsTalk last night and gave his opinion of shutting down Stephen Strasburg, and it’s a pretty smart, informed and nuanced one:

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I think Smoltz made a key point early: “maybe if they had to do it over again [the Nationals] would have done something without alerting everyone to what was going to happen.”  They didn’t, of course, so here we are. It makes me wonder if the Nats realized that they’d be as good as they are and if they didn’t just figure that the season could be functionally over by late August so, hey, why not let him pitch regularly until shutdown as opposed to pacing him differently?  Regardless, I agree with Smoltz’s point: if you have an innings limit, great, enforce it. But do so in a way that gets him through an entire season so as not to bollocks-up competitive expectations.

Also fun: when Eric Kuselias brings up Steve Avery and his heavy workload at a young age, comparing it unfavorably to the young workloads of Smoltz, Glavine and Maddux. Smoltz was not impressed with the analogy, noting that Avery had a different kind of motion — higher up, which was harder on the shoulder — and that he tried to pitch through injury.

That flowed into Smoltz’s general point, which was a good one: every pitcher is a different case. Some guys could throw 300 innings a year and never get hurt. Some guys could be treated as gently as can be and disintegrate. Genetics, physics, physiology and pure dumb chance all play into it, making it impossible for anyone to say for certain that a given workload will either hurt a guy or save a guy.

Fact is, Stephen Strasburg could be shut down now and destroy his arm on the first pitch of next season. Or he could be let loose for 250 innings this year and never feel so much as a twinge in his elbow. Or anything in between.  Neither those of us who hate shutting down an ace in a pennant race nor the Nationals and Scott Boras who are relying on doctor’s advice have any real certainty about this.  If we did, we’d have an insight into pitching and injuries that has thus far eluded every team, doctor and pitcher who has ever weighed in on the subject.

  1. pdowdy83 - Aug 22, 2012 at 9:06 AM

    It is nice to finally see an analyst who actually looks at both sides of the story. I am so tired of the “analysts” at ESPN who know NOTHING about baseball, like Stephen A. Smith (who probably can’t name 4 other players on the Nationals), going to town on the team. Rizzo and Boras are following what the team doctor and surgeon have put in front of them whether the rest of the world thinks it is the “right” thing to do or not. While Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler are not Strasburg they are both still pretty solid pitchers and combined with Gonzalez and Zimmermann the Nationals rotation is still damn good. Every other contender has flaws in their rotation too and nobody seems to mention the fact that those 4 stack up very well against the rotations of the Braves, Pirates, Giants (who the Nats own), Dodgers and Reds.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Aug 22, 2012 at 9:17 AM

      “analysts” at ESPN who know NOTHING about baseball, like Stephen A. Smith

      Once you realize that guys like SAS and Skip Bayless and Colin Cowherd are on ESPN to get ratings from the asinine things they say, rather than the substance of their (lack of) arguments, you’ll just stop watching altogether.

      • mrwillie - Aug 22, 2012 at 9:50 AM

        I haven’t regularly watched Sportscenter or any of their programming in several years now. That being said, I did stop in on ESPN the other day during my lunch break out of sheer boredom. They had three anchors dressing in birthday hats and “giving” TIm Tebow birthday presents, reconfirming why I never watch that garbage anymore.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Aug 22, 2012 at 11:20 AM

        it’s a shame, because I think there’s still a large market for sports highlights and analysis. There’s no need for the trolling/absurd commentary that you hear on ESPN. Maybe NBC is going that route with it’s show?

      • pdowdy83 - Aug 22, 2012 at 12:08 PM

        Completely agreed. I haven’t watched ESPN in years but I see the ignorant things they say in print all the time and it blows my mind that a large portion of the population think they are inteligent sports personalities.

    • APBA Guy - Aug 22, 2012 at 11:52 AM

      BBTN with Berthiaume as the host is still an excellent show, but I stopped watching Sportscenter years ago. And the shout-fests during the day are some of the worst programming on TV. I’d rather watch reruns of Dawson’s Creek.

      But for real baseball analysis show pleasure, try MLB Tonight on the MLB channel with Brian Kenney hosting and Harold Reynolds as the chief analyst. It’s a “Reunited” version of BBTN form 10 years ago, very informed, but still enthusiastic for the game. Last night with Smoltz as the #2 analyst was particularly great, especially when they were watching Hamilton’s at bat against the O’s reliever Strop.

  2. 18thstreet - Aug 22, 2012 at 9:12 AM

    As I’ve said before, I’m ambivalent about the decision because I see both sides to the argument. But the Nationals are using their best research and judgment to make the decision, and THAT is something that I can unabashedly applaud. It’s clear, reading Tom Boswell, that they aren’t going on hunches or instincts.

    Moreover, the easy and popular decision would be to shut him down. So I applaud the Nationals for not taking the easy way out.

  3. voteforno6 - Aug 22, 2012 at 9:17 AM

    Davey Johnson said some smart things as well.

    • seeinred87 - Aug 22, 2012 at 10:51 AM

      I like the last couple paragraphs from that article:

      “It’s funny, nobody talks to me personally about it,” Strasburg said, “so obviously I can either scour the internet or watch all the stuff being said on TV or I can just keep pitching and watch the Golf Channel, I guess.”

      If Strasburg keeps pitching like this, racking up strikeouts and piling up wins, his safe haven might be gone. They’ll probably start talking about him on the Golf Channel, as well.”

  4. thefalcon123 - Aug 22, 2012 at 9:36 AM

    I just can rectify seeing a team vastly decrease their risk of postseason success based on an artificial, made up innings limit. What makes 180 so special? Why not 190, 200, 170?

    The Nationals have never made the postseason, the Expos made it once and Washington DC hasn’t had a team in the postseason since *1933*.

    I’m all for caution for Strausberg. Put him on a pitch limit, skip him some starts. But how awful is it for Nationals fans to finally see their team in the postseason only to be quickly bounced out because someone decided that 180 was the magic number between success and a destroyed career?

    • bleedgreen - Aug 22, 2012 at 9:41 AM

      The nationals have never had a WINNING season. They were .500 once.

    • madhatternalice - Aug 22, 2012 at 10:30 AM

      Please don’t speak for Nationals fans: we’re fine with the Strasburg decision. It’s the media who keeps beating this drum.

      • thefalcon123 - Aug 22, 2012 at 10:58 AM

        Thanks for you comment. It’s good to know that all Nationals fans share you views and you think and act as autonomous block. Otherwise, your comment might come across as incredibly hypocritical.

      • madhatternalice - Aug 22, 2012 at 11:33 AM

        @thefalcon123 It’s not hypocritical. I mean, you don’t live here in DC, so you can’t be expected to know that Washington Post polls routinely show that fans are OK with the shutdown. And you read HBT, but you certainly can’t be expected to remember the opinions of the Nats fans here (NatsLady, Rockthered, etc.). So instead you just show up, throw your own uninformed opinion into the ring, and then get mad when people call you on your BS.

        First, the 180 is the same plan and methodology that was used for Jordan Zimmerman (who, by the by, has a better ERA this season than Strasburg).

        Second, thanks for the history update.

        Next, you clearly haven’t read anything (and I mean ANYTHING) about Strasburg, or you’d know why your suggestions won’t work. The innings cap is meant to protect his health. Why on earth would they undo the intent behind the innings cap?

        Finally, your “But how awful is it for Nationals fans to finally see their team in the postseason only to be quickly bounced out because someone decided that 180 was the magic number between success and a destroyed career?” is pretentious, heavy-handed and patronizing. IF the Nationals make the playoffs, and IF they get bounced and don’t win the World Series, then we can have a discussion. In the meantime, all you’re doing is highlighting your ignorance of the Nationals, so please stop embarrassing yourself.

      • jsoule6 - Aug 24, 2012 at 12:34 PM

        Could not agree more madhetternalice. The National Media won’t have a poll asking actual fans about their opinion because then they won’t have a story. Every real fan that I have talked to and every local blog that I have read are full of fans that support the decision. It truly is a non story locally. We have known about it all year! The real story is that our team is in 1st place. As a season ticket holder, I 100% back Rizzo on this decision…he has brought our team out of the depths of misery to the BEST team in baseball.

    • madhatternalice - Aug 22, 2012 at 10:32 AM

      Also, why on earth does everyone assume that “No Strasburg = No Win?” It seems like so many people want to argue about why pulling Stras is a mistake, but they refuse to actually LOOK at the makeup of this team. If the Nationals (with the best record in baseball, I’d add) make the playoffs, they won’t automatically lose just because Stras isn’t in the pen.

      • 18thstreet - Aug 22, 2012 at 1:06 PM

        Among the things that the Nats have going for them is that the rest of the NL isn’t that impressive. They’re clearly favorites to go to the Series, right?

        Given how awful sports around here has been (I moved here in 1997, and the only successful teams have been DC United, who don’t have a huge following, and the Capitals, who look like a fading, disappointing team who will never will a title as constructed), I can’t imagine fans here whining about merely winning the NL pennant.

        A World Series would be a very big deal here. We are not a city that has had a lot of success to cheer for.

    • shawndc04 - Aug 22, 2012 at 10:32 AM

      For the umpteenth time, the majority (a large majority) of Nationals’ fans are fine with the decision to shut Stephen down. That is, the Nationals’ fans are fine with the decision to shut him down. That is the Nationals’ oh jeeze

      • realitypolice - Aug 22, 2012 at 10:35 AM

        I think we all understand the Nats fans are fine with the decision. Why do Nats fans seem to believe that means no one else is entitled to an opinion?

      • ThisIsBaseball - Aug 22, 2012 at 11:05 AM

        Because you (collectively) never gave a damn about our team before.

      • jsoule6 - Aug 24, 2012 at 12:44 PM

        And @realitypolice, because my best guess is that you know nothing about the depth of our team or the rest of our rotation. I would argue that at this point, Jordan Zimmerman is our best pitcher. He obviously doesn’t have the “stuff” that Stras has, but he knows how to pitch at this point in his career.

    • southcapitolstreet - Aug 22, 2012 at 10:54 AM

      As a Nats fan, I can only say it’s too bad they fired Rob Dibble instead of promoting him to general manager. Then we could watch Strasburg pitch every third day during the regular season and every game of the playoffs.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Aug 22, 2012 at 11:22 AM

      What makes 180 so special? Why not 190, 200, 170?

      Because, besides recovering from TJ surgery, he’s also already 22IP beyond his career high in IP as a professional. The 180 IP limit will be almost 60 IP beyond what he’s ever thrown in a single year.

    • kinggw - Aug 22, 2012 at 11:32 AM

      Why would you think the Nats would be quickly bounced out? Do people realize that Strasburg isnt a position player? Do they realize that he hasnt even been the best pitcher for the Nats this season?

      The Nationals would love to have Strasburg in the postseason, but won’t miss a beat without him. This is a team that has amassed the best record in the majors while not having all of their starters play together until a week ago. Despite your assumption, Strasburg’s innings limit isnt an arbitrary number. Nats fans only need to look to Jordan Zimmermann to know why Rizzo is doing what he is doing with Strasburg’s health.

      • 18thstreet - Aug 22, 2012 at 1:13 PM

        Seriously: if the Nats wouldn’t ‘lose a beat’ without Strasburg, why not trade him? Laroche has been good, but there are better first basemen out there. Morse is good, but there are better left fielders. Chad Tracy and Steve Lombardozzi are the most important pinch hitters. These probably could be remedied and – apparently — at no cost because the team doesn’t need Strasburg. They won’t miss a beat without him.

        I would appreciate some sort of acknowledgement that, however defensible the decision is, they’re a better team with him than without him and that taking him out of the rotation could, conceivable, have negative impacts on the field.


      • jsoule6 - Aug 24, 2012 at 12:51 PM

        Absolutely agree that they are a better team with him. I think kinggw was trying to disagree with what seems to the be the national opinion that the Nats are “wasting a once in a lifetime opportunity.” That isn’t the case. The organization feels that we can succeed without Stras AND that we will be successful in the future. Obviously, you can’t tell the future, but we are taking a chance. You think the organization and fans don’t understand that it is a risk?

  5. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Aug 22, 2012 at 9:49 AM

    While I wouldn’t suggest completely ignoring the advice of doctors, once should consider their particular agenda. Let’s face it: in a very real sense, the best thing for Strasburg’s arm would be to pitch zero innings. The doctors, whether in his interests or their own, would probably want to suggest he stay as close to that as they think is a reasonable possibility.

    So, as Smoltz says, watch him actually pitch and assess from there. If he looks like he is laboring, or his mechanics are slipping, or if anything else looks wrong, THEN start the process of shutting him down.

    • realitypolice - Aug 22, 2012 at 10:33 AM

      The best thing for anyone in the world’s arm is not to throw heavy objects at a high rate of speed over and over. There is an inherent risk in being a pitcher. Like you say- if he shows signs of slipping, shut him down. If not, don’t.

  6. bigleagues - Aug 22, 2012 at 10:08 AM

    Amen to Preacher Smoltz. Really, there is nothing else to comment on.

  7. danaking - Aug 22, 2012 at 10:23 AM

    The innings limit is a good faith attempt to ease Strasburg’s comeback. There’s nothing wrong with that. They sure did go about it in a clumsy way, though.

  8. realitypolice - Aug 22, 2012 at 10:32 AM

    I had to chuckle to myself while watching Stras obliterate the Braves last night. Not in a mean “this guy is great and the poor Nats fans are about to have him taken away from them” way, but in a “the Nats are about to take the unprecedented step of chopping the legs out from under their league leading team, and the fans for the most part appear to be deliriously happy about it” way.

    Karma has a way of dealing with teams who don’t go all out to win every game, every season. Shutting down Zimmerman made sense because the Nats were out of it. Shutting down a completely healthy Stras when you have the best record in the league and are the favorite to go to the World Series is lunacy. There is a reason no team in the history of baseball has done anything similar.

    I can understand why the Nats fans believe they will simply stroll back to the top of the standings year after year after year, this is all fairly new to them. But there are plenty of fan bases that can tell you all about the danger of believing that.

    • Old Gator - Aug 22, 2012 at 10:54 AM

      Nicely put. Really. Probably a bit too sane for this place. I understand why the Gnats brain trustees are being so cautious, of course, and I very well might do the same thing in their place (though I probably would have paced his workload differently all season to make sure he remained available in the postseason id needed).

      On the other hand, what true baseball fan wouldn’t want to see him pitch in the postseason? ‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.

      • jsoule6 - Aug 24, 2012 at 12:56 PM

        Yea, the same Gnats brain trustees that took a dead last, horrible team, and took them to 1st place with a few years. I take it that they probably know a thing or two about baseball.

    • voteforno6 - Aug 22, 2012 at 11:06 AM

      Why should the team’s position in the standings have anything to do with this? The team is following medical advice on how a pitcher should come back from this surgery, not to mention the best way to develop young pitchers. Postseason considerations should have zero weight in this decision.

      • nolanwiffle - Aug 22, 2012 at 11:18 AM

        Bingo! This season was considered his rehab season just as last year was Zimmermann’s. It seems like a sound strategy.

      • Old Gator - Aug 22, 2012 at 8:22 PM

        Number 6 is unmutual!

    • kinggw - Aug 22, 2012 at 11:52 AM

      I love that narrative that since the Nationals are enjoying their first taste of success their fans dont understand baseball everything going on around them because its new. That is a totally condescending and asinine point of view. As is the thinking that removing one pitcher is “chopping the legs out from under their league leading team.”

      I think Rizzo and the Nats are making the right decision because they are relying on facts and medical advice not Karma.

      Nats fans are right to believe that they will be back on top of the standings next season and beyond. The Nats aren’t a veteran laden team. All 5 of their starting pitchers are 28 or younger. Of their regular position players and reserves only two are over 30 (Morse and LaRoche) and they have depth throughout the organization.

      The Nats are playing with house money. We expected improvement from the 80 wins they had last year, but its safe to say they are a bit ahead of schedule. The thing that the media fails to report on is that the Nats have been dealing with major injuries all season. First it was Morse, than Zimmerman, Werth broke his wrist and Desmond tore his oblique. Throughout all of those injuries, the team didnt make excuses, and succeeded. Why should we expect anything else from the Nats when Stras eventually gets shut down?

      • natslady - Aug 22, 2012 at 3:22 PM

        I like your post, but isn’t Jayson Werth over 30?

        Of course we will miss Stras. No one is suggesting the team is better without him, that’s silly. But the team is built for success, and it doesn’t depend on one player.

  9. savocabol1 - Aug 22, 2012 at 11:09 AM

    This subject has been beaten to death, don’t you think?

    • natslady - Aug 22, 2012 at 2:41 PM

      Yes. Don’t even have the energy to give my fellow Nats fans the thumbs up. Rizzo was on the radio today saying he had given ownership, in January, a 50-page report on the Stras shutdown, philosophy, medical, etc. (And, no, “You will never see it.”) Did the same not only with JZ, but with Detwiler, and will do the same with Lucas Giolito. If it was “clumsily handled” that is only because the Nats were expected to be an 85-win team, and all spring and early summer was spent dealing with a myriad of injuries, Henry Rodriguez (Oh, Henry!) and other issues….

      Bottom line is the quote from Drew Storen, who speaks for the players and the Nats fans. “We don’t like it, but we understand it.”

  10. O.Handwasher - Aug 22, 2012 at 12:11 PM

    Can we sub Smoltz in for Schilling, like everywhere? Both conservative, but one substantially less douchey.

  11. crpls - Aug 22, 2012 at 12:11 PM

    Did someone just use Harold Reynolds and well-informed in the same sentence? Next someone is gonna say what a great show Intentional Talk is.

  12. frank35sox - Aug 22, 2012 at 12:48 PM

    Yeah because a self-respecting journalist such as Craig would never take a misinformed other side of the argument just to get the page clicks. Never.

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