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How insurance plays a part in the Stephen Strasburg shutdown decision

Sep 5, 2012, 1:30 PM EDT

Nationals' Strasburg pitches in the rain during the second inning of their MLB game against Braves in Washington

The Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore is one of the best baseball writers around because, in addition to simply being a good writer and reporter, he’s smart and curious about the game and all that surrounds it. One of the reasons you don’t read a lot of cut-and-paste stories from him is that he thinks a lot about what’s interesting, not just about what’s there to be reported.

A good example today comes in his piece — not driven by some event or press release, but by his own curiosity — regarding the potential insurance ramifications of Stephen Strasburg pitching for the Nationals beyond the date the club his chosen to shut him down.

The short version: there is a good chance that, if Strasburg were to pitch against medical advice and get hurt, the Nationals would not be able to draw on any insurance they have for him and thus would have to cover his contract themselves. That’s not a small consideration, it seems.

At the same time, as Kilgore notes, it’s not like Strasburg is hurt now, so the “medical advice” against which he’d be pitching, is pretty damn speculative (i.e. there is no consensus on how to best handle a post Tommy John pitcher).

Taking it a step further, one wonders whether a fight between the Nats and an insurance company over this sort of thing would lead to a decision in which even the most overly-cautious approaches to a player’s health became the official reasonable standard for such things.

  1. manute - Sep 5, 2012 at 1:44 PM

    The money left on his contract is not their primary concern, not even close. It’s weird to suggest that this decision is driven by a desire not to risk ~$10M. That’s nothing compared to the boost in revenues a long playoff run would generate and just a drop in the bucket when you look at the organization as a whole.

    Honestly, they’re probably doing it because they think it’s the best thing for him long-term. But have we forgotten that Boras – after he claimed to have built the team – basically threatened to sue them if they didn’t shut him down? The fear of Boras is a much bigger factor than insurance

    • 18thstreet - Sep 5, 2012 at 2:10 PM

      Thumbs up for the first paragraph. I’m not sure I blame Boras, though.

      • natstowngreg - Sep 5, 2012 at 5:35 PM

        Agreed. Rizzo made it clear late last season that Strasburg would be limited in 2012, as Jordan Zimmermann was limited in 2011. It’s unlikely that Boras even got as far as threatening to sue.

  2. heyblueyoustink - Sep 5, 2012 at 1:48 PM

    Once again, the evil gecko looms large over us all.

    • cur68 - Sep 5, 2012 at 2:07 PM

      So its Werth’s fault? I knew it. That meddling Neanderthal!

      • stlouis1baseball - Sep 5, 2012 at 3:04 PM

        No Cur. It’s Dusty’s fault. Can I get a…”dang you Dusty. Dang you to heck?”

    • Old Gator - Sep 5, 2012 at 3:09 PM

      And this from a guy who, I betcha, never stuck his hand into a high hat fixture on the porch to change a light bulb, heard the dreaded chirp toke!, and had a gecko clamp down on one of his fingers.

      Evil bastards indeed.

      • heyblueyoustink - Sep 5, 2012 at 3:45 PM

        Does a good clamping from the jaws of an Australian Bearded Dragon count?

  3. hansob - Sep 5, 2012 at 1:57 PM

    We’re acting like if the Nats pitch him, they win, and if they don’t, they lose. When actually, they maybe go from 60/40 favorites to win a 5-game series to 55/45 favorites without him.

    ***please note all numbers are made up, and people can and do lose money***

  4. Ben - Sep 5, 2012 at 2:02 PM

    10 million is next to nothing in baseball terms, and I doubt the insurance company gives a crap either, they just repackage the risk for someone else.

  5. The Rabbit - Sep 5, 2012 at 2:25 PM

    As someone who has worked in an actuarial department and done statistical analysis, I can say with some certainty that when there isn’t enough data, the companies will err on the side of caution to protect their profits. They aren’t beneath requiring wholesale changes in behaviors if it doesn’t cost them anything if it will save them one claim…or using the spin, “protect one person”. In fairness, some of that has been driven by ambulance chasing litigation.
    Insurance companies and their lobbyists are responsible for much of the regulation in our everyday lives; therefore, your thoughts are probably on target.

    Note: I admit I’m old and don’t understand the segment of society who wants us protected from every possible misfortune and those who look at an injury as a potential lottery hit.

  6. unlost1 - Sep 5, 2012 at 2:53 PM

    Absolutely the worst sports decision in modern history. You’re gonna save him for next year when they won’t be in the playoffs? His teammates will go their whole career without a chance at the world series. They should have rested him the last month so he could come back for the playoffs. If anyone thumbs this down you should be banned. Should we play the best player in baseball? Bro, that’s a clown question!

    • nightman13 - Sep 5, 2012 at 3:04 PM

      Strasburg is the best player in baseball? Man, there must have been a bunch of retirements I missed today.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 5, 2012 at 3:11 PM

      Really, the worst ever? worse than Bowie over Jordan? Or the oilers getting rid of Gretzky? Or the Sox selling Ruth?

      • unlost1 - Sep 6, 2012 at 11:59 AM

        Bowie over Jordan was unforseen in a draft situation
        Gretzky was a financial decision & anyway he won all his Stanley cups with the Oilers
        Ruth was stupid but i don’t consider that modern history

    • lapsncaps - Sep 5, 2012 at 3:20 PM

      Not only is he not the best player in baseball, I live in DC and not a Nats fan (O’s), and from what i have seen, he is not even the best pitcher on the team. I would say Zimmermann is having a better year. They will be just fine in the playoffs without him. Gio, Zimmer, and Detwiler hover around a 3 era, and jax is at 3.6…you see a 4 man rotation in the playoffs and they will be just fine.

  7. hollywood26 - Sep 5, 2012 at 3:40 PM

    I don’t get the confusion. The guy who actually did the surgery said SHUT HIM DOWN. That’s the end of the argument. Doctors don’t walk by other doctors’ offices and make rehab comments without reading all the charts so why are “baseball minds” attempting to do the same thing?

  8. bigleagues - Sep 5, 2012 at 3:53 PM

    Insurance companies passively convince people to do a whole lot of things.

    Some good and for the right reasons and some completely misguided and self-serving.

    For example, and I realize Connecticut is not alone on this, but because of high property taxes, service taxes, and general cost of ownership of real estate, landlords as a rule do one of the following three things: ban pets outright, restrict certain breeds of dogs, or allow smaller breeds of dogs and cats only.

    And the reason? It’s not so much the potential for damage (which can be mitigated through additional pet deposit, damage deposits, etc . . .) it’s cheaper insurance premiums – especially when they are willing to impose and enforce breed restrictions. Never mind that there is no evidence whatsoever that breed restrictions reduce the potential for bite incidents.

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