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Thinking about Stephen Strasburg’s workload

Feb 23, 2013, 3:08 PM EDT

Stephen Strasburg

It wasn’t quite so eagerly anticipated as last year, but Stephen Strasburg made his spring debut on Saturday, giving up two runs in two innings against the Mets. Both runs came on a first-inning Ruben Tejada homer that benefited from a nice little breeze to left-center. After throwing 31 pitches in the first, Strasburg was perfect in an 11-pitch second inning.

The outing was Strasburg’s first since he was famously shut down last September 7 after 28 starts and 159 1/3 innings.

This year, Strasburg is working with “no restrictions,” according to manager Davey Johnson. Nationals VP of player development Bob Boone clarified that with USA TODAY last month:

To say there’s no restrictions really means, ‘Hey, we’d like him to pitch 200 innings,’ ” Boone said. “But, you’re not gonna say no restrictions like you might have on Steve Carlton, who would throw 320 innings. You’re not gonna do that. There’s always restrictions, but the meaning is, ‘We’re not gonna shut him down after 160 innings.’

Strasburg, for what it’s worth, talked about being ready to “throw 200-plus innings.” GM Mike Rizzo hasn’t chimed in with any specifics.

Personally, I can’t imagine Strasburg being allowed to throw 200 regular-season innings this year, not with the Nationals hopeful of  playing deep into October. Because if Strasburg throws 200 regular-season innings, then he could end up approaching or even topping 230 innings should the Nationals reach the World Series.

I think the ideal would be for Strasburg to throw about 180 innings during the regular season this year. That’d be a nice little boost from last year and still not a scary number for him to enter the postseason with.

Still, I don’t know whether that is part of the plan at all. Last year, the Nationals refused any possible alternatives that could have made Strasburg available for the playoffs. And the simple fact that he was on the mound today, on Feb. 23, suggests they’re not very concerned with any sort of innings rationing at the moment.

In 2012, Strasburg made his first spring start on March 4 and was fine to throw seven innings on Opening Day. It would have made sense to have him on a similar schedule this spring. As is, he’s due to make seven spring starts, which is two more than he or anyone else really needs. Perhaps that’s not so important without the innings limit this year, but I’d still rather save any extra bullets for September and October than have him pitch in games in February.

  1. gnyj85 - Feb 23, 2013 at 3:52 PM

    Can someone explain to me why they dont start pitching strasburg in like may so when october comes they dont need to worry his innings? Coming off an arm injury the worst time to pitch would be early in the season when it’s cold

    • Matthew Pouliot - Feb 23, 2013 at 3:58 PM

      I tried proposing that last year. No one bought in.

      The one problem is there’s no mechanism in MLB for a healthy player to not play. The Nationals could have tried stashing Strasburg on the DL, but given that there was no actual injury, someone could have raised a stink. And while they would have been allowed to send him to the minors, since he has options remaining, there’s no way Scott Boras would have gone for that, since it would have cost him service time.

      It’s not an issue in September, since with the rosters expanded to 40, there’s no harm in carrying a player who isn’t playing.

      • DelawarePhilliesFan - Feb 23, 2013 at 6:18 PM

        “The one problem is there’s no mechanism in MLB for a healthy player to not play”

        enter John Smoltz, who said starters should be allowed to skip 2 starts a year. He also noted that a lot of 15 DL trips by pitchers are fake excuses for a rest, and both sides know it, so just codify what already goes on anyway. After he said that, I realized there were many times a starter would go on the 15 DL, and the teams would instantly say “we are 100% confidant he will be fine when he returns”.

    • fanofevilempire - Feb 24, 2013 at 7:39 AM

      just put him in a glass box………………..

  2. rdanie29 - Feb 23, 2013 at 4:24 PM

    Aww, come on gnyj85 . It’s not like anyone has a crystal ball and knows with any certainty that the Nats are even going to make the post-season. And the 8 or so starts or so that you propose to hold him out might be the 8 wins that they need to get to October. Just be a fan and let those who get paid to know, do their jobs.

  3. shea801 - Feb 23, 2013 at 4:32 PM

    Is he really this fragile? Jesus, man up. If all you’re concentrating on is not getting hurt, or re-injure yourself, you’re gonna get hurt and re-injure yourself!

  4. echech88 - Feb 23, 2013 at 7:09 PM

    Meanwhile Justin Verlander regularly throws 120 pitches a game and is being talked about as being in line for a $200M contract.

    No science that shows this kid should have any kind of restrictions this season.

    • tpxdmd - Feb 23, 2013 at 7:23 PM

      @echech88- that would be true if only it was actually true. Baseball Prospectus’ Russel Carleton just wrote a fantastic piece (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=19653) that actually did some nice regressions with an injury database and among his conclusions are that pitchers who had an elbow injury two years ago are 10 times as likely to have another elbow injury this season as compared to this who don’t (15.2% of pitchers with an elbow injury two years prior had one in a given season, vs 1.8% of those who didn’t). In fact, the best predictive factor of whether or not someone will have an injury appears to be if they’ve had a previous injury. The second best predictive factor- pitches thrown.

      Which brings me to my question, instead of an innings limits, why aren’t they tracking pitches thrown, since you know, not all innings are made the same, while a pitch is a pitch….

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