Enough! Stephen Strasburg’s Status Not as Critical to Nationals’ Postseason Chances As It Is Being Portrayed

Enough about Stephen Strasburg already!

Just when there seemed to be a lull in the seemingly endless Stephen Strasburg innings-limit saga, the Washington Post had the audacity to reopen the Pandora’s box of media driven debate about whether or not the Nationals will actually go through with their plan to shut Strasburg down prior to the post-season.

Stephen Strasburg’s Current Status

According to Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post, the Nationals are preparing for Strasburg to miss his final “two or three” starts of the regular season.

Well thanks Adam, for “breaking” that story. Maybe you can follow it up with a fantasy baseball article that lists Mike Trout as a “sleeper” to target in next year’s drafts or an Op-Ed about how the Earth is getting warmer.

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In Kilgore’s article, Nationals manager Davey Johnson was quoted as saying how he wishes “we could get by the Stras thing.” You and me both brother. But apparently, that’s a logical impossibility.

So instead, I’ll be forced to spend the next two weeks watching segments on SportsCenter where Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith engage in debates so agonizingly moronic that they make broadcasts of decades-old Spanish soap operas on Telemundo seem like a reasonable alternative–and I don’t even speak Spanish.

The way I see it, ESPN should create a new station called “TLS,” where they can spend all day talking about Tim Tebow (the “T”), Jeremy Lin (the “L”), and Stephen Strasburg (the “S”). That way, I can call my cable provider and tell them to put a permanent child lock on that station so I never have to see a segment where Tony Kornheiser dresses like a fortune teller and rubs Michael Wilbon’s bald head in order to help him predict when exactly Tim Tebow will take over as the starting QB of the Jets and whether that will be before or after he loses his virginity.

Now don’t get me wrong–I’m a big Strasburg fan, so I understand the appeal. After all, it would be crazy to not like a guy with a rocket arm and pinpoint control who is also hitting the cover off the ball.

Oh, you didn’t know that Strasburg’s current batting average was .279? Then you probably also didn’t know that Strasburg’s .782 OPS is 50 points higher than that of teammate Bryce Harper.

But while Harper smirks and smart-asses his way through his over-hyped rookie season, Strasburg, who is only 24 years old, has maintained a humility and poise that is more commonly seen in veteran MLB journeymen who are just happy to still be playing the game they love.

So yes, I’m giving credit where credit is due. Strasburg is a great player. Great for the Nationals and great for baseball.

But is his presence on the mound into October a necessity for the Nationals postseason success?

Is Strasburg Really Critical to Nats’ Future ’12 Success?

ESPN seems to think so, as does the NY Post, and many other prominent media outlets. And the notion that Strasburg is essential to the Nationals’ postseason success is not merely a media-driven perspective.

Legendary pitching coach Leo Mazzone called the decision to shut down Strasburg “absolutely ridiculous,” while Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley recently doubted that the Nationals would ultimately be able to go through with the decision.

Even Tommy John, the pitcher for whom Strasburg’s recent elbow surgery was named, has expressed criticism over Strasburg’s team-imposed innings limit.

Perhaps most disconcerting is the fact that Strasburg’s own team is upset over the decision to shut down Strasburg. But I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Nationals players believe they need their ace to be a legitimate championship contender.

But here’s the thing: they don’t.

An element of the Strasburg debate that has flown somewhat under the radar is the question of who will assume Strasburg’s spot in the rotation.

Earlier today the Washington Post addressed this issue by naming John Lannan as a “leading candidate” to eventually take over Strasburg’s spot in the rotation. And despite Lannon’s “career 3.99 ERA over 130 starts,” it’s safe to say that Lannan is a massive downgrade from Strasburg.

The good news is that by the time Lannan is starting for the Nationals, it is highly likely that they will already have a playoff spot locked up, if not the division.

Furthermore, while Lannan might assume Strasburg’s spot in the rotation, he almost certainly will not be starting for the Nationals in the post-season, since playoff teams use 4-men rotations during a playoff series. Thus as the presumptive 5th starter of the Nationals rotation, Lannon would be the odd man out in regard to a potential spot in the National’s post-season rotation.

And this brings me to my next point: the Nationals will not need to “replace” Strasburg” in the playoffs because even without Strasburg, their rotation will consist of 4 pitchers who are currently starting for the Nationals

As of today, the Nationals’ rotation looks like this: Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, Ross Detwiler. So if we are to assume that Strasburg will miss post-season play, then the current #5 guy for the Nats, Detwiler, would slide into Strasburg’s vacant spot in the post-season rotation.

Therefore the potential ramifications of Strasburg’s absence from the post-season rotation can be most accurately gauged by evaluating the drop-off that occurs by replacing Strasburg in the rotation with Detwiler.

Strasburg v Detwiler

At first blush, it appears that the discrepancy between Strasburg and Detwiler is significant due to Strasburg having 8 more wins and over 100 more strikeouts than his counterpart. The reality, however, is that the actual distinction between Strasburg and Detwiler is relatively slight. While Strasburg’s current ERA (2.85) and WHIP (1.12) are each the better of the two players, Detwiler’s 3.25 ERA and 1.17 WHIP are quite good in their own regard.

Perhaps more significant to this analysis is each player’s more recent production since a good start by a pitcher in April is not very useful as a barometer of their potential success in a postseason which takes place 4 months later. Since June 1st, Strasburg has pitched very well, posting a 2.99 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP. Detwiler, however, has arguably pitched even better, posing a better ERA (2.94) and an a similar WHIP (1.17).

Furthermore, despite all of the hype and hoopla about Strasburg, he has hasn’t been an “elite” pitcher over the past 4 months. Since May 1st, Strasburg has posted an ERA of 3.34–solid, but unspectacular.

And while Detwiler has hardly been “spectacular” himself, he certainly has been solid–and not just this season. Since the start of the 2011 season, Detwiler has posted an ERA of 3.16 over a total of 193.1 innings. That’s not a small sample size folks. And Detwiler’s success seems particularly justifiable given that he is a 6 foot 5, left-hander who throws a 4-seam fastball in the mid-90s with good location and plenty of movement.

A potential knock against Detwiler is the fact that he is averaging only 5.2 innings per start, which means that each time Detwiler toes the rubber, it’s a safe bet that the bullpen will be relied on to pitch at least a third of the game. Obviously, this situation isn’t the most appealing for the Nationals. Less obvious however is the fact that “5.2” also happens to be the amount of innings per start that Stephen Strausburg has made this year.

In a way that’s exactly the point I’m trying to make: Ross Detwiler may not be an elite-caliber pitcher, and he may not be “ace material,” but for right now, he’s not a whole lot different than Stephen Strasburg.

And maybe Strasburg is actually better than the 3.34 ERA he has compiled since the beginning of March. And perhaps in a playoff setting, Strasburg would pitch into the 7th inning and beyond. Maybe in a couple of years, when Strasburg is further removed from his Tommy John surgery and mowing down people like Bob Gibson in his prime, I’ll write another article making fun of myself for comparing the great Stephen Strasburg to that guy who went 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA during the Nats’ first playoff appearance.

Maybe…

But until Michael Wilbon struts into my bedroom and lowers his beautiful bald head for me to rub, I can only speculate based on the facts, and the bottom line is that replacing Stephen Strasburg with Ross Detwiler in the Nats playoff rotation just doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.

***

What do you think? Is the Stephen Strasburg story being overhyped in terms of its importance? Are the Nationals making a colossal mistake?

Chime in below.



About Andrew Schwartz

Andrew Schwartz is a Maryland native, who has also lived in Rochester (NY), New Orleans, and San Diego. Schwartz has a Bachelor's degree from the University of Rochester, a Law degree from Tulane University, and probably used Degree deodorant this morning. Despite playing in numerous fantasy football leagues for over a decade, Schwartz believes the television show "The League," would be much better if it excluded all fantasy sports references. While Schwartz's favorite sports movies are "Warrior," and "The Natural," he suggests that you watch the 1991 college football comedy "Necessary Roughness" at your earliest convenience. You can email Schwartz at drewcando1@gmail.com

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