FanDuel - WFBC

August 17, 2012

Tommy John Tears Strasburg Shutdown Plan: Former Major League pitcher Tommy John has launched a surgigal strike against the Washington Nationals management for their plan to bench Stephen Strasburg when he reaches 160 to 180 innings (current total: 139.1). "You want him healthy. I understand that. He's the franchise. But you know what? The golden ring only comes around on the merry go round maybe one time," John said. "You've got a chance to win now. Now, I don't say you trash the kid, but you pitch him."

posted by rcade to baseball at 10:10 AM - 18 comments

What a dick. I'm no doctor (and I'm pretty sure Tommy John isn't either), but the fact that he pitched 207 innings in his first year back with no problems is no proof that the same could happen for Strasburg. Nothing there gives any indication that John knows anything more about Strasburg's status than anyone else, but he assumes he knows more than the doctors who are working with him regularly. As a fan of the Nationals, I will be disappointed like many others the day that he is done for the season, but if that gives him a better chance to make a full and stable recovery, it is worth it. Also, the Nats' have a pretty solid pitching staff that isn't just going to collapse the day they lose Strasburg.

"Now, I don't say you trash the kid, but you pitch him."

Well isn't that convenient? Tell us, Tommy, where is your line between trashing him and pitching him?

posted by bender at 01:24 PM on August 17

Tell us, Tommy, where is your line between trashing him and pitching him?

I think it's like pornography...he'll know it when he sees it.

posted by grum@work at 01:49 PM on August 17

I'm no doctor (and I'm pretty sure Tommy John isn't either), but the fact that he pitched 207 innings in his first year back with no problems is no proof that the same could happen for Strasburg.

Right, but there's no proof that 20 or 40 more innings than they planned will cause problems either. Which is the point. Most people, including Nationals management, are flying blind on this one and really only Strasburg can tell what his body can and cannot do. I mean, even the medical community doesn't have a consensus view.

posted by dfleming at 01:59 PM on August 17

I don't see what is so valuable about the Nationals just picking some inning count out of their ass. And, the fact that they are willing to sacrifice the team winning and their playoff future with so little factual basis for their move is pretty stupid.

posted by bperk at 02:15 PM on August 17

....really only Strasburg can tell what his body can and cannot do.

Has anyone within that organization even asked Strasburg how his arm feels? That's who ultimately should have the final say.

posted by NerfballPro at 02:21 PM on August 17

Right, but there's no proof that 20 or 40 more innings than they planned will cause problems either.

You do agree that a lower number would always be safer than a higher one though, right?

really only Strasburg can tell what his body can and cannot do

Actually, everyone can tell what his body can't do at the exact same time he can: when an injury occurs. The way you've phrased it is exactly why the Nationals have picked "some inning count out of their ass": because if they don't have a hard, absolute number, no matter how random, the kid will just keep pitching. No player is going to sit down in the middle of a pennant race.

Has anyone within that organization even asked Strasburg how his arm feels?

What does that have to do with how it will feel 20 or 40 innings from now?

posted by yerfatma at 02:30 PM on August 17

Has anyone within that organization even asked Strasburg how his arm feels?

Baseball players (especially pitchers) have been conditioned to believe that they can succeed, regardless of any obstacle. It's why managers have to pull pitchers from the game when they stink (or look tired), instead of waiting for a pitcher to signal to him that he might be through.

I'm willing to bet that Stasburg believes he can pitch another 100 innings. Short of a re-occurrence of shooting pain in his elbow/forearm, he'll never ask to stop pitching.

posted by grum@work at 02:51 PM on August 17

Right, but there's no proof that 20 or 40 more innings than they planned will cause problems either.

That may be true, but they could also conceivably make that decision when he reaches the 160-180 inning threshold. If there is a chance that the Nationals would shut him down (however likely or unlikely it might be), it is work making the fans aware of that early on rather than as it happens in the home stretch of a pennant race.

I don't see what is so valuable about the Nationals just picking some inning count out of their ass. And, the fact that they are willing to sacrifice the team winning and their playoff future with so little factual basis for their move is pretty stupid.

Why do you believe that this is some arbitrary number? The Nats did the same thing with Jordan Zimmermann last season coming off a Tommy John surgery of his own, and that has worked out pretty well. Strasburg is 24 years old and has already been through Tommy John surgery. He has also shown that he can live up to the immense hype heaped upon him when healthy. An investment of a little caution now could pay off for many years in the future.

posted by bender at 02:55 PM on August 17

It was known a while back, as it has been in previous seasons, that Strasburg would be on an inning limit. At what point, however, does the babying stop? It seems more pitchers have had arm problems since clubs went to five-man rotations, than when pitchers went 250-270 innings in four-man rotations. Maybe their arms and shoulders were a little looser and not prone to injury?

posted by jjzucal at 03:35 PM on August 17

It seems more pitchers have had arm problems since clubs went to five-man rotations

Is there any evidence to show this is true? I definitely think there's a case to be made that kids should be throwing more as teenagers to build arm strength, but as soon as I see the word "seems", especially when coupled with "babying", I'm suspicious.

posted by yerfatma at 04:10 PM on August 17

It seems more pitchers have had arm problems since clubs went to five-man rotations, than when pitchers went 250-270 innings in four-man rotations. Maybe their arms and shoulders were a little looser and not prone to injury?

They also cost teams about 1/10th of what they do now, so teams had no problems grinding up arms and getting new ones.

I'm pretty sure that the same number of pitchers had arm problems in the old days as now, except that they didn't do anything about them and simply pitched terribly until they got released.

Since 1950, the season with the most 200IP starters was 1974. There were 65 pitchers who threw more than 200 innings. Twenty five of those pitchers were below average (using ERA+). Of those 25 pitchers, 11 never pitched 200 innings again.

There are four pitchers from 1974 that stand out for me:

Buzz Capra - He led the league in ERA (2.28) after throwing 218 IP at age 26. That was the first season he EVER threw more than 100 IP in the majors. He was done by age 29.

Jim Coleman - 1974 was his 4th consecutive season of 280+ innings, and he was 27 years old, and had two 20-win seasons under his belt. He did throw 200 innings the next year (5.55 ERA) so he's not one of the 11 , but slowly fell apart after that.

Dave McNally - A four-time 20 game winner, after he threw 259 innings in 1974 (96 ERA+), he pitched one more season and was done...at age 32. 1974 was his 7th 200IP+ season in a row (6 of which were more than 240 innings).

Dave Freisleben - He threw 211 IP in his rookie season at age 22, and his career was done by age 27.

Other ones you can look up are John D'Acquisto, Ron Schueler, Clay Kirby, Steve Busby, Joe Decker, and Don Gullet...just a selection of pitchers from 1974 who threw over 200 IP but were never as good (or healthy) after that.

posted by grum@work at 04:16 PM on August 17

I think people misunderstand the pitch count side of the issue. It's not as absolutist and "babying" as people seem to react to it. The current thinking basically starts with this 2004 article, a partial summation of which is:

1. We don't know which bodies can throw tons of innings and which cannot.
2. It appears that pitches past #100 are where damage starts to accrue.
3. Given 1 and 2, try to keep everyone from throwing too many pitches in a start.
4. "Pitchers under the age of 25 are exquisitely sensitive to overuse."

Unfortunately, that's all MLB teams took from the article. If you look at the bullet points near the bottom, he also endorses 4 man rotations with 40-41 starts while being careful about their off-day throwing.

posted by yerfatma at 04:51 PM on August 17

I think it's up to Strasburg, his doctor, and the Nationals...

If he plays beyond the doctor recommended innings pitched, a series of tests ought to be done to ensure his arm is holding up OK.

I saw him pitch in SF on Wednesday and, outside of the first few innings, he looked GREAT.

posted by slackerman at 06:33 PM on August 17

Why do you believe that this is some arbitrary number? The Nats did the same thing with Jordan Zimmermann last season coming off a Tommy John surgery of his own, and that has worked out pretty well.

Because there is no evidence that 160-180 IP is an important part in the health of a pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery. As yerfatma's link points out, the health of a pitcher is actually related to how many pitches he throws not how many innings. They don't seem to mind letting him go past 100 pitches in a game.

This is a playoff team for the first team since they've come to Washington. It is a big deal, and I just don't agree that they can risk shutting him down if they want to be successful.

posted by bperk at 07:17 PM on August 17

You do agree that a lower number would always be safer than a higher one though, right?

Sure. One third of an inning in the first year would be safest, but that again points out to how arbitrarily the line can be set based on that thinking process. Jordan Zimmerman =/= Stephen Strasburg, and the nature of the surgery is such that in almost all cases, the issue is tendinitis and fatigue which can strain the shoulder. Those are not proven to happen at 100, 140, 160 or 180 innings. Each pitcher is different.

You can tell when fatigue is setting in as a coach. You have doctors to diagnose tendinitis. Those are diagnosable things. The possibility of tearing the graft off is remote, as many of the experts in the article I linked suggested. The surgeon who performed his surgery is working with the team, as they would for any surgery.

So that's why I balk at a number; you have enough people around this kid to notice he's tiring and to pull him from action. You don't need a number, other than when you might expect this to occur.

posted by dfleming at 08:16 AM on August 18

I am also assuming, as I mentioned above, that though they have targeted 160-180 innings, if everyone agrees he is doing fine, they may decide not to pull him. It is much easier PR to say you will pull him and not do it rather than to have it happen unannounced in September.

posted by bender at 11:16 AM on August 18

Those are not proven to happen at 100, 140, 160 or 180 innings. Each pitcher is different.

Right, they don't know, so they have to go with the lowest threshold because the risk of losing a season of a pitcher you've built around is to high.

You can tell when fatigue is setting in as a coach.

Now you're saying they do know? Why do pitchers continue to get hurt then if it's so simple?

posted by yerfatma at 02:13 PM on August 18

Right, they don't know, so they have to go with the lowest threshold because the risk of losing a season of a pitcher you've built around is to high.

The lowest threshhold for who? You seem to have trouble understanding that the threshhold is an arbitrary thing, and the "lowest" threshhold is just a made up thing.

Now you're saying they do know? Why do pitchers continue to get hurt then if it's so simple?

Well, for one, there are structural injuries you can't know about. They happen in an instant. Pitching is a violent motion and sometimes things tear. The chance of a structural graft tear from a surgically repaired one is extremely remote. It's a really successful surgery in the short and long-term.

In other cases, injuries happen because knowing and acting on knowledge are two totally different things. Pitchers are notoriously bad for wanting to go back out even if they're tired, and managers are inclined to let them because the good ones still give you a chance to win when they're tired. With the level of scrutiny Strasburg is under, though, you can use a number of tools to quantify (take a look at the average velocity of his pitches, the arm angle he's throwing at, as starters) when he's tiring and shut him down as a precaution, but in terms of knowing when that's going to happen? Flying blind. Could be 160 or 220 innings for all anyone knows.

posted by dfleming at 09:50 AM on August 19

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