Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Wang gets stay of execution with latest “injury”


Wang on his signing day. There won't be a press conference on his release day. Photo Jeff Saffelle/Nats320 blog

Chien-Ming Wang‘s latest (and last) rehab start in Harrisburg ended with him “complaining of soreness in his right hip” and being pulled after the latest of his ineffective starts for AA Harrisburg.

This has to be the least surprising bit of news related to Wang’s injury and rehab assignment imaginable.

Do you mean to tell me that the Nats most ineffective starter, one who lost his starting role and was banished to the bullpen to do mop-up long man duty, and then was ineffective even in that role, was sent to the DL with a questionable hip injury, and when it came time to either re-instate the player to the active roster or to Desginate him for Assignment (since he’s out of Minor League Options) he suddently has a re-occurence of the same hip injury, meaning his rehab time clock resets to 30-days and allows him to wallow in the minors until the roster expansion date of September 1st (as I predicted in my July 3rd posting)?

I’m shocked.

Clearly there’s no place for Wang on the team, both in the short term and the longer term.  In his last three starts for Harrisburg he was alternatively lit up or highly ineffective (considering his pedigree and who he was pitching against).  Ross Detwiler has clearly grasped the #5 starter role and has a higher ERA+ than both Edwin Jackson and Gio Gonzalez for the season (hard to imagine, but Gio’s last 8-10 starts have really knocked his seasonal numbers down, even given last night’s CG and his excellent 7ip, 2H performance against the woeful Mets two weeks ago).   If/When Stephen Strasburg gets shut down (which honestly at this point I cannot believe will actually happen, given Mike Rizzo‘s cryptic statements about Strasburg having to pass an “eye-test” and backing away from any specific quantitiative innings limit), John Lannan has had two shots to prove he belongs and completely earned whatever work he will get.  Unless someone goes down with injury, Wang now sits easily as 7th on the starter depth chart and perhaps even further down, given Yunesky Maya‘s recent string of decent-to-excellent starts in Syracuse.

The Wang experiment was a worthy one, and certainly I supported his re-signing and the continued payment on the hope that Wang would return to his 19-win Yankees glory.  Maybe he’ll get a few more innings in September, as the team fights its way for a divisional title.  But you have to think he’ll be looking for work in another organization in 2013.

Written by Todd Boss

August 9th, 2012 at 11:05 am

21 Responses to 'Wang gets stay of execution with latest “injury”'

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  1. Sad, but not very surprising. I wanted to see CMW succeed, but shoulder injuries for pitchers are too often career-enders.

    More intriguing, though: You no longer believe Strasburg will be shut down? Based on what? I saw the “eye test” quote, but that was almost a month ago. Just last week, Rizzo reaffirmed in an interview that he’ll rely on the advice of medical professionals and Strasburg’s doctor, but that he alone will make the decision as to when (not if) Stras is going to be shut down. And he added: “I’ll sleep like a baby after I make it, because I know we’re doing the right thing.” Also, a week ago today: “Hey listen, the easiest thing for me to do would be to just run him out there every fifth day and win as many games as we can and hey, see what happens. But that’s not the right thing to do, and I’m not gonna do it.”

    That tells me that he’s as sure as ever that he’ll be shutting down Stras next month. Just playing devil’s advocate, though, I think Rizzo would be making a huge mistake to go back on his words. He followed the accepted best medical practice for this injury only last season with Z’mann, and not doing it with Stras now would be idiotic. He’d be putting more wear and tear on Strasburg’s arm than he’s ever experienced before (since he’s already pitched more innings than he ever has in a single season), while at the same time putting more strain on his surgically-repaired elbow than best medical practice recommends. Mike Rizzo has built an excellent team that should contend for many years to come, and I don’t believe he’ll unnecessarily risk that—along with the health of his franchise pitcher—for the sake of a single playoff run.


    9 Aug 12 at 2:57 pm

  2. Last year it was easy to shut down Zimmermann at 160 innings, since the team was sub .500 and was clearly going to spend September giving MLB tryouts to most of their AAA prospects. But 160 innings is an arbitrary number that most people who have done a ton more research into workloads and injury recoveries question as to its relevance. Why exactly 160? Why not 140? or 180?

    For me, the story has morphed over the season along these steps: “he’ll be shut down at 160.” Then, Rizzo backed away saying he had never said the number 160. 180 was floated out there but was unattributed and may have been a typo. Then rizzo said the thing abou the “eye test.” Now he’s saying he’ll talk with the doctors to make a determination.

    In the meantime, Strasburg is already showing his competitive fire, having been quoted that someone will “have to tear the ball out of my hands” instead of getting shut down. And a piece came out this week that quoted a bunch of vets around the league who thought there’d be serious clubhouse issues if a team’s #1 pitcher was suddenly shut down in the middle of a playoff race.

    Lets be honest here; teams like the Nats (or the Pirates, or the Brewers) don’t make it to the playoffs every year. When Milwaukee looked like they’d have a shot a few years back, they traded their #1 prospect (Laporta) to get 2 months of CC Sabathia and won the division. Because that’s what you do. The end-goal of baseball is not to “continue building towards tomorrow,” its to make the playoffs, then win the playoffs and win the World Series. I just have a hard time believing that a team/franchise that has NEVER made the playoffs would suddenly jeopardize that chance over a few dozen more innings. Because its no sure thing that they’ll ever get back.

    I did the calculations a while ago and estimated that Strasburg would hit 160ip around September 12th. Lets do another quick check. he’s at 127 1/3 ip right now in 22 starts for an average of 5.78 IP/start. That means he’s got probably 6 starts to go before he hits 160. He’ll go 8/10, 8/15, 8/21, 8/28, 9/2 and then 9/7. That means he’ll miss 5 starts coming down the stretch, roughly 30 innings. And presumably at least one or two starts in a post-season run.

    You tell me: do you think the difference between 160 and 190 innings on his arm is going to be that meaningful? Especially when “innings” are not nearly as important as “number of pitches.” He’s only broken 100 pitches in 8 of 22 outings and went 94, 61 and 91 in his last 3 outings. Its not like he’s going to broach 240 innings the year after a major injury…

    I just have a hard time believing that the team, Strasburg and the fanbase is going to idly sit by and allow Rizzo to take away the teams’ best pitcher in the midst of a first ever shot at the playoffs.

    Todd Boss

    9 Aug 12 at 4:38 pm

  3. You’re right that 160 was an arbitrary number with Z’mann. He supposedly had a range, and 160 innings was on the low end of that range. Likewise with Strasburg. I don’t recall Rizzo ever declaring 160 for Stras, although I may be wrong about that. But the range I’ve read is 160-180. Whatever the actual number ends up being, though, Rizzo has been clear that the determining factor will be health, not the team’s position in the standings.
    As for what Strasburg wants, honestly who cares? I expect athletes to be competitive, and I’m glad he feels so passionately about wanting to play. But for medical purposes, he’s the patient, and the patient doesn’t get to make those decisions. If he’d rather play for someone who doesn’t care about his health, I’m sure Dusty Baker could always use another pitcher. I also read that piece where Jake Peavy and Jeff Francoeur both say it would be stupid to shut Stras down, and that they basically wouldn’t let anyone do that to them. But Peavy and Francoeur won’t be to blame if Stras blows out his arm the last week of the season, so who cares what they think? But I also remember a player at the all-star game (who was quoted anonymously so that his team wouldn’t think he wanted to leave) said he’d be impressed if the Nats actually shut down Strasburg while in the middle of a pennant race, because it would signal to players that the Nationals put their players’ health ahead of winning, which would make him more likely to want to play there. (Admittedly, anonymous quotes aren’t worth much.)
    I think an area where you and I differ is confidence in the future. Yes, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh don’t make the playoffs every year. And of course it’s no sure thing the Nats will ever make it back, but I feel very confident that they will, and I don’t want to take unnecessary risks this season that could cost us multiple future seasons. The Nats are one year ahead of when they were predicted to contend. I didn’t expect this, and I’m thrilled by it, but I still want the long-term success that this team has so meticulously been building toward. The Braves won their division for 14(?) straight seasons by patiently growing a team similarly to the way the Nats have now, and they should be a contender for the next 5-6 years. But they won’t be contenders if anything happens to Strasburg because we were impatient now.
    You asked if I think the difference between 160 and 190 innings on Strasburg’s arm is going to be that meaningful. My answer is that I don’t know, but I’ve seen too many promising Nats pitchers break down to take that risk. Of course I want to see Strasburg win Game 7 of the World Series against the Yankees, but I have nightmares about him being blowing out his arm and ending up as the next John Patterson or Shawn Hill, but with much more lost potential.
    I also don’t think the fanbase is going object to Rizzo shutting Stras down. It’s been talked about extensively and everyone is aware it’s happening, regardless of what blowhards like Kurt Schilling say on TV. The online polls I’ve seen (for what they’re worth) show strong fan support for shutting Stras down. Risk the season, not the franchise. Besides, I’ll take a playoff rotation of Z’mann, Gio, Jackson, and Detwiler over almost anyone else.


    9 Aug 12 at 9:49 pm

  4. Saw this today from Zuckerman: . Says now its “somewhere between 160 and 180” based on an “eye test” but that he definitely will be shut down.

    Its not that i’m not confident that this team will continue to be good … its just that success in baseball is no sure thing. Look at this year’s Phillies; who would have thought they’d be in last place in August, given 3rd highest payroll and their trio of true MLB Aces? Yes, it all came down to injuries for them, and yes they’re significantly older than the Nats. Buuuuut we’ve also been incredibly lucky in terms of starter injuries thus far and may be the only team in the majors that hasn’t had to give significant starts to guys who started the year in the minors or in the bullpen (honestly I don’t really count the Wang/Detwiler thing, since the team was sort of forced to use Wang by virtue of his contract/options status when he cam off the DL in May).

    Todd Boss

    11 Aug 12 at 7:30 pm

  5. Everytime Rizzo says “eye test” I picture Stras at an optometrist. You make a good point about the health of our starting rotation this year. The injuries to the rest of the lineup have been so drastic that I sometimes forget that our pitching has been remarkably healthy.

    The Phillies implosion is a surprise, but only in its timing. Most predicted this team to crash due to age and bloated contracts, but it wasn’t supposed to happen yet. In that way, they’re like the mirror image of the Nats. In a way, I’m sorry we couldn’t be good at the same time, so we could have the chance to beat them at their best, but I’ll get over that 🙂


    13 Aug 12 at 10:10 am

  6. SPs have been remarkably (!) healthy. They were the same last year too; I did research the first time the team had to go to someone besides their opening day starting 5 and it was either the longest or 2nd longest period of any team in the majors. And starter consistency throughout the season is a major indicator of on-the-field success. If the worst guy you’ve got to put out there is still your opening day #5 starter (and not the 6th, 7th, 8th or 9th guy on the depth chart, by which time you’re counting on the #4 starter from your AAA team), then you’re doing well.

    I honestly never, ever, thought we’d be competitivein 2012. I figured we’d marginally improve from 81 wins (86 or 87) while Strasburg worked his way back, while Harper earned his call up in mid June, and that maybe we’d sniff a wild card. Who would have thought we’d have the best record in the majors half way through August, on pace for 100+ wins, and have the narrative debating whether or not we *should* be shutting down a guy coming off a major surgery. Same goes with the Phillies; inarguably they were getting old, fast, and had too many big contracts. My philly apologist sometime commenter here has often said, “who cares, its not my money” and he’s right. Who cares if their payroll is 180M. Buuuuut, these guys in their mid 30s get hurt, and if you have zero prospect pipeline to come up and replace/produce at $450k/year, you’re in trouble. Nobody, not even the Yankees, can field an entire starting 15 (5 starters, closer, 8 outfield players and a DH) on FAs. You HAVE to get low-cost production from guys in their early 20s/pre-arbitration and balance that out with FA contracts.

    Todd Boss

    13 Aug 12 at 1:28 pm

  7. I’m in the same place as you, Todd. My only real hope for the Nats this year was a winning season for the first time ever. Sure, maybe we get mentioned in wildcard talk, and we aren’t mathematically eliminated until mid-September, but that’s it. Now, I just read Boswell’s chat in the Post, and he flat out stated that the Nats are nearly certain to make the playoffs now. According to his logic, 88 wins should be enough for the second wildcard this year, and the Nats only need to go 17-31(!) over the rest of the season to win 88 games. As soon as I read that, I almost screamed “shut up, don’t say that!” at my comupter monitor because I don’t want to jinx anything. The way I keep my composure now is by telling my wife (who’s a huge Rays fan) that my only hope for this season now is to win the NL East. Even if we don’t advance in the playoffs, I can live with winning the division, because if you told me five months ago that in mid-August I’d be typing that I can “live with” winning the NL East, I’d have said you were out of your mind.

    Your Phillies apologist isn’t seeing the big picture. Hand-in-hand with your point about big payroll teams and aging superstars is that those teams can’t even trade these players because so few other teams can afford to take on that kind of contract. For instance, the Mets can’t unload Santana no matter how much they want to, because they paid well over what most other teams can afford. Who else can take over that contract, particularly for an underperforming veteran? That list of players is nearly endless, too: Soriano, Zito, A-Rod. It isn’t his money, but it is his team, and a payroll like the Phillies ultimately cripples their ability to compete.


    13 Aug 12 at 3:07 pm

  8. …. and the first shot across the bow from a Washington player has arrived.

    I’ve read the playoff %s as well and will say just this: last year boston was a 99.5% guarantee to make playoffs on September 1st and didn’t. Those playoff predictors are useless. Just as soon as we win 8 of 10 we can lose 8 of 10, especially if Strasburg is sitting and Gonzalez continues to pitch to his 2nd half 4.50 era clip. Luckily we have a new “stopper” in Zimmermann and the continued excellence of Detwiler (could he possibly be the #3 starter in the playoffs??).

    Phillies fan is starting to understand my constant carping on payroll and player development.

    Todd Boss

    13 Aug 12 at 4:06 pm

  9. Shutting down Stras is a no-brainer. With medical staffs recommending it, Rizzo is not going to risk the heat if Stras gets injured. Based on his comments today on local sport radio, he is not wavering.


    16 Aug 12 at 12:12 am

  10. BTW, I had no idea, but were you aware that even if you remove Strasburg’s numbers from the equation, the starting rotation of Zimmermann, Gio, Jackson, and Detwiler still have the lowest ERA of any starting four in baseball? Wow. I know a lot of people don’t value ERA as a stat, but that’s still amazing to me.


    16 Aug 12 at 9:30 am

  11. Nats are (as of today) 73-45, for a winning pct of .619. In Strasburg’s 24 starts they’re 17-7 for a winning pct of .708. So, you’d have to think that they’re overachieving in his starts. Of course, that being said the team is 2-0 in John Lannan’s two starts (Lannan being the logical Strasburg replacement upon shutdown), so that doesn’t help much. But your stat is still pretty amazing. For a quick and easy stat for pitchers I like ERA+: adjusted era expressed as a percentage value over/under 100 (league average). Zimmermann is today at 166, good for 2nd in the league behind Cueto. He’s quietly become one of the best pitchers in the league….. which leads me to this point:

    For all the “i know better than you” pundits who question the shutdown of Strasburg, where were you last year when the team faced the SAME decision with Zimmermann? Yes, I realize the reason is because a) nobody knew who Zimmermann was last year and b) the team wans’t contending. But we’re talking about IDENTICAL situations. Both guys coming off of TJ, 2nd year back and facing similar innings limits. Nobody gave 2 sh*ts if Zimmermann got shut down last year, but this year everyone and their brother has an opinion on the Strasburg shutdown. And, nobody’s noticed/commented that by shutting down Zimmermann at 160 in 2011, he’s now essentially the 2nd or 3rd best statstical pitcher in the league. Now, wouldn’t you also shut down Strasburg if I told you in 2013 he was going to be 25% stronger and better??

    Todd Boss

    16 Aug 12 at 12:19 pm

  12. Every know it all pundit who is questioning this shutdown would be ALL OVER Rizzo if Strasburg pitched a full workload this year and got injured next. You’d be hearing the exact reverse of all the current columns, decrying Rizzo for overworking Strasburg and endangering a young kid in the simple pursuit of a single playoff appearance. I guarantee it.

    Rizzo just cannot win in this situation. So he has done the best he could; follow a path as recommended by the doctor who performed these surgeries (not some anonymous doctor who expresses his own opinion but has no knowledge of the injury or the surgery performed but who likes getting his name in the paper). That path has led to a fantastic 2012 season for Zimmermann despite shutdown at 160 innings lastyear, and hopefully will lead to the same for Strasburg in 2013.

    Todd Boss

    16 Aug 12 at 12:21 pm

  13. It’s also worth noting that Tommy John re-injuries apparently tend to take place the first FULL season back (without innings limit). For Stras, that’s next season. And for Z’mann, that’s right now. So Z’mann’s success this season is yet another reason for Rizzo to replicate his treatment of Stras.

    You’re right, this is a no-win for Rizzo, because once he shuts Stras down, no one will ever know if Stras would have gotten hurt if he hadn’t been shut down. So I don’t envy Rizzo’s position, but I think he’s doing the right thing.


    16 Aug 12 at 5:01 pm

  14. One Solution: shut down Strasburg, win World Series anyway. 🙂 I wouldn’t mind that solution one bit.

    Todd Boss

    17 Aug 12 at 5:24 pm

  15. And after Rizzo does the right thing with Strasburg AND wins the World Series, we’ll all have to take turns carrying him around in a sedan chair 🙂


    18 Aug 12 at 7:51 am

  16. Apparently Scott Boras is a strong influence on Rizzo’s decision re Strasburg’s shutdown. Boras likes Rizzo’s concern w/player health issues and each wants the relation between the two to endure. Boras has 7-8 players w/Nats?


    18 Aug 12 at 5:19 pm

  17. A bit late for this thread, but I thought you’d enjoy this article from the NY Times, of all places:


    22 Aug 12 at 12:27 pm

  18. Also, Wang got crushed again yesterday. Does he even make it as a September call-up? If so, he does only because of his contract and the team’s multi-year investment in him. He certainly hasn’t earned a call-up.


    22 Aug 12 at 2:07 pm

  19. I think Wang is 100% an injury insurance policy for one of the other four starters after Strasburg. Lannan becomes the 5th starter when Strasburg gets shut down, then gets left off the post-season roster. Both get non-tendered in the off-season. In fact, i’d almost say that the team would prefer Duke or Maya at this point over Wang. Almost. Lets just cross fingers and hope for no injuries between now and the divisional series.

    Todd Boss

    22 Aug 12 at 4:22 pm

  20. I wonder about Boras’ relationship with Rizzo. Yes of course they’ve done a lot of business together but I think its underselling Rizzo and his capabilities to say that “Boras influences Rizzo” or that (as seen elsewhere in the blogosphere) that “Boras owns the Nats.” is a player-agent database out there. By this database here’s Boras clients w/ the Nats right now: Espinosa, Mike Gonzalez, Harper, Edwin Jackson (who just signed with him this season, after the Nats signed him last off-season), Strasburg and Werth. Plus notable minor leaguers Goodwin, Meyer, Rendon. He also had former Nats Pudge rodriguez and Ankiel. So 6 active players plus 3 key prospects. I guess that’s a lot for one team.

    Todd Boss

    22 Aug 12 at 4:29 pm

  21. I’ve tired quickly of reading Strasburg shutdown opinions, and have held off with my own. At least this one gave the Nats some credit. Most don’t. Most are just “the nats are idiots” type pieces.

    Todd Boss

    22 Aug 12 at 4:31 pm

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