Nationals Arm Race

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

Innings limits and media hypocrisy

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Matt Harvey is lucky he isn't pitching for a contender .. Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Harvey is lucky he isn’t pitching for a contender .. Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

I just noticed this little report float across the wire: the Miami Marlins plan to shut down their rising star 20-yr old Jose Fernandez when he reaches 170 innings.  We’ve already seen the Mets manipulate Matt Harvey‘s pre-all-star start in an attempt to limit his innings and stretch him out as long as possible, and they too have talked about an innings limit for their new-found Ace (Editor Note: this was before his unfortunate UCL injury).  Cub’s rising Ace Jeff Samardzija was shut down on September 8th of 2012 after reaching a prescribed limit that the team had set.  And our own Jordan Zimmermann worked on a 160 inning limit and was shut down in late August of 2011 after recovering from Tommy John surgery.  And there’s more: see the following for a quick summary of Operation Shutdown 2013:

So what’s the common theme here?  When the Nats shutdown Zimmermann in 2011 they were not a playoff team.  Nor were the Cubs with Samardzija in 2012.  And this year clearly the Mets and Marlins are not playoff teams.  BUT, when the Nationals in 2012 were clearly a playoff team and did a similar innings-limit shutdown with Stephen Strasburg, there was (and continues to be) national media uproar over the decision.  The Nats (and by proxy Mike Rizzo) were described as “arrogant” by more than one “anonymous GM” (aka gutless chicken-sh*t executive who wouldn’t go on the record criticizing a colleague who had to make a pretty significant, difficult decision), as dutifully and gleefully reported by bloggers and writers who go to great lengths to state their own opinions on the matter.   And it didn’t take but a few hours after the Game 5 meltdown (and in some cases even before then) for said writers to pipe up yet again with their opinions that the NLDS absolutely would have turned out differently if Strasburg was pitching.

And keep in mind, Strasburg was coming back from an injury!  Nearly every one of these 2013 Operation Shutdown guys weren’t ever hurt; they were just limited by executives who may prescribe to the Tom Verducci effect of increased workloads (whether or not you agree with the principle, which has been disproven on the macro level yet Verducci maintains an 80% successful prediction rate.  Discussion on both sides from a January 2013 post here).

Why the hypocrisy?  Because there’s a huge double standard here.  Its “OK” to shutdown your ace for health-related or longevity-related issues …. but only if your team sucks and you’re not making the playoffs.  However, if you are making the playoffs and you follow-through on your season-long stated intention to shutdown your star pitcher coming off a major arm injury … then you’re an idiot.  At least, that’s my interpretation of the media reaction in September of 2012 of Strasburg-shutdown versus Samardzija-shutdown.

Its ok to ignore doctor’s recommendations and attempt to blow out your 24-yr old’s arm again so that he can make one or two post-season starts … because, hey, Flags fly forever, and you may never get back to the playoffs.   I think this statement encapsulates the argument very simply; some people value making the playoffs for one year far above the long-term health of one particular baseball pitcher’s arm.  People with these opinions are gleefully watching our team struggle in 2013, and I’ve seen more than one opinion posted that say this is “karma” on the Nats for shutting down Strasburg last year.  Really?  Karma?  Not the 29th ranked offense in the league as being the root of all our troubles right now?

The point is this: if you were against an innings limit for Strasburg … then you should stand up and say you’re against innings limits for any pitcher.  All the “well we don’t know if shutting down a pitcher helps or hurts” arguments (which are all entirely true; we don’t have any idea if Strasburg’s career will be 3 more years or 15, and we have no idea if the 2012 shutdown will help, hurt or have no impact), shouldn’t be affected by the team’s place in the standings.  If you’re against the Strasburg shutdown on principle, then you should be equally outraged that the Mets, Cubs, and Marlins plan to “tank” games in August that their aces would have been scheduled to pitch as well.

I’m sure that we’ll continue to hear more “shutdown dates” being announced for the slew of young power arms that are making 2013 increasingly the “Year of the Rookie pitcher.”  None of these names have been mentioned yet, but rookies with decent MLB workloads such as Shelby MillerGerrit ColeZach WheelerJacob TurnerTony CingraniAlex Cobb, and maybe even guys like Jarred CosartChris Archer and Martin Perez could all be names that teams look to protect going forward.  And some of these guys (especially Miller and Cole) are pitching significant innings for playoff contenders, and are going to blow by 2012 innings numbers by mid-August.  Will we see another Strasburg-esque shutdown media blitz in 2013?


Post Script added 7/26/13: we have announced that our own Taylor Jordan will be facing an innings limit in 2013, and it is coming up very fast.  “20-30″ more innings, or roughly 5-6 more starts.  That hopefully will coincide with Ross Detwiler‘s return from the D/L but it may not, forcing the team to scramble to fill that rotation spot.  Update: this on 8/18/13 after Jordan suffered a sprain that would have made it impossible to come back anyway.  Shut down at 142 total innings for 2013.

[After the fact post addition: ESPN’s Jerry Crasnik posted about the same topic on 8/7/13, with great updated innings counts for pitchers on contending teams.  He says the same things I’m saying here.  Sept2013 I updated this post whenever a new team announced they were shutting down a player].

9/15/13 post about innings limits

http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2013/09/14/are-pitch-counts-and-early-shutdowns-actually-helping-pitchers/

2 Responses to 'Innings limits and media hypocrisy'

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  1. I don’t think you’ll see that level of attention/condemnation because the rest of those guys are not Strasburg who, let’s face it, came into the league a virtual household name. The only comparison situation is if somehow the Mets go on an incredible tear and come within striking distance of a playoff spot as of Harvey’s shutdown date. The New York media, which delights in kicking the Mets around anyway, would have a field day second guessing them, and the pressure to keep him pitching would be even worse because as you said he WASN’T injured.

    Even though I hate the Mets, I’d love to see that scenario play out for the sheer entertainment value.

    bdrube

    19 Jul 13 at 3:35 pm

  2. I will always hold Mike Rizzo in high esteem for choosing a player’s health as more important than a flag and a trophy. Those kind of right priorities are what is missing in sports right now at every level.

    Steve

    19 Jul 13 at 4:34 pm

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