The common narrative surrounding the Washington Nationals after their 2012 NLDS exit was, and still is to this day, is a story of “arrogance” on the behalf of Mike Rizzo for deigning to protect Stephen Strasburg and shutting him down prior to the playoffs. More than a few blow-hard sports writers on local and national stages postulated that the Nationals lost that series “because they didn’t have Strasburg.”
Cut to 2013: St. Louis’ year-long #2 starter Shelby Miller, a guy who had 31 starts with a 3.06 ERA/119 ERA+ and a 15-9 record, was removed from the playoff rotation and tossed a grand total of 1 inning this off-season. He threw one inning of mop-up duty against the Pirates on October 4th in a 7-1 loss. Instead the team gave those starts to #5 starter Lance Lynn, who rewarded the team with 2 losses in his 3 post-season starts and a 5.19 ERA in 17 1/3 innings.
For all the grief the 2012 Nationals got for voluntarily sitting Strasburg … why has there not been similar outrage for the Cardinals removal of their #2 starter from their post-season plans? Where is the outrage facing the Cards’ management that Rizzo took for sitting Strasburg and “costing” his team in the playoffs?
The Cardinal’s excuse for sitting Miller was that he “was tiring down the stretch.” To which I say B.S.; in five September starts he LOWERED his seasonal ERA. This was clearly an innings-limit shutdown. Maybe they’re the smart ones for just never SAYING it was a shutdown. Miller himself apparently was unaware of the reason, being quoted recently as “not knowing” why he didn’t pitch in the post-season.
Strasburg was shutdown because he was recovering from an injury. Miller was shutdown because the team subscribed to (in the minds of many critics) an arbitrary and unproven innings limit theory for starting pitchers. What I don’t understand is why the two situations aren’t being treated as identical issues by those know-it-alls who so eviscorated the Nats for daring to protect a guy coming back from injury. Is it simply a fame factor? Strasburg clearly is more famous than Miller, therefore the situation was followed more closely in 2012? Is it a factor of the Nats and Rizzo being the “new guys” and being ripe for criticism, while the Cardinals “know how it is done” and therefore get a pass in the national media?
I posed this question in a chat on Fangraphs and got the following response, “St. Louis didn’t lose the World Series due to lack of pitching.” Ok. Not the point; answer the damn question. I could say the same thing about Washington’s loss in 2012; they certainly didn’t lose that game or series because of a lack of starting pitching … they lost that game because their bullpen couldn’t hold a 3-run lead and their closer couldn’t hold a 2-run lead at home in the deciding game. You can play the “what-if-they-had-Strasburg” game for 2012 all you want; the fact is that the Nats were in a position to win the series and their closer blew it. Can you say the same for St. Louis? Don’t you think St. Louis would rather have had Shelby Miller on the mound in the pivotal game 4, which with a win would have given them an almost insurmountable 3 games to 1 lead in the series? Instead Lynn coughed up 3 runs in 5+ innings, the Cards never have the lead, and Boston evened the series and regained home-field advantage.
It just frustrates me, the different treatment of the two franchises in these similar situations. I readily admit that I’m defensive about pitcher shutdowns in general because I support the protection of young arms, I believe in innings management, and I believe both teams in the end did the right thing. I talked about this in a post called “Innings Limits and Media Hypocrisy” in this space and (correctly) predicted that Miller would have shutdown issues towards the end of 2013. I’m also defensive because I feel the Nats got a really raw deal in terms of the narrative, getting killed for trying to put a player’s health ahead of a short-term team goal.
I think the Cards had the right solution; shut him down, lie about it to the media, and go on with life. A good road-map for Rizzo going forward, were he to run into this situation again.