I’ve been reading and watching a lot lately about the Washignton Nationals and their plans to shut down Stephen Strasburg for the season – including any potential playoff run – after 160-something innings.
I come away with three observations.
1 – I can totally understand why teammates, fans, former players and even Strasburg himself might be upset by this situation (though it’s arguable just how upset they are). Players’ careers are short and chances to go deep into the playoffs don’t come along every year. Look how often the Atlanta Braves of the 1990s appeared to be the league’s best team only to falter in the postseason.
2 – That said, I think it’s admirable that the Nationals are looking out for the best interests of their player. Like it or not, they’ve put the long-term interests of Strasburg’s career ahead of the chase of one World Series trophy. People can say it’s a misguided call, but in this day and age, facing down the potential wrath of many, it appears as though Washington’s baseball operations plan to stick to their guns. There is truth to the argument that these opportunities don’t come around all that long, but it’s also likely the Nationals have the young talent to make this journey a number of times in the next few years. Right or wrong, that they’ve got this long-term view is intriguing.
3 – The Nationals may be better set to deal with the loss of an ace than any team in baseball right now. I was going through the team stats in USA Today Sports Weekly the other day. Holy Cow is this team deep in the starting rotation.
Sure, the Nationals have a better shot of knocking off any potential opponent with Strasburg in the mix. But how many teams could lose him and still be able to send out a three-man rotation of Gio Gonzalez (3.23 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, as of last weekend), Jordan Zimmermann (2.38, 1.09) and Edwin Jackson (3.69, 1.17)?
If they make it past the first round they’ll likely need a fourth starter. They have the option of going with Ross Detwiler, whose pedestrian 7-6 record is overshadowed by a 3.25 ERA as of today. If they don’t want to go that route, they can go with John Lannan, who was the team’s opening day starter in 2009 and 2010 and who has come up from the minors twice for spot starts, going 2-0 with a 3.46 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP.
A sixth-starter in Washington, Lannan would be a middle-to-top-of-the-rotation starter for several teams in the league.
Sure, there are other teams with depth in the rotation. San Francisco runs Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito out there every five days, but the Giants are often going to struggle to score runs, particularly following the Melky Cabrera fiasco.
And should Washington reach the World Series, they’d potentially face deep rotations in Texas, Chicago and Tampa Bay.
But the Nationals are deep enough in the rotation where even sans-Strasburg, they will not have to shy away from anyone.