Strasburg has started 33 games in his career, the equivalent of one full season. He’s 15-7 with 238 strikeouts in 185 innings.
If he played a full career at current levels, he’d rank No. 1 among starting pitchers in baseball since 1920 in many categories, including strikeouts per nine innings (11.6), ERA (2.68), least walks plus hits per inning (a 1.027 WHIP) and best strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.17). The current leaders are Randy Johnson (10.6), Whitey Ford (2.75), Pedro Martinez (1.054) and Curt Schilling (4.38). There’s more, but that’s enough.
Now, the flip side: In the span of just 33 starts, Strasburg, who takes the mound against the Rockies on Friday night, has gone on the disabled list for shoulder tightness and had elbow ligament replacement surgery. He came out of a game after three innings because he looked ready to collapse from the heat. He’s left a game early with biceps tightness and another after cutting his finger clipping his nails. And he left a game this season in part because he got “hot stuff” in a place where it doesn’t belong.
Is this a guy you tell “Just keep pitchin’, hoss. What could go wrong?”
Some of this was serious, some precautionary and some bizarre. But look how much there’s been. Also, Strasburg, who pitched only 44 innings last year, has never thrown more than 123 innings in any season, at any level. This year, the Nats are asking for 160 to 170 innings, plus 23 in Florida.
Yet the dopes keep saying, “Go for it. Man up. The NL’s weak. How often do you have a long-shot chance to go to the World Series?” If the Nats made the Series (the rationale for this nonsense), what’s an extra 10 starts?
Excuse me while I go beat my head against a wall.
Doctors and baseball’s best brains have studied the recovery of pitchers from Tommy John elbow surgery since 1974. That’s 38 years, folks. The data has been interrogated, tortured and water-boarded. Each decade, the total recovery rate has improved. It’s now 89 percent. Partly, it’s medical. But it’s also experiential. Baseball ultimately asks, “What works?”
And the methods that work best — not 100 percent, but very high — become best medical practice. That’s what the Nats are following.
You want fear, here’s fear. In the last two weeks, Kyle Drabek, son of Doug Drabek, and ex-Nat Todd Coffey have both learned that they’ll need a second TJ surgery. Usually, that means The End. You get one shot, one new elbow. Except for a few Chris Capuanos, there are no second TJ successes.
This won’t-die Strasburg fuss is a testament to the age, its gift for screaming about fake issues, its defiance of fact and its shamelessness when confronted with the simplest common-sense ethics. Who believes this stuff?