The New York Times’s D.C. bureau chief David Leonhardt, of all people, made such an argument on Thursday, noting “the relative ease with which the team can take a middle path: still keeping Strasburg to 180 innings but also using him in the playoffs.”
Mike Rizzo, from the beginning, has loudly and repeatedly said such fiddling is not on the table. And Scott Boras, during a fantastic segment on Mike Wise’s 106.7 The Fan radio show, explained why.
“When protocols are brought forward by medical experts, the issue for me is what and why are they suggesting it,” Boras said. “And the answer is that in the opinion of the doctors, the protocol for Stephen Strasburg was that he would throw a certain number of innings in 2011, and then he would do a rehabilitation in the offseason, and then he would come back and throw a certain number of innings in 2012, and do so in the normal standards of pitching every five days, pitching a certain number of pitches per game.
“The protocol called for this range of innings, and we would then proceed with an increased amount of innings in 2013,” he continued. “Everyone had notice of this. Everyone was given this. And to violate the protocol is something that ranges — in the opinion of medical experts — into risk factors....I pay very close attention to protocols given by physicians, particularly for players who have had operative procedures early in their career.”
The audio of the segment is below, as are many more of Boras’s answers.
On whether there would be legal ramifications if a team did not follow medical protocols
“I think when you’re talking about an executive and a team that wants to develop a relationship with the player community, where they’re an attractive franchise, players are going to look to their approach and what they’ve done to protect the health of players and the careers of players. I think that grandly benefits teams in the long haul.
“Certainly, when you run afoul to medical recommendations with any player, there most likely are ethical and legal considerations. Coverage for insurance: would the insurance companies say we won’t cover players that won’t follow physician counsel and advice? There are a number of factors in this process where peoples’ careers are affected and affected dramatically. The consequences are far greater when you don’t follow expert medical advice.”
On his communication with the team
“There has been a constant bridge of exchanges that have occurred between the Nationals, and Stephen and our staff.”
On talking heads not approving
“These evaluators, primarily former players, are suggesting that they have a sound, substantive medical opinion to [convey] to an audience to suggest that they know what they’re talking about: I’m saying that this is not something that is relative to evaluation of baseball performance. This is about medical health. It’s about expert medical opinion and training. It’s about people who know how to and have been trained to analyze case studies and develop protocols following their knowledge of a surgical procedure.
“When you have opinion testimony from laypeople to suggest their course and practice should be followed, I just don’t know of anyone who has had any kind medical malady, why they would ever listen to lay people and the approach they would take.”
On Strasburg’s thoughts about the advice
“I don’t think there’s any question that Stephen Strasburg wants to pitch. And I think when you’re healthy, you feel you can pitch. The reality of it is is that when you go through these procedures, you’ve placed your career in the hands of a medical practitioner that you trust. And the great news is that Dr. Yocum’s advice, counsel and surgical expertise have returned Stephen back to his normal self.
“And I think everyone involved has great trust in the physician who’s done this. And therefore you’re going to have great trust in his protocols and advice and counsel as to what conduct you should exhibit in reaching the point where you can now determine that you’re back to normal. That will be in 2013, where you’ve reached that status.”
On teammates being disappointed
“All those things, I think, are merely an accreditation by his teammates to show, really, what value Stephen has. But everybody in this process was given notice well in advance of what the protocol was. And as much as we’d all like — and certainly Stephen would love to go out and perform in the most important games of his career — the fact of the matter is that you kind of have to take the dance that got you where you at.
“And [so] you have to trust the doctor, because he’s giving you this information for a reason. It’s not as though he doesn’t want you pitching. It’s not as though he doesn’t want you to be able to go out and do the things that you want to do. But the reality of it is there is a very sound medical reason for giving and following this protocol. And for all those who suggest he’s fine, he feels good, he has no complaints, to be honest with you, that is exactly what was said about Steve Avery, and many others like him.”
On helping baseball
“I think we owe it to the game of baseball when we have these tremendous performers, when we have people that are very important to our game, that we do things that ensure — for the game and for their specific team — the longevity of their careers.”
On working with Rizzo
“I think Mike is, like myself, a former player. And again, at inception in this relationship with the Lerner family, with Mike Rizzo, they all made it clear the player’s health was at the forefront. We understood we had a young player with great talent, we understand the risk factors. And [with] all the information that collectively we’ve been able to put together with all doctors concerned, this plan was developed. But the key thing is this is not an opinion of Mike Rizzo, it’s not an opinion of Scott Boras or anyone else. It’s a medical opinion. And we’re letting experts dictate what’s best for Stephen Strasburg.”