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Circling the Bases: Strasburg's Innings-Limit

Ray Flowers

Ray Flowers

The co-host of The Drive on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210, XM 87: M-F at 5-8 PM EDT), Ray Flowers has spent years squirreled away studying the inner workings of the fantasy game to the detriment of his personal life. You can follow Ray on Twitter (@BaseballGuys), he never sleeps, and you can also find more of his musings at BaseballGuys.com.

STRASBURG TO BE SHUT DOWN EARLY?

At this point, I'm not sure who to believe.

There have been rumors since spring that the Nationals were planning on shutting down Stephen Strasburg at 160 innings. Then there were denials from the team. Then there were 'wink-wink' nods that it was likely but not certain. Today comes a report from Ken Rosenthal stating the following:

"Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo remains adamant that the Nationals will shut down Strasburg after he reaches his prescribed limit, believed to be 160 to 165 innings."

There are so many reasons that none of this makes sense, not the least of which being that the Nationals are in the playoff hunt. Currently leading the NL East by 2.5 games, do you really think it's going to fly with the fan base if the team says 'we know we're in first place, but we're shutting down our best pitcher. Don't worry, we may not win this year, but this move will make sure we are competitive for years with Strasburg leading our staff.' Good flipping luck selling that to the fan base.

Second, how do you sell that to your players? Last time I checked baseball wasn't golf or bowling – it's a team game. So the front office is going to tell the other 24 guys currently on the roster that while they are all about team, in truth they aren't, cause they're putting one guy ahead of everyone else on the club. Sorry Ryan Zimmerman. We know you've never made the playoffs while being the face of our franchise, but we really don't care because we gotta protect Strasburg. Do you think this move would please anyone in the Nationals clubhouse?

Third, the club has babied the hell out of Strasburg for his entire career and it didn't matter, he still needed Tommy John surgery. I got news for you Nationals. It's not the workload that is the issue for Strasburg, it's poor mechanics. Without getting too technical, his arm isn't in the correct position when his front foot hits the ground (the results in the Inverted W you hear about). No amount of workload managing is going to change the fact that his mechanics are out of whack. In fact, the club should have used the Tommy John surgery issue to tweak the mechanics so that when Strasburg returned the issue could be minimized.

Let's take a look at his workload each season of Strasburg's career.

2010: 12 starts. Only two games of 7 IP. Zero 100 pitch outings.

2011: 5 starts. Zero games of 7 IP. Zero 80 pitch outings.

2012: 18 starts, Four games of 7 IP. Seven 100 pitch outings.

Stephen Strasburg, arguably the most dominating pitcher in the National League, has NEVER gotten more than 21 outs in a big league game. Never. Moreover, he's thrown a total of six 7-inning games in his career. Ryan Vogelsong has gone seven innings in each of his last eight starts. I would argue, based upon that evidence, that no team has ever held back a pitcher of Strasburg's quality as much in the history of the game. It would be one thing if he went all Dice-K and had 109 pitches through five innings, but that's not Strasburg's game. The fact of the matter is that the Nationals have been as careful with Strasburg as possible. Does that mean they really will shut him down when he hits 160-165 innings? Unfortunately I'm going to have to say the answer is yes, even though it makes little sense. If you're in a H2H baseball setup you would be wise to give considerable thought to dealing Strasburg because it appears at least possible that he won't be on the hill during the fantasy playoffs. What a shame.

HEADLEY – BETTER THAN YOU THINK?

Chase Headley is likely to be dealt at some point in the next two weeks with reports suggesting that up to six teams are already in the mix to add his services. I bet that for many of you out there this news was so boring that you may not have even read the full story about it. After all, it's not like Headley really does anything that well. While it is certain that he does nothing that stands out in the fantasy game, the totality of his performance is actually much better than you likely think it is. Consider the following.

Headley has a better batting average than Ryan Zimmerman (.266 to .258).
Headley has more homers than Pablo Sandoval (10 to eight).
Headley has more RBIs than Alex Rodriguez (45 to 40).
Headley has scored more runs than David Freese (41 to 40).
Headley has stolen more bases than David Wright (10 to nine).
Headley has a better OBP than Jose Bautista (.364 to .360).
Headley has a better OPS than Hanley Ramirez (.787 to .747).

Still think Headley is blah? Look at that list again. Headley has outproduced a bevy of the best third basemen in the game in many a category this season. Again, nothing outstanding, but across the board the guy is pretty solid.

One other note that has two parts. The Padres offense isn't very impressive. If Headley was moved to a team with a better offensive unit it would seem probable that his production would increase. Second, he plays half his games in Petco Park which certainly caps his average power stroke. In 166 at-bats at home he has hit two homers. In 165 at-bats on the road he's gone deep eight times. Moreover, here is Headley's career slash lines at home and on the road.

Home: .233/.327/.338
Away: .299/.366/.449

I'm just saying you might want to pay more attention to what happens to Headley than you were likely thinking you should.

BY THE NUMBERS

.358: The batting average of Miguel Cabrera over his last 60 games. During that time he's also gone deep 13 times while driving in 52 runs. The average and RBI total lead the AL, while his total of 87 hits does as well.

.500: The batting average of Andrew McCutchen the past two weeks (40 at-bats). In an odd twist, his BABIP is “only” .486 because of the fact that he's blasted six bombs the past two weeks. The AL leader in batting average the past two weeks is Michael Brantley who is batting .486. He's been a slacker with only three homers.

0.67: That's the amazingly pathetic K/9 mark of Aaron Cook over his last four starts. How is it even possible to strike out two batters in 27 innings? Moreover, Cook has actually had three games of those four with zero Ks, and in those three outings he's allowed a total of two earned runs. By the way, Cook's sporting a totally insane 1.67 ERA over those four starts given the fact that he never misses a bat.

1: The number of steals that Tony Campana has since June 19th. That's nearly a month folks. His total of 25 thefts is impressive, but he's offering nothing right now on the base paths, and when you add into the hopper his total of five RBIs and not a single homer on the season --- yikes.

1.61: The NL's leading ERA for any left handed reliever since the starts of the 2011 season. The next best mark in that span is James Russell at 2.34. There's no disputing who has the better skills though – it's O'Flaherty.

12.41: The career best K/9 rate of John Axford. The former stud closer also has a career best 1.63 GB/FB ratio. However, that's all the good he's been giving this season. He's got a 5.35 ERA and 1.57 WHIP. He's also walking 5.11 batters per nine innings. He's lost six games. He's blown six save chances. He is on the bring of seeing his 9th inning role handed to K-Rod. Ugh.

19: The current hitting streak of Robinson Cano, a career best and the longest mark in baseball. During the streak Cano is hitting .413 with six homers and 20 RBIs. The NL player with the longest ongoing hitting streak is Neil Walker who has a mark of 16 games (two off his career best). Not only is Walker hitting .478 in July he's actually hitting .476 over those 16 games as he has scored 19 times while knocking in 14 runners.

30: The home run lead of Jose Bautista over every other player in baseball since the start of the 2010 season (Bautista has 124 homers while Albert Pujols has 94). Pujols isn't going to catch Bautista of course, but with that wrist issue of Bautista's the gap is certainly going to shrink.

92.8: The percentage of games this year in which David Wright has reached base (78 of 84 games). That is the highest percentage of any player in baseball. Given that Wright is second in baseball with a .438 OBP – trailing only Joe Votto's .465 mark – it's not really shocking to see Wright pacing the pack.

Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87 /from 5-8 PM EDT, Monday through Friday. Ray's baseball analysis can be found at BaseballGuys.com and his minute to minute musings can be located at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account.