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Circling the Bases: Nationals (Strasburg) Security Agency

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.

With all this football talk I'm having a hard time finding my focus to write this baseball piece... not. I know football is in full swing, it must be since Ryan Mathews is hurt again (4-6 weeks with a shoulder injury suffered the first time he touched the ball in the preseason), but there is still plenty to discuss and focus on in the world of baseball, so let's get to it.

Mystery Solved?

Bigfoot.
The Loch Ness Monster.
Chupacabra.

Mysterious creatures all, but up until this point of 2012 there may be more clarity on the nature of those three mythical creatures than there has been with the innings pitched limit of Stephen Strasburg. We've heard 160 innings. We've heard 180 innings. We've heard there is no official limit. We've heard... hell, we've heard just about everything under the sun, except an official proclamation of what to expect. Consider there to be at least some clarification, finally (I gave my thoughts on the merry-go-round about a month ago in Strasburg to be Shut Down Early?

Stephen Strasburg will not throw more than 180 innings this season. That's the report from Jeff Passan of Yahoo. Passan also tweeted this:

While Mike Rizzo wouldn't pin down a number, he said Stephen Strasburg will not exceed 180 innings.

Notice he said he will not throw more than 180 innings, though he didn't say how many innings he will throw (it just won't be more than 180). Some quotes from GM Mike Rizzo of the Nationals in regards to the Strasburg Situation..

"We feel that we do know this is going to work."

“We feel like there's evidence.”

“That's not to say the industry's going to understand it or our right-handed starter is going to understand it.”

“I'm a stubborn guy. I'm going to do this thing the way I want to do it.”

How about that.

Look, I'm no doctor, but I can read the same reports and see the same things that any baseball person can. Is being controlled with pitches and innings while a pitcher is in the early stages of his professional career a good idea? It would certainly seem logical. At the same time, here are some innings pitched totals of a few of the greats (most would say Strasburg would be there one day too, so I'm using some pretty big names to make the point here). Did those large innings totals hamper their careers?

Bert Blyleven: 164, 278, 287, 325, 281, 275
Steve Carlton: 25, 52, 193, 231, 236, 253, 273, 346
Tom Seaver: 251, 278, 273, 290, 286, 262

Too old school for you? How about some more recent vintages?

Tim Lincecum: 146, 227, 225, 212, 217
CC Sabathia: 180, 210, 197, 188, 196, 192
Carlos Zambrano: 7, 108, 214, 209, 223, 214, 216, 188

The point is, we're talking anecdotal information. For every guy that never needed surgery, there are a litany of pitchers that have. The truth is we just don't know who will have to go under the knife and who won't. No matter what anyone says, no one has this thing licked. Here's the bottom line.

(1) Throwing a baseball is one of the most unnatural things to do in sport.

(2) Sooner or later nearly every pitcher blows his arm out (meaning he needs surgery to repair something).

(3) Pitch counts and innings pitched matter. In many instances pitch counts might even be slightly more important to monitor than overall innings.

(4) You can do everything right with a pitcher and he could still blow out his arm (see the case of Strasburg himself).

(5) It's more important to have proper mechanics than it is to count pitches. In the case of Strasburg, his mechanics are faulty. He will have more arm problems in the future unless he changes the way he throws the ball. By micromanaging Strasburg, the Nats might be able to forestall that a bit, but the fact is that they should worry more about his mechanics than his innings total.

What does this all mean for the here and now?

(1) The Nationals clearly plan on telling their team, as well as their fan base, to hell with trying to win the World Series this year. We might have the best record in baseball, but guess what? We're going to try and win the Series without our most dominating player. Good luck selling that.

(2) Strasburg has thrown 127.1 innings over 22 starts. That's an average of 5.78 innings per start. Think about that for a second. Arguably the most dominating pitcher in baseball isn't even averaging six innings a start, even though his production CLEARLY warrants him being allowed to pitch more than the Nationals have used him. Regardless, it would seem likely that he has no more than 50 innings left before the Nats shut him down. The Nats have played 112 games meaning they have 50 left. With Strasburg set to start Friday night that would mean that he should start at least 10 times the rest of the way. If he does start 10 times he'd have to average 5.0 innings an outing to make it to start number 10. There's no way that happens. If he maintains his already ridiculously low average of 5.78 innings per start that means he's likely to make about eight or nine starts the rest of the way, and remember, that is if they let him go to 180 innings. Again, it's not locked in that he will be shutdown at 180 innings, they have only said he won't throw more than 180 innings, meaning he could easily be shut down before hitting that mark.

All of this leaves the Nationals, their fans, and those of you in H2H baseball leagues with a dilemma because there's no chance that we'll see Mr. Strasburg on the hill deep into September or October when it matters most.

BY THE NUMBERS

.200: The batting average of Rafael Furcal over his last 53 games. He's also gone deep just one time during that span while knocking in 20 runs and scoring 24 times. So much for that .333 average he posted in his first 49 games. Overall, he's hitting .265 for the Cardinals.

.222: The batting average of Jay Bruce in his last 26 games. Clearly, the guy is in a funk. But it's actually even worse than that. Over his last 34 games Bruce is hitting .210, and if you remove his .296 April, the guy has hit .228 over his last 88 games. That's just embarrassing. He's not even pulling an Adam Dunn as he has hit just 10 homers in his last 61 games after blasting 11 in his first 48 contests. So much for that breakout season.

.303: The batting average of Michael Morse this season. That just so happens to be identical to the .303 mark he posted last season as he's raised his career mark to .298.

.349: The batting average of Andy Dirks who has nine hits in 18 at-bats since being activated off the DL (he's 53 for 152 this season). That .383 BABIP and 26.7 percent line drive rate tell you all you need to know about that average, but those who took a shot on him in AL-only leagues could care less about that.

.417: The batting average of Jarrod Dyson the past four weeks. Too bad he's only had 36 at-bats in that time. Still, the guy has used his limited playing time to great effect as he has stolen seven bases. By the way, the only players to have stolen 10 bags the past four weeks are Mike Trout, Carlos Gomez, and Emilio Bonifacio.

8.10: The ERA of Ryan Cook since the All-Star break. In those 10 innings he has allowed nine runs and batters have hit .326 against him. He's also picked up four blown saves, but surprisingly he's kept himself out of the loss column. The implosion could continue, sorry to say, given a few factors. (1) His BABIP is a mere .198. (2) His line drive rate is only 15 percent. (3) His BB/9 mark is 4.28.

11.57: The ERA of Jim Johnson over his last 9.1 innings, as he's also posted a 2.25 WHIP in that time. That's just hideous. Just think of it. Johnson has allowed twelve earned runs since July 16. Aroldis Chapman has allowed eight runs all season. Even with the blow-ups Johnson has a 3.40 ERA and 1.11 WHIP for the season, numbers that go very well with his 3.32 and 1.25 career marks. Sooner or later most things even out. We've now seen that with Johnson.

22: The most walks of any pitcher in baseball the past four weeks. No, it's not Yu Darvish (he's second with 21), it's actually Samuel Deduno of the Twins. Somehow he has been able to coax a 2.93 ERA out of his 27.7 innings despite all the walks and the fact that he's actually walked three more batters than he has struck out.

30: Likely the most innings that the Brewers will allow Michael Fiers to throw the rest of the way. Fiers has thrown 135 innings this season after tossing 128 last year. The Brewers like to take things slow and steady as their pitchers build up the innings, so you might be closer than you think to losing a guy who has been dynamic for the Brewers his season (1.80 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 9.00 K/9, 5.00 K/BB).


Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87 from 7-10 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.