Nationals Gutsy, But Setting hemselves Up For Failure

By Steve Silverman
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Is there a chance the Washington Nationals know what they are doing?

They are seemingly giving themselves a huge handicap as they prepare for the team’s first playoff appearance since moving to Washington and the franchise’s first since the Montreal Expos lost the National League Championship Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

They are shutting down Stephen Strasburg with an eye towards the future.

In some ways, they deserve praise for their ability to delay gratification. However, the business of playing winning baseball is not an easy one. The Nationals appear to be a team that will be in contention for years, but who knows?

They may think they are going to go on a run similar to the one that has seen the Texas Rangers win the American League pennant for two straight seasons and have a strong possibility at a third title.

But they are in a division with the Philadelphia Phillies and the Atlanta Braves (not to mention the New York Mets, and we won’t), and it may not be quite so easy to dominate as general manager Mike Rizzo thinks it is.

In baseball, it has always been about winning the World Series. It can’t be easy for Rizzo and manager Davey Johnson, but they have decided that having a chance at postseason glory with Strasburg on the mound is simply not worth the chance of causing damage to his pitching arm.

It would be one thing if a championship-rich team like the Yankees was operating under such a theory; it’s completely inexplicable for the Nationals to operate this way.

OK, they deserve points for guts, willingness to take criticism and original thinking.

However, they are setting their team up for failure.

Is it possible they could survive three postseason rounds and come away with the World Series? On paper they have a chance but reality won’t let that happen.

Strasburg, 24, has made a solid recovery from Tommy John surgery and has felt strong throughout the year. The Nationals have made their decision based on long-term statistical analyses. Pitchers who throw a lot of innings before their 24th birthday tend not to have the longevity to be significant pitching factors once they reach the age of 30.

According to Strasburg’s agent Scott Boras, 21 pitchers since the start of the 1990 season had thrown 1,500 or more innings after the age of 30. Twenty of those pitchers had thrown 500 innings or fewer by their 24th birthday. The only exception was Greg Maddux.

Conversely, according to Boras’s numbers, 12 pitchers had thrown 600 innings or more prior to their 24th birthday and only one of them – Maddux – had pitched 1,500 innings once they reached the age of 30.

This is what the Nationals are basing their decision on.

For the record, Strasburg has thrown 159.1 innings this year and 251.1 innings in his career.

It is fair to ask who is running the Nationals?

Boras said his numbers were a “research tool” designed to help his client and that Rizzo had the same numbers and made the decision to shut down Strasburg on his own.

Mike Rizzo has made his own decisions. He always has,” Boras told the Washington Post. “Our relationship, we don’t have discussions that are designed for me to influence his decision-making. It’s about information exchange. He needs info. I need to know what his goals are and what he wants, so I can take that information to clients.”

That may sound good, but Boras has not gained a reputation as baseball’s most powerful and influential agent without reason.

He wields influence and the Strasburg case is a perfect example. He may call it sharing information, but he’s also exerting his influence.

Does Strasburg, who said he disagrees with the decision to shut him down, realize the extent of his agent’s influence?

He must. He hired Boras after his stellar college career at San Diego State.

As a result, he shares responsibility for the announcement.

It’s unprecedented and it can’t be good for the game. When an agent can have that much influence over a general manager and a manager, it’s not good. The Nationals may realize just how bad it is when they are forced to clean out their lockers next month without getting to play in the World Series.

Are the Nationals making the wrong choice?  Sound off below…

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