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Point/Counterpoint: Does Harvey in the WS change your view on Strasburg?

Oct 26, 2015, 12:31 PM EDT

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THIS WEEK’S DEBATE: Does the Mets’ successful use of Matt Harvey this postseason make you view the Nationals’ shutdown of Stephen Strasburg in 2012 any differently?

MARK ZUCKERMAN: No. I know it’s trendy to bring up the Strasburg shutdown again now because the Mets have taken the complete opposite approach with Harvey and now are heading to the World Series, but it’s way too simplistic to make an apples-to-apples comparison here. Yes, both pitchers had Tommy John surgery early in their major-league careers. And yes, both pitchers are represented by Scott Boras. But that’s really where the comparison ends. People don’t point this out, but Harvey had considerable more professional experience than Strasburg at the time of his injury. Harvey was in his third pro season, was 24 years old and had thrown 483 1/3 total innings. Strasburg? He was still in his first pro season, had just turned 22 weeks before blowing out his elbow and had thrown a total of only 123 1/3 innings. The shutdown wasn’t just because Strasburg was returning from surgery. It was because he had never thrown that many innings before. Harvey had. Look, every pitcher is different. No two are the same, and so what’s best for one may not be best for another. On top of all that, we don’t know what the long-term effect of this will be on Harvey. He may very well pitch the Mets to a championship, but we simply don’t know yet how his arm will respond next year to this much workload. Maybe he’ll be fine, maybe he won’t. Regardless, it doesn’t change my opinion of Strasburg’s usage in 2012.

CHASE HUGHES: I wouldn’t go as far as to say the Harvey situation specifically has changed my thoughts on the Strasburg shutdown, as the Mets didn’t exactly handle his innings limit smoothly this year and, as Mark notes, much of it depends on how Harvey performs over the next several years. But, the way things have transpired for the Nationals over the last three seasons has definitely altered my view. First of all, I agreed with the decision to shut down Strasburg at the time and I commended the Nats for how they stuck with their plan. And I am not saying they made a mistake by doing what they did. But with the benefit of hindsight, I think it’s clear they should have handled the situation differently. I’m not saying they should have simply let him continue pitching to 200 innings or whatever it would have been. If you believe that, please show yourself out of the room because that involves ignoring doctors and decades of established medical research. That is by far the worst argument of all. I do now think, however, that they should have done something creative to make him available for the postseason. I don’t know if that’s skipping starts, giving him an extended All-Star break, going to a six-man rotation, or simply beginning his season later. A lot of it would depend on advice from doctors. But not having Strasburg for what could end up being the Nats’ best chance to win a World Series in this era looks worse and worse as each year passes. Harvey pitching in the World Series is just perhaps another reminder of what could have been.

MZ: The problem, though, is you’re assuming Strasburg’s presence alone would have made a significant difference for the Nationals in the 2012 postseason, when all the evidence suggests it wouldn’t have done that. The guy simply wasn’t pitching well prior to the shutdown. He was, arguably, the team’s fourth-best starter at that moment, behind Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson. What reason was there to believe he would have pitched well against the Cardinals in the NLDS? And if you’ll recall, only one member of the Nats’ postseason rotation recorded a quality start in that series: Ross Detwiler, who only got the chance to start Game 4 because of Strasburg’s shutdown. But now we’re delving into an argument that should’ve run its course a long time ago. The point is this: There’s no way to know with any certainty how best to use young pitchers coming off major elbow surgery. Maybe letting them pitch a whole lot is best for them. Maybe restricting their innings is better. We simply don’t know the answer, and probably won’t for years to come. This we do know: Matt Harvey is likely to end 2015 having thrown roughly 215 big-league innings, the last 24-to-28 of them in high-stress situations. That’s a really big workload, given the fact it comes in his first season back from a torn elbow ligament. Is it worth the risk for a shot at a World Series title? Maybe. But we just don’t know yet.

CH: I get the argument how Strasburg perhaps would not have made a difference in the NLDS against the Cardinals, as Detwiler was their best pitcher in the series and he would have been bumped from the rotation if Strasburg was in there. And I do not think the way the Mets have handled Harvey should be followed step-by-step by other teams in the future. They didn’t necessarily get it right, either. But I think the way the Nats dealt with Strasburg also fits that description. Teams are still trying to figure out the best way to do this and both situations have perhaps become cautionary tales to varying degrees. I think it’s telling how the Mets decided after watching what the Nationals did in 2012 to choose a different course. I would imagine many around the industry feel the same way. The unfortunate thing for the Nats is that the what ifs and questions of what could have been may never be answered if Strasburg leaves in free agency after the 2016 season. I think we all realized at the time that the argument would never truly be settled until the Nationals did something in the playoffs with Strasburg in store. With his contract up after next season, that debate could live forever. I think one thing we can all agree on is that’s not good.

  1. shawndc04 - Oct 26, 2015 at 12:35 PM

    If I remember correctly, Strasburg was not pitching well down the stretch before being shut down. I still think that it was the correct decision for the time, and was bolstered by his increasing ineffectiveness as the season went on.

    • ArVAFan - Oct 26, 2015 at 12:47 PM

      + A whole heck of a lot on that. It would have been one thing if he’s been lights out effective through August and Sept., and the decision was made “no, we want you to last, so we’re shutting you down.” That’s still a valid decision, and we’ll never know the counter-outcome unless we start communicating with a parallel universe. But he wasn’t: he was showing signs of wearing down: inconsistent and obviously stressed.

      Part of any counter-factual scenario (six-man rotation, skipped starts) has to consider who would have been pitching those games. Would we have won as many, and therefore still made it to the post-season?

      Personally, one of the reasons I stopped watching pointy-ball was the difference between the way the Nats handled Strasberg and the way the other team handled RGIII. Long-term thinking in the players’ and the team’s best interest, and treating players as individuals vs. “expendable resources” goes a long way with me.

    • NatsNut - Oct 26, 2015 at 2:34 PM

      Yes, shawndc04, you remember correctly. He was stinking up the joint starting in August. None of the national writers ever said anything about that, not once, when they were click baiting, I mean writing their stories. it drove me crazy.

  2. thewerthwhisperer - Oct 26, 2015 at 12:39 PM

    1) The Nats did not lose versus the Cards because of Strasburg not pitching, they lost because they couldn’t hold a lead.
    2) This is the reason I no longer read John Feinstein, his articles on this issue were so wrong proved that. he should stick to golf and college basketball.

    Who is everyone rooting for in the WS? Or does anyone care? I’m STILL rooting for the Cubs!

    • nats106 - Oct 26, 2015 at 1:00 PM

      Yeah, me too. In their absence, the Royals will have to do. I’d put the Mets just above the Braves and ISIS.

    • NatsNut - Oct 26, 2015 at 3:49 PM

      1) agreed
      2) me too

    • natsfan1a - Oct 26, 2015 at 3:53 PM

      Also agreed on 1 and 2 (plus, Feinstein trolls Nats fans on the Tweeter – lol wut?)

      I was also rooting for Cubs and will now switch over to Team Royal (was rooting for the Jays because they hadn’t been there in some time, but I don’t have anything against the Royals).

    • Nats Fan Zee - Oct 26, 2015 at 11:15 PM

      Let’s go Mets!

      Just remember, they could not have won the division absent the Nationals full cooperation. Sour grapes is not my style. They made some big bets at the trade deadline and won. I tip my hat to them.

  3. JayB - Oct 26, 2015 at 1:18 PM

    The SS decision verse Mets and Harvey is not a difference maker. The management experience and in game decisions is what is really sticking out this post season and with the Mets specifically. Look at all the games for all the teams….win or lose…..managers are not doing what they did in June……they are managing much different because they have to….it is not a 162 game season anymore…..Got I hate that Rizzo cost this team two years of their window with a major dope who had no clue what he was doing in the playoffs or in close race in August ant Sept.. Hate Rizzo for that decision…it really really was bad baseball instincts and he should have known better all his years around the game.

    • jfmii - Oct 26, 2015 at 2:55 PM

      Agree on Rizzo’s folly. But don’t hate him. He also gets major credit for 4 seasons of a contender; 2 of which that brought division championships

  4. jd - Oct 26, 2015 at 1:28 PM

    JayB,

    I actually agree with your points entirely.

    The other main reason you can’t compare the Nats situation to the Mets is the fact that the Mets had to manage innings for 3 pitchers rather than 1 so they couldn’t very well shut them all down. I actually disagree with Chase here, I think the Mets did a really nice job in nursing their young pitchers along, skipping a couple of starts here and there, limiting innings here and there. I think the only issue was the public criticism by Boras on the Harvey use and I can see his point but I would respect him more if he made his point privately.

    • jd - Oct 26, 2015 at 3:58 PM

      To clarify,

      I don’t think our window is closed or closing. I do however agree that hiring MW and keeping him for 2 full years was a huge mistake by Rizzo.

  5. JayB - Oct 26, 2015 at 1:50 PM

    Yes I think the Mets organization seems to have some much more experienced leaders who have been there and done that and it is showing.

    Sandy A and Terry C are making Rizzo and MW look stupid…not for the SS decision but for the two years or MW and no major moves (or in the case of JPap brain cells) at the trading deadlines in 2012-2015.

    That is a very much wasted window and many of us were saying so a the time but now everyone can see it and the complete arrogance of Rizzo saying they will have plenty of chances going forward is the only problem with how they handled SS shutdown.

  6. bababooeytoyouall - Oct 26, 2015 at 1:51 PM

    Not sure the evidence says “The guy simply wasn’t pitching well prior to the shutdown” unless you mean that 2 of his final 3 starts were clunkers, but before that he was mostly pretty good.

    His final 7 starts in 2012 were 5 in Aug and 2 in Sept. Two were bad. he gave up 7 runs and 9 runs in starts 5 and 7. But the others were pretty good: 3 runs in 5 starts, going 6 innings in each of those games. So 2 of his last 3 starts weren’t good, but otherwise he was pitching really good his final 7 games.

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/gl.cgi?id=strasst01&t=p&year=2012

    • NatsNut - Oct 26, 2015 at 2:35 PM

      “mostly pretty good”? That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement. And our chances that year were far from dependent on Strasburg alone.

      • bababooeytoyouall - Oct 26, 2015 at 3:57 PM

        I agree. I wanted to present some facts about Strasburg’s performance and not offer any sort of ringing endorsement. I was just taking issue with the statement that “Strasburg wasn’t pitching well.” I also agree that Strasburg would have made a huge difference in the 2012 playoffs. Like Hughes, I have changed my opinion on the shutdown: I was originally in support, but now see that it was the wrong decision. (not that my opinion matters at all).

  7. ehay2k - Oct 26, 2015 at 2:33 PM

    Having watched those games, I seem to recall his velo was down and his location was off. In short, his arm was tired. And, he was pitching against callups.

    This equine has long since expired, yet those who seemingly cannot smell the stench of the corpse continue to lay into it hoping to urge it along.

    Enough Already!

  8. natsfan1a - Oct 26, 2015 at 3:50 PM

    Most definitely an expired equine but, seeing as how we’re opining, I’m with Zuckerman. 😉

  9. Section 222 - Oct 26, 2015 at 4:58 PM

    Another difference is that Harvey’s surgery was in October 2013, and he didn’t pitch until spring training in 2015, about 16 months after the surgery. Stras had his surgery in early September, 2010, and was back on the mound in Hagerstown on August 7, 2011, less than a year after his surgery. He made five starts for the Nats, then had the offseason before pitching in 2012 until his shutdown.

    Anyone who changes their mind about the Strasburg shutdown because of what Harvey has done in the postseason is confused. Harvey has made two good postseason starts and helped his team make it to the World Series. But the 2012 shutdown was never about whether Strasburg could help the team in the playoffs, though it was made easier by the fact that his effectiveness seemed to be waning when they shut him down. Instead, it was about protecting his arm for the future. So far, that seems to be working out well for Stras — four years after the surgery, he’s doing fine. He’s in line for a *big* payday after next year. There’s no comparison to be made with Harvey yet. If he pitches well, and without major injuries, for the next three years, I think you can make the argument that the Mets did the right thing by not shutting him down. But not before.

    • Nats Fan Zee - Oct 26, 2015 at 11:24 PM

      Duces, you win the “smartest guy in the room” award tonight. I agree with your analysis 100%

      • Section 222 - Oct 27, 2015 at 11:10 AM

        Thank you kind Sir.

  10. nats788 - Oct 27, 2015 at 9:20 AM

    don’t forget that everyone was hating on the Nationals because of the performance of Kris Medlen of the Braves. He pitched into the post season the same year as the Stras shutdown during his first year back from TJ, lost in the wild card game that year, subsequently got a second TJ surgery and is now relegated to the bullpen (for a WS team but still as a middle reliever). If you are talking how to handle TJ surgery, I think you need to look at as big a sample as possible.

    http://navyyardnotes.blogspot.com/2015/09/on-matt-harvey-stephen-strasburg-and.html

    • Section 222 - Oct 27, 2015 at 11:10 AM

      Good point, and good article. Did you write it?

      Until he went down with injury again, the “Medlen model” (i.e., start the TJ survivor in the minors, then put him in the bullpen to save his innings for the stretch run and the playoffs) was touted as the smart way to deal with TJ recovery if the team is a contender. Then you had the “Stras/Znn model” (strict pre-determined innings limit, pitch every five days, shut him down no matter what in early September), and now there’s the “Harvey model” (longer rehab after the surgery, vague innings limit, skip some starts and go to a 6-man rotation for few weeks, and then blow through the limit if you make the playoffs). If Harvey shows no ill effects next year and goes on to a big payday and a good career with no further serious elbow problems, then he’ll be the poster child for TJ recoveries. But it will have nothing to do with how well the Mets do this year. That is, and always will be, a crapshoot.

      Suppose, for example, that after the Straburg shutdown, the Nats met expectations and went deep into the playoffs in 2013 and 2014, with no change in Stras’s success in those years. Would his shutdown then be considered a success and a better model? Maybe, but it shouldn’t be.

      • nats788 - Oct 27, 2015 at 12:52 PM

        I did, thanks for the compliment.

        I agree with you 100%. Even the doctors can’t prescribe something that is based in scientific study because you can’t randomly assign people to get TJ surgery or not, so it’s just their best guess given our limited understanding of elbow injuries. Baseball teams mimic what is currently successful, so I think you are right. If Harvey dominates in a WS appearance, that becomes the new norm.

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