Oct 26, 2015, 12:31 PM EDT
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.
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
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