Nats manager Davey Johnson blamed a lack of mental focus on P Stephen Strasburg’s struggles Friday night against Miami, though he suggested talk of the phenom’s pending shutdown was the main culprit. As expected, Washington has taken the ball from Strasburg’s hands for the rest of the 2012 season, a situation Fox Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi considers pure folly (“do you think Scott Boras is going to give them any discount when Strasburg hits free agency after the 2016 season? GM Mike Rizzo might be inadvertently protecting Strasburg so he can pitch against the Nationals”) (link taken from Baseball Think Factory)
Rizzo could have mitigated the controversy by being more flexible in his planning and less strident in his public remarks. Why not start Strasburg’s season in May or June, or back him off at different times during the year, so he could contribute down the stretch? Why not recalibrate the innings limit when it became clear that the Nationals had a legitimate chance to win the World Series sooner than expected?
Instead, Rizzo and the Nationals stuck to a plan rooted in dogma, not hard science. No one knows if capping Strasburg’s season at 159 1/3 innings will save his arm, just as no one knows if the shutdown will affect Strasburg’s confidence or psyche by the time he throws his next meaningful pitch seven months from now.
Johnson said it himself: Baseball is “99 percent mental.” Yet the Nationals are handling Strasburg based on a physical/statistical metric. Seems incongruous, doesn’t it? Did the Nationals calculate the injury risk associated with the mental stress and lack of sleep that we now know resulted from the innings limit?