Shutting Down Strasburg: Effective or Overprotective?



Your team’s pitcher is a 23 year old superstar in the prime of his life. Coming from an immaculate collegiate career, the brightest prospect your team has ever seen is ready to shatter every record in the book. He’s hungry, but yet they shut him down for the season. Why? Because he’s Stephen Strasburg, and he plays for the Washington Nationals.

A war has erupted within the Nat’s fan base, largely fueled by sports journalism. If you Google “the case for shutting down Strasburg”, the search results are overwhelming. It’s the same scenario if you search for “the case against shutting down Strasburg”. Most journalists are in the against category, following the macho paradigm of the cable sports channel talking head.

What about Strasburg himself? The Nationals? Nationals’ management? The vast majority of those Google search results have no direct comment from the people actually involved in the decision making. Fans must rely on journalists to tell us what the right decision is. Scary? Yes.

Look for facts and common sense, not a hyped-up news report. Consider the situation for what it is: a young kid faced a debilitating UCL injury and saw his career shorten instantly. The Tommy John surgery he undergoes is one of the most significant in all of sports because it prevents instant retirement. While there is an 85% rate of full recovery with these surgeries, if you don’t take the full 18-month recovery period seriously, you’re guaranteed to wind up in the 15% that doesn’t recover. Not only did Strasburg not take a full 18 months, he did not even take 12. He began “rehab-starting” in the minors a few weeks shy of that mark.

Since Strasburg didn’t rehab fully, there’s a strong chance that he’ll only last a few more years. If you stretch the innings in a few more years over many more years by shutting Strasburg down, you do two things:

  1. You give the pitcher a long, lucrative career. He stays relevant to the game longer, endorsement deals stay on the table longer, and his chances for the Hall of Fame are better.

  2. You give the team an effective weapon, boosting their chances at the postseason, building the reputation of the team in the direction of a dynasty, and potentially entering the world of the Yankees, the Sox, et al. This ensures strong ticket sales, a happy owner, and you keep your job.

On the other hand, say you turn the kid loose. Let him pitch. Give into the blowhards and the talking heads. You do two things:

  1. The kid blows up, re-injures the UCL, has to retire, and is relegated to a historical footnote, losing out on tens of millions of dollars and the hall of fame.

  2. You lose your most valuable weapon, the team win/loss record goes into the negative, the fans and the owner take notice, and then both the kid and you are on the sidewalk.

So is shutting down Strasburg effective or over-protective? Is the answer not obvious?

Chris Turberville-Tully works with Physio Answers, a physiotherapist in England who helps clients with headaches, arthritis, post surgery care and sports injuries.

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