Shutdown near; Strasburg numbers steady

US Presswire/Evan Habeeb

Stephen Strasburg is nearing the end of his season.Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson said on Sunday that Stephen Strasburg likely has two starts remaining before he is shut down for the rest of the 2012 season.

Strasburg gave the Nationals six more scoreless innings in Sunday’s win over the St. Louis Cardinals. He’s at 156 1/3 innings for the season, more than he has ever thrown in his professional career.

Let’s take a closer look at how this story is playing out.

Strasburg’s season

Strasburg leads major league starters in strikeouts per nine innings (11.2) and average fastball velocity (95.7 mph) and neither has shown any sign of dipping recently.

Washington Nationals
Starters other than Strasburg

Strasburg’s average fastball in his past three starts is the same as it is for the season (95.7) and he’s averaged a strikeout per inning or better in five of his past six starts.

He’s averaged at least 95 mph on his fastball in 24 of his 27 starts in 2012.

The Nationals have already done plenty to take care of Strasburg this season. Only 19 percent of Strasburg’s pitches have been breaking balls this season, down from 26 percent prior to his Tommy John Surgery in 2010.

He also ranks tied for 78th in the majors in number of starts that lasted at least 100 pitches.

One thing that Strasburg has been able to do this season is bounce back after his poorest outings. He's 4-0 with an 0.58 ERA and 0.65 WHIP in starts that followed an outing in which they allowed four runs or more. The latter two categories dropped on Sunday.

Who fills the void?

The Nationals do have two pitchers who are at the top of their game right now.

Ace starter Gio Gonzalez has a 1.98 ERA in his last four starts and just pitched a shutout in his last start against the Cardinals. Both Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann rank ahead of Strasburg in Wins Above Replacement this season.

Strasburg and Jackson
Since July 20

Though Zimmermann has struggled recently, Edwin Jackson’s numbers over the past six weeks have been very similar to Strasburg’s.

The chart on the right shows the performances of the two pitchers since July 20. Jackson is a near-match for Strasburg in opponents’ batting average, strikeout-to-walk rate, and ERA over virtually the same number of innings.

The other benefit that Jackson brings is that he’s postseason tested, having formerly pitched deep into October for

the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008 and the Cardinals last season.

Should their minds change

Should the Nationals shut Strasburg down, make the postseason and then decide to pitch Strasburg, he could end up pitching after a 30-day layoff. That’s not unheard of in baseball history.

In 2007, Aaron Cook started a postseason game for the Colorado Rockies 79 days after his last regular-season appearance after returning from injury.

Kerry Wood is another recent example. He pitched in the 1998 NLDS 33 days after his final regular-season appearance.

The Cubs would not survive that round. Wood would have Tommy John surgery the next season.

They've been waiting a long time

That Nationals and Seattle Mariners have not made a World Series in their existence. The Nationals' 43-year drought is second-longest in baseball to the Chicago Cubs.

A Washington D.C. baseball team hasn't made the World Series since 1933 and hasn't won a championship since 1924.