Like the rest of us, Murray Chass wants to see as much of Stephen Strasburg as possible. But with Nationals president Stan Kasten suggesting that Strasburg will throw only 100-110 innings in the majors this season, we're probably not going to see him in September:
If Strasburg averages seven innings a start, he would have 14 starts after his second outing in Cleveland Sunday. If he pitches on regular four days’ rest, he would come to the end of his season before the end of August.
The Nationals figure that with about 130 innings combined in college and the Arizona Fall League last year, Strasburg should be restricted to about 150 total this year.
Apparently referring to a study done a few years ago by Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated, Kasten said historical evidence shows that young pitchers face potential injury if they increase their number of innings too drastically from year to year.
But Kasten was in Atlanta when Tom Glavine was a rookie in 1987 and John Smoltz in 1988, and both pitched until age 42, building Hall of Fame careers despite a huge increase in innings pitched from their first year to the second. Glavine went from 50 1/3 to 195 1/3, Smoltz from 64 to 208.
“It was a different era,” Kasten said.
What does the era have to do with pitchers’ elbows and shoulders? The human body is stronger and more fit than it has ever been. Why should young pitchers develop problems now that young pitchers didn’t encounter 25 years ago?
"You can tell me that all you want," Kasten said. "I can’t explain it to you, but I am suggesting this is a different era. Humans are better but yet the evidence shows a correlation between too fast a ramp up for young pitchers and injuries later so we’re trying to be careful."
I had to stop there, because if I kept going I would find so many things to disagree with that I'd break the Internet. So, just focusing on that snippet ...
Of course Glavine didn't go from 50 innings to 195, nor Smoltz 64 to 208. The Nationals are counting all of Strasburg's innings last season, but Chass is considering only Glavine's and Smoltz's major league innings. Glavine's innings actually went down in his rookie season: 201 professional innings in 1987, 195 in 1988. Smoltz's increase was tiny: 199 innings in 1988, 208 in 1989.
It's not that they were babied as major league rookies; it's that they weren't babied in the minors before getting promoted.
But you know what? Stan Kasten's more wrong than Murray Chass. The (so-called) Verducci Effect has been studied and studied and almost everybody finds the same thing: nothing. I don't know ... Maybe we're just not looking hard enough. But it seems an awfully thin reed from which to hang an organizational strategy for the care and feeding of young pitchers.
Granted, I wouldn't suggest that Strasburg should be allowed to throw 200 innings this season. I don't have any idea what the correct number is, and I doubt if anyone else does either. I do believe this is not necessarily "a different era" (as Kasten claims). I believe the Nationals' aim is to eventually get Strasburg to the point where he can throw 200-220 innings per season, and I believe it's foolish to assume that's his natural limit. I believe the current practice of limiting young pitchers to 100-110 pitches is foolish, and the practice of limiting veteran pitchers to around 120 pitches is more foolish.
I would love to see Strasburg stay healthy, and I would love to see him throw 250 innings in 2013. There's no obvious reason that both things can't happen. Except it pretty obviously won't, with the Nationals.