Time For the Nationals to Shut Down Jordan Zimmermann: Why Stop at Strasburg?
Friday September 14th, 2012
Jonathan Hacohen: Before fans of the Nationals start to write any angry comments in respect of this article, please do me one favor. Stop. Read the article in its entirety and then pass judgement. That’s the least I can ask from each of you.
Now that being said, I have a bone to pick with the Nationals. While I love the game with a passion, I also need to separate the fan in me from the writer. When it comes to the topic of Stephen Strasburg, I honestly have a hard time doing that. Shutting down Stephen Strasburg to me is like ripping up the winning lottery ticket. You just don’t do it. Too many stars have aligned this season for the Nationals, to have the season put into possible jeopardy due to a decision that could have been avoided. Putting it bluntly- Stephen Strasburg should be pitching right now. To the end of the season. And throughout the playoffs. You just don’t take out your ace when you don’t need to.
I have talked with colleagues, players, fans…everyone and anyone who has an opinion on the subject. Believe me, there are many of them. If I had to take an informal poll of say 200 people with knowledge on the game, about 195 are against the move. Plain and simple. In my eyes, it seems that everyone sees the logic to keep him pitching (including Strasburg himself), except GM Mike Rizzo and manager Davey Johnson. Even Johnson I am not that sure about. How often do you criticize your boss? Exactly.
The arguments have been put out there countless times. The Nats should have planned the season knowing that there is a chance to the playoffs. There is always a chance, right? So follow some basic steps. Perhaps shut down Strasburg in April or limit his innings in extended spring season, then bring him up in May. Limit his innings and pitches during starts. After all, what is the use of pitching past the 5th inning in blowouts early in the season? Shut him down for a couple of weeks after the All-Star break. An injury could have always been faked along the way…and don’t think that doesn’t happen. Skip starts. Skip starts. Skip starts. Whatever you got to do, then just do it. But arrange from the beginning an innings limit for your pitcher on the presumption that he could pitch well into October. Worst case scenario if your team ends up faltering is to shut him down at that point, pitch him more near the end or even send him for some winter ball. Whatever you got to do, make sure you are ready to play playoff baseball with a full roster.
I am sure the Nationals’ players are pissed right now and rightfully so. They have busted their behinds all season, worked through bumps, grinds, DL stints, slumps and streaks. Everyone came together to form the best team in baseball. Now you took the heart of the team and ripped it out. Think I’m exaggerating? Hardly. Stephen Strasburg represents more than a pitcher to the team. He is the horse, the ace, the show stopper. Yes, the team has an unbelievable rotation (Edwin Jackson, Gio Gonzalez, Ross Detwiler, and the soon to be discussed, Jordan Zimmermann) without Strasburg. But I doubt few would dispute handing Stras the ball for any game 1 in the playoffs. He is a once in a lifetime player that is going to be unnecessarily inactive.
The banter to shut Stras down has included the fact that the team is young, will contend for many years, could still win this season and blah blah blah. Folks, I don’t play the if game. I go with the sure bet. You have a healthy roster for the most part. An incredible rotation, one of the best in baseball. A solid offense and bullpen. The team is firing on all cylinders. Ask the Cubs, Rangers, Mariners…if you have a chance to win a World Series, you play for the day. It may never come again. Sure John Lannan has been lights-out as a filler. Do you trust him in the playoffs? Neither do I.
At this point you are asking yourself: what the heck does this have to do with Jordan Zimmermann. Simple. There was a way to keep Strasburg pitching if the team had made the right moves. But they didn’t and now he is not active. So I present the following argument. Ready? Here goes: If you shut down Stephen Strasburg, then you need to shut down Jordan Zimmermann. That’s it. My proposition in a nutshell. Let’s dissect why.
Looking back in the archives, Jordan Zimmermann pitched in his rookie season of 2009. Made it from April until his last start on July 18th that year. Result? Tommy John surgery in August 2009. Zimmermann did not return to major league action until August 26, 2010. He pitched in 7 ball games that year and prepared for 2011. Last season, Zimmermann pitched from April 3rd until being shut down on August 28th. A total of 26 starts and 161.1 innings pitched. Interesting. Fast forward to this season and there is no talk whatsoever of shutting down Zimmermann. I wonder why…now I am starting to get confused.
Zimmermann in 2012 has made 29 starts. He has already logged 176.2 innings. After tonight, the Nats play 18 more games. From those, you can expect Zimmermann to make three more starts. Let’s say he goes 5 innings each for argument’s sake. We are now up to 15 more innings or so, close to 192. Fine. If the Nats win their division and play the maximum playoff games (if Zimmermann starts 1-2 games per series, depending on whether it is a 3 or 4 man rotation), you can see Zimmermann pitching 4-6 more games. Let’s give him the average 5 innings per start again and we are left with 212-222 innings on the season. This come from a 26-year old pitcher who only pitched 161.1 innings the year before.
Where does the magic pitching book say that you can go from 7 starts to 161.1 innings to over 200 innings? Where does it begin and where does it end. Strasburg this year at age 24 got shut down at almost 160 innings pitched. The year before that? He pitched in 6 September games. See a trend? The year before that? 12 games in 2010 for a total of 68 innings (in the major leagues, not counting minor leagues). So if I am to understand the Nationals logic, it is only the first full year after Tommy John surgery that a pitcher needs to be handled carefully. Year 2…all bets are off. Is that it? I am not following. Are the Nats doing Jordan Zimmermann a disservice by possibly having him pitch in 61 more innings this year than last year?
If I follow the logic of bringing Strasburg along slowly, then I would think that there would be a progressive system of increasing innings over a number of years. Ever hear of an organization called the Tampa Bay Rays? Check out their starting pitchers over the last few years- relating the number of innings per year up to the point that they were pitching full seasons. Seems to work for them. But yet the Nats ignore Jordan Zimmermann and focus on Stephen Strasburg. Or will Strasburg get the same treatment next year? Is it ok to “save” him this year and then throw him to the wolves the next? I don’t think so. If we are going to do this thing, let’s do it right.
Check out Jordan Zimmermann’s numbers this year. They are pretty incredible. 10-8, 3.01 ERA, 1.166 WHIP, 3.70 K/BB ratio. Any team would kill for those numbers from a pitcher on their squad. The Nats are truly lucky to have him, among all their other quasi-aces. But the overall numbers don’t always tell the story. Let’s dig deeper. In April, Zimmermann was nearly untouchable, pitching 7 innings every start and giving up only 1 ER each time out in 4 straight starts. May brought the “wall”, as he pitched at least 6 innings each time out, giving up 1 ER twice, 3 ER twice and 4 ER twice. The man is consistent if nothing else. June brought out much of the same in Zimmermann. 5 starts of at least 6 IP each. He gave up 2 runs on 3 occasions, 3 ER and 1 ER for a singular time a piece. Solid. Then we look at July and Zimmermann clearly took to the heat. He completed 6 starts of the some of the best baseball you will ever see. 4 starts of 1 ER ball and 2 shutouts. CY Young caliber numbers. After July, one could have easily started talking that way. 6 IP in almost every start by the way.
Then the numbers started to slow in August. While Zimmermann never went below 6 IP all season, he only hit the mark in 1 of his 5 starts, the rest coming in at about 5 innings each. Two starts of 4 ER each and a 3 ER job. Yes, he pitched an incredible shutout against Houston that month (who doesn’t) and a 2 ER game as well. But the walks and hits allowed per innings were climbing too much higher levels, as not seen this year from him. September has not been much kinder, as the Cardinals smoked him for 8 ER in only 3.2 IP on September 1st. Another great game followed against the Cubs, 2 ER in 7 IP (great….). His last start against the Mets brought 2 ER in 5 IP, but again a higher than normal walks and hits allowed. Translation? The man is getting tired.
If we look at Stephen Strasburg’s stats this year, we will see that he also had good games and not so good games near the end of the year. But realistically he was no better or worse than Zimmermann. In fact, you can make the argument that he was pitching better. Overall 15-6, 3.16 ERA and 1.155 WHIP. Pretty close to Mr. Zimmermann. If you are going to make the argument that Strasburg was starting to get tired in September, you can make the same point for Zimmermann. They are not that far apart. 2-year age gap and Zimmerman has 1 extra year in the majors. So where does the innings limit start and stop? What makes the first full year different from the second one in recovering from Tommy John? We just don’t know. If you read Dr. Lewis Yocum’s comments in the media, you get a clear picture that he is not holding the smoking gun. Yes, the Nats likely consulted him. But ultimately, the team made the decision.
On most MLB teams, Stephen Strasburg would be an ace. Quite frankly, so would Jordan Zimmermann. Perhaps the latter doesn’t get quite the press of the former, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t as good. And deserving of rest and protection. If the Nats are committed to protecting all of their prized arms and not just Stephen Strasburg’s, then perhaps the countdown should begin on Jordan Zimmermann. Why risk his future for only one season? Let’s shut him down as well and go with a playoff rotation of Jackson, Gonzalez and Detwiler, with Lannan as the alternate. Not feeling so hot on the idea, do you? Now you now how I feel about the Stephen Strasburg decision then.
It’s not too late. Never mind pride and feelings. Get Strasburg on the mound and go for it. If the playoffs are good enough for Zimmermann, then they are good enough for Strasburg. Otherwise, the Nats risk alienating their players further by not making a complete full-blown playoff run and having a double standard for its different pitchers. The Nats should be like a baseball army. We all go to the World Series…or none of us go to the World Series. All for one and one for all.
Jonathan Hacohen is the Founder & Lead Baseball Columnist for MLB reports: You can follow Jonathan on Twitter (@JHacohen)
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Posted on September 14, 2012, in MLB Teams: Articles and Analysis and tagged baseball, bryce harper, davey johnson, drew storen, edwin jackson, gio gonzalez, injury, john lannan, jordan zimmermann, Mike Rizzo, mlb, mlb reports, ross detweiler, stephen strasburg, tommy john, washington nationals. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Time For the Nationals to Shut Down Jordan Zimmermann: Why Stop at Strasburg?.