Point: Shutting down Stephen Strasburg best for his health, team

Ask any Cubs fan what the 2003 season meant to them. In a nutshell, it was both the best and worst season in a very, very long time. This year’s Washington Nationals share “that feel” the ’03 Cubs team had.

Nationals’ general manager Mike Rizzo is a Chicagoan and is fully aware of what succeeded that historic Cubs team: serious arm injuries to two young, promising pitchers due to overuse. Mark Prior led the Cubs with an 18-6 record in 2003 while throwing the ball an astounding 125 times per game in his last nine starts. Only three short years later, Prior pitched his way out of the league by age 26 after compiling a career 42-29 record and 3.51 ERA.

Rizzo doesn’t want history repeating itself. Despite national outcry, he is benching Stephen Strasburg, his version of Prior, for the playoffs amid the Nationals’ best season since the move back to Washington, D.C., Strasburg is currently 15-6 and boasting a 2.94 ERA on a team that has the second-best record in baseball at 83-52. Sounds crazy, huh? Not so much.

What Rizzo is doing is unprecedented and will be an interesting case study. What’s known to most is that Rizzo applied the same exact strategy to one of the Nationals’ other talented hurlers, Jordan Zimmermann, who, like Strasburg, received Tommy John surgery on his pitching arm during his 2009 campaign as a rookie. Rizzo capped Zimmermann’s workload throughout the 2010 season, similarly to what Strasburg is going through now.

The result? It turns out he has recovered fully and is one of the most efficient pitchers in baseball. He may not have a sexy record (9-8), but he is currently second to Strasburg in ERA with a 3.01 and third on the team with a 1.16 WHIP.

Shutting down Strasburg may be the move of the year for the Nationals. For one, Rizzo is doing his best to increase the longevity of not only the team’s success, but Strasburg’s arm and career.

Rizzo’s decision to stick by the lessened workload of Strasburg says a lot about the Nationals organization. First, it shows the organization is confident in arguably the best rotation in the league (average ERA of 3.15) to win a championship. It’s also encouraging to see a general manager react in the interests of the player’s long-term health. All in all, it’s a low risk/high reward situation for Rizzo. If he breaks the workload cap and Strasburg gets hurt, he’s the first one to be blamed. If worst comes to worst and Strasburg comes back and suffers another injury, you can’t fault Rizzo for trying his best to conserve a once-in-a-lifetime arm.

The 2003 Cubs changed baseball forever and for the better. Without Prior and Wood succumbing to injuries, Strasburg’s career may already be half-over. As controversial as the decision may be, Rizzo is doing the right thing for both the organization and player. After all, it’s his job.

Blake is a junior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @BlakeP