Stephen Strasburg's magic number: 158 innings pitched
The question of where Stephen Strasburg will pitch this season has of course been a dominant storyline this spring training, and it seems the most likely outcome will be 15 starts in the minors, a mid-June call-up, and then he's in the majors to stay.
But what about how much Strasburg will pitch? Nationals Manager Jim Riggleman discussed the Nationals' policy of trying to protect young pitchers by using a system to limit innings. Their pitches will not exceed 120 percent of the number of innings they threw the previous year, whether that was in college, the majors, or the minors.
Last year Strasburg pitched 109 innings at San Diego State and 19 innings in the Arizona Fall League, a total of 128. He also participated in the Instructional League, so tack on another, say, five innings, to be conservative. Taking 120 percent of 132, then, Strasburg will throw no more than 158 innings this year between the majors and the minors. In the Nationals view, the leap from college to professional pitching will not have an impact in Strasburg's innings limit.
"When that umpire says, 'Play ball,' I know he was giving maximum effort," Riggleman said. "The elbow and shoulder doesn't know if it's in San Diego State or if it's in Washington, D.C. It's either aching or it's not aching. The number of innings that he had, do the math, 20 percent more would probably be a cap for the year, whether he spends some time in the minor leagues, some time in the major leagues, or all of it's in one or the other. It's going to be capped at some number, just as [John] Lannan, [Jordan] Zimmermann, [J.D.] Martin, those guys were last year."
The second name there shows how difficult it can be to protect young arms. Zimmermann had thrown 134 innings in 2008. In his 2009, Zimmermann threw 100 or more pitches in 10 of his 16 starts and never more than 109. Three times, the Nationals stopped him right at 100. They obviously had an idea of how much they wanted him to throw. And it didn't work. Zimmermann had Tommy John surgery after he threw 91 1/3 innings, and he is not going to pitch in the majors again until September at best.
How much young pitchers should throw may be the trickiest question in baseball. Nolan Ryan thinks they should pitch much more, and he's making the Texas Rangers pitching prospects throw and throw. There are plenty of ideas, and none of them have fully succeeded in eliminating injury from occurring by performing an unnatural act over and over again.
"We don't know," Riggleman said. "Guys get hurt, and especially if it's a young guy, you're going to end up answering for that. I know as an organization, we're glad we had those limits on Jordan Zimmermann, because he got hurt. If we didn't have those limits and he got hurt, we would be thinking, 'Well, did we do too much?' And we know we didn't do too much. He got hurt anyway.
"I don't if everybody who's gotten hurt, were they going to get hurt anyway? I don't know. I don't how Seaver and Jenkins and Gibson, I don't know how they did it. But one of the greatest ever, Sandy Koufax, he had to shut it down at 31 years old. Did he throw too much? I don't know. If they had Tommy John surgery at the time, he would have pitched a lot longer, I guess."
March 12, 2010; 11:55 AM ET
Categories: Jim Riggleman , Stephen Strasburg
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