Two young pitchers with nearly unlimited talent are facing the prospect of their seasons ending prematurely because their teams don’t want to take a chance of injury to their arms.
Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox and Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals are so valuable to the future of their respective franchises that ownership for the Sox and Nats are seriously considering severely limiting the number of innings each will pitch this year. With both youngsters on pace to pitch more than 200 innings — a feat neither has come close to in their amateur or pro careers — the concern over whether the wear and tear of throwing a ball close to 100 MPH, 100-120 times a game over 25-30 starts will cause permanent injury to the shoulder/elbow/wrist has forced the front offices of both teams to consider radical options.
Those arms are worth at least a combined half a billion dollars when one considers that Sale, at 23, and Strasburg, at 24, have a good 15 years each of productive work ahead of them — barring major injury. It is not unreasonable to imagine at least two $100 million plus contracts for each during that time. Both players will be free agents in 2017.
The dilemma facing the White Sox and Nationals is historical in nature; pitchers, no matter how good or how durable, are frequently hurt. There are very few major league hurlers who have gone through a career avoiding major injury. Trips to the disabled list are common, as is surgery. The tremendous strain placed on a pitcher’s shoulder by the unnatural motion of throwing the ball overhand threatens the delicate and complex construction of the joint. Rotator cuffs, labrums, muscle tears, and severe inflammation can make it impossible for a pitcher to work effectively and result in long stints on the disabled list or reconstructive surgery.
To avoid that, the Washington Nationals are seriously considering ending Stephen Strasburg’s season after only about 170 innings:
When we signed Stephen I made a promise to him and to his parents that I would take care of him and that’s what we are going to do,” Rizzo said. “I told them we would always do what’s best for him. This is a kid who has never pitched more than 123 innings in a year.
We are looking at not only competing for the playoffs this season, but also in ’13, ’14, ’15 and beyond. Stephen is a big part of those plans and I will not do anything that could potentially harm him down the road.
As for those thinking Strasburg could be given a few weeks or a month off, then return, Rizzo says don’t count on that happening.
“When it happens, Stephen will not pitch again until spring training (in 2013),” he said. “We tried something similar with Zimmermann last year and he just could not get going again. We won’t make the same mistake.
Last year, the Nats shut down their other prized young pitcher, Jordan Zimmermann, but at the time, they were out of the playoff hunt. This year, the Nationals are in first place with a legitimate shot at the playoffs. It would be unheard of if the team were to sit Strasburg in September when the stretch run for the playoffs is underway — or have him on the bench if the team makes the postseason.