Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Washington Nationals was supposed to make his final start of 2012 at Citi Field on July 25, 2012 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Stephen Strasburg's post-Tommy John surgery season ended with the 24-year-old '09 no.1 overall pick (15-6) with a 3.16 ERA, 2.84 FIP, 48 walks (2.71 BB/9) and 197 Ks (11.13 K/9) in 28 starts and 159.1 IP. 45 starts into his career with the Washington Nationals, the former SDSU starter is (21-10) with a 2.94 ERA, 2.48 FIP, 67 walks (2.40 BB/9) and 313 Ks (11.21 K/9) in 251.1 IP. And he finished the 2012 season at +4.3 fWAR, second to only Gio Gonzalez (+4.9 fWAR) amongst Nationals' pitchers.
As closely as he was followed during his senior year at San Diego State University as the top prospect in the country in his draft year, as much as his minor league starts and MLB debut were hyped, and with as much scrutiny as there was on him last year when he worked his way back from the surgery to replace his torn ulnar collateral ligament, nothing compared to the spotlight that was placed on Stephen Strasburg this year as he used up the total number of innings and pitches the Nats' GM, Manager and Pitching Coach thought he should throw.
Davey Johnson was asked this weekend, after he announced that Strasburg had been shut down for the year, if the coverage of the "Strasburg Shutdown" was more intense than expected? "It's a great subject to second guess on," the Nats' 69-year-old manager said. "I'm mentally worn out seeing it all the time myself. I mean, the [Jim] "Kitty" Kaat letter to the pitcher was almost the last straw for me. It has its toll not only on Stephen, but on the rest of the guys in the club. It's a distraction." The "Kitty Kaat" letter Johnson mentioned, was an impassioned plea from the 73-year-old veteran of 25 MLB seasons and one-time World Series winner for Strasburg to make the decision to continue pitching this season. "Remember, it’s your career, your arm, your decision. Nobody’s else’s," Mr. Kaat wrote. Of course, that's not true.
When Stephen Strasburg was asked for his thoughts on the open letter from the former major league pitcher, the right-handed starter asked reporters a question in return. "'Who cares about that? Everybody's got something to say.'"
As for the idea that it was Strasburg's decision to make? The normally soft-spoken starter began expressing his opinions openly on Saturday night when reporters asked him for his thoughts on the decision his manager, general manager and pitching coach had made. "It is what it is," Strasburg said, "It sucks. And I just got to move forward and I've got to be here for this team now."
"'But this decision,'" Strasburg told reporters, "'They made well before the start of the year. I play for the Washington Nationals. I play to help this team win games. And that's the bottom line. I'm not the one making the calls.'"
The Nationals' general manager and manager were the ones making the call as they've explained clearly throughout the process and in print and radio interviews since as far back as last August and September. Just in case anyone missed those reports, both Rizzo and Johnson restated the fact within the last week:
"'I don’t think he’s going to fight me on it, I think he’s going to be unhappy about it, I know he’ll be unhappy about it. He is an ultimate competitor, but we’ve taken that out of his hands.'" - Mike Rizzo telling the Washington Post's James Wanger the decision is not in Strasburg's hands last week.
Davey Johnson explained during the press conference in which he revealed the fact that he had told Strasburg his season was over one start short of the plan the team discussed last week, that the pitcher was not happy with the decision. "He's emotional about it. He's a competitor," Johnson said, "He's one heck of a pitcher and a heck of a competitor. I know he's been struggling with it for weeks. And I know he doesn't sleep good thinking about it. Shoot, I've heard so much advice from every ex-pitcher, every guru on the matter, that it will be his decision. But it's not."
Nats' GM Rizzo took decision out of Strasburg's hands and he's explained why several times. "'If you've ever been around a player," Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Danny Rouhier last week on The Mike Rizzo Show, "They are the worst self-evaluators in the world. They are so ultra-competitive and so ultra-talented that they believe in their heart of hearts and in their mind that they are invincible and they can do anything [if] they set their mind to it. So, it's my job to look after the players and their well-being, because a player will always take the ball."
"He's a part of this team and he wants to be helping to the end," Davey Johnson said, back even before the final decision was made, "He doesn't want to let the team down. That's the emotional part and the professional part on his side. He's willing to risk it being his last year to have that and I understand that..." and that's why the decision wasn't Strasburg's to make.
Even the pitcher, however, when you get past the bluster and headline-worthy and tweetable quotes, seemed resigned though defiant that the team was, in fact, acting in his best interest and on the recommendation of his doctor.
Headline: "Stephen Strasburg Unhappy With Being Shut Down"
Headline: "Stephen Strasburg unhappy as season ends"
"I thought I had another start." - Strasburg
"It was pretty shocking. Honestly, I'm not too happy about it." - Strasburg
"I want to keep pitching out there." - Strasburg
"But as of right now, I think I've got some world renowned doctors, one of them Dr. (Lewis) Yocum, he resurrected my career. I gotta listen to him and I gotta trust him." - Strasburg
Funny how that last quote didn't make it into nearly as many of the headlines and stories reporting on the decision as the first few quotes did. It's in the transcript the Washington Times' Tom Schad posted, however, and was the source of the paragraph from which all the other Strasburg quotes were pulled. Angry Stras = Page views. Maybe he should make all the older players urging him to speak up happy and #occupythemound when his turn comes back around on Wednesday in New York's Citi Field...