By now you’ve heard that Washington Nationals pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg will undergo Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ligament in his elbow. Typically it takes 12-18 months to recover from the procedure so he’ll miss most or all of next season.
I feel really bad for the kid. He’s done and said all the right things so far, plus, he’s just really fun to watch pitch. He’s going to finish this season with the second highest K/9 ratio for a rookie in history (12.2), just behind Kerry Wood (12.7).
So how does this happen? The Nats brought Strasburg along slowly. They watched his pitch counts, they limited his innings, they did everything they thought they should. The kid had never had a major injury before.
It’s just a freak injury. Lots of players go through Tommy John surgery and come back stronger than before (Josh Johnson, Tim Hudson, Chris Carpenter, Mariano Rivera to name a few). I totally understand wanting to limit a young pitcher’s innings. It’s pretty well-know that rookies tend to hit a wall late into the season. The lesser publicized DL stint from yesterday was Cincinnati’s rookie Mike Leake.
Leake and Strasburg were both drafted last year (Strasburg 1st, Leake 8th), but Leake started this year in the majors and started off well. Through his first 11 starts he posted a 5-0 record with a 2.22 ERA. Over his next 13 starts he went 3-4 with a 6.47 ERA. That’s a grand total 8-4 with a 4.23 ERA in 138.1 innings before heading to the DL with “right shoulder fatigue.”
Strasburg, on the other hand, started the season in the minors and was limited in innings and pitches. In 12 big league starts, he was 5-3 with a 2.91 ERA in 68 innings. Between Double A and Triple A, he was 7-2 with 1.30 ERA in 55.1 innings.
So Strasburg had pitched exactly 15 innings less than Leake this year, which isn’t a big difference but Strasburg was thrown 1070 big league pitches to Leake’s 2131. They don’t have totals for Strasburg in the minors, but I’d imagine they’re roughly the same as Leake’s.
Basically what I’m trying to do is find any discrepancies between the two that would cause such a major injury. There’s plenty of research that I could do if I wanted to spend all day doing so…or if I got paid for it. But the few comparisons I looked at, Mike Leake being the best and most comparable, showed me nothing. It’s just a freak injury.
I feel bad for the Nats and for Strasburg and for the fans who enjoyed watching the phenom. I don’t think there’s anything anyone could have done differently in the situation. Hopefully he comes back in 2012 and pitches as well as we were all hoping…you know, before the world ends and all. It’s certainly not time to write Stephen Strasburg off just yet.