Sunday, August 12, 2012

My Foolproof Plan For Pitching Stephen Strasburg In The 2012 Playoffs

For those of you expecting a post about silent movies here, forgive me. I'll have a review of D.W. Griffith's Broken Blossoms (written but not typed) up on Tuesday and a review of Abel Gance's J'accuse! (already queued up) on Friday. They'll be worth reading, I promise.

In the meantime, I'm also a baseball fan—specifically a Washington Nationals fan, wearing as I type this, a ratty Nats cap with "Opening Day 2007" embroidered on the back—which means that only a little less annoying to me than all those Sight & Sound Top Ten posts (including three of my own, here, here and here) are all those bloviating articles, op-ed pieces, blog posts and ESPN segments explaining why the Nationals are insane to shut down Stephen Strasburg before the playoffs and offering up their own blueprint for how to ensure he pitches in the post-season without blowing his arm out.

Don't know who Stephen Strasburg is? He's the Nationals' twenty-four year old pitching phenom, the right-handed reincarnation of the still-living Sandy Koufax (and if you don't know who that is, stop reading now and come back on Tuesday).

He's also recovering from Tommy John surgery, a medical procedure designed to reconstruct a hopelessly damaged ulnar collateral ligament (i.e., the meat that holds the elbow together) by taking a ligament from some other part of the body, drilling a couple of holes in the bones of the arm and winding it around and around in a figure eight until the recipient can once again throw a baseball without his forearm flying off into space like the plastic limb of a broken mannequin.

Not only does the initial rehab take a full year, but the pitcher is then on a fairly short leash the season after that, a two-year recovery process. The success rate for Tommy John surgery is an astounding 89%, but in the 38 years since doctors invented this procedure using the elbow of Dodgers pitcher Tommy John (you thought I was going say Don Drysdale, didn't you) as a guinea pig, a protocol has developed for how to achieve that 89% success rate. Strasburg's doctors have told the Nats that he can't pitch much beyond around, oh, say, 160 innings this year without seriously amping up the chances he blows out his arm again.

The Nats had another starting pitcher go through the same process a year before Strasburg, a guy named Jordan Zimmermann. Zimmermann tossed 161-and-a-third innings last year, got shut down at the end of August, and is now off the leash and is second in the National League in earned run average. If he picks up five or six more wins, he'll be right in the discussion for the Cy Young Award.

And as sure as the sun will rise in the east tomorrow morning, the Nationals are going to follow the same path with Strasburg this year. Somewhere between 160 and 180 innings into his season—sometime between September 9 and September 29—the Nats will shut Strasburg down and let him watch the rest of the season (and post-season) from the dugout.

Here's the problem. Strasburg is arguably the best pitcher on the Nats staff (arguable, since Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez have a better E.R.A. and more wins, respectively, and Edwin Jackson has World Series experience) and the Nationals have the best record in baseball. Which means absent a catastrophe, the Nats are going to make the playoffs where they'll succeed or fail without Strasburg.

And with the notable exception of my old Vanderbilt drinking buddy Buster Olney, the talking heads on television, particularly ex-ballplayers who don't feel constrained by facts or reality, insist that the Nats should find a way to play Strasburg in the playoffs despite the limits doctors have put on his elbow. You have no idea how many schemes have been floated—shut him down early then bring him back later, skip starts, go to a six-man rotation, use him in the bullpen, or even damn the torpedoes, pitch him until his arm falls off, ala Kerry Wood.

I won't evaluate these plans or explain why the Nats aren't going to follow any of them, no matter how reasonable or nonsensical they may be. I'll only tell you that it is carved in stone like Teddy Roosevelt is carved into the side of Mount Rushmore that the Nationals are going to shut Strasburg down in September. If it makes you feel better or sells advertising or increases page hits, you can yack about it until the cows come home. But the Nats are going to shut him down in September and take their chances then bring him back next year.

Until now. Because the Monkey (and only the Monkey) has a foolproof plan for allowing Strasburg to pitch in the playoffs without in any way violating the protocol for recovering from Tommy John surgery.

I'll just say two words: time machine.

Very simple. Put Strasburg in a time machine, set the date for the first week of October and let him pitch in game one of whatever series the Nats land in, either a division series or the one-game Wild Card playoff. The elegance of the plan is that it doesn't disrupt Strasburg's routine at all, and it doesn't require him to pitch beyond the limits set by medical science.

And don't tell me it isn't feasible. I've read that physicists believe a time machine is theoretically possible—it would just take the energy of an exploding sun to power it. Difficult, yes, but it's as feasible as any of the other hare-brained schemes they'll talk about on ESPN over the next month and for a Nats fan seeking the first World Series berth in D.C. since 1933, oh so worth it. I say go for it!

Just watch out for the Morlocks.


Who Am Us Anyway? said...

I’ve got it! You’re telling me I should think of space time as … a loaf of bread! No problem! Hamburg, Germany, August 1960 to December 1962; and make it snappy, my good man – time waits on no one & it won’t wait for me!

Mythical Monkey said...

Boy, I wish space-time was a loaf of bread. I'd have a time sandwich for lunch today instead of the turkey on an English muffin I've got lined up.

Note to self: must get to grocery store today ...

Uncle Tom said...

I think they should cryogenically preserve his arm ala Kitty Carlisle's head in Match Game 2055

granted that was a cartoon so maybe its not actually possible

oh sure, like a loaf of bread time machine is.

Mythical Monkey said...

Well, you know, Eleanor Rigby kept her face in a jar by the door so there's no reason why they can't do the same for Strasburg's arm.

The Beatles and the Simpson can't both be wrong.