I had a long post on this story by usually-smart-but-not-this-time Rany Jazayerli, who used some specious arguments to excoriate the Nationals for shutting down Steven Strasburg before the season ended. Then tumblr ate it. Ugh.
I don’t want to let all that thinking go to waste, so here’s a recap:
Flaw 1: The Strawman.
has anyone figured out why the Nationals kept Strasburg on aninnings limit and not a pitch limit?
This is Jazayerli’s main beef. Unfortunately, the premise is just plain wrong. According to the Nats’ GM, the decision to shut Strasburg down was based on all sorts of factors, including innings but also high pitch innings, qualitative factors like how well Strasburg’s repeating his mechanics, and so forth.
Flaw 2: The failure to reason properly.
…that leaves just three pitchers [out of 29 comparable young pitchers] whose failure can be tied to arm problems likely caused by overuse.
Of course, just looking at pitchers who were hurt leaves out those pitchers who were managed responsibly. This is the it’s-really-hard-to-prove-a-negative thing.
Flaw 3: Wrong question.
The risk [the Nationals are] trying to mitigate has already been mitigated for them. Major League Baseball has changed the way it uses starting pitchers, and has succeeded in reducing pitcher injuries.
Again, irrelevant. The question is not whether Strasburg faces a (relatively) low risk; it’s whether the risk to Strasburg is outweighed by the potential gain from leaving Strasburg in the rotation. Preventing even a 10% risk of major injury (3 out of 29, see above) is extremely valuable, given the value Strasburg is likely to return over the remainder of his career. The potential marginal gain is considerably lower, particularly because Ross Detwiler (who would replace Strasburg in a playoff rotation) has been quite good this year.
Jazayerli’s a good writer, but his take was weak sauce. And his story was a good example of how a smart-sounding statistical argument can be completely bunk.