Analyzing cost of sitting Stephen Strasburg

The financial cost to the Nats of benching Stephen Strasburg isn't what you might think. AP Photo/Nick Wass

As Stephen Strasburg heads to the mound Tuesday night for the Washington Nationals, the chatter will begin to build again: Is shutting down the phenom really the right decision for the team?

During the past week, we've heard from everyone from Tommy John, the namesake behind the surgery Strasburg had on his elbow that caused him to miss last season, to Scott Boras, Strasburg's agent. What hasn't been discussed much, publicly at least, is how much prematurely ending Strasburg's season somewhere between 160 and 180 innings would cost the team.

The answer?

Not much.

Assuming an average of six innings pitched per game, which is slightly more than what Strasburg has averaged in his past eight starts, Strasburg's last game could be Sept. 12 against the Mets. That would bring his pitch count to 170 innings pitched on the season. Using that timetable, Strasburg would only miss two home starts -- Sept. 19 and Sept. 24. Keep in mind, those are the most important games for the Nationals because home teams in baseball get 100 percent of the gate revenue.

So what would the team miss from those starts, financially speaking?

In the 11 starts Strasburg has pitched at home this year, the Nationals have drawn a total of 335,513 fans, which equals a per-game average of 30,501 fans. In the 57 other home games the Nationals have played (it's actually 58, but no attendance was reported for the Aug. 3 game), the team has drawn 1,395,485 fans for an average of 24,482 fans per game. That means that Strasburg is worth only 6,019 fans more per game.

The average Nationals ticket is $30.54, according to Team Marketing Report, which means Strasburg, on average, is worth $183,820 more at the gate per game to the team.

Vince Gennaro, the author of "Diamond Dollars: The Economics of Winning in Baseball" who has consulted for several major league teams, says each fan is also worth about $7 per game in food, beverage and merchandise. That would bring Strasburg's per-game bump up to $225,953. If Strasburg misses those home starts, he'll cost the team about $450,000. If he's shut down after Sept. 12, the team also would be paying Strasburg for three regular-season weeks to do nothing. The cost of that, based on his $3 million annual salary, is $344,262.

"There is no direct financial incentive for the Nationals to keep pitching Strasburg beyond their imposed limits and into the postseason," Gennaro told ESPN. "The revenue to be gained from attendance, concessions and merchandise is negligible."

So what about the playoffs?

Well, figure that the Nationals aren't going to have many problems selling playoff tickets, but that's not even much of an issue. Gennaro points out that the net profits from the first three games in a best-of-five playoff series and the first four games in a seven-game series go toward the players' pension fund and not the teams. And unlike in the regular season, if the games go deeper than that, the net profits are split 50-50 among the two teams playing, and that's after the league takes a cut off the top.

"There aren't too many scenarios where the Nationals would get any additional dollars from a Strasburg playoff outing," Gennaro said. "So I would say it's not reasonable to expect postseason revenue from Strasburg."

Of course, the big difference, which is impossible to project today, is whether Strasburg not playing would hurt the Nationals' chance of going further in the playoffs. If Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann can't carry the load and the Nationals bow out of the playoffs early, they'll miss the possible financial reward of fans buying more tickets next season in anticipation of watching the team.