As the Nationals edge ever closer to the first playoff appearance in franchise history, debate over management's decision to sit pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg grows louder.
Playoff appearances are never guaranteed -- just ask any Red Sox fan -- and they should never be taken for granted. But Strasburg suffered a potential career-ending injury in 2010 and it took Tommy John surgery to repair his pitching arm. Too much wear on the arm so soon into Strasburg's recovery could cause greater harm in the long run.
It's a delicate matter -- one that can only be solved through video game speculation.
Strasburg is expected to be shut down around the time he's pitched 160 innings. With “MLB 12: The Show” we can see the impact Strasburg could have on the Nationals’ postseason hopes. And by removing Strasburg after 160 innings pitched, we can see how the Nationals will fare without its ace.
Playing pain free in a video game
“MLB 12” includes a Durability rating for every player, which is an indication of their ability to stay healthy. Strasburg is rated at a 38 out of 100, which leaves a high probability for ending up on the DL when a season is simulated.
In creating “The Show,” Sony factored in a player's history of injury. Tommy John surgery is no joke. While some pitchers bounce back to be even better than before, others never make it – or never last long before another serious injury. Strasburg is a great pitcher, but one more likely to suffer another injury during his career than not.
We simmed the current baseball season into August and stopped at the point that Strasburg had pitched 160 innings. From there, we simmed the Nationals remaining games (including postseason action) with Strasburg in the lineup four times. Then we did another set of four simulations, but with Strasburg riding the pine the rest of the way.
The results weren't surprising.
With Stras on the mound
The Nats made the playoffs in each of the four simulations where Strasburg stayed on the roster. He was injured only once – an arm strain that sidelined him for one start.
Strasburg averaged 66.1 additional innings pitched, a 4-2 record, and another 56 strikeouts.
Twice in our sims, the Nationals lost the National League Divisional Series, but the third time around, they made it within a game of the World Series. In our fourth sim, the Nationals actually made it to the big dance and won the World Series, beating the Yankees in a seven-game classic.
Not coincidentally, the Nationals postseason fortunes relied heavily on Strasburg. He had no wins and a loss in each of the first three sims. The Nats won it all when Strasburg went 3-1 with a 2.43 ERA, including a one-run shutout in Game 7.
Without the phenom
Strasburg, of course, isn't the entire team. The Nationals are in prime position for a postseason run because of the outstanding efforts of many of Strasburg's teammates. And for those reasons, the Nats managed to reach the playoffs in three of our four Strasburg-less simulations.
Without Strasburg pitching every three or four games of the playoffs, however, the Nationals never made it out of the Divisional round.
Forever a fantasy
Everyone in the sports world seems to have an opinion on whether or not to play Stephen Strasburg beyond 160 innings. As each start brings the Nats' ace closer to that mark, it becomes more evident that any hopes of seeing Strasburg in the playoffs are just a fantasy.
At least in the fantasy world of “MLB 12: The Show,” he got to lead the Nationals to a World Series Championship.