Strasburg to DL – Could Be a Good Thing

Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg wraps his arm after being relieved in the 7th inning against the San Francisco Giants at Nationals Park in Washington on July 9, 2010. UPI/Kevin Dietsch Photo via Newscom

Stephen Strasburg needed one start to show the world that he was absolutely worth all the hype he got going back to his senior season at San Diego State. As time marched on from that moment his jersey became the most popular seller in the game, Cooperstown came calling, and David Letterman had him recite the top ten. The only thing that was ecohed against Strasburg were the four words that haunt him and the Nationals now: If he stays healthy.

It started so innocently. He was scratched from his start on Tuesday. The Nationals were saying it was a precaution and Strasburg said he was fine. Yesterday word came out that he could still make his start on Sunday, but he was going to be shut down for two days from anything. Today the Nationals decided the best course was to place him on the disabled list. Given how quickly this has escalated it is hard to tell just how serious this injury is unless you are Strasburg or a Nationals insider. That is exactly what makes this situation fun for fantasy baseball teams.

There is a pessimistic angle that fantasy owners can take. The Nationals are in last place by some 15.5 games with 61 games to play. They are not going to win this season and at the same time the most important asset they have had since moving to Washington is not feeling right. If he had a band aid on his toe, it would be cause to rest him let alone an injury to his throwing shoulder. White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper recently compared Strasburg’s mechanics to Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. Do the Nationals really want to clear him to play meaningless games and risk all the potential his career has only to see him become the next Prior? Not a chance. Obviously they have taken this one day at a time and each day have let their fans down a little more gently. For fantasy owners that means he should be sold now while there is still something valuable to be taken from him.

There is also an optimistic angle. Strasburg said the team will have him back shortly after he is eligible to come back on August 6. If this injury is as minor as Strasburg has indicated and he is in fact getting better day by day, the team has to pitch him. He is under contract and that’s his job. The Nationals are selling tickets and generating unprecedented interest when this guy pitches, so even though games are meaningless from a standings perspective, there are financial benefits to having Strasburg on the mound. The innings threshold was supposed to be some place near 160 innings. For head to head leagues, that means even if he had pitched Tuesday and never been placed on the DL he was not likely to pitch the rest of the season anyway. Now his innings will serve a greater purpose – the potential of Strasburg in the playoffs of fantasy matchups is much more likely now than it was three days ago. This injury could actually be viewed as the best thing that could have happened to Strasburg owners.

Predicting what will happen with injuries in this game is next to impossible when it comes to pitchers. There are cases such as the great Cubs pitchers earlier in the decade, Brandon Webb, and Erik Bedard among many others who have had shoulder issues that started out as innocently as Strasburg’s. Then again there have been countless other cases where a pitcher is placed on the disabled list for precautionary reasons and bounced back without any issues. To me there is really a fine line here and it depends on what league you are playing. Rotisserie leagues should sell. Keeper leagues should flip a coin. Head to head leagues should buy.