Under The Knife 3/22/23
The Fallout from Success
Even with an epic World Baseball Classic, full of stories, excitement, and flat out great baseball - “slow pace*”, shifts, and all - the fallout has begun. Edwin Diaz was injured on a fluke celebration, not even a pitch or a play. Jose Altuve got hit by a pitch and took the same injury - a fractured thumb - that he would have in a similarly meaningless spring game. Even before the tournament started, some teams pulled players for very minor injuries - obliques and soreness - and even had players pulled by insurance.
(*Seriously, did anyone once say “oh this game is too long without the clock. We needs the clock.” I’m not even against the clock. News that MLB and players are talking about adjustments already is … interesting to me.)
However, it’s not the full seats, great ratings, and global excitement that will matter. It’s the owners (or governors, as I hear Mr. Manfred wants to call owners, echoing the NBA’s shift) who will matter and there’s already a couple saying that it isn’t worth it. Sadly, it’s only their opinion that counts and more than a handful that don’t see the long term benefits of the Classic will kill it. I worry more about a slow death - less players allowed to play, some sort of compression that doesn’t allow the tournament to build the way it did - than a quick one. Even waiting another six years, rather than four or even two, would be a loss for growing the game globally, another place where MLB has fallen behind every other major league.
The saving grace here might be money. Fox spent a reasonable amount of money and got good ratings, relatively, adding live sports for a couple extra weeks. The international rights might end up more value, with crazy numbers in places like Japan, the Dominican, and Venezuela. If the green backs stack higher than the owners’ red ass, the Classic will continue, period, end of story. I’d like to think the good of the game matters to them, but I think we all know better by now.
In the end, we got a good not great game that stayed close, had a lot of nice moments, and finished with the Hollywood showdown ending. I can’t think of many ways that game could have been better and I can’t wait to see how many people in Japan watched it versus how many figured out where FS1 was on their channel package. Congrats to Samurai Japan and on to the injuries:
STEPHEN STRASBURG, SP WAS (thoracic outlet syndrome/rehab)
It’s no surprise that Stephen Strasburg is starting the season on the IL. He hasn’t been able to overcome the thoracic outlet syndrome surgery from 2021 that removed a rib, so the 60-day IL is acknowledgement that he won’t be ready until well into the season. The bigger question is whether this is where it ends for Strasburg, both on the season and in his career. At age-34, the all-time draft prospect has turned that 1-1 status into 114 wins and a World Series ring. That shouldn’t seem like a disappointment.
TOS is normally a pretty easy and relatively quick fix. It certainly wasn’t that for Strasburg, but it was complicated with a tough diagnosis, a reaction to the treatment, and to the lockout keeping him from all of his rehab. (I take the last part with a grain of salt. He might not have been able to work with the Nats staff, but Boras clients don’t lack for resources.) This is one of those things where things may have just worn down, though I won’t rule out a late career bounce. Most of the comps on his B-Ref page are pitchers that pitched until older - Corey Kluber feels like the best, but Adam Wainwright and Chris Sale are there too. Jose Rijo is also an interesting comp given his career arc.
There’s no question that the extension Strasburg got after the World Series - which seems like so long ago - is an albatross, potentially an all-time bad deal, but it’s hardly held back the Nationals. It hasn’t helped as the team has plummeted from the top to the bottom quickly, losing key talent along the way aside from Strasburg. The trades haven’t quite re-loaded the team, but none of them were bad … they just weren’t Trey Turner, Juan Soto, and Max Scherzer, but who is? With new ownership coming at some point, the Strasburg deal will simply be part of the writedown.
As for Strasburg, the worry is he’s done, though he’ll get chances if he wants them. The rotation has functionally moved on, though the loss of Cade Cavalli certainly opens the path to Strasburg if he’s able, or if Cole Henry is able to make the comeback from TOS surgery that Strasburg hasn’t. The parallels between his career and Mark Prior’s makes me wonder if Strasburg could be a similarly solid pitching coach. If I were the Nationals, I’d take a flyer and offer him the bullpen job the second he decides to hang things up and basically let him test the job while he’s on the IL.
Here’s one more interesting fact: I started to look to see how Strasburg’s early fastball compared to some of the current best in the game. The problem is, we don’t have that data. There’s some movement from Statcast but we don’t get consistent spin and movement data until halfway through Strasburg’s career. Unless someone figures out how to pull this from video, we’re at the very beginning of being able to make real historical comparisons and most of baseball will be lost to that. We’ll likely never know the data from Sandy Koufax or Bob Feller, sure, but we don’t have Strasburg’s full career either.
BRYCE HARPER, DH/OF PHI (sprained elbow/rehab)