Davey Johnson and Mike Rizzo explain the Strasburg shutdown

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We learned earlier today that the Nationals have decided to shut Stephen Strasburg down for the rest of the season rather than have him make one final start Wednesday against the Mets. Here’s how it went down.

According to Mark Zuckerman of CSNWashington.com, Nationals manager Davey Johnson said he made the decision after Strasburg gave up five runs over three innings last night against the Marlins. He discussed the idea with general manager Mike Rizzo and pitching coach Steve McCatty before going home for the night. Still convinced it was the right decision, Johnson informed Strasburg this morning that he was being shut down effective immediately.

In the end, Johnson and Rizzo agreed that Strasburg was showing signs of physical and mental fatigue and didn’t see much difference between pulling the plug now or on Wednesday.

“He’s had a great year,” Johnson said. “I know what he’s going through for the past couple weeks. The media hype on this thing has been unbelievable. I feel it’s hard for him — as it would be [for] anybody — to get mentally, totally committed in a ballgame. And he’s reached his innings limit that was set two years ago, so we can get past this and talk about other things for a change.”

“I think the accumulation of the focus problems and the physical fatigue took its toll on him,” Rizzo said. “I think what the doctors had prescribed for him, the innings parameters, were right on. It was a prudent time to pull the plug. It was a plan we had since Feb. 1. I don’t think too many people should be surprised by it.”

We knew Strasburg was going to be shut down eventually, but he was never formally told how many starts he had left until he met with Rizzo, Johnson and McCatty on Monday. During that meeting, the young right-hander said he was having trouble sleeping thinking about the impending shutdown. Sensing that it was weighing on his mind during his abbreviated start last night, the Nationals decided to end his season.

I mentioned earlier how Johnson cited the unusual amount of “media hype” as something that gradually consumed Strasburg. I had a pretty emotional response about it and that’s because I think the Nationals are partially responsible for this situation blowing up as it did. That said, I was a little harsh on Johnson. Strasburg isn’t a robot and to think he wouldn’t be affected by the national attention it has received would be pretty naive. He’s a competitor after all, so going from pitcher to spectator while the rest of your teammates are gearing up for the postseason must be a pretty lousy feeling. Johnson clearly has his best interests at heart and there was little reason to keep the controversy alive for a few more days if he was going to be shut down anyway.

This situation got bigger than anyone could have anticipated. I suspect that if you caught Mike Rizzo in a moment of candor, he might say that he didn’t expect the team to take off this quickly. And if they could do it all over again, perhaps they would have managed Strasburg’s workload a little bit differently. But that’s baseball for you. The Nationals have decided to take a bold stance with a unique talent and there’s just no way to know right now if it was the right move. We may never know.

Andrelton Simmons is absolutely freaking ridiculous

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I’ve been watching Andrelton Simmons play shortstop since he came up with the Braves back in 2012. From the moment he burst onto the scene it was clear that he was an otherworldly defensive talent. His arm was incredible. His range was astonishing. His sense of where he was on the field and his instincts about what to do with the ball were unmatched.

I’ll admit, however, that I’ve seen him less in the past couple of seasons than I used to. It’s understandable: he no longer plays for my favorite team and he now plays most of his games after old men like me go to bed back east. The numbers have shown that he’s still the best defensive shortstop around and the highlights which get circulated are still astounding, but I’ve not appreciated him on a day-to-day level like I once did.

But that just makes me more grateful for the highlights when I miss him in action. Like this one, from last night’s game against the Astros. You can see it in high resolution here, but if you can’t click over there, here’s the play as it was tweeted around:

I didn’t see last night’s game, but my friend Dan Lewis tweeted this out a bit. His observations about it in this thread explain why what Simmons is doing here is so amazing:

The lay-outs, the bobble-saves, the jump-throws and all of that spectacular stuff are understandably appreciated, but the various skills Simmons displayed in just this one play — not to mention the freakin’ hustle he displays backing up third base after it all — is just astounding.

There hasn’t been one like him for a while. We should all appreciate him while he’s still in his prime.

The Braves are leaning toward keeping Brian Snitker as manager

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Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported over the weekend that the Braves are leaning toward keeping Brian Snitker as manager. Part of that comes after team meetings between Snitker and top brass. Some of it, however, is likely attributable to player sentiment, with Bob Nightengale of USA Today reporting this morning that Freddie Freeman and several Braves players have told the Braves front office that they want Snitker back.

Is it a good idea to bring Snitker back? Eh, I’m leaning no, with the caveat that it probably doesn’t make a huge difference in the short term.

The “no” is based mostly on the fact that Snitker has had a disturbing trend of preferring veterans over young players, as Bradley explains in detail here. For a brief moment this summer the Braves seemed surprisingly competitive. Not truly competitive if anyone was being honest, but they were hovering around .500 and were arguably in the wild card race. Around that time he made a number of questionable decisions that favored marginal and/or injured veterans over some young players who will be a part of the next truly competitive Braves team, likely messing with their confidence and possibly messing with their development.

These moves were not damaging, ultimately, to the 2017 Braves on the field — they were going to be under .500 regardless — but it was the sort of short-term thinking that a manager for a rebuilding team should not be employing. Part of the blame for this, by the way, can be put on the front office, who only gave Snitker a one-year contract when they made him the permanent manager last year, creating an incentive for him to win in 2017 rather than manage the club the way a guy who knows when the team will truly be competitive should manage it. Then again, if Snitker was so great a candidate in the front office’s mind, why did they only give him a one-year contract?

I suspect a lot of it has to do with loyalty. Snitker has been an admirable Braves company man for decades, and that was certainly worthy of respect by the club. That he got the gig was likewise due in part to the players liking him — the veteran players — and they now are weighing in with their support once again. At some point, however, loyalty and respect of veterans has to take a back seat to a determination of who is the best person to bring the team from rebuilding to competitiveness, and Snitker has not made the case why he is that man.

Earlier, of course, I said it probably doesn’t matter all that much if they do, in fact, bring Snitker back. I say this because he will, in all likelihood, be given a short leash again, probably in the form of a one-year extension. It would not surprise me at all if, in the extraordinarily likely event the Braves look to be outclassed in the division by the Nationals again in 2018, they made a managerial switch midseason, as they did in 2016. If that is, indeed, the plan, it seems like the front office is almost planning on losing again in 2018 and using the future firing of Snitker as a time-buying exercise. Not that I’m cynical or anything.

Either way, I don’t think Snitker is the right guy for the job. Seems, though, that he’ll get at least an offseason and a couple of months to prove me wrong.