Rarely has a player generated as much excitement after so few big league appearances as Stephen Strasburg has this year. Strasburg’s much anticipated debut on June 8th exceeded expectations as he pitched seven innings striking out 14 with no walks. Since that time, every time Strasburg pitches, his exploits have led the highlight reels. He has generated comparisons to Hall of Famepitchers such as Tom Seaver, been the subject of a scientific analysis in the New York Times sports section, and been the talk of baseball fans across the country.Stephen Strasburg is also the biggest thing that has ever happened to the Washington Nationals. In that city, it is almost impossible to walk a block without seeing a Strasburg t-shirt.
Many fans, however, have not has a chance to see Stephen Strasburg pitch either on television or in person. One way to address this issue, and satisfy the interest many fans have in Strasburg would be to schedule an exhibition game one evening during the middle of the summer in which Strasburg would have the opportunity to pitch an inning. To make it more fun, rather than have Strasburg overwhelm the bottom half of a lineup of some weak hitting team like the San Francisco Giants or Houston Astros, he could pitch against a lineup of great hitters. Imagine if he had to pitch to, for example, Robinson Cano, Joe Mauer and Evan Longoria. That would generate a lot of interest from fans and be great for baseball.
This game does, of course, exist and is called the All-Star Game, but Stephen Strasburg did not make the team. He was kept off the team because he did not make his debut until June and thus has seen limited action this year. This is a good argument against starting Strasburg, and would be a good argument against putting him on a 25 man All-Star roster, but there are now 34 players on each All-Star team, with so many players, one would think it would be easy to find room for one of the most exciting players in the game who, it should not be overlooked, has posted phenomenal numbers since being brought up to pitch for the Nationals.
The argument that Strasburg has not pitched enough this year also is weakened during the era of the closer when many All Stars do not pitch all that many innings. Jonathan Broxton, Matt Capps, Arthur Rhodes and Brian Wilson have all pitched fewer, or in the case of Capps, the same amount of innings as Strasburg, but nobody is questioning their positions on the NL All-Star team. Obviously, closers are not expected to pitch as many innings as starting pitchers, but if the All Star team has room for so many closers and setup men, it seems like it should have room for a starter like Strasburg. If the All Star game were a serious affair with 25 man rosters and fewer rules regarding player usage, the principle behind keeping off Strasburg off the roster might be more plausible, but under the current setup this principle makes no sense.
The selection of Strasburg over his teammate Matt Capps is particularly noteworthy. Each team must have one player represented on the All Star team and Capps, as the lone National on the squad, has the spot that might have otherwise gone to Strasburg. Capps is something of a generic good closer. There are about 15-20 players like him in any given year. Capps is valuable, but not all that special. During this season, he has also not been as good as Strasburg. As of Tuesday morning, both had pitched 36.2 innings. Strasburg had more strike outs 53, than Capps, 36, a lower ERA 2.45 to 3.19 and a lower WHIP 1.064 to 1.203.
Stephen Strasburg may go on to become a great pitcher who appears in many All-Star Games, but he could also get hurt next month, or have a career that ends up somewhere in between. He will only be, however, a rookie phenom once.Many baseball fans would enjoy seeing this 21 year old compete against the game’s best; and the All Star game would certainly benefit from that storyline, but unfortunately the league missed this opportunity in the name of some principle that is prima facie laughable.