No one actually knows if limiting a pitcher to a certain amount of innings each seasons works. Felix Hernandez is throwing 230-240 innings a season and he’s never played less than 30 games excluding his rookie year. Stephen Strasburg is at 139.1 this season after 24 starts, which means he’ll be shut down in 20.9, according to everyone within the Washington Nationals organization.
The Nationals were supposed to be good this season, but probably not this good. They’re 77-46, the best record in the majors, 7 games ahead of the Atlanta Braves in the NL East. It’s not just Strasburg and Bryce Harper, who grab most of the attention. It’s also Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond. It’s a rotation with a majors best 3.23 ERA, and closer Tyler Clippard, but everyone likes to talk about Strasburg and the impending end to his season.
The future of the Nationals, the top of the rotation guy for years to come. Strasburg is 15-5 this season with a 2.85 ERA and 183 strikeouts, averaging 11.84 strikeouts per 9 innings, also a league best. This is a Cy Young kind of season for the 24 year old, only in his this season and his first real full one. Still, he’s been taken care of and limited like a baby out of his mothers womb.
The counter theory suggests that pitchers are developing through such a strict pitch count regime that they lose a certain feeling to the game. A certain spontaneity, and certain ability to make it out of rough situations. The coveted prospects hardly get to throw during their minor league days, and reach the majors without ever facing adversity. They know that when they reach a certain pitch count, no matter the score or the situation, it’s time to hit the bench.
It’s not like that for Felix Hernandez, only two years older than Strasburg. Hernandez has been pitching in the majors since 2005, making his debut just after his 19th birthday. He backed up his perfect game with another dominant win, making it to 12-5 this season as the Mariners coasted to a 5-1 win over the Indians.
Hernandez played 7.2 innings, striking out 5 hitters while allowing 7 hits and only 1 run. Perfect games tend to get you complacent on the high you’re still experiencing. Hernandez is now 8-0 over his last 13 starts with a 1.53 ERA. There’s no one in the league pitching better than him right now, and with about 5 weeks left in the season, that second Cy Young award is approaching, fast.
Two approaches, and with both of them, both pitchers might not see the postseason. Strasburg because of the Nationals policy to shut him down once he reaches 160, regardless of what keeping him might mean to their World Series chances. Felix Hernandez keeps excelling on a team that’s going nowhere. He’ll be a top-of-the-rotation guy for years to come, despite the dropping velocity just because he doesn’t need to be such a fastball kind of guy anymore, but eventually, it’ll be for a different team, if Hernandez wants to start seeing a playoff.