The Washington Nationals caused quite a furor around the baseball world a few months ago when they announced that Stephen Strasburg would be shut down after he hit a certain, undisclosed innings count. After a small flare-up in outrage when the Nats made good on their announcement in September and sent Strasburg to hibernate until the spring, it was all quiet on the Washington front until the playoffs started, and once again, we're hearing about the The Worst Team Decision Ever Made Ever. (Or so said Leo Mazzone yesterday.)
After Jordan Zimmermann was knocked out of Game 2 of the NLDS in the third inning -- absolutely shocking that the second-ranked offense in baseball would ever have a big game -- l'affaire Strasburg has been officially upgraded from a hoopla to a full-scale hullabaloo.
How much of this is really warranted? After all, the difference in quality between players in baseball is fairly subtle, something that only becomes readily apparent over the long haul of 162 games. When the difference between a league-average player making millions and a decent Triple-A player is two to three wins over the course of an entire year, the gap becomes minimal over the course of a short playoff series. We see so many scrubs become stars during playoffs (and vice versa) in part because baseball's designed so that over a short period, anyone can be the MVP or the goat.
What makes the outrage so misplaced is that when we're talking specifically about Stephen Strasburg and this year's playoffs, we're not comparing Strasburg to a baseline replacement-level player, but instead to the teammate who would take his place in the playoffs. Washington has a rotation that is clearly one of the deepest in baseball, so we're looking at Strasburg (15-6, 3.16 ERA) compared to either Ross Detwiler, who was 10-8 with a 3.40 ERA, or Edwin Jackson, who went 10-11, 4.03.
So exactly how much does losing Strasburg affect the odds of the Nationals advancing/winning it all, and how does that compare to other top players in this year's postseason? Let's take a look.