Scott Boras, Stephen Strasburg’s agent, hinted on a radio interview yesterday that there could be legal ramifications if the Nationals did not sit Stephen Strasburg.
“Certainly, when you run afoul to medical recommendations with any player, there most likely are ethical and legal considerations. Coverage for insurance: would the insurance companies say we won’t cover players that won’t follow physician counsel and advice? There are a number of factors in this process where peoples’ careers are affected and affected dramatically. The consequences are far greater when you don’t follow expert medical advice.”
Boras is a guy who knows how to use leverage and work general managers. He likes to make charts to prove whatever point gets him the most money, and can talk circles around most people. He is really good at what he does. You can be sure that this conversation has happened. [UPDATE: right after posting this, I saw Dan Steinberg's piece that also just ran, with more detailed statements from Boras. Must read.] The question is how legitimate is it? I guess that depends on what a doctor says. Is the doctor specifically limiting Strasburg by saying “pitch him like normal for 5 months then shut him down on exactly this date”? If so, maybe. Is the doctor recommending to monitor his usage during the first full year back, as would be prudent. More of a gray area, but probably no chance of success on that one. The only doctor recommendation that would prevent injury would be advising Strasburg to never pitch again.
So which is it? I guess it depends on who you believe, Mike Rizzo or Mike Rizzo. Here’s Rizzo yesterday when the Strasburg Storm was blowing:
“We’re looking at the long term health of the franchise and for Stephen Strasburg,” said Rizzo. “We’ve got a plan, we’ve got a blueprint of how to do this. This isn’t Mike Rizzo’s plan, he didn’t go to Medical school but Dr. Lew Yocum did and Dr. James Andrews did. We’re taking their recommendations and putting them into place.”
So, apparently, this plan (pitch him like you have no concerns about pitch counts and innings, but then stop at a certain point before he gets to the end of the season) was set by the doctors and Rizzo is just following doctor’s orders.
Or, here’s Rizzo from Thomas Boswell’s piece, a week ago, when the skies were calmer:
“It includes the view of the surgeon, Lewis Yocum, who’s performed all the operations on Nats pitchers in recent years. It is Yocum’s belief that pitchers who break down from premature returns from elbow surgery — sometimes ruining their shoulders, and their whole careers, rather then their new elbows — don’t usually do so during the first big stress year but rather the following season. That would be 2013 in Strasburg’s case.
. . .
Then Rizzo said he told Strasburg’s father that the decision to shut his son down was “mine and mine alone.” (emphasis mine)
That piece put it on Rizzo, that the story was his resolve and willingness to make a decision, with some input from others, including a more general “injuries can happen two years later, still be cautious” doctor input. Now, this week, nope, not my call, just following orders.
Or maybe it’s this Rizzo from the spring, talking about how the Nationals would set a pitch limit and he was a young pitcher and so that wanted to start the season on a regular rotation.
“We’ve got a plan in place,” Rizzo responded. “We’ve taken a lot of time and a lot of painstaking days going over the calendar and going over the schedule and that type of thing. What we don’t want to do is we don’t want to interrupt his rotation. He’s very comfortable. He’s a very monitored person. He likes everything in its place, and we don’t really want to jumble up his schedule and get him out of his rotation and out of his routine.
“So Davey’s gonna monitor it, we’re gonna monitor each and every start, we’re gonna monitor how we utilize him. But Davey’s under no instructions of a pitch count, a pitch limit, an innings limit per game. We’re gonna utilize him, and when we feel that he’s reached his limit and he’s had enough, we’re just gonna shut him down.”
Bowden’s co-host then tried to make sure that this was the plan regardless of a playoff push, and Rizzo agreed.
Earlier this week, Kevin Sheehan of ESPN 980 tried to find out exactly what that limit was.
“He’s not on a pitch limit for the year,” Rizzo said. “We’re going to control his innings at the end, and when I feel he’s had enough innings, we’re gonna shut him down. So there’s no limit per game for Davey, there’s no innings limit per game for Davey. We’re gonna treat him like a normal, young 23-year old starter. And when I feel he’s had enough innings and enough pitches thrown, then I’m gonna pull the plug on him and we’re gonna rest him, like we did with Jordan Zimmermann.”
So, which is it? My guess, Dr. Yocum has provided input about not overusing it in year one-of course he has. The decisions about starting him in April at full pitch count (he threw 110 pitches right away) and going every start without limitation are baseball decisions by the Nationals, though, in how they are choosing to address those limitations. I doubt Yocum said it was better to start full bore in April rather than actually be more limited early and build up to it in June, maybe even not start him right away. If he gets hurt now, so long as there is not a specific directive with explicit detail, Boras has no legitimate claim to say insurance wouldn’t cover it.
Of course, now the story seems to be changing and it’s all on the doctors. Rizzo’s just following orders, and Boras is saying he has to as well.
[photo via US Presswire]