The Nats have named Max Scherzer their Opening Day starter, which makes a lot of sense. After all, they Nats are paying him an ungodly amount of money. He’s the only one on the staff that actually won a Cy Young Award.
Strasburg, the incumbent Number One, has been down with an ankle injury, so that knocks him out.
But what makes this all so interesting is a recent post on Hardball Times about success rates after Tommy John Surgery. The article looked at Major League pitchers between 1979 and 2009 that underwent Tommy John Surgery, breaking them down by age when they underwent surgery.
The prognosis for Tommy John surgeries isn’t that great. For pitchers that underwent surgery between the ages of 16 and 23, the article finds a median post-surgery MLB contribution of 93 appearances. For a starting pitcher, that’s maybe four or five years’ worth of starts.
What does this all have to do with Scherzer and Strasburg and Zimmermann?
First, it puts Scherzer’s seven-year deal into perspective. The Nats bought seven years of Max Scherzer, a pitcher who did not undergo the surgery.
They did not (yet) buy five years of Jordan Zimmermann, almost five years removed from surgery.
They have not (yet) decided to buy five years of Stephen Strasburg, four years removed from surgery.
Maybe we’ve been thinking about the Nats pitching contracts all wrong. Maybe it’s not Jordan Zimmermann’s distaste for DC traffic that’s keeping him from accepting a contract extension with the Nationals. It seems to me more likely that Rizzo and the Nationals are unwilling to pay what they consider to be an inflated market price when they have extracted as much value as anyone is likely to get from a post-TJ pitcher.
As for Zimmermann, so, too with Strasburg, who does not suffer the indignity of having his Opening Day duties taken because of an (in)convenient injury. Again, there’s reason to believe Rizzo will be unwilling to pay Scherzer money when Strasburg has maybe a 50/50 chance of providing any value–remember, he’s coming up to that median survival time.
Besides, Rizzo already paid Scherzer money–for Max Scherzer.
This is how it, is Nats town. Given all this, my advice is to enjoy every Zimmermann masterpiece. Make every day Strasmas. Because at this rate, I’m pretty pessimistic about the chances that either of those two guys stays around. From the organization’s perspective, it might be that that this window is closing.