David Huzzard: It’s a wonderful life in Natstown

This week, the focus on Stephen Strasburg’s innings limit has kicked into a higher gear, and as far as the national media is concerned, Mike Rizzo is the Grinch who stole Strasmas. Most of the stories this week have painted the citizens of Natstown as ignorant little Whos too caught up with the winning to be as enraged as they should be. Let us not hover too long on that tale, but shift instead to a different tale of morality.

Instead of casting Rizzo as the mean old Mr. Grinch we will have Strasburg play the role of George Bailey. If you aren’t familiar with the story involved here, the point is simple. Destitute and depressed George Bailey wanders out to the bridge in Pottersville fully prepared to heave himself off so he can provide for his family through his life insurance policy since he is worth more dead than alive. Fate intervenes and an angel shows him the world as it would be had he never existed. It is now on us to reach into the outer limits of our imaginations and envision what the 2012 Nationals would look like had Strasburg never joined the team.

As with any hypothetical, a few assumptions will have to be made. The first is that the Nationals would average 4.5 runs of support for John Lannan just as they have for Strasburg. The second is that the bullpen would give up 0.4 runs per innings pitched. Lannan for his career has averaged 5.9 innings a start and allowed 2.96 runs while he is in the game. Over a period of 24 starts, Lannan would have allowed 100 runs. Combine that with the 108 runs the Nationals would have scored and run it through the pythag machine for an expected winning percentage of .538 or 13 wins in the 24 games.

When Strasburg takes the mound, the Nationals have gone 17-7. With Lannan in the place of Strasburg, the expected outcome would be for the team to have gone 13-11, making the Nationals 69-49 on the season.

This can be taken one of two ways. The first way is to focus on the fact that the Nationals would be in a dogfight for the division title with the Atlanta Braves and would only be the second-best team in the NL behind the Cincinnati Reds. Or, it can be realized that even without Strasburg ever having thrown a pitch for the 2012 Nationals, they would still be on pace for 95 wins, and one of the better teams in baseball.

The 2012 Nationals are not, nor have they ever been only Strasburg. Subtract him entirely from the equation and the Nationals still look like a playoff contender. If Strasburg missing 24 starts doesn’t change that, then it is hard to imagine that his missing two to four would. If Yuniesky Betancourt never hits a two-run triple in the final game of the 2008 season and Strasburg never becomes a Washington National, the Nationals would still be good.

The Nationals have played and won as a team all season long, and not having Strasburg for a couple of games at the end of September will not change that. If anything, it will strengthen the resolve of the 24 other players that are being ignored by the media. The Nationals are not a winning team solely because of Strasburg, but he is the difference between them being a good team and the best team in baseball.

David Huzzard blogs about the Nationals for Citizens of Natstown, and offers his viewpoints as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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