Could the Nationals have won?

Christopher C. Dodson, M.D. October 15th, 2012

The season for the Washington Nationals ended last night when the St. Louis Cardinals erased an early 6-run deficit to advance to the division championship. For Nationals fans the season is bitter sweet as they were without their ace All-Star pitcher Stephen Strasberg. Strasburg was not hurt; rather the organization decided to shut him down at the end of the season to prevent injury to his surgically reconstructed elbow.

The question is: is there any science behind shutting pitchers down to prevent injury? The short answer is no…while pitchers are often limited to a certain number of pitches per game there is little science to support it. The Ulnar Collateral Ligament of the elbow approaches maximum tensile failure during EVERY pitch an elite level pitcher throws. In other words the ligament can tear during the first pitch of the game or the 100th. Still pitchers are protected from overuse injuries by having their pitch counts monitored which makes intuitive sense-but unfortunately that may have cost the Nationals their season.

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