I say "situation" and not "question" because there likely is no question. Rizzo wants to shut him down. He will be shut down. Is it the right move? As Stark and Passan rightfully wrote, "Who knows?". There simply isn't enough data to have created a sure-fire method of coming back from Tommy John surgery and there are too many confounders that we can't account for on a pitcher by pitcher basis. There is no guarantee of success no matter what you do.
Given that and my usual proclivity to strike while the iron is hot, you may be surprised that I'm in favor of shutting Strasburg down. Why? Strasburg is a long-term asset and like any long-term asset you are best served by treating it conservatively. We don't know much but we do understand at a base level that more pitches equals more injuries. Shutting Strasburg down might be too conservative, the baseball equivalent of investing your retirement fund in a simple bank savings account, but since we don't know where that line is, the line where you go from conservative to risky, you have little choice but to err on the side of too conservative.
There are no compelling other reasons for the franchise to keep Strasburg pitching. National and local interest is just beginning to grow. Rizzo's job is not on the line. This is not the last chance of an aged squad. There isn't a large long-suffering fan base that may rebel at the decision (suffering fan base, yes). Notice I didn't say anything about winning the World Series. While that is the ultimate goal it is not necessary for the continued success of the franchise.
Of course I'm not a die-hard Nationals fan. The above is a soulless take on what's best for the future health of the Washington Nationals. I'm not thinking about a championship in this year or any other year. I'm merely figuring what gives this franchise the most wins from here until the likely end of the Gio /Stras era in 2016. Unfortunately for the die-hards their side is filled with arguments from the talking head side of sports. The ones who shout "The clubhouse will be angry!!!" and "When I was playing, I wouldn't let them do this!!!". Not a good side to be on. Since I'm nothing if not a wishy-washy android with feeling of goodwill toward the die-hard Nats fan base, here are some very good arguments on why the Nats should keep pitching Strasburg.
The Playoffs are not guaranteed
You hear the "They got a chance to win it all!" argument a lot but the thought process behind that is they are a good team who will make the playoffs for a few years but who knows if they'll be best in the league again. They don't say that the Nats won't make the playoffs again, but that is a possibility. We like to point out the Braves as a model of consistency. The Braves have made the playoffs once since 2006. The Red Sox built up a good farm system, spent a ton of money and are about to miss the playoffs for the third consecutive year. Only the Yanks and Phillies have made the playoffs each of the past 3 years and only 4 other teams have made it twice in the last 3, the Cardinals, Rangers, Rays, and Twins. (Yeah, the Twins). So out of those 6 likely only 3 (maybe 2, real unlikely 4) are going to get in this year.
The 2nd Wild Card will change things but even then things happen. Injuries, bad luck, other teams getting hot. It doesn't take much to miss the playoffs. You ask me now how many times the Nats will make the playoffs from 2013-2016 and I'd guess 3. That's 3 playoffs teams not three pennant winners and I would bet on 2 before 4. What if the Nats only make it twice after this year? By shutting down Strasburg, you are hurting yourself in one out of your three chances.
The offense is led by old guys...
Who are the four most important bats in the Nats line-up right now (well as of two days ago)? Zimmerman, LaRoche, Morse and Werth, right? Morse will be 31 next year, LaRoche 33, Werth 34. All have missed major time to injury in the last 2 years. They are all in the decline phase of their career. Is it a slow decline with maybe a surprise good year left? Maybe, but betting on all three hitting like they are right now is a fool's bet. Over the course of the next couple years production from these guys will go down which means it'll have to pick up elsewhere.
... and everyone else has a legitimate question hanging on them
I wouldn't have said this mid May as Ramos was hitting ok and everyone was sure Bryce would adapt quickly to the majors but here we are. Give me a Nats player and I'll voice a concern. Ramos? Back from major injury. Suzuki? Not good. Moore? Scouts and stats both say he'll have trouble keeping an average up for a full year. Espinosa? Still hasn't broken out. Desmond? Just one year and possible injury-risk. Zimmerman? Even more of an injury-risk. Bryce? May take a couple years to hit full potential.
The Nats' offense has had a lot of injuries this year but they've also had pretty much everything break right for them on the field including the performance of fill-ins. Here are the names of guys who performed much worse than expected this year. Mark DeRosa. Xavier Nady. That's it. That's the list. About 170 at bats. Everyone else is at expectations or above when they've played. That's an unusual occurrence that's unlikely to be repeated.
There's no such thing as a sure thing pitcher.
OK the Nats offense could be a bit of a question mark going forward. But the pitching, that is young and good and surely the Nats can count on that, right? I went back three years and looked at the top pitchers by WAR and pulled out the top 7 that were 27 or younger that year. Here's what happened
Greinke - regressed a bit in 2010
Lincecum - not as good in 2010, went off the rails the first half of this year
Johnson - missed major time in 2011, good in 2012 but not the same pitcher as before.
Jurrjens - battled injuries behind a bad 2010 and terrible 2012, hasn't had more than 23 starts after 2009
Wainwright - missed all of 2011
Lester - regressed, with good luck in 2011 didn't look so bad, with bad luck in 2012 looks terrible
Cain - nothing bad for Matt!
There you go. Seven young stud pitchers their teams were surely thinking "we can plan around these guys" and 6 of them don't perform up to the same level for the next 3 years. Only two, Cain and Greinke, are even just good pitchers for each of the next three seasons. Now if that seems a bit dire, you're right. By chance this list just left off Verlander and King Felix, who have both been good three straight years since then. But adding them you still get to roughly 50% of the pitchers failing to do what their teams expected of them, in even a short period of time, either because injury or because the fact that playing high level baseball is hard. Gio, ZNN, and Strasburg will not each have 3 great years the next 3 seasons. If they falter will Detwiler/whoever be able to compensate for that loss?
This isn't my line of thinking, but these are valid arguments why the Nats should go all-in in 2012. Personally, I think the pitching is that good that it would survive the random off-year or injury year and I think the offense can be good enough even with the aging and questions to keep making the playoffs. That's why I favor shutting down Strasburg, but don't dismiss the guys that favor keeping Strasburg going as macho cranks or short-sighted. Nothing is guaranteed in baseball.