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June 14, 2010

Under The Knife

Monday Update

by Will Carroll

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Stephen Strasburg had eight strikeouts in his second start Sunday against the Indians, coming off a dominant 14-strikeout debut. David Wright had four strikeouts over the weekend, adding to his season total of 73 and putting him on pace for around 190 in 2010. Baseball is a game where everything balances—or every batter with a K beside his name on the scorecard, there's a pitcher that gets to add it to his stat line. I'm no stat guy, so I'm not going to go into what it means or the value, but I do want to address the perception of a strikeout. There's no question that Strasburg's dominant starts are in large part due to his ability to blow his pitches past hitters. It's to the Nationals right-hander's credit that he can do so. Read any media story about Strasburg and it's clear that he's being credited for striking players out. It's his skill that leads to the event. Read any story about Wright's strikeouts this season and the reverse is true. The Mets third baseman is being blamed for striking out. Both can't be true, can they? Is it the pitcher who strikes someone out or the hitter that strikes out? Is it more a positive event for a pitcher or a negative event for the hitter? Of course, the answer is both, but we seldom see this looked at from both angles. There were the occasional wags that griped that Strasburg's 14-K debut came against a weak Pirates lineup, but has anyone looked at the pitchers Wright has faced?

BPro has an often-ignored stat called Pitcher's Quality of Opponents. It's very simple to understand, so I'm not sure why it's never really caught on. Perhaps for the same reason that strength of schedule, a staple of discussion in football, is seldom mentioned in baseball despite overweighted importance. I'd love to see the reverse of this. I'm not sure if Wright is facing "better" competition, a composite opponent that is more likely to strike him out, or not. In not knowing, we're left with mere speculation. Of course, that's easier, if less informative. Raw information without context is the kind of thing that led Twain to list statistics after lies and damned lies.

Alex Rodriguez (strained hip, ERD 6/15)
There are some interesting theories floating around about Rodriguez's latest hip problem. Like most body parts, each person has two hips. It's a symmetry issue, not a redundancy. Because of that symmetry, it's reasonable to think that when there are issues with one, there will be issues with the other. While that's generally true, at least in terms of probability, it's not true to any sort of certainty, largely because of how the body is used. Rodriguez's right hip is not used in the same way as the left hip, whether it's at the plate, in the field, or when he's home doing whatever it is he does. Rodriguez is out until Tuesday with an injury variously described as an iliopsoas strain and a hip flexor tendon problem, itself alternately described as a strain and a tendinitis issue. Rodriguez famously had a hybridized version of the FAIL surgery to repair his hip last season, but never had the second part after his surgeons felt it wasn't needed. (The second part was much more clean-up and not nearly as big a deal.) The great part for me is that all of those can be accurately described as "strained hip" as you see above. The specifics, while unclear, really don't matter. This is a maintenance issue for Rodriguez and the Yankees medical staff. Don't expect this to be a significant issue, though somewhere down the line—this upcoming offseason or perhaps much later—Rodriguez will have to have those hips worked on and likely replaced. In the short term, Rodriguez has to deal with what to him feels like a groin strain.

Jacoby Ellsbury (fractured ribs, ERD 7/15)
Jeremy Hermida (fractured ribs, ERD 6/30)
Two collisions have led to two extended absences. Paired with injuries to Mike Cameron and the known fragilities of J.D. Drew, that's left the Red Sox not star-studded, but replacement-level in the outfield. Darnell McDonald, Bill Hall, and Daniel Nava isn't exactly what the Sox brass was expecting to fight the American League East with. As Dr. Thomas Gill gave statements explaining how Ellsbury's treatment was appropriate and didn't contribute to the extended absence, the medical staff got hit with a secondary problem for the other collision victim. Hermida has five fractures, non-displaced, and doesn't appear to be headed for an extended absence. While Hermida is pointing at June 25, the first day eligible, to return, I'll give it a couple days beyond that given the way things have been going for the Sox recently. Maybe it's worth doing something about Adrian Beltre.

Homer Bailey (strained shoulder, ERD 7/30)
I told you something didn't look right about Bailey's arm. In athletic training circles, it's called a "Houdini diagnosis"—seeing an injury and calling the diagnosis without ever touching the player. It's pretty common in football where ACL sprains and ankle sprains are pretty easy, but occasionally, some hotshot student trainer will get good at Houdinis. There's a separate class, one where no matter the diagnosis, they're convinced it's not right and that's what I felt like with Bailey. Just watching him standing on the mound and gritting his teeth was one thing, but it was that odd way he shook his arm—back and forth, then twisting. After a short rehab start last week, Bailey didn't recover well and had pain in the front of the shoulder. The Reds have shut him down and are working to get the pain and inflammation out before they move to the next step. That Bailey was offered "the kitchen sink" tells us how serious this is. While I'm sure it wasn't presented as the right option yet, surgery was likely mentioned. The inflammation and symptoms point to some kind of impingement, if not some internal damage. It's possible Bailey can rehab back to the Reds rotation, but this one doesn't look good. I'll go in the middle of the possibilities with a late-July return date, but this one could change rapidly.

Kendry Morales (fractured tibia, ERD 10/4)
If you believe doctors didn't know that Morales was out for the season before they opened him up, I have a nice bridge to sell you in Anaheim. If you've watched the ERD since his fluke injury, I've played along knowing that while it was unlikely that he could return, I didn't have enough information definitively to say "nope, he's out." That's the problem with this job and with expected return dates. While I do my best, the dates themselves are never going to be accurate. Teams will insist that a player can come back, and absent that one locked-in source, I can't counteract something I know is, at best, an obfuscation. Teams lie, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for bad. They do it to get an advantage while they look at the trade market or just because they can. Morales shouldn't have long-term consequences—fractures heal—but his 2010 is over. We'll have to see if that means anything similar to the Angels.

Chipper Jones (sprained finger, ERD 6/18)
Stop me if you've heard this one before. Jones dealt with an injury, came back, and seems to have made it worse. Despite a cortisone injection in his finger last weekend, Jones didn't make it through this weekend without pain and swelling in his index finger. He'll sit out until Tuesday when a decision will be made about what the next step is, which could be another injection or a trip to the DL. Jones has indicated that he "can't get another injection" which would indicate that this last one wasn't his first one. This one is about pain tolerance and comfort, something that Jones simply doesn't have—or didn't allow by pushing for a quick return. While there's been some recent talk that Jones wants to go into managing someday, I get the sense that he's really more Mickey Mantle than Billy Martin. Like Mantle, another switch-hitter, one of the memes we'll deal with for the next 20 years is how good Jones might have been if he were just a bit healthier.

Daisuke Matsuzaka (strained forearm, ERD 6/24)
Matsuzaka went from bad sushi to bad forearm. The circumstances here are a bit odd and the quick DL move is more about the bullpen than the severity of Matsuzaka's injury. The forearm is not a big deal, as an examination showed no structural problems. It's most likely a bit of cramping, much in the same way that Carlos Zambrano has had issues and likely resulting from some weakness and dehydration from events earlier in the week. What is a big deal is the increasing fragility of Matsuzaka, especially in light of news that prized Japanese starter Yu Darvish is having elbow pain himself. Granted, Darvish went 150 pitches into his last start, but given the changes in Matsuzaka since coming to Boston, it's going to be tough for any team, no matter how good Darvish is, to write a Matsuzaka-sized check. We can't keep American pitchers healthy, so how the heck do we think we'll be able to keep a Japanese one healthy through all those changes? 

Carlos Beltran (arthritic knees, ERD 7/15)
Jerry Manuel said that Beltran could DH as soon as next week, but assistant GM John Ricco quickly shot down that idea. That should tell you a lot about the Mets and who has the keys right now. Manuel is getting towards the end of his rope, but points at injuries like the one that has cost Beltran over a year of time and says "ain't my fault." While the New York media went nuts for this kind of story, it's red meat, there was really no chance that Beltran could go from playing intrasquad games to the Mets lineup with no intermediate step. It's possible and actually something I'd argued for, at least in the sense that once the Mets are confident that Beltran can come up, they need to do so. Still, it's not going to happen or even be considered before we see Beltran make it through a series of rehab games. I'm not sure what they want to see there, but it's their dime, not mine. Beltran's knee has been relatively good through his increase in running and his move to the batter's box. With Manuel continuing to insist that he considers Beltran his center fielder, I'm not sure if the Mets really get this one. At least, the ones speaking publicly for organization don't.

Quick Cuts: It wasn't that long ago when Kerry Wood was the Strasburg of his day. Looking at his pitch counts in his first year—which ended with Tommy John surgery—it's a very different game. While I think the pendulum has swung too much to protection, I'm glad it has swung. ... Brandon Webb pitched from a mound over the weekend. That doesn't mean he'll be "trade bait" or in the Diamondbacks rotation any time soon. He's a couple weeks away from even a rehab assignment, but this is a positive step. ... Oliver Perez is not going to do a rehab assignment when able, according to multiple reports. It's not as if he's close to that now, but the Mets are being backed into a bad corner by Perez and his advisors. ... Troy Tulowitzki is expected back on Tuesday after missing a couple games with a sore groin. ... SI.com's Jon Heyman reported last week that the Yankees aren't sure Nick Johnson is going to be able to return. Sources tell me that's "possible. He's behind, but [the Yankees] expected that." ... Austin Jackson left Sunday's game with back spasms. For a speed player, that's not good. Keep an eye on this one. ... Jason Bartlett will play a couple of games at Triple-A Durham to test his hamstring. If all goes to plan, he'll meet the Rays in Atlanta mid-week and be activated. ... Gabe Kapler goes to the DL with a strained hip flexor. He's not expected to be out more than the minimum. ... Jeff Mathis had a mild setback during his rehab. He injured his thumb, but the wrist that sent him down in the first place is fine. ... With Derek Holland heading to Arizona to continue his rehab, losing Rich Harden wasn't part of the plan for the Rangers. A strained gluteal gave the team a reason to put him on the DL. There's some speculation that Tanner Scheppers might be seen as the long-term solution for that slot, but Harden is only expected to miss the minimum. ... John Maine had a nice first rehab start, going four scoreless innings. He'll need at least one more before returning to the Mets. ... The scary part of this isn't that schools are trying to come up with a "learning batting average" but that the people creating this think batting average is a good enough stat. Bring on the edumetricians! ... Thanks all for the support in regards to my Twitter feed. As soon as I can have it back up and be in control of it, I'll let you know.

Related Content:  Year Of The Injury,  Strained Groin

33 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Jivas
(649)

Kerry Wood's pitch counts from 2003 are even more alarming. I'd bet that Mark Prior's data from 2003 would look worse, but I'm in no mood to look and make myself sad.

Jun 14, 2010 09:43 AM
rating: 0
 
dbertelli

That was my thought, too.

Check out Mark Prior's September 2003 here: http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/gl.cgi?n1=priorma01&t=p&year=2003

Six starts, with 5 of them over 124 pitches, on the way to 211 innings (and this was after taking a 24-day break in July and August) as a 22 year-old.

Jun 14, 2010 19:47 PM
rating: 0
 
Eric

Will,

How bad of a "strain" does/did Bartlett have? These are the type of injuries that always seem to linger either physically or mentally for the player. Many times they seem to also lead to another injury...

Thanks for all the work as always.

Jun 14, 2010 09:53 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

Why is "strain" in quotes? It's a strain. A Grade I/II hamstring strain. Simple as that and yes, they have a recurrance risk.

Jun 14, 2010 11:19 AM
 
Eric

I always think strain is a loosely used term. The grade is much better. Is there a percentage that can be referenced for how often this grade strain does recur?

Jun 14, 2010 11:47 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

Let me get people to understand that a strain is a tear before we make it more specific.

Jun 14, 2010 12:13 PM
 
jake726

I know this isn't your area of expertise, but describing the Red Sox outfield as "replacement level" isn't close to an accurate description. Drew has played in almost every game this season, despite his reputation, with a .286 TAV. Cameron, in limited playing time this season, has a .260 TAV. Both of these are hundreths of a point below their projections. McDonald has a .267 TAV and is improving on his breakthrough season last year. It is probably reasonable to expect production more in line with his 70th percentile projection going forward, which would be a .255 TAV. Nava has a .251 TAV MLE so far this season. Given his unusual career path, I don't really trust his PECOTA. His performance this year is in line with his past performance, so it seems unlikely he'll suffer a dramatic drop off down to his projected .231 given that his projection is weighted down by him spending most of his minor league careers being significantly too old for his league. Bill Hall has posted a .273 TAV. His PECOTA is .232. All of these performances are closer to average than replacement level, even after accounting for McDonald and Hall's subpar defense.

Jun 14, 2010 11:01 AM
rating: -1
 
dalbano

I think the appropriately quick analysis would be to actually compare the Boston OF's VORP(Value over Replacement Level) to other teams. Boston's OF has a total VORP of 15.2, with JD Drew accounting for nearly half of that total.

There are 28 other players in all of MLB that have a higher VORP than 15.2

Will's statement is accurate.

Jun 14, 2010 12:51 PM
rating: 0
 
dalbano

28 other Outfielders....not players.

Jun 14, 2010 12:53 PM
rating: 0
 
jake726

The season VORP of the outfield is irrelevant. For starters, it counts performances by players that are not the outfield I or Will Carroll are talking about. It even includes Hermida's -2.8 VORP performance with sub-average defense that heavily weighs down the performance of the outfield to date. The relevant numbers are those of the players who are currently in the outfield.

McDonald has 4.3 VORP over 152 PA. That prorates to 18.4 VORP over 650 PA. He is a slightly below average defender though.

Drew has accumulated 7.3 VORP over 246 PA. That is 20.1 VORP over 650 PA. He is an above average to very good defender as well.

Hall has 3.9 VORP in 126 PA. That is 20.1 VORP over 650 PA. His defense is definitely below average but not terrible.

Nava is probably about a 1.5 win player as a starter.

All those numbers look pretty close to average. Drew is better than average. Everyone else looks closer to a 1.5 win player. Of course, both Hall and McDonald are due for regression and are probably more like 1-win players going forward. Still, that leaves the outfield being much closer to average, although definitely below, than replacement level.

I am not saying this is a spectacular outfield. It isn't. It is below average. It also is a far cry from replacement level.

Jun 14, 2010 13:35 PM
rating: 0
 
jake726

Somehow I forgot to include Cameron's numbers. He has 1.2 VORP in 72 PA. That is 10.8 over 650 PA. His excellent defense turns that into an average performance. His ability to stay on the field, of course, is a big question at this point.

Jun 14, 2010 13:40 PM
rating: 0
 
dalbano

Which is it Jake? Are we talking about the OF that includes or excludes the guys not currently able to take the field?

Either way, you are making my argument for me. I think the point is that McDonald, Hall, & Nava will never be anything to write home about. Are you really trying to stand by a 10.2 VORP being a far cry above replacement? I think my point earlier that 28 other single OFs across the league have a higher VORP than the entire BOS OF to date should say enough.

Jun 14, 2010 14:02 PM
rating: -1
 
jake726

My argument is simply that the current outfield is playing and should be expected to continue to play at a slightly below average rate (about a win over a full season) which is not close to replacement level.

Your argument seems to be, there are 28 outfielders whose offensive performance has exceeded that of the Red Sox outfield so far this season. This is true. It also doesn't help, in any meaningful way, measure the production or expected production of the Red Sox outfield.

An argument for this team having a replacement level outfield would start with pointing out that Hall, Nava, and McDonald have replacement level pre-season projections. This would be a much stronger argument than the one you have laid out.

However, there is very good reason to believe the mean projections for McDonald and Nava understate their true ability level. McDonald because he seemed to discover how to hit going into 2009 and his 2010 production backs up that he may have made a real shift in his ability to hit. PECOTA was right to be skeptical of him going into the season. We would be right to expect him to continue to exceed that projection now. Nava because there are no good comps due to his unique development path and strong MLE's in AA and AAA. PECOTA kills him for having been a 25 year old in A ball and a 26 year old in A+. This would be fair for almost any other player but isn't for Nava. Hall is a wildcard and very hard to project. But, he should continue to produce solidly as long as he is primarily asked to hit lefties, which he has always done well. Once again, all this still makes for an outfield that would be lucky to achieve average production overall. But, it also makes for an outfield that is significantly better than replacement level.

Jun 14, 2010 17:11 PM
rating: 0
 
dalbano

I get what you are saying, but honestly, if you are going to hang your hat on a group of guys, not just one, that is going to net you a win over the rest of this season than those guys are only slightly better than replacement value.

Jun 14, 2010 18:01 PM
rating: 0
 
Patrick

Why are you all using VORP? It only measures offensive performance.

Jun 15, 2010 12:36 PM
rating: 0
 
mglick0718

"Strasburg..is being credited for striking players out.The Mets third baseman is being blamed for striking out. Both can't be true, can they?" Why not? Clearly both pitchers and hitters influence strikeouts, and if a pitcher does it a lot we credit them and if a batter does it a lot we do the opposite. I'm not terribly concerned about Wright's K's as long as his OPS is right in line with his career line, but I'm a little concerned because I assume strikeouts, or more accurately his marked upturn in K's the last 1.5 seasons, indicate something is off with his swing or approach.

Jun 14, 2010 11:36 AM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

My point is that it's true that both contribute, but neither is SOLELY responsible.

Jun 14, 2010 12:14 PM
 
Brian24

I'd certainly be interested in seeing such a "quality of pitchers faced" report on Wright, but I seriously doubt that, with the number of pitchers a player faces in two and a half months, the difference could be large enough to account for the huge increase in Ks Wright has this season.

Jun 14, 2010 14:30 PM
rating: 0
 
dianagram

Its part of the stats reports available on the site ... here

http://www.baseballprospectus.com/statistics/sortable/index.php?cid=424322

Jun 14, 2010 17:06 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

My lord - I had no idea this was possible. Which tells you something.

Jun 14, 2010 18:56 PM
 
dianagram

That is verrrry surprising, considering you wrote of the Pitcher's Quality of Opponents! :-)

Jun 14, 2010 20:52 PM
rating: 0
 
JoshC77

Thanks for the link.

One interesting thing is that if you sort for all players at all positions that have 200 PA this season, there are 5 Arizona Diamondbacks at the top of the list in terms of the Opponents Quality Average....

I don't know if it is meaningful, but given their struggles as a team this season, it is interesting.

Jun 15, 2010 04:28 AM
rating: 0
 
sensij


Also, it would be hard to believe that Wright is seeing substantially better pitchers than his teammates... late inning bullpen usage by the opposition might affect the stat, but not drive it.

The story is Wright's K's, not the Mets as a team.

Jun 14, 2010 22:01 PM
rating: 0
 
Mike W
(830)

Will, what's up with Brett Anderson? Haven't seen anything from you on him lately - of course I might have missed it. I read yesterday that it's just imflammation, which sounds . . . interesting? puzzling? Where's this headed?

Jun 14, 2010 12:09 PM
rating: -2
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

I'd check back. You missed it :)

Jun 14, 2010 12:13 PM
 
Alex Nixon

"Don't expect this to be a significant issue, though somewhere down the line—this upcoming offseason or perhaps much later—Rodriguez will have to have those hips worked on and likely replaced."

Will, what sort of effect would a hip replacement have on A-Rod's performance? Is there any history of baseball players having hip replacements and coming back to play at a high level?

I imagine this would have a terrible impact on his on-field performance (although, as I know several people who have had hip replacements, his quality of life would remain pretty good).

Jun 14, 2010 12:21 PM
rating: -1
 
ahemmer

I think when Will says "perhaps much later," he may mean a hip replacement after Rodriguez's career is over. A-Rod will likely need some more work done by then, though; justnot a full out hip replacement. Would Bo Jackson be the only comparable? He did okay after his hip replacement, but he was never the same as before.

Jun 14, 2010 13:00 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

Yes, after his career, much in the same way that many NFL and NBA players are facing knee replacements down the line. Jackson's the only one I know has come back.

Jun 14, 2010 14:36 PM
 
Alex Nixon

Sorry, I misunderstood the line "this coming offseason."

Jun 14, 2010 16:43 PM
rating: 0
 
Karl T

Were all BP writers instructed to work "Stephen Strasburg" into the first sentence of their articles today?

Jun 14, 2010 12:44 PM
rating: 1
 
pobothecat

That's right. This is Fox News.

Jun 14, 2010 14:33 PM
rating: -2
 
cyborg

I'm not sure that the Quality of opponents for pitchers the way it is calculated really means that much. Hitting is so cyclical that simply taking the overall stats doesn't necessarily represent what happened those few days in the year the pitcher faced a particular team. We of course know some teams are better than others but a whole team can go into a slump for a week or two and then pull out of it. Phi ranks 28th in R in the last 30 days. Will we really look back at them at the end of the year and say they are a bad offensive team?

Jun 14, 2010 20:10 PM
rating: 0
 
shmage

Oliver Perez would refuse rehabilitation? Isn't that sort of thing what the restricted list is for?

Jun 15, 2010 12:45 PM
rating: 0
 
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