September 6, 2010
Under The Knife
A Difficult Task
Injuries are costly. No one denies that, though no one really does much about it, either. One of the issues is measurement. Tom Gorman did a great job of trying that in Baseball Prospectus 2005. His "injury accounting" methodology flat-out works, but was a time-intensive procedure that took him weeks to work through with each team, and even then was a bit subjective. The problem lies mostly in the way players are replaced. Look at the recent example of Ian Kinsler. As he was on the DL, the Rangers first used Joaquin Arias and Andres Blanco to fill in, but mixed in Alex Cora and Cristian Guzman as well. Moreover, the sheer number of roster moves made between Kinsler's injury and eventual return make it nearly impossible to say with any certainty how much value was lost or possibly gained in the interim. In 2008, I tried to come up with a simplified form of injury accounting. Using Nate Silver's MORP was the best solution, since the pre-arbitration contracts of some players made the "real dollar" loss uninformative. It's still not perfect—losing Ryan Zimmerman is likely as big a loss for the Nationals as losing Alex Rodriguez would be for the Yankees, but their salary disparity makes using real dollars pointless. While MORP isn't perfect, it's a level playing field that allows for a more reasonable estimate. The "Injury Cost" estimate works pretty well for what it was intended, both on a per-player and a full-team basis. I have some ideas for overhauling the system, including a "Park Adjustment" and a base that's a bit more advanced than the very simple equation used now (MORP/180 x days lost). Both Gorman's Injury Accounting and Injury Cost give us a starting point for a discussion, which alone makes them worthwhile tools.
Johan Santana (strained pectoral, ERD 9/12)
The news surrounding Santana's strained pectoral is pretty good. If you look beyond the simple fact that he'll be skipped next turn, there's mostly good news. There's simply no reason for the Mets to push Santana at all and with even a minor strain near his shoulder, it's smart to make sure he's not going to set himself up for a cascade injury. Over the weekend, there was some indication that the Mets were considering shutting Santana down, but a positive workout quieted that talk, at least for now. The Mets will continue to monitor Santana this week as he continues to throw. His normal side day if he would have been able to start tomorrow would have been Friday, so look for some indication then. People in weekly moves would be smart to use another option, since even if Santana does make the weekend start, he's likely to be on a very low pitch limit.
Josh Hamilton (bruised torso, ERD 9/10)
Elvis Andrus (strained hamstring, ERD 9/8)
Cliff Lee (strained back, ERD 9/15)
The Rangers have the luxury of a lead, which makes dealing with early September injuries a bit easier. Hamilton smashed into the wall and while he didn't fracture any ribs, he hit hard enough that I think of what Jacoby Ellsbury did. It goes a bit beyond the ribs; sources indicate that Hamilton is bruised all the way around, though with the ribs surrounding the torso, that could be mere semantics. Hamilton will be out a week, according to sources, though the timing is vague. Essentially, he'll be out until the Rangers feel like he's ready to come back. Getting him some rest isn't a bad thing in the long term, though I'm sure the Rangers brass wish it came about in a different way. Since there are no reported fractures, taking Hamilton out of the lineup until he's fully comfortable should mean there will be no long-term concerns. There's a bit more worry about Lee. He wasn't able to do his side work and was scratched from his start tomorrow. If we can read a bit here, Lee was examined by team doctors, who were willing to let him try to make it back without missing a start. That would indicate that this is a muscular issue and once again, the lead helped guide this decision. Lee used the "if the playoffs started today" cliche, but it does tell us that this is something that's less serious than some are indicating. As with Hamilton, Lee has plenty of time to rest and get treatment, clearing up the back issue so that he'll have a couple more starts to tune up for the playoffs. Lee's recent performance is going to make that tuneup key. Finally for the Rangers, Andrus has been slowed by a sore hamstring for nearly a month. He had only one steal in August, which indicates that the Rangers slowed Andrus up in hopes that he wouldn't aggravate the issue while keeping him in the lineup while Kinsler was out. With Kinsler back, they'll take this chance to give Andrus some rest. The Rangers expect Andrus back on Wednesday, but don't be surprised if they give him a bit more time. Complicating all of this is the weak play of the team recently despite the lead. Ron Washington might well need to do something to shake things up, which could include pushing some players back.
Jay Bruce (strained abdominal, ERD 9/12)
The Reds have enough of a lead now that they can do what the Yankees and Rangers have been doing—resting the players they'll need come October. Bruce has missed four games, including all of a pivotal series with the Cardinals, but the lead is all that matters. Bruce's strained abdomen is something that could take a big step backward if he's pushed even a bit. This isn't as serious as the abdominal strain that plagued Mike Cameron this year or the injury that derailed Hamilton last season, but that's the key—the Reds don't want to take the chance that this could develop into something like that. At this stage in the season, there's simply not enough time to come back from anything more than a mild strain. As long as the lead holds, Dusty Baker will be ultra conservative with Bruce, which could cost him all of this week.
Matt Holliday (bruised hand)
After getting hit on the hand for a second time in just a week, Holliday made a statement. He didn't ice the hand. I guess in that clubhouse, it's as close to a statement as we're going to get, but since he's only one of two real offensive threats on the team, wouldn't a better statement be wearing some sort of protective device on that hand that's so exposed by his swing? Granted, Holliday was back in the lineup yesterday for a win over the Reds, but even the homer doesn't make his problem go away. Sure, this time he escaped, but... look, I know I rant and rave time and again about the use of even the most rudimentary of protections and the issue is not availability, but use. No one but the player can make himself use the proper protective device. Holliday has obviously made his choice. If a team can't mandate things the way they can a haircut, perhaps they need to start inserting clauses into contracts that give them some relief if a player is injured in a preventable way.
Pablo Sandoval (strained hip)
The Giants got Sandoval back in the lineup yesterday, but the "hip tightness" is still an issue that seems to be problematic. He's never going to be very mobile, but this seems to be more of a rotational issue than normal hip problems. There's some concern about the timing around it. Sandoval went on a hot streak when it comes to power, but went into a slump. If you imagine that he may have over-rotated or overtaxed the hips to get that power, you can see why this might be an issue. The Giants have a very proactive medical staff, so the fact that Sandoval is back in the lineup indicates they don't think this is too serious or something that could create a cascade. Then again, watch to see if the Giants find ways to buy him rest over the next week. As they chase the collapsing Padres, remember that it's often tough to read what is "normal" for a contender.
Justin Upton (strained shoulder, ERD 9/10)
There's been no progress over the weekend with Upton's shoulder. It's still sore and weak, which leaves him day-to-day. In September, that's really all we're going to get, since there's no value in putting him on the DL. The concern is longer term, as I told you about last week. The Diamondbacks are much more concerned that the long-term laxity is going to need to be fixed. Word from my sources is that as of now, they think that Upton can strengthen the shoulder enough to avoid surgery, but there's a bit of a timing issue. If you remember how shoulder surgery went for B.J. Upton, he had it right after the playoffs in 2008 and was a bit behind in spring training. If Justin Upton's strengthening program doesn't work, they'd need to switch to the surgical option by early November or risk losing him for the start of the season. The team will do everything it can to avoid that surgery, as his brother didn't have the best results.
Miguel Cabrera (inflamed shoulder)
When Cabrera walked off the field last Thursday and the Tigers said it was biceps tendinitis, it didn't sound like he'd be back on Saturday. He was and there was no sign of any real issue. Since "biceps tendinitis" can mean several things or just a garbage diagnosis for random arm soreness, it's difficult to get much read here. Cabrera doesn't "need" to be rushed back but coming back so quickly isn't an indication that the condition was minor. From what little we know now, we'll have to take this at face value and wonder about his power. If there was a way to get bat speed readings the way we can with pitch speed, we could probably tell a lot more. (I know there's a HITf/x, but that data isn't nearly as accessible.)
Quick Cuts: Mark Reynolds left yesterday's game while shaking his hand. If you see the video and don't think immediately of Kevin Youkilis, you're wrong. ... Jason Kubel came back to the Twins' lineup yesterday and went 2-for-4. Watch to see if his power is down once we get a bit more of a sample. Even a warning track shot would be a good sign that his wrist is OK. ... Ben Revere got the call-up from the Twins, but he only recently came off the DL after a serious eye problem. He's depth only for the Twins. ... Alex Rodriguez was activated yesterday, as expected. I'm hearing Andy Pettitte isn't far behind. ... If you don't think the announcement of the Mike Lowell rib fracture wasn't pointed, you haven't been paying much attention to the Red Sox this year. Lowell will continue to play up to his planned retirement at the end of the season. ... Paul Konerko will miss today's game with a sore lower back. The White Sox are going to try and buy him rest, but know they need him in the lineup while chasing the Twins. ... Derek Lowe will make his Wednesday start, but the elbow is still an issue. This is a decision based on the Braves being chased down by the Phillies as much as it is medical. ... Nick Punto is going to be activated before he's ready to play. It's the kind of move you'll see in September. Punto's hamstring will prevent him from playing the field for another week. ... Logan Morrison avoided serious injury after being hit in the face by a foul ball while in the on-deck circle. I'm sure he's sore. ... Kevin Kouzmanoff had his back stiffen up yesterday. Sounds like he'll miss a couple days, at least. ... In a talk with a front-office type last week, he said "I think the whole Moneyball approach is dying. The pendulum is swinging the other way and I think you'll see less and less influence of that type of guy a lot of teams have brought in over the next two or three years, but it's going to start this offseason." ... I'm not arrogant enough to suggest that Adam Jones is even in Willie Mays class, but the Orioles are a better team with him. He's expected back early this week after getting a cortisone injection in his problematic non-throwing shoulder.