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April 10, 2003

Under The Knife

Setbacks

by Will Carroll

I'll leave the discussion to someone else, but I'm retiring a phrase tonight. No more will you see "Hall of Fame" as in "Hall of Fame caliber" or "Hall of Fame career." I'm in search of a good, meaningful substitute. Now on to the injuries...

  • Setback indeed. Paul Byrd is headed for surgery to remove bone spurs from his pitching elbow, putting the Braves in more of a pitching bind than previously thought. On the heels of another poor outing by Greg Maddux, the Braves were among the teams who scouted Shane Reynolds. There are two whispers I'm hearing from Atlanta: one is that the Braves are a bit confused, unsure if they missed something when they signed Byrd, or if they missed a piece of information over the off-season and spring. The second is more of an ongoing discussion, held in whispered tones--John Smoltz is once again trying to escape from his closer duties and get back in the rotation. For once, I think I agree with Smoltz.

  • Something just beyond red is where I'd place C.C. Sabathia at this point. Maybe hunter orange? An MRI, a bone scan, a fluroscope, and perhaps a second MRI were all performed--and despite the fact that something was found, Sabathia and the Indians feel confident enough to allow him into his next start. I'm really, really hoping that the Indians know something I don't in this case. Sabathia is an obvious talent, one I really want to succeed, but too many factors are lining up to expect him to remain completely healthy.

    At this point, I'd almost hope for a minor injury--a hamstring, an oblique--to enforce some rest and repair before what seems like an imminent breakdown. In an article you'll see next week, Lee Sinins (of Sabermetric Encyclopedia fame) and I take a look at what happens to pitchers who threw more than 175 innings at age 22 or younger. There are exceptions in the study, but there are also a lot of disturbing patterns. Several readers have asked how the Indians have overloaded Sabathia--for that, we'd need a lot more space than we have here. I'll point you to his 2002 game log and to last year's PAP charts, though. I'm definitely considering a longer piece--something of an injury autopsy--where we go back an attempt to determine the causes in some cases.

  • When is a World Series bad? Never, really. For Robb Nen and the Giants, I doubt they'd trade the experience, but the additional pitches on an injured shoulder and a delay in having it fixed surgically have pushed back the timetable on his recovery. Compared to Trevor Hoffman or Jason Isringhausen, it's truly not that negative and the Giants seem to be intelligently conservative with Nen. Add in a deep pen and there's really not much of a negative. Most teams would rather wait a couple extra weeks and have five months of Nen's brand of dominance, but not all would be smart enough to handle it this way.

  • Denny Neagle is a bit closer to returning from off-season surgery. Neagle was able to throw from a mound and reported no problems afterwards. He's likely to do a couple more like this, a live batting practice session, and then a trip to the low minors for some rehab starts. I'm not really sure what the upside is on Neagle, other than the off-chance he's healthy and could get flipped like Mike Hampton.

  • Jim Parque went from the mound to the DL today with tendinitis in his shoulder after two poor starts. With Parque's history and the lack of pitching depth in the organization, Mt. Piniella might add Dewon Brazelton to his kiddie corps soon. I'm not sure how much we'll see Parque, even after he recovers.

  • A.J. Burnett was able to come back for the Scalies and put together an 80 pitch, seven-inning performance. His velocity seemed good and his control was typical. One thing Burnett and many other pitchers need to learn is pitch efficiency. In Wednesday's start, Burnett threw 80 pitches, but just 48 were strikes--a 60% clip. Last year, Curt Schilling led the majors in pitch efficiency, throwing over 70% for strikes. In 2002, Burnett threw about 61% for strikes. There are very few pitchers with ratios lower than Burnett's with much success. Tom Glavine is one, but the other, Kerry Wood, is more adequately comparable. Both pitchers would be much more valuable if they could follow my new mantra--more innings, less pitches. And yes, there is an interesting, moderately apparent correlation between pitch efficiency and DIPS.

  • I'd made it almost a week without hearing the word "tweak." I guess it couldn't last, but I have dreams where the word becomes extinct, where teams realize that their fans deserve to be treated like intelligent people rather than spoon-fed cretins who can't follow technical terms like strain and sprain. This tweak was in reference to Albert Pujols' hamstring. Pujols' injury is considered minor, even after this most recent episode, but the Cards will be very cautious with their superstar.

  • The Brewers get Geoff Jenkins back from the DL after a quick rehab assignment. He'll slot into left field and the heart of the order quickly and should begin performing right away at his expected level. He's not quite what everyone hoped for, but he's also not quite as fragile as Jeffrey Hammonds, so for the Brewers, he's important.

  • The Angels had a lot of success last year--and like any team, that success was built on both talent and luck. Luck is fleeting (says the guy headed to Vegas) and injuries are one element that factors into that which we call, for lack of better term, "baseball luck."

    With that being said, add in one more nagging injury for the Angels as Adam Kennedy heads to the DL with a strained hamstring. Chone Figgins will take over the platoon at second with Benji Gil, but don't expect Kennedy out past the fifteen days required. The Angels are actually much more worried about Ramon Ortiz, who could follow Kennedy to the DL soon.

  • That Mark Prior is pretty good. But then again, so is Javier Vazquez.

  • Pardon me if I seem a bit nervous tonight, but I'm doing something that I've not only never done tomorrow, but something I never thought I'd have an opportunity to do. That is, I'll be speaking to a group at Wabash College on the subject of sports medicine, and why it's the most important yet least covered subject in baseball. Somewhere, my teachers and professors still think this is a joke. It's an amazing opportunity and an honor, especially considering my Great Uncle Sam attended Wabash. While Sam died in 1990, I hope that he'll stop by tomorrow at his beloved alma mater and help me through it. Wish me luck... and I'll see you tomorrow.

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