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April 28, 2003

Under The Knife

Giving Thanks

by Will Carroll

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I'll start today with thank you. It's been a year since I started publishing UTK, first as a stand-alone and now as a part of BP. I'm nothing without my readers and--love me or hate me--people are reading.

In one year, I've covered an average of 12 injured players per day, written an average of 1900 words per day, had my first radio appearance, started my own show, gone from three subscribers--who really didn't ask for it in the first place--to over 3000, gone from an email I hoped I could get 100 people to read to a spot on the Baseball Prospectus staff. I've gone into clubhouses, met players, GMs, doctors, trainers, and even some of the hangers-on that populate the world of baseball. I've made mistakes, said things that were stupid and things that bordered on prophetic, and everything in between. But the one thing I'm proudest of is that I'm starting to hear people talk about injuries. They discuss them as something similar to on-base percentage--that if we teach the players the right things, the game can be improved.

In one of the few times you'll ever hear me use stats, we can--using some reasonably simple ones, like Marginal Lineup Value Rate (MLVr)--figure out the true cost of injuries. Since over the last year I've covered Ken Griffey Jr. as much as anyone, I'll use him as my example. When Griffey went down on April 5, he was performing at a 0.207 MLVr. In their plate appearances as his replacements, Reggie Taylor and Ruben Mateo have performed at a -0.354 level. After a brief stat lesson from Nate Silver and Friend of BP Rob Miller, I was able to discern that this would cost the Reds roughly 26 runs over the period Griffey is expected to be out, using an optimistic return of June 1.

And while 26 runs doesn't sound like much, it's roughly 2.5 wins--something no team wants to give away. Even if Griffey were to perform at his expected level, as per PECOTA, the Reds would still have a difference of more than a win a month. Again, this doesn't sound like much, but how many division races have been decided by a margin of less than five wins? Add in the monetary costs--sunk cost of wages, loss of fans going through the turnstiles, etc.--and injuries and their prevention become clear in their significance. The construction of the injury database--which is coming along nicely due to the tireless work of Jason Grady and Will Quale--will be a big first step to some serious research.

  • Enough with the Albert Pujols emails! With Pujols under orders not to throw--and let's clarify, the order is actually not to make "hard, game-type throws" and no, I'm not really sure what that is either--Tony La Russa has decided he needs his bat in the lineup badly enough to risk him. Sort of. Edgar Renteria is supposed to race out to him as sort of a super-cut off man, while the center fielder du jour is supposed to be there as well. I haven't been able to see either game where this was in place, so I'm not sure how it works--or if it did. I do think TLR realizes what a risk he's taking, being quoted as saying he'll quit if Pujols injures himself more.

  • I don't like the idea of closers, but the Cardinals are sure making a case for one. They're 0-7 in one-run games so far, and most people will surely point to the absence of Jason Isringhausen as the reason for that. You know it's bad when his playing long toss makes the news, so don't expect a return for at least a month and staying out until the ASB isn't out of the question. A 20-inning game today will make the bullpen's usage worthy of a close watch for the next week.

  • Darin Erstad, to the shock of no one, was placed on the DL with a strained hamstring. It's a retro move, so he'll be back quickly and shouldn't be a long stay--he's eligible to return in just a week. He's not quite a Dykstra-type player who makes himself injury prone, but he's close. Add in the regression to the 'luck mean' and the Angels are already in quite the quandary. They'll need to get healthy before they can expect to get much better.

  • Injuries recur and often seem to happen in bunches. Better, teams seem to learn from them. A case in point is how the Angels are dealing with an infected toe on Troy Glaus. The memory of Troy Percival's DL sting from a similar infection (this one on his heel) has made the Angels very conservative. He'll avoid the DL, but the Angels are willing to let him sit a couple days if necessary.

  • I should tout the bad ones as much as I do the good ones: I had A.J. Burnett as a yellow light, even though his KIQ score put him in range for a red. I didn't feel that his odd elbow injury was something that would recur, but it looks like I was wrong. Burnett is on the DL. Still, if the diagnosis of bone chips is correct, Burnett could have his elbow scoped and return around the ASB.

    Given that the Scalies have known about the bone spur that soon became a bone chip since last August, this sure doesn't look good for them. Even two starts ago, Burnett's velocity was off significantly, even in the first couple innings where it should be highest. Several sources say that pitching coach Brad Arnsberg noted that Burnett looked hurt. There seems to be some disconnect between Torborg and Arnsberg--saying and wanting to keep pitchers healthy, but either not knowing how or when to actually help them.

  • There were parades and much rejoicing and hosannas in the Valley of the Sun...or something of equally Biblical proportions. Randy Johnson returned to the mound and looked sufficiently Unit-like to make everyone happy. Twelve strikeouts were good, but it did seem he was around the zone a bit too much, as Greg Maddux had been earlier. Still, a win is a win, and assuming his knee stays normal sized--well, normal for him--it's definitely a good thing. They certainly weren't babying him, letting him go 106 pitches. Getting Curt Schilling back tomorrow would be even better.

  • There are reports about Derek Jeter and dates. Not Jordana Brewster or Mariah Carey this time, but dates for his return. Several are floating through the typical rumor centrals, but May 13th seems to be the most likely. He'd be returning at home, against the Angels. It's a suitably dramatic entrance for a player with a definite flair for the drama.

    Of course, the question you ask now is: Is this medically probable? From all reports, yes. Jeter will carry a reasonably sized risk of recurrence on his back all season, but this is a risk that he and the Yankees seem willing to take. More importantly, waiting more, say to the ASB, wouldn't reduce the risk much.

  • Jermaine Dye will undergo knee surgery to fix a torn meniscus. Some of the comments surrounding this surgery indicate it may be more removal of the meniscus that repair, so Dye may come back quicker, but could have more problems long term. There's a lot of interesting research being done on meniscal replacement or lubrication, but for now, Dye will simply have to suck it up.

  • There was a great quote on RotoWire about Jason Giambi. "Jason's a little banged up right now," manager Joe Torre said. "His knee's barking, his hamstring is uncomfortable and then there is his hand. It's nothing he couldn't play with, but we wanted to give him a day off." Let's see...knee, hammy, hand...at least his back is fine and his shoulder is in joint. Giambi will be playing this way throughout the season, and will probably still put up great numbers. Amazing. Still, that low batting average might have a little something to do with the injuries.

  • Quick ones...Jason Larue will be fine after taking a solid foul off his shoulder. Denny Hocking is probably headed to the DL; his elbow isn't responding to treatment. Joe Mays' arm is sore, so he's going to stop throwing between starts (quit rocking so hard, Leo.)

A no-hitter and a 20-inning game, all in one day? And people ask me why I love baseball.

I put in a reference on Friday that, without the link, made no sense at all. Here's the reference, with link included. Sorry for the confusion: The days of anonymity are over. I'll leave it for you to decide how much of your freedom is gone now. Freedom, like the body, operates under the 'use it or lose it' principle.

Back tomorrow with more injury news and sometime early this week, I should have the feature on Dr. Tim Kremchek completed. Until then, you have my email.

Related Content:  Year Of The Injury

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