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July 1, 2003

Under The Knife

Snakes Alive

by Will Carroll

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At some point, luck becomes less of a viable explanation, and we need to look beyond the simple to find the root causes. We can't just look at the last start to determine why someone is injured, we can't look at the last year to find team trends, and we can't always toss out "luck" or "random" as an explanation when there might be something deeper going on. I just don't believe, as Einstein says, that God plays dice with the universe. Baseball is one of the better creations on his green earth, so why should it be any different?

When a team wins 20 straight games, we revel in it as historical. No one thinks that the A's streak of last year was simply luck. Yes, there was an element of it involved, but that team was designed with a now well-known set of rules and built to win games in a certain way. I don't know the rules and I'm a bit dubious of the design, but in a world where we look at results, the Diamondbacks have to be right up there. It's tough enough to contend while rebuilding--just ask the Indians or Tigers. It's hard to rebuild a team over the long term like the Braves have done for a decade and more. It's nearly impossible to rebuild and remake a team during a season.

The Snakes have done it. While getting younger and cheaper--by necessity and injury--the team has also gotten better. Is it by design? Yes. Joe Garagiola Jr. knew that a risky, older team would need depth behind it. He used a great minor league development system to get players like Robby Hammock and Matt Kata ready to step in, and to find Brandon Webb and Jose Valverde when older, established players went down. He also found Shea Hillenbrand to step in for Matt Williams, doing something while his counterparts waited. Garagiola deserves at least as many accolades as Billy Beane for his feats so far in 2003.

Onto the injuries...

  • I mentioned Paul Byrd's major injury concerns nearly a month ago. Every positive report out of Atlanta was mere smoke and mirrors, but the truth was that Byrd was damaged before he even got to Atlanta. The question now is what was it that pushed that frayed ligament over the edge, resulting in his impending Tommy John surgery and when did it happen? I'm not sure that Byrd will have much of a career to return to, so he faces hard decisions in the coming days.

  • When we look at Matt Morris' problems, it's tough to discuss them without the word 'cascade.' Morris' shoulder problems caused him to alter his delivery, starting a failure loop that kept him from being effective. He'll miss at least one start. Yes, I said at least--the DL is not out of the question. Morris' downtime is resulting in the usage of Danny Haren, someone with serious workload issues of his own, and Jimmy Journell, one of few pitchers that make Jason Isringhausen look robust. The Cardinals are good, but good like a high stack of Jenga. The wrong move could crash the whole thing in an instant.

  • I meant to get into the fascinating case of Brandon Claussen's return more yesterday, but I think this is worthy of more than a UTK paragraph. What Claussen is doing--returning to competition at just over a year post-surgery--is not only amazing, it's unprecedented. Not only has the new rehab protocol gotten him back more quickly than anyone, the return of his control is even more astounding. I have some theories on what was different and hope to have more facts for you soon. Claussen is clearly a medical marvel and perhaps as important a Tommy John patient as we've had since, well, Tommy John.

  • Something's wrong with Shawn Chacon. His velocity numbers have plummeted over his last two starts. In his last, he was roughed up badly, looked awful on the mound, and barely cracked 90 on the gun. He was walking a tightrope in his success, so seeing a falloff isn't surprising, but the rapidity of it points to some injury.

  • Angel Guzman, a Cubs minor league gem, has the symptoms of a labrum tear, but the final word will come from Dr. Andrews after they meet. The Cubs have had a rash of injuries among their minor league starters, including Andy Sisco (self-inflicted), Luke Hagerty, and Ben Christensen. As Scott Boras said on Baseball Prospectus Radio, don't ignore Chadd Blasko in the Cubs mix.

  • Quick cuts: Melvin Mora is having more pain in his hand, but feels like he can play. The Orioles are inclined to let him...Jacque Jones has a mild groin strain and will be re-assessed before Tuesday's game...Nick Johnson is swinging a bat and may progress to soft-toss hitting later this week...Zach Day will resume a throwing program this week and the Expos think he could be back on a Montreal mound in early August. I'd be surprised to see that happen.

There is always something new to see in baseball, which is always a reason to watch, or better, head out to the local ballpark. Last night, Bill Hall hit a routine line drive to left, caught easily by the left-fielder. Hall, somehow, didn't pick up that it was caught and motored full-speed into second base, complete with head-first slide. While the Richmond middle infielders were just snickering, Hall turned to the ump who gave a quick "out" sign. Hall stood, jogged towards third and then, knowing how dumb it looked, turned, trotted home, and completed his phantom home run. It's one thing to make a stupid mistake, but it's another to be able to laugh at yourself. Bill Hall may not be a great prospect, but that move showed class.

Today, if you're so inclined, you can call in to the Will Carroll Baseball Hour. We're having some great guests, and you can listen in via www.espn950.com. We'll also have a great question of the day...if you were a closer, what song would you want to use as your entrance theme? "Hell's Bells" and "Enter Sandman" are taken, so dig into your MP3 files and come up with a good one for us. The number is 800 TALK 2 90 and we'll be on from 3-6 Indy time.

Baseball Prospectus Radio this week? Glendon Rusch and Michael Wolverton will discuss luck, pitching, support, and baseball. Scott McCauley and I will discuss whatever comes to mind. The week after? Oh, you're going to like the week after. I'll give you a hint...a guy in his underwear and his mentor.

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