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April 29, 2005

Under The Knife

The I Don't Know Edition

by Will Carroll

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If we want to point our fingers, it's easy. We can pick and choose our spots, using small sample size and selective endpoints to make our case. I did a search and read as many accounts as I could regarding Jim Thome and his month-long slump. Not one remotely resembled the mauling that Jason Giambi took last spring. Yes, Giambi admittedly used steroids during his career, something the well-liked Thome has never been connected with to my knowledge. Still, Giambi's poor April--now known to be the result of a benign tumor and eye problems--was touted as damning evidence. Paired with "drastic weight loss," Giambi was tried and convicted. I don't mean to impugn Thome in any way here, but his numbers to this point in 2005 are worse than the numbers used to indict Giambi last season. Keith Woolner was kind enough to dig up the numbers:

Jason Giambi (April 2004) 222/395/397 3 HR, 9 RBI, 11 K, 15 BB
Jim Thome (April 2005) 205/359/301 1 HR, 10 RBI, 23 K, 16 BB

These numbers tell us nothing beyond the surface. We don't know, just from these numbers, why these elite level players played so far below their expected, established levels. "I don't know" is often an unsatisfying answer, but often the correct one.

On to the injuries:

  • The Mets have been dealing with a number of injuries this season. Unlike past seasons, they've survived, if not thrived, due to depth and roster construction. Mike Cameron made his first rehab start, playing well and making "normal progress" according to Mets sources. He's still at least a week away in no small part to the fine play and popularity of Victor Diaz. Cameron is likely to be moved, perhaps across town, later this summer. Mike Piazza has been mostly injury free, if not a better player. His numbers are down, though it is admittedly early and given another relatively healthy season, even poor numbers for Piazza are better than most catchers. He'll be rested more as Willie Randolph seeks to keep him rested and minimize his defensive foibles. I also want to point out that a now-healthy Cliff Floyd is tearing the cover off the ball. Just as winning breeds chemistry, success breeds confidence.

  • There are two pitchers of very similar pasts--pedigreed prospects derailed by injuries--that are having very different rehabilitations. Wade Miller had another successful outing, going five scoreless innings at Triple-A, while Tony Armas got knocked around at the same level just a few days ago. Miller will have one more start for Pawtucket before coming up to fill in the rotation. There are still some questions about Miller's endurance and mechanics. (More on this below.) Armas, on the other hand, has plenty of time left on his 30 day rehab limit and will likely use most of it before returning. While Armas hasn't had problems with his groin since returning to the mound, there's nothing preventing the Nationals from letting him use the full month of rehab to be a de facto spring training.

  • Few players give enough of a sample size to know if they are "fast" or "slow" healers. Nick Johnson is a slow healer. This isn't something that's a significant negative; just a fact. Johnson, in the midst of a 16 game hitting streak, is still limping around the clubhouse and sports a colorful bruise that some say looks like a lost work of the Neo-Expressionist master Anselm Kiefer. Johnson's return is unsure at this point and remains fluid. Friday is probable with the weekend being a near certainty.

  • If the Cubs are going to have to rest Aramis Ramirez every time there's a hint of moisture in the area, they're going to need something better than Jose Macias filling in. Of course, there's value in his multi-positional abilities but not enough to counteract his overall suckitude (.153 EqA currently). The Cubs can't just conjure the next Chone Figgins or stunt the development of Brandon Sing by having him sit on the bench and praying for rain. A better solution would be knowing the actual limits of Ramirez's injury or taking a short time off--even a DL stint--to heal him. The Cubs also expect to use Kerry Wood this weekend. It will be the infamous gametime decision, smart since Wood's shoulder wasn't a problem until he was warming up before his last start. Wood is going to be on a short leash.

  • Jose Castillo is not ready to start his rehab stint, but one of the reasons the team is delaying is that there's a massive roster crunch. At one point last week, the Triple-A roster had 30 people on it, hardly conducive to doling out playing time properly when you factor in pitching rotations and rehab assignments. While Bobby Bradley began imitating Rick Ankiel, the rest of the team tried to figure out what was going on. Some will head to Double-A while they try to find room for everyone, especially pitcher Bryan Bullington. Indy native Bullington is expected back in his hometown during the first week of May. At the big club, they're also dealing with a roster crunch, meaning they'll likely delay the return of Benito Santiago until they figure out who goes where with what options and waivers will be necessary. Injuries are only a small part of this story, so I'll leave the details to Transaction Analysis.

  • Quick Cuts: Ramon Ortiz passed his last test and will start this weekend. Remember, of course, that this was the plan last time and he ended up right back on the DL Lyle Overbay may miss a couple games after having stitches in his chin. Normally not a big deal, Overbay can't turn his head without pulling the wound open Dustan Mohr was activated by the Rockies Ruben Sierra is well ahead of the normal timetable coming back from his biceps injury.

I think I learn as much from my readers as they learn from me. They're some of my best sources and always keep me on my toes. Danny Orr of the Arizona Pitching Academy is one of the best. He sent me an email recently that I just had to share:
Will- I threw this together to explain what I think. I know you are well-versed in House doctrine, so I am sure this all sounds familiar. If I were Dave Wallace I would have Miller tighten his abs at leg lift to keep his head from moving 'south' as he gains momentum into foot strike. This would prevent him from being out of sequence which often leads to strain on the shoulder.

Wade Miller - Proving the 1" to 2" rule. (for every one inch of inappropriate head movement early in the delivery = two inches at release.) Credit where credit is due: House

The inches lost early on lead to his inability to bend his front knee to approx. 90 degrees at release. (Causing all sorts of problems including early movement as opposed to late, lack of increased perceived velocity, missing high in the zone, and hitters seeing the ball early to name a few).

In contrast with Prior:

Head going nowhere but forward and is at least 50% through the stride before torso rotation.

---------

The inches gained lead to being stacked at release with his front knee bent to nearly 90 degrees, resulting in more perceived velocity, natural lower and closer release and more late movement. (NPA photo)

What do ya think?

I think that's awesome stuff, Danny.

I'll be back next week. Be sure to check in on BP Radio this weekend and if you stop by your local bookstore, make sure you put copies of Forging Genius and The Juice facing outward.

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The Many Routes to Pit... (04/29)

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