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September 30, 2005

Under The Knife

Almost October

by Will Carroll

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My job is to see things in a way that other people don't. It's a very specialized version of, for example, those word finds from the newspaper. There are patterns in injuries, seemingly unrelated incidents and facts that we can weave together to tell us the story of the season, for a team or player. I'm lucky enough to have colleagues that do the same thing in their own ways and some great assistants like Dave Haller and Mike Groopman, as well as some of the sharpest readers in the world.

So why does no one else see that this might have a lot more of an effect on the game of baseball than this? As Joe Sheehan and Ken Rosenthal pointed out on Thursday, it seems that no one really "gets it." We're spending far too much time and effort on the past and that's costly. The Yankees gave up a couple games this season because they didn't trust that Aaron Small, a minor league journeyman, really was better than two guys they paid a lot of money for. It's the kind of thinking that doesn't trust results, that doesn't plan for the future, that will put baseball back in the same situation they find themselves in now. None of the proposals that could become law includes provisions for education or funding the research that could lead to a valid hGH test. When I see that, I'll know someone's finally serious. Until then, I'm watching the games and enjoying them.

Powered by some of the best late-season races I've ever seen, on to the injuries:

  • There's no need for Jake Peavy to make his scheduled Saturday start, given the clinch. Instead, he'll get his work in down in the pen while someone else makes the start. Peavy's reported no trouble with his problematic shoulder since missing a start. He's shown all his pitches, with good velocity and command, and hasn't shown any sign of a 'quick fade' that usually accompanies someone pitching through a shoulder injury. The skipped start will keep him under the fifty-inning increase that scares many people, including me, but numbers are more strict than injuries. Peavy's injury history, age, and workload make me worry more than I want to about the Mobile native.

  • Roger Clemens is telling the press that he'll start over the weekend and the Rocket Man usually gets his way, even in Vegas. Clemens told the team that he wants to test his leg in a game situation. That's certainly reasonable and certainly something that the team wants to see isn't a problem. Once the playoffs hit, Clemens would pitch even if a rabid badger had just amputated his leg, as long as the bleeding had been staunched. In this weekend start, expect Clemens to show he's healthy, strike out a few more people, then tip his cap. He's likely to be the Game Two starter for the Astros.

  • The Cardinals will have Chris Carpenter at the head of their rotation heading into this year's playoffs, unlike last year. The question remains: what percentage of the Carpenter that could take home the Cy Young award will be the one on the mound? Carpenter has increased his innings and looked bad the last few times out, shaving mph off his fastball in each of his last three starts. Is an innings increase of fifty innings really that big a deal if it's because he's actually healthier than the previous season? The data says no--there's the same amount of risk, showing once again that fatigue is the most important immeasurable in pitching. The question of next year is one that the Cardinals, like the Red Sox last year, will have to answer. Flags fly forever.

  • Every year, we find a new closer--Ryan Dempster, Huston Street, Derrick Turnbow--and we lose just as many. Closers are fungible and, like the rest of relievers, are fatally inconsistent. Braden Looper was supposed to be a key part of the Mets playoff run this year. Instead, he'll finish the year by heading under the knife. Looper has been pitching with a damaged acromioclavicular joint this season which has killed his velocity. Dr. David Altchek will try to find out if it's still in there. It's a relatively simple surgery and has a good record of return, so expect Looper back out there for the Mets, even if they go hard after Billy Wagner this offseason as expected.

  • One of the things that makes my job difficult is the "walking wounded." It's worse for Nate Silver and PECOTA. For me, I'm just trying to suss out the hidden injuries that are affecting the game, but poor PECOTA just looks at the numbers and doesn't know that Jeremy Reed has been playing with a torn ligament in his wrist for much of the season. It's nearly impossible to tell just how much of the disappointing season that Reed has experienced can be discounted due to the injury, but as usual the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. The injury isn't serious in the long term, so Reed should be able to re-establish himself as a promising young player next season. More disturbing here is another case of a player in Seattle playing injured and doing more damage, both to himself and the franchise, due to someone's decision.

    Susan Slusser has the story, but like most of us trying to get the scoop on A's injuries, it's tough to get the details. Eric Chavez is headed for surgery in the near future to correct a long-standing shoulder problem. The available symptoms--pain, soreness, lack of throwing power and control--all point to some type of shoulder impingement. The correction for that is likely to be some type of modified Mumford surgery that would open up the space in the shoulder to reduce the impingement. This type of injury isn't normally seen in position players, though a few pitchers have survived it. It's not a terribly serious surgery so my guess is that, if this is what Chavez is having, he'll be back by spring training with a slight downgrade to his throwing arm from third. He's still a 1.

  • Reader KH asks "There has been grumbling among the Sox faithful that Mark Buehrle is a 'bottom-feeder' who only does well against bad teams but gets hit hard by the good teams. Off-the-cuff, this seems like old-school prejudice that guys who throw hard are the real, manly pitchers while craftsmen like Buehrle who only get it up to 91 mph are somehow not legit. There's also the obvious fact that all pitchers will tend to be hit harder by good-hitting teams and hit less by bad-hitting teams. However, I guess it is possible that Buehrle, or pitchers like him, are particularly effective against bad teams and particularly ineffective against good ones. Are you aware of any studies or data that correlate pitchers' effectiveness against the quality of their opposition?" Well KH, let's take a look, since I'm not aware of any study on this. W vs "good": Cle, Tor, Bal, Tex, Cle, Bal, Min L vs "good": Min, Oak, Oak, Bos, Min, Tex W vs "bad": Sea, Det, KC, LAD, KC, Det, Sea, Det L vs "bad": KC, KC Looks pretty even to me. Pitchers (and teams) are supposed to beat the bad teams. I mean, that's what makes them the bad teams, right? This is very unscientific and some granularity about the quality of the lineups would tell us more. It's an interesting question, almost the reverse of the "Does Adam Dunn kill bad pitching?" question that intrigues me so.

  • Quick Cuts: David Ortiz won the MVP last night--unless Alex Rodriguez steals it this weekend. A-Rod is going to have to do something historical Grant Balfour had his rotator cuff and labrum repaired via scope. This is on top of his Tommy John surgery. There's no comps for this Ok, never expected something like this when I started writing Florida's Alex Gonzalez had surgery to remove bone chips from his throwing elbow. He'll be fine and as a free agent, could be someone else's Alex Gonzalez next time I write about him You know, the Wookie has pretty good mechanics. The tall lefty figures to be in the Red Sox bullpen for this weekend's series Dave Roberts will be held out of this weekend's games to make sure his legs are ready for the playoffs Mike Piazza will play his final games as a Met despite getting hit on his sore wrist again. He did crush a homer. Wouldn't it be nice if it could have been his oh-so-close 400th?

Be sure to listen in to BP Radio this week as we break down the pennant races with some of our playoff correspondents, talk Yankees-Sox with Joe Sheehan and Steven "Mind Game" Goldman, and pass out a couple awards. We're on earlier, if you listen live on our ESPN950 feed, due to football, so I'll mention once again that you can have the show delivered to your desktop via iTunes. See you wow, in October, for the playoffs!

Related Content:  The Who,  Bad Start,  Year Of The Injury,  Bad Season

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