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April 20, 2006

Under The Knife

Expert

by Will Carroll

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I'm often introduced as a "baseball expert." I always chuckle, because to me, the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know. Every discovery, every analysis, every set of data leads to new conclusions and often just as many questions as answers. Over the next few weeks, I'm hoping to get into a lot more detail about some of the things I've been working on.

First, get used to the term "pitch efficiency." I've talked about this in the past, but with the complete game obsession still burning in some corners, efficiency is going to need to become a well-known term, understood as a true value rather than some archaic state. We're also going to introduce you to "useable velocity." We've all seen the guy who goes to the mound with a 100 mph fastball and a compass, all heat and no control. Useable velocity is a concept that Tom House and the National Pitching Association is working hard on, along with "perceived velocity." If a pitcher has three tools--velocity, command, and deception--we may have been looking at one of those tools incorrectly. We're also going to take a hard look at release point. A pitcher stands sixty feet, six inches at the start of his delivery, but no one releases it there. The difference is important and finally being measured. Finally, we're going to look deep into our souls, deeper into the science, and question one of the great pitching questions: when should we teach the curveball? It's an exciting time and BP has an interesting place in the center of the research, working with ASMI, Kerlan-Jobe, and the National Pitching Association, among others.

Powered by an afternoon of high school baseball, on to the injuries:

  • Anytime the first thing that pops to mind is the infamous Cliff Floyd/Todd Hundley collision, you know it's bad. It's worse if you're a Cubs fan and you see Derrek Lee leave the field clutching his wrist. The Floyd/Hundley reference came to me from Joe Sheehan and, after I rushed to view the highlight, I can see exactly what he meant. Rafael Furcal crashed into Lee as the tall 1B stretched for a high throw. While he left under his own power, it certainly looked like he was in pain. Lee had X-rays, but was sent back to Chicago anyway. It's not clear at this point whether something was seen that needs MRI confirmation or whether this is a soft-tissue injury. This injury happened late, so no word yet on what the details may be, so follow this one closely. (In what might be the single biggest VORP warp ever, Lee was replaced in the game by Neifi Perez.)

  • Chalk one up for the THRs. We pegged Bartolo Colon as someone to watch back in that cycle, even though he looked pretty good in the World Baseball Classic. Colon had the same type of injury to his shoulder that Ben Sheets dealt with, but took a different direction in dealing with it. Colon wasn't the same pitcher he was last year, unless you count those ugly playoff starts as part of his Cy Young campaign. An MRI showed inflammation and some fraying inside the shoulder, though the fraying should be discounted; almost any active pitcher is going to have some degree of damage inside their shoulder. He'll get rest, treatment, anti-inflammatories, and strengthening while on the DL. Comments from Bill Stoneman indicate that Colon has a scarring problem in his muscle, echoing Ben Sheets' spring problems. Expect him back early in May, though we don't pretend to know what to expect when he returns at this stage.

  • As bad as things looked for Jeff Kent a few days ago, seeing him in a game is both worrisome and wonderful. A couple Tylenols took care of the headache he's still experiencing, while his blurred vision self-corrected. He'll be watched closely by the medical staff. That headache says the effects of the beaning are still there. One thing I haven't been able to figure out from the replays is whether Kent was wearing one of the new, ventilated helmets, or one of the old-style lids. I'm not sure there's much difference in how they work, but information is information. The Dodgers are also looking forward to the return of Nomar Garciaparra. While James Loney has filled in nicely, Garciaparra should take the position back this weekend after a short Vegas vacation--err, rehab stint. (Hey, Nomar: could you see if you could score me some tickets to the new Cirque show at the Mirage?)

  • The Braves continue to deal with injuries as they try to find themselves on the fly. Bobby Cox is getting a real test: he's forced to guide a normally steady and predictable team through a season where the best prospects have already arrived. Marcus Giles injured his finger sliding into second and came in Wednesday with an "insanely swollen" digit, according to a team source. He'll have an MRI. The Braves are a very patient team with the DL, but the confluence of injuries around the infield is likely to force a move, either with Giles or Edgar Renteria, despite the impending return of Chipper Jones. Clusters of injuries that force a team to play two or three deep on the chart are one of the toughest challenges, as Tom Gorman's essay in BP2006 showed. Cox deals with this better than anyone.

  • How bad is Sean Casey's back? He's just getting out of the hospital and no movement he makes is pain free, according to the team. Casey has fractures in two vertebrae of his lower back, in the transverse process. While the exact location isn't known publicly, there's not one better location for this problem than another. The problem is one of pain and structural integrity, not just for getting him back on the field, but for allowing him to live a normal life after baseball. Casey and the Bucs may be hoping for him back in eight weeks--and it's possible--but conservative treatment of spinal injuries is key. There is life after baseball, perhaps even politics for the man already known as the Mayor.

  • The Mets are winning despite a shock of injuries. Cliff Floyd will miss a couple games after injuring his intracostal on a line-drive double, but this is mostly precautionary. Fantasy owners (and Omar Minaya) have a couple of these types of absences built in around Floyd. Carlos Beltran is feeling better about his tight hamstring, responding to treatment and extra stretching that will continue for the foreseeable future. While this is a concern and will limit both his fielding range and his baserunning exploits, it's not something that should be a major problem for Beltran at this stage. Anderson Hernandez heads to the DL, replaced by the man he replaced, Kazuo Matsui. Matsui is returning from a knee injury. Hernandez went down with a herniated disc in his lower back and has no current timetable for return. These types of injuries vary widely, depending on the location, severity, and response to treatment, so let's say a month to be safe.

  • Across town, the Yankees are trying to hold things together while the pitching staff sorts itself out. There's no good read yet on new pitching coach Ron Guidry, though many are saying he seems to be working in the same type of lassez-faire style of Mel Stottlemyre. There's not much tinkering that can be done with the staff in the Bronx, despite the need to occasionally reboot the mechanics of Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina. Both are complex pitchers with lots of moving parts, so Guidry's ability to deal with that eventuality is key. The front of the bullpen is still sorting itself out, with Tanyon Sturtze a trusted guy, the type that Joe Torre needs to succeed. The rest of the names, known (Kyle Farnsworth, Ron Villone) and unknown (Matt Smith) haven't recieved that "my guy" stamp from Torre yet, meaning that he might lean to overusing his guys early on. Unfortunately, Sturtze is already experiencing some back problems. Torre has to be hoping he can hold on while Aaron Small hurries back.

  • The Rangers brought in Brad Wilkerson to hit. Sure, he's a solid leadoff guy when healthy and not a bad fielder, but the team plays in a hitters park and Wilkerson's a hitter. He's a much better hitter when his shoulder is healthy, something that hasn't happened much over the past few seasons. He is getting top-flight care from the Rangers staff, as Andrews protege Keith Meister is one of the top young doctors in the game. Wilkerson's recent power stroke shows that the treatment, cortisone injection, and work in the cage is finally paying off. While Wilkerson will have to deal with the problem going forward, his ability to play with it is looking better.

  • The Royals need some good news. Zack Greinke has returned to baseball, reporting to extended spring training in Arizona. Greinke showed courage in addressing the problems he was having; hopefully, he's out of the worst of it. Greinke's one of the better talents we've seen in the game in some time, but talent is often the greatest tease. Potential becomes a weight under which too many talented kids--and yes, most are still kids--collapse. Don't think BP is rooting for Greinke because we've touted him in the past; we're rooting for him because talent is worth standing up and clapping for, wherever you find it.

  • Quick Cuts: Francisco Rodriguez always looks as if he's one pitch away from a major injury. After Wednesday's outing, I'm not sure he hasn't already made that pitch ... A major league pitcher playing catch is seldom news. For Kip Wells, it's a big step. He's ahead of schedule ... Julio Lugo is still ten days away from a return. B.J. Upton is further away still, though injury isn't his challenge ... The Marlins lost rookie reliever Carlos Martinez to an elbow injury, likely for the season. He's in Birmingham today ... Tough injury for Jon Leicester. The Texas minor leaguer injured himself in, of all places, the training room. He slipped getting out of a whirlpool and sprained his knee ... Yhency Brazoban had his Tommy John. Start the clocks ...
Related Content:  Back,  Year Of The Injury

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<< Previous Article
Prospectus Notebook: C... (04/20)
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Premium Article Under The Knife: Injur... (04/18)
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Premium Article Under The Knife: Lee, ... (04/21)
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Premium Article Schrodinger's Bat: Bas... (04/20)

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