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March 26, 2007

Under The Knife

It's About Value

by Will Carroll

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Let's skip the stories about my weekend in New York for now and get right into the issue everyone seems to want to talk about--Jonathan Papelbon's move back to the bullpen.

  • Just a couple weeks ago, the Sox were saying that Papelbon wasn't medically cleared to close. So what changed and what does this mean for his health? I asked Dr. Ralph Gambardella, the medical director at Kerlan-Jobe, for his thoughts. "What type of car would you rather buy?" he asked me. "One that I have driven every morning from 0 to 150 mph in 15 seconds for a year or one that I have driven every morning from 0 to 55 mph for 15 minutes for a year? A relief pitcher usually has to throw serious heat for a short period of time, and many times may not have (an) adequate warm-up. The starting pitcher needs to throw various pitches over many innings and has more time to warm up. So while things like pitch count per game and innings per year are often tied to increased incidence of injury, it is more likely for a starting pitcher to be successful for many years ,and harder for a reliever to do so."

    So not only is Dr. Gambardella a bit less positive when it comes to long-term health for relievers, he brings up a very interesting issue. While we often talk about warm-ups in relation to relievers, is it possible that relievers not warming up enough is a key issue? This is just another issue we don't know enough about, where the science is stuck standing outside the game. While we've made many advances in the game over the last couple decades, there's still so much we don't know and so much more that needs to be studied, if only those inside the game will let it happen. For Papelbon, I think we have to expect what we got last year--a risky 60 innings with the possibility of great results.

  • If you pay attention to the NBA, you probably don't feel so bad about Joe Mauer. Chris Paul, a guard for the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets, has a stress reaction in his foot and will play through it. There's little question that an NBA player's foot takes more stress than a catcher's fibula, so the ability of Joe Mauer to play through this seems likely, though the Twins will certainly be watching him closely. The natural adjustment would be less catching and more DHing, something I've been an advocate of for a while. More interestingly, there's a chance that this is related to his knee injury from a few years ago, when Mauer had cartilage removed from his left knee. It's possible that that change in his anatomy--the lack of cushioning--contributed to this stress problem.

    If so--and I'll admit that I'm going out on a limb here, though several of the doctors I consulted with admitted it was possible if not probable--then this issue is open to going chronic. I'm not ready to bump Mauer too far down the draft board or my long-term value list just yet, but I'm watching closely. However, I think this moves him to just above Brian McCann rather than the clear #1 fantasy catcher, while Eric Karabell disagreed with me on yesterday's Fantasy Focus, saying it made them equal in his mind.

  • The Yankees had already shocked everyone by putting Carl Pavano in line for the Opening Day start. Talk about showcasing someone for a trade; Peter Abraham's nickname for him, the Rajah of Rehab, is one I hope sticks. But that reflects how badly they're struggling to find enough healthy starters to put a rotation together without forcing up Phil Hughes. Chien-Ming Wang strained his hamstring doing some conditioning and will miss more than a month due to the injury. Wang will not only need to get healthy, he'll need to get his innings in, meaning he'll have to make a couple starts somewhere in the minors--likely Tampa, though if he needs more than one, Scranton is possible.

    The hamstring injury is significant in its own right, but with pitchers, even the smallest change in their delivery can lead to bigger problems. Subtracting four or five starts from Wang's full-season value drops him down the list, because so much of his fantasy value is tied up in being there to rack up wins. A lot of people were already down on Wang, and while I was higher than most, he still has to go way down the list.

    The Yanks are even worrying about the availability of Jeff Karstens for Opening Day. He looked solid in his work late in camp, but elbow stiffness may take all that progress and throw it out the window.

  • Remember how Coco Crisp was derailed by a finger injury last season? Chone Figgins is a very similar player, and has a similar though not identical injury. Figgins has two fractures, one on the tip of his right index finger, and one on the tip of his middle finger. It happened while fielding, making me wonder where his glove was when this occurred. Figgins will miss about a month, but the question now is how it will affect his swing. As a switch-hitter, this type of injury will affect him more when batting left-handed, so this is more significant. Finger injuries have a tendency to linger, costing a player bat control and power. Given Figgins' struggles at the plate last season, this is another reason to worry that he's in decline as a position player, rather than a superutility guy.

  • Here's the perfect tale of how one incident can derail a whole season. Rafael Furcal went back, Jason Repko came in, and like so many other times, there was a collision. Furcal was carted off with an ankle injury, while Repko stayed in the game. A little while later, likely due to a change in his gait caused by the collision, Repko severely strained his hamstring; Repko will miss a couple months, perhaps more, a development that pushes him behind players like Matt Kemp in a crowded fight for time in the Dodgers outfield. Furcal's injury may have looked worse initially, but he's going to be back much more quickly. The swelling is still going down, and Opening Day is in question for now, but at worst, we're looking at two weeks of lost time, with little long-term consequence.

    The biggest concern here for fantasy players is Furcal's speed. Once an ankle ceases to be painful, it has almost no limitations, and given modern taping and bracing, there should be no effect. The opportunity cost might seem to be higher--every chance at standing on first base that Furcal misses is a lost steal, right? Wrong. Apart from matchups, Furcal barely steals once every three games (fifty total attempts). Steals normally come in bunches, with runners exploiting bad-throwing catchers or pitchers with slow deliveries.

  • I mentioned Eric Karabell earlier, and I'm a bit worried about him. When he talks about Jeremy Hermida, Eric sounds like the guy in high school that got a date with his dream girl, only to find out that she wasn't that dreamy. I think he's a bit bitter that Hermida is seemingly always hurt, going so far as to start comparing him to J.D. Drew. I think it's too early to call him injury-prone, but it's certainly not too early to recognize that he's had problems staying healthy thus far. His severely bruised knee was the result of a foul ball off his own leg, and he'll start the season on the DL with the expectation that he'll be back in mid-April. Hermida has a record of being a slow healer, so I think that date is a bit fluid. He's still got obvious upside, so watch to see how far he slides and be willing to take on some risk to get that upside for yourself. With guys like Hermida, it's about value; his average draft position in NL-only ESPN leagues is 63, yet he's only owned in 58% of leagues. That's a disconnect that suggests arbitrage to me.

  • Another guy who's slid too far in several leagues is Carlos Quentin. He's drafting at 251 in NL-only leagues, and actually higher (223) in mixed leagues. Those kind of numbers means he's an endgame play for a lot of people despite his major upside and PECOTA projection. The labrum tear is a concern, yes, but it's not enough of a concern to ignore all the positives here. Quentin was due to swing a bat on Sunday, but according to the Arizona Republic it didn't happen. I couldn't find any reason, but this setback puts his Opening Day status in jeopardy. If that's all it takes to get a hitter of that quality to drop into your lap, take the gift and thank your leaguemates.

  • It looks like the move to second base will cost Freddy Sanchez the start of the season. Sanchez is no stranger to injuries, but like Justin Morneau, he proved that when healthy, he's got the talent to get noticed. The Pirates don't think Sanchez will miss much time, and they're even debating playing the first week of the season with a short bench. What's more of a concern is the lack of time Sanchez logged at second before getting hurt. He's been able to take grounders and practice, but according to several sources in and around Manatee County, he's still very hesitant when running. Sanchez is a slow healer, taking significantly more time than expected a few years ago with an ankle injury, so there's a reasonable concern here. Watch to see if Sanchez gets any at-bats this week before making your lineup decisions. I think he's better than a utility player for a fantasy roster, especially if he's eligible at second, but that confidence is eroding.

Quick Cuts: If I charged a dollar for every fantasy question I get asked during draft season, I could pay for a ride out to Newark Airport. Jeez, what a racket! ... Jeff Weaver and Bartolo Colon are looking good in rehab. Colon showed off his breaking pitches, while Weaver looks to be on track to miss just one start before returning to active duty ... The Braves think Mike Hampton will only miss the first month of the season with a strained oblique. His rehab is going well, but this was a serious tear ... Nook Logan will start the year on the DL after straining his groin ... A rumor making the rounds is that the Phillies are holding Aaron Rowand out to make sure he doesn't hurt himself as they try to deal him ... Randy Johnson looked solid in his first game work, making it more likely that he'll make it back into the rotation in mid-April ... Is it too much to ask for one Jamba Juice in Indianapolis? I had one all four days I was in NYC, so I'm loyal. The white gummy bear is the yum ... Lyle Spencer notes that Ervin Santana's nickname is Magic. Magic Santana? I like it, and will now use it.

Related Content:  Year Of The Injury,  Finger

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