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April 4, 2007

Under The Knife

Technical Nuisances

by Will Carroll

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John Manuel is the co-editor-in-chief of Baseball America and has been covering the college beat for over a decade. I had the privilege to work with John, and nobody knows the college game like he does. I spoke to him today about Brad Lincoln and pitching usage, as John recently published an article on the state of pitching development programs, available here to subscribers of Baseball America.


KG: Lincoln's pitch counts in his last six games for University of Houston were 124, 129, 122, 135, 109, and 129.

JM: That's a lot but I bet he didn't have his usual rest (last two might have been tournament games).

KG: Yes, the last two were on 12 and six days rest.

JM: I personally don't believe high pitch counts in and of itself tell you much. What kind of situation was it? What kinds of pitches were thrown? To use a Houston pitcher as an example, I loved Brad Sullivan, as you know. I had one specific report I remember, he pitched vs. Tulane and threw 120+ pitches. By one count, of the 120+ pitches, 87 were sliders. Digest that for a while--87 sliders. I don't care what kind of pitch count he had...or how much rest he had.

KG: That's abusive, no?

JM: I just don't like to use that word. If you want to, that qualifies as excessive for me--certainly excessive use of the slider. It's a personal foul, -15 yards. At the amateur level, most pitchers do throw a lot of breaking balls, so high pitch counts often go hand in hand with lots of breaking balls because coaches call the pitches and want to miss bats, and you miss bats more often with breaking balls rather than fastballs and changeups, especially against metal bats.

KG: Do you think something should be done about college pitching usage patterns, and if so what?

JM: I don't know what to say there. No, actually, I don't think something can or should be done about it. Rayner Noble (the coach at Houston) is not part of anyone's player development system, and his job is not solely to prepare players for professional baseball. It's kind of on the parents and the players to know which programs protect pitchers and which ones allow them to throw tons and tons of sliders.

KG: So it becomes self-regulating, but not without some tough lessons.

JM: But who knows when Lincoln got hurt? It's hard to know. There's a lot of evidence that he wasn't handled great at Houston, but I don't know how anyone can conclusively say it just by judging pitch counts. If he's throwing 120 pitches and 100 are fastballs and he's never going over 30 pitches an inning, if he's generally in control, maintaining his mechanics, not overly exerting himself...who's to say he can't throw 120 pitches consistently.

KG: Sure, that's the trouble--the elbow really could have been 100% when he signed and then it popped--we didn't take MRIs after every game.

JM: Right. I think players get used to throwing on a college throwing program--pitch on Friday, throw one bullpen, then pitch again on Friday. Then you go to pro ball and you pitch, and then you have four days before you pitch again, and in those four days you probably throw two bullpens, have one day off and long toss. You throw so much more frequently as a pro than you do as an amateur and that adjustment probably leads to as many injuries as high pitch counts do. But high pitch counts are more tangible so we harp on those.

--Kevin Goldstein

It's been a busy couple days here at UTK's home office, but I won't bore you with the behind the scenes stuff. I will complain about Windows Mobile (WM5 on my T-Mobile Dash), which has been decidedly more buggy lately. I don't mind if my phone does some weird things when I'm doing the extra functions, but when it comes to things like answering the phone, it should never crash. That's right--I hit the button to answer the phone, and it hard-locks. I have to go through the three-minute reboot before I can call whoever called me back. Very frustrating.

Anyway, calls get made eventually, and you all want the information, so despite not being powered by a phone that just works, on to the injuries:

  • Cardinals fans are in a bit of a panic after hearing that Chris Carpenter will miss a start. He came out of his first start with a tender, swollen elbow. While the Cards are insisting publicly that it's not a big deal and that they're being ultracautious, the fact remains that Carpenter's elbow is tender and swollen after a bad (by his standards) start. Carpenter has had bone chips in the elbow previously, and that's something that has to come to mind given the symptomology. I asked Joe Sheehan just how bad this could be from a baseball standpoint given the thin rotation. "If Carpenter misses any significant time, the Cards can plan for 2008," said Joe Sheehan. "And let's look again at the decision to sign him to a three-year extension covering 2009 through 2011. It's hard enough to bet on pitchers over the next six months; the Cards committed $50 million to the idea that Carpenter would be effective 400, 600, 800 innings down the road, and they did it two years before a decision point. Even if this turns out to be nothing, the case against that contract has been illustrated." We should know more early next week, when Carpenter should start his prep for the next start. If he's not back on schedule then, you'll know something's up. Also watch to see if Carpenter is sent for an MRI when he's re-examined on Thursday.

  • The Braves gave the fifth starter position to Lance Cormier despite a strained pitching shoulder. He's now had a setback and is headed to the DL, giving Kyle Davies another crack at the rotation. Cormier tightened up during a throwing session and is headed for an MRI to see what's going on inside the shoulder. Sources tell me that "it doesn't look good" and that they're expecting him to miss more than the minimum, "maybe a month, depends on what the doctors see." The Braves have the depth to deal with this, and Cormier shouldn't have much of a fantasy impact in all but the deepest of NL-only leagues, but remember that no matter how good Davies is, Bobby Cox is an old-school guy who doesn't like players to lose their slot to an injury. Also remember that whoever's in the five slot for the time being is going to be shunted aside for Mike Hampton once he's ready in early May.

  • The Cubs may have to scramble for a Wednesday starter. As I turn this in, Ted Lilly is still their scheduled starter, but he's also been fighting the flu since the team's weekend in Vegas. He's been on medication and fluids, but even if he makes the start, expect Lou Piniella to go to the bullpen more quickly than he might normally. Weather in Cincinnati is looking dicey, with Weather.com telling me that there are 20-30 mph winds with 40 mph gusts, plus a gametime temperature around 30. Spring in the Midwest is always an adventure, but with an ailing pitcher and Adam Dunn, this could be one worth watching. Still, despite the drama of the moment, there's no real long-term issue here for Lilly.

  • Cristian Guzman has been pushed to the DL with a strained hamstring, but Frank Robinson has to be chuckling after hearing that Felipe Lopez has refused to go back to shortstop in the interim. If this sounds like Alfonso Soriano all over again, you're right. Lopez insists that he'd be hurting the team by switching positions, even with Guzman out. At this stage it looks like Guzman will be out longer than the minimum, making many wonder if Josh Wilson can hold on to the position, or if the Nats will be forced to make some kind of move. Their depth is at second base, not short, but if some players are in essence altering the way the roster can be leveraged, that's a problem well beyond one injury.

  • Part of the reason that Jonathon Papelbon was moved to the bullpen was that the Red Sox knew Mike Timlin wasn't going to be ready to start the season. Timlin's strained oblique might seem to be one of the slow-healing variety, but it's not really slower than the average. It appears he's close to starting a short minor league rehab, which should have him back in the big league bullpen mid-month, where he'll immediately slot in to his normal setup role. While oblique injuries can recur, the Red Sox know how valuable Timlin is to their bullpen as well as in their clubhouse, so there's very little chance that they'll expose him if there's more than a slight risk.

  • Eric Milton is scheduled to throw on the side today. I say scheduled because of the weather (see above) but the Reds do need to determine if Milton is going to be ready to come off of the DL and start this weekend due to the associated roster moves. Milton's had a terrible spring, one that is not all the fault of his back spasms, nor can it be attributed to his rehab in coming back from offseason surgery. While the spring whispers of cutting Milton have thus far proved to be untrue, Milton's going to have to find something approaching effectiveness with all the options available to the Reds down in Louisville.

Quick Cuts: Daisuke Matsuzaka's first start is tomorrow, and I couldn't be more excited to see what he can put together ... Don't be surprised to see the Carlos Zambrano deal held up some in the face of the impending sale of the club. The proposed five-year deal (four plus the current year) was rumored to be around $84 million. It should get done once the dust clears a bit ... Jim Edmonds said he'll miss some time in April with "ouchies." I can't imagine him saying that word, but this is to be expected after his offseason surgeries ... Yhency Brazoban is due to start his minor league rehab soon. He's about a year out from TJ, and could be back in the Dodgers bullpen sooner than expected.

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Under The Knife: A Col... (04/06)
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