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April 10, 2007

Under The Knife

An Errant Green

by Will Carroll

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Green light. It's easy for me to look back now and see that a player like Chris Carpenter, a guy who was a sure thing until he wasn't, had risk factors that were ignored by my Health Report system. No, the fact is that prediction is inexact, and that my imperfect system is just that, imperfect. Injuries to pitchers are a flip of a coin; data shows us that almost exactly half will end up on the DL in any given three-year period. Facing those kind of odds, teams still insist that their prediction system--one that's made up of coaches, scouts, and smart guys in the front office--is better than mine, and sign pitchers to long-term deals. I'm not saying that their system isn't better. In fact, I'd insist that it is, since they have a better data set. What I am saying is that even with far deeper and more personal knowledge of a situation, teams still can't predict what's going to happen to a pitcher over the next month, let alone the next seven years. I'll take my lumps from those of you that want to remind me of Carpenter's green light--it's better than having risked millions of dollars and my team's contention on it.

Powered by my own sabermetric Six Sigma, on to the injuries:

  • Chris Carpenter went to the DL after further examination and some sort of procedure. As expected, Carpenter appears to have bone spurs in his pitching elbow, a recurrence that was last dealt with at the end of the 1999 season. The Cardinals announced the injury as "arthritis and impingement," but as expected, sources tell me that the olecranon impingement is caused by bone chips. Joe Strauss of the Post-Dispatch gets similar information, and adds in that Carpenter had a lubricant (such as Supartz) injected into his elbow. This is an approved usage of this type of lubricant, though I can't think of another pitcher who's had this type of treatment. Carpenter missed four weeks with elbow problems in June 1999 before shutting it down in September for surgery, giving us some indication on how this might go. I'd expect that Carpenter will be given a couple weeks to see if the lubricant, anti-inflammatories, and rest will help, but that surgery is the next option. Carpenter does have a history of cascades--his elbow injury quickly led to his torn labrum, he had elbow problems after the shoulder surgery, and most will remember that his 2004 shoulder problem was preceded by lower back problems.

  • Ricky Nolasco started this season ticketed to be the Marlins' closer. Instead, an injury to Josh Johnson pushed him back into the rotation. In discussion of Jonathon Papelbon and Adam Wainwright, much was made of how it's different prepping for a season as a starter, and how stamina is more of an issue, so the question is immediately raised if prepping to start can allow someone to go back to relieving quickly. So far, it's been okay for Papelbon, but is Nolasco's elbow problem a sign that it's a bit tougher? Nolasco heads to the DL, replaced by a Dutch pitcher who's never thrown above Single-A; Rick Vanden Hurk was at Double-A to open the season, but hadn't thrown yet. One interesting thing to note is that Fredi Gonzalez mentioned Nolasco's velocity as a problem; most readers of this column will know that velocity tends to be an indicator of shoulder problems, not elbow issues. This is something to keep an eye on, though it could be as simple as a "dead arm."

  • By the time you read this, Mike Hampton will already have had his elbow repaired. Again. Hampton headed back to Dr. David Altcheck after feeling "something pop" in his Tommy John'd elbow. That something was his flexor tendon, likely a cascade injury both from altered mechanics as well as his torn oblique, and it was repaired on Tuesday morning. The normal recovery time for this is six to nine months, meaning that his 2007 season is over and that the contract he signed with the Rockies continues to look like one of the worst of all time. (Giants fans may want to disagree after Barry Zito's first two starts; give that time.) About the only good thing about Hampton's contract is that it was insured. How it was, I have no idea. Hampton intends to return to the Braves for spring training next season, the last on this deal, though one source told me that Hampton was so frustrated that "he's joking about pulling a Rick Ankiel and coming back as an outfielder."

  • If there's a bright side to losing a full series to snow and then moving from Cleveland to Milwaukee for the next series, it's that Lonnie Soloff and his medical team have had extra time to work on Victor Martinez. Granted, the injury might not have happened without the bad weather, but it did, so we'll move forward. Martinez is making enough progress that while catching doesn't look to be on the short-term horizon, it does look like he'll avoid the DL. Even if he doesn't, the team may need to make a move to protect Kelly Shoppach and Martinez with a third catcher. In fact, the Indians are going to bring Triple-A catcher Mike Rose to Milwaukee despite him not putting him on the roster--yet. In the meantime, Ryan Garko is the emergency catcher for those of you in the one-game eligibility leagues who like to dream.

  • The Dodgers got some good news and a bit of bad news. The good is that Rafael Furcal is running and looks to be ready to hit the field sometime mid-week. He's not yet full-go, but close enough to play. Yes, you can expect that he's less likely to steal initially, but looking back at similar types of players, that isn't so much the case. I think it may be that pitchers think "oh, he's coming off a bum ankle" and don't watch as closely, then the runner's instincts kick in and they get some steals before things get back to normal. The bad news for the Dodgers is that Jason Schmidt left Monday's game with a mild strain of his hamstring. Schmidt's a guy who's got a reputation for being something of a hypochondriac (with good reason), but in this case, it appears that he was smart to speak up. The strain doesn't look serious enough to keep him from his next start. We can also start this year's Player vs. Wall scorecard with Matt Kemp. Kemp smashed into the right field wall and left the game, but x-rays were negative. Wall 1, Players 0.

Quick Cuts: Good stuff from Tyler Kepner on the effects of weather on injuries. I remember talking about a different team and how players weren't participating in their S&C program last season, and one of my football contacts about fell off his chair. "They can do that in baseball?" ... Mark Buehrle will make his Wednesday start after showing few issues during his side session. Sources tell me he wasn't 100 percent after taking a ball off his forearm, but that he was close enough to be expected to be at or near full-go by Wednesday ... Mark Prior will make his first extended spring training start later this week. Odd to have someone shut down who's "healthy," isn't it? ... "Except one. Joel Zumaya. He had it coming." Classic ... Wow. There really is a web site for everything

Related Content:  The Who,  Elbow

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