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May 8, 2007

Under The Knife

Athleticism

by Will Carroll

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I've been straddling two sports again this past week, doing all my normal BP duties as well as working on Pro Football Prospectus 2007 . I think I hear Aaron Schatz yelling at me now as I'm a bit behind with my essays. There's usually some overlap--an ACL tear is an ACL tear--but one of the main things that I notice between sports is that specificity is seldom noted. If you watched Tim Lincecum Sunday night, you saw someone who is not only unique, but very specific. Alter one thing with him, and the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that have been trained to create that controlled fury would be thrown off and not even Tim's dad knows what would happen. It's interesting to note that Lincecum injured himself swinging a bat in college. It's a similar motion, but just different enough that the muscles trained for one thing were injured by another. We see it more with pitchers, having one small injury throw off the kinetic chain and cause a different, bigger problem.

All this leads back to athleticism, which could be defined as the non-specific athletic skills we see. Bo Jackson and Michael Jordan could play two sports at a high level because of their non-specific but very unique athletic ability. You probably don't think of the Padres' Chris Young as being a two-sport star, but are the skills that allowed him to play Division I basketball the same that made him the exception, a young tall pitcher with good mechanics? Scouts have long talked about athleticism, but in the NFL they measure it and cultivate it. Baseball may be more defined by specific skills, but there might be some general good found in those general skills.

Powered by anticipation for the next two episodes of "Heroes", on to the injuries:

  • Joel Zumaya's not going to be playing Guitar Hero anytime soon, but it's his pitching hand, not his fretting hand, that's injured. In one of the freakier freak injuries, Zumaya ruptured a tendon in his right middle finger. That finger is perhaps the most important to a pitcher. He'll have surgery to re-attach the tendon later this week in New York, but sources I spoke with seem very concerned. No one seems to understand exactly how this happened. Did the finger dislocate, spontaneously reduce (pop back in) and somehow the tendon popped during this? Did the tendon weaken over time and finally rupture? There's no way of knowing, and that's a big part of the problem. Few people throw the ball as hard as Zumaya does, so the problems are amplified, both in determining a cause and in anticipating how he will return. This is going to be a very binary recovery--either he'll be back, or he won't. While re-attaching the tendon and getting him back to normal functioning shouldn't be a problem, it's questionable whether he'll get back to being the flame-throwing reliever. The first time we see the ball come out of his hand at speed, we'll know, but Tigers fans will be holding their breath up until that point. He's out at least twelve weeks, but do not be surprised at all to see this go a few weeks beyond that.
  • I can't remember a year where more big-name guys had terrible starts. Batting average isn't a great measure, but look at this sortable--when Richie Sexson, Paul Konerko, Scott Rolen, and Carlos Delgado are all hovering around the Mendoza line, something's up. Ryan Howard is right there too, but at least he has an injury that helps explain it. (I think his contract situation has to be considered as well.) Howard will miss the rest of the week, coming back sometime this weekend, in an attempt to rest the strained quad that Charlie Manuel thinks has altered his swing. On Sunday night's ESPN game, Joe Morgan tried to point out what he saw that was different between at-bats with Howard, but honestly, I didn't follow what he was pointing out. Howard crushed one off of Tim Lincecum after looking as bad as a hitter can look in his first at-bat, one that I'll chalk up more to Lincecum's dancing fastball than I will to a mechanical flaw in Howard's swing. It will be interesting to see if the rest helps Howard, but you'll need to find another fantasy first baseman over the next few days.
  • Moises Alou is the guy I always think of when someone mentions playing through pain. When I first met Alou five years ago, we talked about his various injuries, and as he mentioned each one, he would cringe just a little, as if by speaking its name, he was recalling it physically. His ankle still looks as if the dislocation just occurred, and his legs are littered with scars. I think about this every time I watch him play, and I'm amazed when he makes a great running catch, smacks another homer, or just does the things he needs to do to help his team win. Alou's dealing with a torn meniscus, but he's hoping to avoid surgery. He'll need it eventually, just a quick 'scrape and tape' that will cause him to miss about a month. He's risky, but he always has been. After his first game back on Monday, the big test now will be to see if his knee swells up too much to let him play today. With Lastings Milledge down with a foot injury, the options the Mets have to replace Alou in an extended absence aren't the best.
  • MLB.com's Carrie Muskat discussed Carlos Zambrano and his arm slot issues in a chat. Besides the story of the pitcher and his windup, it's good to hear that this is something causing the Cubs as much concern as it does me. The suggestion that Zambrano dropped his arm slot--and this is a consistent drop, not an occasional one--for no good reason seems off to me. As I've said thousands of times, players are creatures of habit, and seldom change for change's sake. There are notorious tinkerers, always changing something, but that in itself is a habit. On the heels of nearly a decade where Cubs pitching coaches, including Larry Rothschild, have failed to make any dent in Kerry Wood's mechanical problems, I'm not sure they're going to have much success with Zambrano. At least they've kept him from using in a game the knuckler he's always playing with. No, I'm not too worried about the arm slot yet, but I'm watching.

Quick Cuts: Some interesting rumors circulating about Juan Salas' positive test. He may have been the first caught with a non-standard steroid. I hestitate to say "designer steroid," but much like BALCO's famous THG, Salas may have tested with a non-Winstrol/Dianabol/Anavar anabolic. If true, this could wreak some havoc in more than a few clubhouses ... Russ Ortiz is throwing and appears to be on track to return on May 17, as expected. Tim Lincecum has another two starts to convince the Giants that it's Ortiz who should be in the pen ... If you're looking for good news on Jason Schmidt, then his throwing session in the outfield on Monday might be your ray of sunshine. There's still no timetable for his return, but expect the normal steps between here and there ... For the record, Philip Hughes prefers "Phil." So be it.

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