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May 16, 2007

Under The Knife

The Right Questions

by Will Carroll

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Tim Marchman is one of my favorite writers--or should I say favorite thinkers? Marchman's latest piece is one that takes an interesting thought he had last week another step towards a better answer. By taking a hard look at a question from all angles, Marchman's taking on the orthodoxy of "pitchers ain't like they used to be." Bob Feller will disagree, as will most baseball fans, but popular isn't necessarily correct. The game may look the same and feel much the same, but it's not, and using the same thoughts, plans, or processes will lead to diminishing returns over time. There are hundreds of questions like this, ones demanding the same type of in-depth study, and while we do our best here at BP to answer as many as we can, it's nice to see that there are other minds, especially ones in the print medium, that are asking the right questions. Even better, more and more people are asking--and answering--these questions. Whether it's my chance to whet people's appetite for biomechanics with my broad strokes at MLB.com or Carlos Gomez's more technical breakdowns at Hardball Times or Murray Chass' look at the baseball insurance market, there's a lot of good things going on. Baseball changes slowly, generationally, or sometimes simply glacially, but it does change.

Powered by the news that "How I Met Your Mother" has been renewed, on to the injuries:

  • J.P. Ricciardi might be running out of excuses thanks to his former boss, Billy Beane. The teams have similar injuries, both in quantity and at certain positions, yet the A's have found ways to stay competitive, and with a lower budget no less. Beane's charges may have their biggest challenge now with Huston Street headed to the DL. While the press releases have minimized the severity of the injury, this is similar to what has kept Josh Johnson on the shelf for better than two months. In fact, my injury database shows one pitcher-- LaTroy Hawkins --who came back from any sort of ulnar neuritis in less than two months; Hawkins was out for nearly a month. If Hawkins represents the best-case scenario, the A's have to hope that they can hold things together without Justin Duchscherer as well. It was actually Duchscherer that I was looking into when the team announced Street's injury; "The Duke" is dealing with a hip strain that has him day-to-day, though many observers thought he was headed to the DL before Street's injury. Wait, can Jack Cust close?
  • John Smoltz dislocated his pinky on a tag play in DC, one of the more painful injuries you can suffer, and ven a tough guy like Smoltz was buckled by the pain when his pitching hand was injured. We won't know for at least another 24 hours if the swelling and pain is minimized enough to let him make his next start, but he is hobbled by one rule. The normal treatment for a dislocation or fracture like this would be to tape the finger to his ring finger, splinting it. Unfortunately for Smoltz and the Braves, a pitcher cannot have tape (or any foreign substance) on his pitching hand. Smoltz has pointed out that the pinky has very little to do with pitching, and this is more a question of pain management and damage control. Smoltz desperately wants to pitch against the Red Sox, so I expect him to be out there; Bobby Cox is more likely to allow this sort of thing than most managers would be in his shoes. Chipper Jones is also a pain management question; he's headed for x-rays to make sure that his right hand is not broken. The area at the base of the thumb is a tough one since it is so close to the small bones of the wrist. We should have more answers on Jones' longer-term prognosis after the X-rays, which should be announced before Wednesday's game.
  • Felix Hernandez only made it through 3.2 innings in his first start back, coming up just short of his pitch limit of 80. His elbow came out healthy, but the control issues he showed have me as worried as when he first walked off the field a few weeks back. Hernandez didn't look "rusty," as one announcer put it--he looked like he had no command of his pitches. Seven hits and three walks don't tell us much; a couple of those hits were squibbers. It's the lack of command on even his fastball that's my concern. It's not time to panic yet, because some of it may be rust, but it's going to take a couple more starts to see if the control issues Hernandez showed are the type that signal serious elbow problems, or if it's just a case of a young pitcher struggling.
  • Josh Beckett made it through a light bullpen session on Tuesday without further damage to his blister. Beckett didn't throw curves, the pitch that would put the most stress on the new skin despite the use of a covering, something Beckett does in most side sessions. While this is a positive development, it still appears that Beckett will miss his start on Friday. The Red Sox will wait to make a decision as long as possible, but Beckett's longer-term health and the Red Sox's current lead in the division both point towards him missing at least this start. Overall, the management of this injury doesn't increase his risk over the already ever-present recurrence risk he's already carrying.
  • I'm often asked what injury bothers teams more than any others. I don't have a good answer for it, but I do know the type of injury that bothers an athletic trainer more than any other--the one that comes just after a player returns from injury, especially in their first games back. Recurrences are tough at any juncture, but when it happens so quickly, as the hamstring injury to Kevin Millwood did, the medical staff kicks itself. Millwood lasted only five outs before re-injuring his hamstring, forcing him back onto the DL and back to square one with his leg. Expecting Millwood to make it back in the minimum is unlikely this time around, leaving the Rangers once again looking for someone to step up in their rotation.
  • I dismissed the initial reports on spasms in the neck of Derrek Lee as a small, short-term problem, but it appears that I was wrong in that assessment. Lee was sent back to Chicago for tests, and while the reports maintain that the problem is short-term, there's actually been no abatement of Lee's symptoms. Spasms are more symptom that cause, so the lack of any diagnosis, at least publicly, has to worry Cubs fans about the risk of recurrence. This one is one to watch over the next few days. Things aren't much clearer for Mark DeRosa. After a collison on the basepaths, DeRosa seemed headed for the DL. The injury appears to be a strained tendon not unlike the injury to Joel Zumaya, albeit in the ring finger rather than middle finger, but an MRI wasn't done. DeRosa is day-to-day, though the Cubs still have some roster juggling to do as they try and sort out not only their injury situation, but their bullpen. There are some growing whispers that Lou Piniella is getting frustrated, and that Larry Rothschild might be a casualty of that frustration.
  • The Rays are up in Orlando, playing a stand at Disney. Moving a single three-game set from a turf stadium to a grass one is likely a wash from a risk standpoint. The grass is roughly equivalent to the risk of learning the quirks, angles, and walls of a new stadium. I say this only because there were two hamstring injuries in the game, one on each side. Rocco Baldelli re-injured his hamstring early in the game while running to first, and is day to day. For the Rangers, Brad Wilkerson did the same in the fifth inning, his latest in a series of both nagging and debilitating injuries that have consistently ruined his time in Texas. Wilkerson heads to the DL, to be replaced by Marlon Byrd.
  • Ryan Howard said on today's Phillies telecast that he wanted to make sure that his quad healed up "so it doesn't affect my defense." No offense to Howard, but he's nuts. His defense won't enter the equation; all the Phillies care about is that he has his physical base for hitting. I asked our own David Pinto, creator of his own defensive metric, PMR, to comment on Howard's defense: "Few first basemen reach balls as poorly as Ryan Howard. There is a glaring hole to his right, especially on line drives, but even on grounders he gets to many fewer balls than expected. From his overall numbers and his ball type charts, a ball hit between first and second is unlikely to be turned into an out by Ryan Howard." Ah, the power of understatement. Howard's quad strain isn't significant, so the DL stint should have him healed up just fine. It's gotten to the point where we need to figure out if this what's been holding him back in '07.

Quick Cuts: Here's something I didn't know-- Guillermo Mota was in the minor leagues pitching prior to his 50-game suspension. In essence, he's on a "rehab assignment" in preparation for activation at the time his suspension ends. Suspensions are without pay, but these types of assignments can happen 15 days prior to the end of the suspension. ... Jason Schmidt threw off a mound for the first time since heading to the DL. It's a positive step, but his recovery from the session is even more key. ... Someone take the Grateful Dead albums away from Jeff Tweedy. ... Carlos Zambrano had a tighter delivery Tuesday against the Mets, which we have to think is the result of his side work with Larry Rothschild. It still looks like his elbow is very low. ... Mike Jacobs heads to the DL as much to make room for Byung-Hyun Kim as he does to give his thumb more time to heal. ... Mark Kotsay made his first appearance in extended spring training. He's still at least a couple weeks off, but the A's know he can't get back fast enough, Jack Cust or not. ... Add Jerome Williams to the problems the Nats have. Just off the DL from an ankle sprain, Williams left Tuesday's start with an apparent shoulder injury. Early word is that it may be a rotator cuff strain. An MRI is scheduled for Wednesday.

Related Content:  Back,  Finger,  Preparation Time,  Quad-a

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