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June 6, 2007

Under The Knife

Draft Questions

by Will Carroll

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The draft is coming. The first question people ask is, who's going to be picked? Kevin Goldstein's Top 50 can give you a fine idea, and his mock draft later on this afternoon will give you even more. The second question, the one I immediately ask, is who's been overworked? You'd expect that I'd go off on David Price's workload, about the impending #1 overall coming in tired to relieve and getting shelled. You'd expect that I'd talk about Rice's program, blaming bad luck for all their injuries, including a shoulder problem for another first rounder, Joe Savery. (Note to Rice: For a smart school, that's a dumb answer.) You'd expect that I'd disagree with Tom Verducci on workload with young pitchers like Tim Lincecum. But I don't.

For all the talk of bringing Price down to a "normal workload" once he signs, I keep thinking that teams are often leaving pitches in the quiver. Lincecum's something of a freak, but Matt Cain isn't, and Price... well, we're not sure yet. It's important to remember that 114 is not 150. If Bruce Bochy can look out and honestly say that Lincecum or Cain is as good on pitch 110 as they were on pitch 50, I don't see why they should come out. While the Pitcher Abuse Points (PAP) research is strong, there are a couple of things about it that people don't notice. First, PAP indicates that when possible, you should keep pitch counts low. If a pitcher goes high, you come back with a limit and watch him closely. If it's a blowout, you save some pitches and bring in your mop-up guy. The fact is that the Giants have no idea how many pitches Lincecum or Cain can safely go, because no team does. There's only two teams I know of that do biomechanical analysis on a majority of their pitchers as a baseline, and none use a logical development system that would tell them exactly what that pitcher can do. The best we have are guesses, hunches, and the eyes of baseball men. You've seen how well that's worked over the last ten years. The takeaway from this is that we shouldn't base multimillion-dollar decisions on guesses, averages, or freaks.

Powered by the upcoming D.C. Ballpark Event, on to the injuries:

  • Does it mean much that Pedro Martinez threw off a mound? In the broader scheme of things, no. It doesn't tell us when he'll be back, it doesn't tell us how he'll come back, and it doesn't tell us which Pedro will come back, the dominating Pedro of old, or the scuffling version that the Mets saw last season. Throwing from a mound is a marker that gives us an indication that the rehab is going at least this well. It's more important for Martinez, or any pitcher that makes it to the stage. Getting back to the mound gets them out of the training room or the gym, and gives them the sense that soon they'll be back on the real mound. Martinez is on track for his target date of August 1, so the next milestone will likely be throwing to live hitters, ideally sometime in the next two weeks. Don't expect this process to go completely smoothly either--shoulder injuries almost always have a 'dead arm' period attached to their early rehabs.
  • Bartolo Colon has already been through those steps, though we never really saw any of them in his quick comeback from shoulder problems this offseason. It's impossible to say that he was rushed back and that it had anything to do with his current problem, but it's worth noting. The Angels will make a decision on whether Colon will start this weekend or head to the DL on a retro after he throws a side session Wednesday. The team has an off-day on Thursday, which would allow Mike Scioscia to juggle his rotation to get by, but the team seems positive about Colon's return. If the tendonitis is reduced by rest and treatment, there's no reason to believe that Colon can't slot right back in. The telling sign will be his velocity; I'm expecting Colon's quick comeback to also be accompanied by some stamina issues.
  • Scar tissue is not a negative. Roger Clemens had an MRI, and that image showed scarring in his groin, the natural result of a previous, known groin injury. That he's feeling it probably speaks more to his flexibility than anything else. Clemens got right back on the mound this week, and is prepping for a start against the Pirates this weekend. The groin probably won't have any effect on Clemens' performance, though there could be a slight effect on velocity and on how long Clemens will be able to sustain that velocity. I'm expecting a smart pitcher like Clemens to make an adjustment and use more breaking pitches and splitters. In the longer term, the groin problem isn't likely to do much; scar tissue is scar tissue, and like Clemens, it never goes away.
  • David Forst, the Assistant GM of the A's, gave an interesting quote to Mychael Urban, saying that Rich Harden could pitch out of the bullpen once he's back to throwing. Now, it's not a closer role the team is thinking of, but squeezing some value out of Harden by essentially doing his rehab work from the pen. I love this idea, and have suggested it for other pitchers, along with using starters in the pen on throw days. It would take an incredible amount of trust in the manager to properly handle this, but in today's game, if a team doesn't trust its manager to handle the pitching staff, why does he have a job? Harden could be back within a couple of weeks, assuming there are no further setbacks, because the normal rehab process would be changed. It seems to me like a very smart move on the part of the A's, especially given all their injuries and the chance that they could get back into the AL West race.
  • One hit over six shutout innings on 86 pitches is more than anyone expected from Jason Schmidt. Even after I said on Jeff Erickson's XM show Monday that I would make sure to have Schmidt in my lineup for that first start back, I expected good, not great. Schmidt's recovery from shoulder problems is nothing short of amazing, and proof that the Dodgers didn't get another Darren Dreifort deal. Sure, he's not going to do this every time out, but the bigger question mark is how long Schmidt can stay effective. Without knowing exactly what's going on in his shoulder, I think the Dodgers will be smart about his usage, just as they have been with Brad Penny. I'll give Grady Little and Rick Honeycutt as much credit as Schmidt and Stan Conte here; the team has been very smart and creative in the way they've used their pitchers. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Dodgers move away from the "rotation" concept at some point. Here's a little thought experiment: If you have a rotation like the Dodgers with two low pitch count guys (Schmidt and Penny), a sinkerballer who says he pitches better on short rest (Derek Lowe), a guy still coming back from Tommy John (Randy Wolf), and a young, injury-prone pair of fifth starters (Hong-Chih Kuo and Chad Billingsley), how do you best put together a rotation? I'm guessing that it doesn't involve a set rotation, but I'll bet that several readers could put together a better model than my guess.
  • Roy Halladay looked like the pre-appendectomy Halladay on Tuesday night. I'm not saying that the surgery has anything to do with his pitching, but in the two starts prior to the surgery, he looked awful, scuffling, changing his arm slot, and seeming out of sync. After looking like the Cy-caliber Halladay in his first start after the surgery, Halladay was back to the bad form, and noted it. After the game, Halladay blamed his poor mechanics for the outing, but mechanics are very difficult to change, especially in-season. Often, the work finally just clicks and the pitcher sees immediate improvement. The way Halladay has looked in three of his last four starts, he'll be doing a lot of work on the side, something Jays fans have to hope works.
  • A source tells me that Chipper Jones isn't seeing much effect from cortisone injections he had earlier this week, which raises the possibility that he won't come off the DL early next week, as was initially expected. Jones is always a tough case to evaluate for medheads due to the way he's treated and his multiple injuries, but this seems to be one that's not only lingering, but also one that Jones is acknowledging that he simply can't play through. Jones' pain tolerance has always seemed to be superhuman, which tells us more about how serious the hand/thumb injury is than any information the Braves are letting out. Jones himself has suggested that he might have a bone bruise, and we know how long those can linger, given the recent cases of Brian Giles and Jeremy Hermida.
  • Joe Mauer caught five innings in Ft. Myers. One of my observers on-site said that while he didn't show any problems, he looked uncomfortable, shifting around in his crouch more than a catcher normally does. Mauer also never had a situation where he had to move quickly, so there was no real test of how the quad will hold up. Mauer's going to have another rehab game at Single-A Ft Myers (the previous game was in extended spring training), and then he'll return to the Twins on Friday. Mauer will not be DHing once he returns, and given the current pattern of leg injuries, it would not surprise me a bit to see Mauer strain a groin sometime in the next month.
  • With all the talk about young pitchers, we'll get a couple more this week. Homer Bailey will make his first major league start Friday against the Indians. I don't think it really matters who he'll pitch against, though if it does, matching a guy who's had some efficiency issues up against one of the more patient hitting teams doesn't seem like the best way to break him in.
  • Jon Lester also appears to be past the minor forearm issue and ready to come up and join the Red Sox rotation. Both young pitchers are part of a cycle that appears to have really taken hold over the past couple of seasons, as pitchers gain a little ground on hitters. I think the quality of pitching has as much to do with the drop in offense we saw (through May) as anything.

Quick Cuts: Quick thought--has anyone ever seen a mound template in use?. ... Angel Guzman's recurrent forearm cramping doesn't appear to be anything more than that. It gives Sean Marshall his first callup, though it's unclear if he'll start or relieve at this stage. ... BP Founder Gary Huckabay is looking for four tickets to the Yankees game on Friday, August 3. If you have access to tickets, please e-mail me. ... Chad Tracy looks to be back from his oblique strain and could be back in the D'Backs lineup by the weekend. ... Anyone out there a Mac networking guru? I'm having a curious problem with my Macbook--it won't connect to my iMac (and the big hard drive), but the iMac can connect to it. ... Vicente Padilla won't miss another start after an MRI showed no damage. He's expected to slot back in to the rotation over the weekend. ... Shawn Green should come off the DL as expected on June 10.

Related Content:  Back,  The Who,  Groin,  The Process,  Tim Lincecum Strong Start,  Quad-a

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