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June 20, 2007

Under The Knife

Less Than Ideal

by Will Carroll

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Is there an ideal pitcher's body? There's some irony here since the pitcher who asked me that is 6'10" (as well as 3-0 with an 0.64 ERA), but ignore that for a moment. Scouts often say there's a type that's "durable" or "ideal." In fact, the evidence suggests that what they're actually saying is shorthand for "There are better odds to have someone at or near the average, with a tendency to the bigger"--which usually means stronger. Short pitchers tend to be finesse guys or, less frequently, fireballers like Roy Oswalt or Tim Lincecum, the kind of guys who don't look like they'll hold up, even if they often do. Tall pitchers have divergent biomechanics. For every Randy Johnson, there's a Ryan Anderson, and most end up like Jon Rauch or Andy Sisco.

William Burke, one of our tireless behind-the-scenes researchers, pulled up the sizes for the average pitcher in every year ending in 6 (1906, 1916, etc, through to 2006.) It was essentially a way to minimize his work while getting a meaningful sample. While height and weight data is not exactly scientific, you'd be surprised that the changes really aren't that significant. It's gone from 5'11.5"/180 (or roughly Yusmeiro Petit, if you believe his listed weight) in 1906 to 6'1.5"/191 by 1966 (or roughly Lance Cormier). Today, at nearly 6'3"/201 on average, Mark Buehrle is an average pitcher, at least in size. Burke also found the pitchers are generally a bit bigger than position players, something that I find unsurprising. What we're seeing is more variation, largely because the population from which baseball pulls is ever larger. Scouts aren't wrong in playing the odds when looking for the next Tom Seaver, but the next Greg Maddux won't be found by looking purely for a set mold.

Powered by the new The White Stripes album, on to the injuries:

  • The Dodgers have a lot of questions about Jason Schmidt and what's going on in his shoulder. They'll know soon. Schmidt is being sent for exploratory surgery on his pitching shoulder, and most expect the findings to be poor. The initial surgery will be a simple scope to visualize the shoulder, but don't be surprised if more is done. It's not often that a surgeon just looks around, pulls his scope back out, and says, "Nothing to see here." At best, Schmidt is probably looking at a cleanup along the lines of what Mark Prior had--cleaning up some fraying in the rotator cuff or labrum or removing the debris caused by years of pitching. If there's any positive here, it's that Schmidt will have Dr. Neil ElAttrache, one of the top shoulder surgeons, on the other end of the scope. (How good is ElAttrache? I once heard Jim Andrews say that the first thing he did when faced with a shoulder injury was call ElAttrache for a consult.) The surgery is scheduled for Wednesday and we should know much more on this by tomorrow.

    In the meantime, the Dodgers will slot Chad Billingsley into the rotation. The Dodgers don't just have Schmidt heading to the surgeon either: Yhency Brazoban will have his shoulder scoped as well, not an uncommon occurrence post-Tommy John surgery. Yes, ElAttrache will also be doing this one, and reports that there is a labrum tear indicate that this could keep Brazoban on the shelf a while.

  • Curt Schilling blogged whether he won or lost, but it appears that HIPAA is too strong for even Schilling. After a start that was as bad looking as they come--full of altered mechanics and reduced velocity--Schilling was sent back to Boston for an MRI on his pitching shoulder. Terry Francona was a bit circumspect in his comments regarding Schilling, saying only that he "had trouble getting loose." Sources have been equally opaque, which is not often a sign of whether something is good or bad, but just that it's being taken seriously enough to visibly tighten the circle around information. Early reports from the Boston Herald say that the MRI found no damage, but Schilling's top reading on his last start was in the high 80s and the ball didn't seem to have its normal movement, making us wonder whether reduced velocity might affect his ability to muddle through. It won't be until his bullpen session--normally today, but likely to be delayed--that we learn more. Schilling does have a history of shoulder problems, but it's a relatively ancient one. His labrum was repaired back in 1995 and, stunningly, he returned to form. It's important to note that while the pitch counts of his near no-hitter and the subsequent outings were not high, it makes me wonder if he pitched on adrenaline late in games, throwing harder than he should have relative to his fatigue level when he came so close to history.
  • Getting knocked around by this season's Astros' offense is a bad sign. Bartolo Colon looked just that bad on Tuesday, scuffling through five innings against the anemic Houston offense, but his velocity wasn't the problem. Instead, he seemed to once again be searching for a comfortable arm slot, something we saw him do before it was revealed that he had a torn rotator cuff. You'll also remember Pedro Martinez doing much the same thing before being diagnosed with a similar injury. While his ability to pitch when uncomfortable is something, the results Colon put up have to be worrisome, especially on the heels of previous shoulder issues. If you have to wait until his next outing to tell whether he's the pitcher you thought you drafted, it might be too late to get value.
  • Brad Lidge heads to the DL with an oblique strain, putting another dark mark on a season that's had more downs than ups. Despite pitching well recently in all but the save situations, Lidge was expected to be a name that came up in trade talk. Now, he's headed to the DL with an injury that normally takes about four to six weeks to recover from, and for pitchers, it's normally on the long end of that. That would bump Lidge's recovery up against the non-waiver trade deadline, taking one option out of Tim Purpura's hands unless there's a bold (or desperate) team. I'd say bold, since the recovery from oblique strains is pretty well known. Assuming the injury isn't pushed too quickly and there's no recurrence within the recovery period, they tend to be a "clean" healing injury with little or no tendency to go chronic. A player on the DL isn't often traded, but "buy low" works well in almost any free market situation.
  • Again? Already? Rocco Baldelli barely took a step out of the box in a rehab game before pulling up lame, with another re-injury of his famously weakened hamstring. While initial reports are that Baldelli did not re-tear the hamstring, the chronic nature of the problem makes it even more difficult for even the Rays to ascertain a return date at this stage. The Rays have made rumblings that they feel Baldelli could be helped by a Jose Reyes-style rebuilding, which is convenient since the man behind that, Vern Gambetta, lives in the Tampa Bay area. One interesting thought a baseball executive floated to me last night was that the Mets, already dealing with an OF shortage, could deal Philip Humber to the Rays for Baldelli, given their success with Reyes. It's interesting, but unlikely, at least until the Rays have a better handle on Baldelli's true current value.
  • While the Cardinals are calling "leg soreness" the official reason for Jim Edmonds hitting the DL, the aging center fielder is dealing with larger problems. The soreness in his hamstring has been blamed on tendinitis, but Matthew Leach at MLB.com suggests smartly that the nerve problem in his lower back may be related. Edmonds, it appears, asked out of the lineup, hoping that resting through the All Star Break will get him back to a place where he can contribute. The Cardinals are in the process of remaking their lineup on the fly, swapping Tomo Ohka in for Kip Wells, hoping to get Yadier Molina back soon, and trying to figure out whether Adam Kennedy can contribute the rest of the season. It's a tough time for the Cardinals, but despite being six games under .500, they're only 7 1/2 back of the Brewers. Then again, according to BP's adjusted standings, the Cardinals are actually playing better than expected. A healthy Edmonds is going to be a must if they're going to turn the season around.
  • As much as I wanted to call the problem Randy Johnson was dealing with anything other than "tight glute," I definitely was not rooting for "herniated disc." That's one report out of Arizona on Tuesday. Worse, it appears that the problematic disc is the one that was surgically repaired last October. Johnson was seen by Dr. Robert Watkins in Los Angeles and was cleared to pitch. In essence, Johnson is going to have to go out to the mound and pitch to his pain tolerance. Add this onto his already problematic knees, and it's stunning that he's never had arm problems. The D'Backs now have to worry about having someone shadow him in the bullpen, not knowing how far he can go. Actually, it's not a bad strategy given the team's pitching depth. Perhaps a pseudo-tandem could work to keep the workload down on Johnson. Like we talked about last week, a creative solution to scheduling might be the answer here, but I'm a lot more confident in Josh Byrnes' ability to do it than I am Ned Colletti's.
  • The A's are finally starting to get some good news. Rich Harden will be back in green and gold soon, assuming he makes it through a rehab outing in Triple-A Sacramento tonight as well as he did a sim game on Monday. Harden looked very good, even dominant in a 30 pitch outing, about the same as what he's expected to throw tonight. One thing to watch for is if he throws his breaking stuff and if so, how it looks. If he's good as a River Cat, he'll be an Athletic again by the weekend, slotting into the bullpen and slowly building his pitch counts. There's still no publicly known plan for how the A's will use Harden or what kind of limits he'll be under, but given the current progress, expecting Harden to switch back over to the rotation after the All-Star Break makes sense. The A's also got positive reports on Justin Duchscherer, who will transition back to the mound soon in his throwing program, and on Esteban Loaiza, who could join Harden in the rotation around the All-Star Break.

Quick Cuts: Sadly, I'm not going to make it to D.C. this weekend as planned. I'm sure the gang will take care of the big group attending well ... Brian Giles will start a rehab stint very soon and is expected back with the Padres very soon... Kat O'Brien has the scoop on Jason Giambi. I'm surprised he's even close to talking to Mitchell and almost as surprised that there are hints at immunity ... Don't be surprised to see Chris Carpenter back well before what the Cardinals originally stated. Coming back just after the All Star break is quite possible given his current progress ... I know what was written in Baseball Between The Numbers, but the Brewers own Tim Lincecum. Problem is so does everyone right now. He hasn't adjusted to the league getting plenty of video on him and will be skipped next time his turn comes up in the rotation ... Aramis Ramirez is taking batting practice, making it very likely he'll come off the DL over the weekend ... Ian Snell will miss only one start after burning his finger making chicken. Oy ... Jake Westbrook will be activated for a Sunday start. He's been shaky in his rehab starts, but oblique returns usually come off without problems ... Mike Jacobs went 0-4 during a rehab game in Single-A Jupiter. That's not a good sign for his comeback ... Lastings Milledge is closer to playing, something that could help in a couple ways for the Mets. He's missed time with a foot injury ... Scott Podsednik is running well in his rehab, stealing two bases, but signs are that he'll be down until his 20 days runs out. There's no word on why this is the case, other than Ozzie Guillen says so ... Shawn Hill and Jason Bergmann are both making progress in their rehab. Both are expected back in the Nats rotation around the All Star break ... Classic. ... Anyone looking for a report on Jon Lester will need to wait a day. John Perrotto and I will be checking out the rehabbing Red Sock when he starts today in Indianapolis.

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