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June 21, 2007

Under The Knife

Path-Integral Fastballs

by Will Carroll

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I have been listening to Richard Feynman and his classic series of physics lectures. It's not exactly light reading or whatever the audiobook equivalent is of light reading, but it's also amazingly interesting and challenging. The strange part is that these lectures, largely collected from Cal Tech in the early Sixties, are obsolete--brilliant, yet obsolete. Feynman discusses black holes in a pre-Hawking way, about muons without talk of quantum chromodynamics, and about a mankind that had yet to walk on the moon. I don't know if Feynman liked baseball, but I do know that physicists tend to be curious and mathematical, which tends to go hand in hand with baseball. Add in levels of data handling and hierarchical systems, and even if Feynman didn't like baseball, his influence should be felt. We await the day a pitcher will throw a path-integral fastball that moves back in time.

Powered by Icky Thump, on to the injuries:

  • John Lackey is no stranger to BP readers, but I'd venture to say that, without getting into Starkian arguments of underratedness, he might have the biggest gap between notoriety and talent. Going 10-4 for a first-place team would normally serve to get someone noticed, but somehow, Lackey hasn't hit the baseball mainstream. It won't help that he's having some shoulder tightness and could miss a start. Sources tell me the problem is more one of comfort than pain, and that the Angels are looking to make sure that it doesn't become something more serious. This also comes on the heels of his worst outing of the season, something we can now lay at the feet of the injury. Lackey has never had a significant injury problem in his career, so we don't have much to go on here. It bears watching, though I think missing a start may cost him more Cy Young votes than actual value.

    The Angels also got good news on Casey Kotchman, who has made a nice recovery from his concussion. He's expected to rejoin the lineup this weekend, perhaps even as early as Friday.

  • In the first year of his free agent deal, Jason Schmidt is done for now. Surgery performed on his shoulder found a torn labrum and some other damage, which was repaired. The rest of his career is riding on how well the fix takes hold. The labrum was anchored back to bone, so that's the key point that will need to heal before his rehab starts. There's not much precedent for a return to level, though it's interesting to note that the article I did on labrums for Slate back in 2004 is now almost completely obsolete. This is far more extensive than the surgery that Schmidt had in 2000, so timeframes are a bit tougher to judge here, but a vague yet reasonable one has him returning in time for spring training next year. The same holds true for Yhency Brazoban, who will have his labrum repaired on Friday. It's hard to say that these injuries were "preventable"--for Schmidt, it was years of pitching, though there has to be some question about the physical done before signing his three-year deal. When it comes to Brazoban, it's all too common to see shoulder injuries post-Tommy John surgery due to subtle alterations in mechanics. The Dodgers have some pitching depth, and for them to keep up in the NL West, guys like Chad Billingsley will have to come through.

  • Curt Schilling heads to the DL, even after a reported "clean MRI." As we saw with Schmidt, an MRI isn't a perfect tool and there could be something hiding back there, though once again, there is no evidence of this. What we have are results that we can work from--reduced velocity, some appearance of discomfort--which could be anything from a fatigued arm to an impingement to a torn labrum. Given that the MRI was read as "clean", we can surmise that things like impingements, cuff tears, and structural problems have been ruled out. The Sox will try and get Schilling back with rest and treatment, something that we should get new results on in about a week. One reader, M.B. from New Haven, suggested that the Red Sox knew about the shoulder problem and that's why they held off on signing Schilling. There's absolutely no evidence of that here, though in retrospect, the non-signing appears to have been a smart move for the Sox. In the meantime, Jon Lester was in Indianapolis yesterday making what could be his last Triple-A start. While the results weren't the best, our own John Perrotto was in attendance, and said that he pitched "pretty well until the last inning. He said he felt fine, but that his mechanics were out of whack. He said his stamina is fine and that physically he feels great." The Red Sox are making some subtle adjustments to their rotation that make it appear Lester is their choice. It's particularly notable that the Sox will be in Seattle, near Lester's hometown, making his comeback from cancer a bit more poignant.
  • The Phillies have an interesting dilemma in their bullpen. Brett Myers had taken over the closer's role from Tom Gordon when Gordon was injured, but the plan was quickly made to keep Myers in the closer role once Gordon came back. We hear managers saying "you don't lose a job to injury" all the time, though it's not a hard and fast rule like "When you convert a highly-paid starter into relief, he's the closer." Now, it appears that Gordon is going to return before Myers, setting up (no pun intended) an interesting dilemma--does Gordon close when he's back then move to setup, or does Myers return as a set-up guy and work his way back to closing? Both pitchers have strained shoulders, so defined roles or not, Charlie Manuel and the Phillies are going to have to be both creative and cautious when they get one or both of their guys back in the bullpen.

    The Phillies are also waiting to see how Jon Lieber responds after spraining his ankle in Wednesday's start. He limped off the field after rolling the ankle running to back up home plate after a hit. It didn't look serious, but we should know more by the time his bullpen session comes up this weekend.

  • J.J. Hardy has been dealing with pain in his left hip over the past couple games. He missed Tuesday's game, then left Wednesday's in the third after showing signs of pain on a double. Surprisingly, the AP stated that Hardy left the game with pain in his back, not his hip. Ned Yost noted on Tuesday that he felt the problem was a result of the Minnesota turf, so the idea that the pain is a travelling one, caused by adjustment to his gait, is relatively simple. It doesn't appear that this is anything long term. Then again, his debut on "The Young & The Restless" was yesterday, so maybe he's just distracted.
  • It looks as if Johnny Damon is finally headed to the DL. Injuring himself again in the batting cage, he's avoided it so far because he had never been there before. While you can admire the workmanlike attitude, it's clear that Damon hasn't been right, enduring a series of problems this season; at times, his presence has hurt his team. This latest problem, a strained abdominal, adds to his calf, hamstring, and back problems, making some wonder if he'll even be able to go back to center field in the future and stay healthy. It's hard to know what profile Damon fits. While Damon isn't a guy we would define as having "old player skills" necessarily, players that are termed as 'fragile' often have long careers, because they don't take the wear-and-tear of an everyday guy. Damon's also not a grinder, one of those gritty guys who works hard to stay ahead of the guys who are more naturally talented. In fact, while I haven't done a complete study, that there's no statistically defineable style that is any more likely to have a long, productive career than any other style. I'd also guess that there's a heavy genetic component, though opportunity is probably the most significant factor. Back to Damon, a DL stint, if it occurs, isn't expected to be much beyond the minimum, giving the Yankees some roster relief while Damon tries to heal up with the break.
  • Quick Cuts: X-rays were negative on Miguel Tejada after he took a pitch off his left wrist, but it puts his consecutive game streak of 1,151 in jeopardy. ... Ramon Hernandez is due to come off of the DL this Friday as well, a boost to the Orioles lineup. ... Dontrelle Willis played catch on Wednesday and is expected to make his start, though it could be pushed back from a Sunday matchup with Johan Santana to Tuesday. ... Tom Hicks was wrong for saying what he did. I doubt that he'll be forced to talk to the Mitchell investigation after his faux pas. ... Anibal Sanchez will have Jim Andrews look around in his shoulder, hoping to find the cause of his problems. I hope the Orioles take note of this as much as the Marlins do. ... Mark DeRosa left Wednesday's game because a migraine affected his vision. It's not expected to be a long-term problem. ... Finally, congratulations to Sammy Sosa.

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