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September 17, 2007

Under The Knife

Patterns

by Will Carroll

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Every year, we start looking back at the things that we saw and collected over the season to see what we can learn. For me, it's looking for patterns and changes in previous patterns. The most apparent was the broad range of outcomes for shoulder injuries. Pedro Martinez didn't come back as quickly as Bartolo Colon, but he's looked better. On the other hand, Mark Mulder came back at Pedro's pace, and hasn't looked nearly as good. There's a lot of noise in the injury data this season, but there's signal in there somewhere. Data collection in this field isn't clean or easy--there are no box scores for injuries, and the DL is hardly the best accounting method, but it's what we have as a starting point. As the data set grows, we'll learn some rules, start being able to predict events better, and apply advanced techniques like kNN algorithms to find patterns. Who knows what's in there, and how it could change the game of baseball?

Powered by Volkswagen, on to the injuries:

  • A reader wrote in asking if the innings workload of Fausto Carmona was a concern for next year. The simple answer is yes. The conservative handling of Justin Verlander gives hope, but we're years away from any sort of real understanding, of finding true measures rather than proxies. At 23, Carmona's not above the injury nexus, but neither was Verlander. Carmona doesn't have the college issue I'm looking at in regards to Verlander, but he has more of a minor league track record. He hit 150 innings in the minors twice, but last season, in relief, barely reached 100 total innings between the majors and minors. Carmona wasn't overworked last season and his leverage wasn't high, so we're left just noting this, and hoping that he's more like Verlander and less like Jaret Wright. While I'd love to give Lonnie Soloff and the Indians some credit here, I can't--yet. Ask me again in five years.
  • Jorge Posada left Saturday's game after a collision, complaining of dizziness. In the NFL, they'd call it anything but a concussion, but in baseball, they're learning to take this seriously. Posada was sent for tests and was expected to get some rest, something he could use anyway heading into the playoffs. Instead, he was in the game on Sunday night against the Red Sox, though he did DH until late in the game. The next few days are key, as the Yankees watch closely for any sign of post-concussive symptoms. Of all the players they have, Posada is perhaps the most difficult to replace.(I've been working on this kind of story for a while; forgive a mild rant, but what the NFL is doing with concussions is outrageous.)
  • In the other Yankees injury story, Roger Clemens looked good if not great in his return to the mound. Like his opponent Curt Schilling, he's going to need to make quick adjustments, and work on command and efficiency rather than try to be a gunslinging legend. His mechanics looked normal, the blisters on his feet didn't seem to be a problem, and he generally looked like 2005-07 vintage Clemens while pitching. Unlike most teams in the playoffs, the Yankees have tough decisions to make at the bottom of their rotation rather than at the top. (For more on this, check out today's BP Radio to hear Joe Sheehan and I debate the best 1-2 punches heading into the playoffs, or revisit some of the arguments put forward by Nate Silver or Christina Kahrl have put forward on the subject.)
  • Whatever Pedro Martinez did in his rehab, it worked. The Mets think so too, hiring his trainer (and former Red Sox rehab guru) Chris Correnti to make sure that Martinez stays on track. Given that each start has gotten progressively better and that he's shown no problems with his recovery, it's gone from a possibility that Martinez would be in the playoff rotation to a near certainty that he'll get the ball in Game One. It's a bit less sure after Martinez and Tom Glavine, with Orlando Hernandez the known commodity in relief, assuming his foot problem allows him to pitch at all. El Duque will take some time off to see if he can heal up; if he's going to the pen, he won't need to come back except simply to prove he can pitch, though the Mets have shown they're willing to take some chances with their playoff roster. For now, they'll just slide him back, filling in the rotation as needed until they're sure that he's ready. The biggest concern for the Mets now is Billy Wagner, who's having his late-season fade once again. Saying he'd use a changeup at the start of the season, it didn't show up all season. Now, the Mets are trying to find a way to get him ready, while Wagner insists that he's fine. Keeping everyone simultaneously happy and effective is going to be a tough balancing act for pitching coach Rick Peterson.
  • Kevin Youkilis took a sinker off his right wrist and had a brightly-colored bruise on Sunday. He didn't play, but the Red Sox think he should be ready to come back in time for today's game. One scout I spoke to audibly winced when I asked about it. "Other guys throw harder [than Chien-Ming Wang," he said, "but all those sinker guys now, like [Brandon] Webb and Carmona, man, when those hit you, it feels like you dropped a bag of lead on it."

    The Sox are also encouraged by the progress that Manny Ramirez is making with his oblique strain. Ramirez is ready to get some at-bats, but with no minor league team to head out to, the Sox will instead have him take extra batting practice for a couple days, and look to get him in games towards the end of the week. Don't expect him to be 100 percent, but he should be completely healthy for the playoffs, which is what the Red Sox were working towards all along.

  • Cole Hamels will start on Tuesday in St. Louis. The Phillies are still very much in it (with a 29 percent shot at the Wild Card), which makes this the chalk move. Hamels will be on a pitch count of about 65, and I'm told that pitching coachRich Dubee will have a "quick hook" if he sees any sign of problem, pain, or even simply altered mechanics. Hamels has all his pitches and should end up using them, which would give us a good indication of exactly where he is. Yes, he's a bit "rushed," but the playoff chase trumps that. The Phillies feel they're taking a prudent gamble with their young ace. If nothing else, the injury has limited his total innings to just about the point where I'd like to see them, ideally.
  • Not just one, but two hernias have slowed Rob Mackowiak. The details aren't that detailed, but I'm frankly not sure we need them in this case. Worse, it's only been cortisone injections that have kept him able to play. Sports hernias can be painful, so that he's continuing to play at all is pretty astounding. For the rest of the year, he'll be a pinch-hitter and certainly not a pinch-runner, though he's not expected to have problems once he gets enough rest. The bigger question for now is whether or not he'll make the Padres' postseason roster.
  • The last thing you'd think Barry Bonds would be doing is jumping around at this point in the season. That he is seems about as positive as anything, but he managed to hurt his toe on one of his landings, and will miss a couple days. The Giants aren't holding any parades for Bonds despite the fact many think he's in his last days in a Giants uniform. The injury, while not severe, could keep him out for as much as a week, since there's little reason for the team to rush him back. In the meantime, they're auditioning players like Rajai Davis, and Bonds' absence only opens up more at-bats. However, the good news is that the toe injury is not turf toe, and therefore not a longer-term concern.
  • The last thing the Rays need at this stage of the season is a leg injury to Carl Crawford, but that's what they got in the final inning of their getaway game. Crawford left with what appeared to be a groin strain, though details are hard to come by. One source tells me that Crawford is very sore, but the strain itself is mild. Expect the Rays to be exceptionally conservative here, meaning that we may have seen the last of Crawford this season. All the Rays care about at this stage is that their star outfielder heals up, and that this doesn't become a more chronic situation, especially because Crawford's skills almost completely rely on his speed.
  • Zach Duke only hit 85 on the speed gun during his Sunday start. He's a command and control guy, not a power pitcher, but losing six mph tells me that something is still going on with his arm, and it tells hitters that they can sit back and wait, because he's not going to zing one by them. Right now, the separation on his pitches isn't at a level where he can be successful. The question now becomes whether Duke is going to get his arm strength back without having surgery. It's one of the first questions the new GM will need to address, because many thought Duke would be a solid third or fourth starter behind Tom Gorzelanny and Ian Snell for the next half-decade.
  • How many strikes does a medical staff get? If it's three, then the O's medical staff whiffed, because on top of Kris Benson and Chris Ray, they now have Danys Baez on their record. I'm not faulting them for the injuries themselves, though those do count against them in terms of total DL days. What does get them the demerit is the seeming misdiagnosis of the injury. We find out now that the tear in Baez's elbow is much more complete, and that instead of filling in for Ray next season, Baez could be sitting beside him, just a couple months behind in his rehab from Tommy John surgery. For all the money spent on the bullpen last offseason, the Orioles didn't get much return.
  • Here's one for those of you in the keeper leagues--Andy LaRoche thinks he'll avoid surgery on his back this offseason. He's been productive this year while being bothered by the effects of a bulging disk. You might note that a strengthening program is very binary--it works or it doesn't--but we don't have enough information to give any indication as to which way this will go. Your fantasy decision should be based more on what Kevin Goldstein tells you about his talent than on his injury.
  • Quick Cuts: As good as Pedro Martinez looks is as almost bad as Mark Mulder looks, maybe worse. Mulder's dropping his elbow to protect what must be a sore shoulder. ... It looks like Richie Sexson is done for the year, ending what has been a terrible season. It's tough to tell how much the bad hamstring contributed to his hitting woes. ... Rumors from Orange County suggest that Vladimir Guerrero might not make it back to the outfield, perhaps not even in time for the playoffs. If true, that'd be a defensive hit and a lineup problem for Mike Scioscia. ... Milton Bradley will miss the rest of the week as he continues to try and get his chronic oblique strain healthy.

    Related Content:  Back,  Year Of The Injury

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