February 1, 2008
Welcome to the first Under The Knife Wrap of the season. My regular injury column, Under The Knife, is something you might already be familiar with, but what is this "Wrap?" Each Friday at both BaseballProspectus.com and at SI.com, I'll be taking a look back at the week's injuries to tell you what's going on with your team, your players, and the game of baseball, because aside from talent, nothing makes or breaks a team's hopes for a pennant than its health. If you want to hang a number on it, get a lot of zeroes ready: MLB has spent over a billion dollars over the past five years on players who have been on the DL rather than on the field. Frustrated when your team can't find the money to re-sign a player or bring in that one free agent that would put them over the top? Last season, eleven teams lost more than $15 million to player time spent on DL.
When Pedro Martinez was on the DL for much of last season, the Mets were forced to replace his lost innings and production. Obviously, there wasn't another Pedro Martinez waiting in the wings, so they filled in with guys like Jorge Sosa, Brian Lawrence, and Dave Williams. Teams seldom have perfect depth at every position, which leads us to the concept of "replacement level." BP's resident explainer, Derek Jacques, explains that "A replacement player is a theoretical construct, representing roughly the lowest level of performance that a major league team should get from a player on their active roster. The idea is to measure a player's contributions by how much he adds over the kind of fringe talent any ballclub could pick up by signing minor league free agents or claiming guys off of the waiver wire." Sometimes a team has a solid replacement already, and sometimes a team has to dig around a bit.
During the season, I'll try to not only measure the impact of this kind of loss using some advanced tools (like that of an injured player's value over a replacement-level player) and simple math, but I'll also help explain why these things are happening. A sprained ankle seems pretty simple, right? Then why does one player come back in three days and another misses two months? Why does an oblique strain cost a pitcher at least a month? For that matter, why didn't pitchers have obliques back in the good old days of Feller and Gibson?
Next to each player's name below, you'll see two numbers. The first is "expected time lost." That's simply how many days he is expected to miss due to injury. The second is MORP, a Baseball Prospectus stat that attempts to show a player's true value to his team, rather than just the actual salary lost. As we get into the season, I'll use these two figures--days lost and MORP--to calculate an Injury Cost. MORP stands for 'Marginal Value Above Replacement Player,' and is measured in terms of the monetary value to his ballclub of that player's production. and you can find a solid explanation about what it's all about by its inventor, Nate Silver, here. I'm initially using the 2007 version of MORP today, as we all wait on the 2008 PECOTA cards to be ready for publication on BP.com; numbers shown are in millions.
Paul Lo Duca/0/5.58
For all the noise about Paul Lo Duca--he's an already unpopular signing in Washington--you'd think he hurt his knee doing something horrible. Instead, it was a simple injury that occurred during a workout, and cleaned up easily. The meniscectomy won't affect Lo Duca much once he gets past the rehab. Paired up with Johnny Estrada, who has some knee issues of his own, they could make an interesting platoon. Then again, Lo Duca's never been one for sitting quietly and being one of the guys. If things don't work out in D.C., don't blame Lo Duca's knee, because it at least won't be an issue far past Opening Day.
Whether he stays in Baltimore or not, Bedard will be an ace. He profited from his time with former O's pitching coach Leo Mazzone and exploded last season, even with a poor supporting cast. His season was cut short by an oblique strain and, while he wanted to come back at the end of the season, the team smartly shut him down. It cost him a strikeout title, for whatever that's worth, but shouldn't affect him this season. On the other hand, Loewen might be pitching with a screw in his elbow; no one with the O's would answer whether or not the screw was left in. It's not unheard of if it is; Cal Eldred pitched for years with a four-inch screw in his pitching elbow. Loewen's never really been healthy; the team is hoping that reports of off-season shoulder soreness are just normal rehab recovery rather than a harbinger of another season lost to injury.
Despite playing with a broken wrist, Dustin Pedroia rocked the opposition in the playoffs last year. He had off-season surgery to fix it, and it shouldn't be a significant problem for most of his game. If last October was a case of Pedroia was being held down, then I can't wait to see what he can do in his sophomore campaign. Teammate David Ortiz had his knee 'scoped in what turned out to be a minor operation; there shouldn't be any ill effects this spring.
Last year, every other question I got asked was "When's Liriano going to be back?" The answer is that when pitchers and catcher report, he'll be back from day one. The Twins were conservative with his rehab: he could have come back late last season, but the team decided they'd rather wait and not have him overthrow, something he has a tendency to do. The expectations on Liriano will be high, but there's a big worry here. While Liriano had no problems during his rehab, reports from Ft. Myers indicate that he's still throwing with the same mechanics that both make him so tough to hit and gave him that nifty scar on his elbow. He's got a chance to be a great one, but he's going to have to prove that he can hold up carrying a starter's workload. Given the Twins' need for both an ace and 200 innings from Liriano, he'll get a big test this season.
Ramirez is one of three new shortstops who are echoing and even exceeding the previous "trinity" of great shortstops from the late '90s: Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez. Along with Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins, these three NL East players figure to go in the top round of most fantasy drafts. Reyes has long been the riskiest, but his legs have stayed healthy for a couple seasons now and a career high in steals does little to convince me he's not feeling well. Ramirez, on the other hand, is coming off shoulder surgery, something that figures to depress his power, at least in the first part of the season. While he should come back to a high level, the same can't be said for the cast surrounding him. Added in with the recovering shoulder, Ramirez's prospects for this season aren't quite as high as one would expect based on his talent and past production. Granted, in your fantasy draft that probably makes him a high second-rounder rather than a first. There's also a chance that he'll just adjust his game: one NL exec said "If he starts off hitting singles instead of doubles, he'll just steal second more."
Already a Hall of Famer-to-be, he's done things no other closer has ever done, but this offseason, he did something he'd never done: had his elbow opened up and looked at. There wasn't much difference between his 2006 and his 2007, so it's hard to say that the bone chips he had removed held him back. Call it a wash then, or a necessary tuneup. He probably could have pitched six weeks after the surgery, but having it in October made it possible for him to stick to his normal routine.
If you're looking for a wild card, a true steal late in a draft, Randy Johnson might jus be it. Two back surgeries in the past twelve months don't bode well, nor does his age, but when he was able to pitch, he still did it well. He's still got enough of a competitive spirit--some would call it a mean streak--to want to come back, if only to leave on his terms. Then again, he'd like to establish himself as someone who should be mentioned in the same breath as Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux, rather than in the next group, with Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina. He's been back at work with some of the top physical trainers in the world and all reports have been positive. Granted, they were pretty positive last year too, but if you expect 150 innings rather than 200, you'll likely be happy with what you get. If he just slots in as a solid third starter behind Brandon Webb and Dan Haren, the D'backs will be okay with that.
The Jays are pinning their hopes on better health lifting them into contention. They traded for Rolen, will get Ryan back around midseason, and Wells is coming off of surgery to repair a torn labrum. Rolen's third shoulder surgery amounts to a "patch job," as one doctor put it. As time passes, it's going to get worse again, sapping both power and average; last time it took about a season and a half. Getting through 2008 is about all Rolen can expect now, but even that might be too much to ask of his battered body.
Wells is a bit more intriguing. Unlike pitchers, position players can come back or play through labrum tears. The problem is that it takes about half a season to get a real gauge on whether the surgery was successful. Expect his power to remain down in the early months.
Ryan's easier still; as I said about Liriano, pitchers come back from Tommy John surgery on a very predictable schedule. He'll slot back in sometime in June if there's no setback, and he'll probably be ready to close around the All-Star break.
There are still a couple weeks before everyone reports; add those to the six weeks of Spring Training, and I'll have plenty of injury news to cover before Opening Day. Even better, we'll soon start getting the articles about guys showing up in the "best shape of their career." Jesse Spector did a great look at this phenomenon recently, and it's worth a read. The great yet terrible thing about the injury beat is that there's always going to be something to write about.