March 7, 2008
Perception and Reality
Perception is a big part of my business. Sometimes injuries seem worse than they are, and sometimes things seem to be happening more frequently or less frequently. It makes me run back to check the facts against my own perceptions and biases.
Some wonder when oblique strains started occuring in baseball, but it's more a matter of an accurate description than any sort of new injury. So when something like the start of Mets camp happens--with what seems like injury after injury, problem after problem--the question has to be: is this perception or an actual problem? Certainly, the sheer numbers make you wonder; losing playing time at this stage of the season is problematic, but it's not unusual. With a closer look, we'll see that it's the time of the year when we're all looking for any news, any content, any hint of meaning or context, and we often lose sight of all of these things. While we read about how someone is sore or hurting now, the real question should be: how will this impact the 162 games that he's contracted to play in? While the box scores are a nice addition to our day, and while seeing "real" games on TV is nice, let's not forget where the real value is. Teams still have about a month to answer all their questions, even the ones that injuries are just now forcing us to ask. Let's look at those injuries now:
Moises Alou 30/$0.95m
Is it possible to be surprised by a Moises Alou injury? Perhaps the timing, maybe even the fact that it's a hernia, but no one is surprised here. All you have to do is see his 40% Attrition rate to know just how risky Alou is, but he's a heck of a hitter when he's healthy. The Mets prepared for this, both in having Endy Chavez and Marlon Anderson available and in not giving up Fernando Martinez in the Johan Santana deal. While the Mets would rather have Moises Alou out there than any of the current alternatives (and don't even bring up Barry Bonds), they understand what Alou is at this stage and know how to deal with him. Alou is one of the first players I ever interviewed, and in that Wrigley locker room years ago, he bore the scars of a hard career; a couple more won't change what he is at this stage.
Carlos Beltran 0/0
"Can't Stop" isn't just a Red Hot Chili Peppers song anymore. Now it's the issue that's most problematic for Carlos Beltran as he continues to struggle a bit after minor bilateral knee surgeries. Beltran reports that he feels the most discomfort when he's stopping, and doesn't "feel stable" when he's starting either. There are still a couple weeks for him to get more comfortable and a number of ways for this to happen: new shoes, orthotics, braces, injections of various sorts, and a simple "get used to it" are all possibilities. It's safe to say that this will likely affect Beltran through Opening Day. Given the current symptoms, seeing Beltran need some days off or even having him shift to a corner OF slot isn't out of the question, but those are about the worst-case scenarios. Neither is too bad. The most likely scenario is that Beltran finds some comfort, loses a little range and speed, and tries to make up for it with some more power. Eric Walker is doing some interesting work on power trends with age that could fit right in to what we're seeing here.
Luis Castillo 0/0
Rounding out the Mets' crowded training room is Luis Castillo. Like Beltran, he had surgery on both knees in the off-season and is also still not back to 100%. Castillo's most important skill is his speed, so this is more concerning for him than for Beltran, though Castillo has been dealing with knee problems for a couple years. Just as he adjusted to the pain before the surgeries, he's likely to be able to accommodate the soreness post-surgery. Again, the Mets will look to buy him some extra off-days at the start of the season. The bigger effect might be on the roster, where the need to have a caddy for Castillo could affect the last bench slot. It's also important to remember that replacements don't necessarily have to make the roster. One GM this spring has talked about the fact that any player can be replaced by a phone call and a flight.
Felix Pie 0/0
It's not often that I have to wonder whether I can actually describe an injury on the radio. When I was talking to Dave Kaplan on WGN the other night, I actually had to ask "Can I say 'twisted testicle' on the air?" Answer? Yes. Do I ever want to? No. Pie has a problem that is, as you'd expect, exceptionally painful, but not a long-term concern. How it happened is unclear, but it's luckily an uncommon problem in men. Usually, the problem will correct itself, but sometimes, it has to be--you guessed it--untwisted with "surgical or manual methods." Try not to imagine it and know that Pie isn't going to miss much time. This little twist in his spring training shouldn't decide whether or not he gets the starting nod in center field.
Mark DeRosa 0/0
Just under two weeks ago, DeRosa was on a table having a small part of his heart fried away. I'm not being indelicate here: that's how the radiofrequency ablation actually works. With the defective section of his heart muscle now much less bothersome, DeRosa is back in camp and, according to reports, close to being back in action. That's pretty amazing when you think about it. It's hard to get your head around the idea of "routine cardiac surgery," but modern medical science is very close to that. In DeRosa's case, he's back, there's no reason to think that he'll miss time, and the utility man can look forward not only to a season of baseball, but a lifetime of health.
Francisco Liriano 0/0
Deadlines don't wait for anyone, so I'm forced to talk about Francisco Liriano's return before he actually returns. He's due to pitch this afternoon for the Twins and the whole baseball world will be watching. If you're going to see him live or on film, here's what to look for. First, he needs to show that he has his command and control back. He should be able to use all his pitches and put them more or less where he wants them at this stage. Second, look to see that he's lengthened his follow through. His mechanics prior to the injury included a "kick back" rather than a smooth motion after release, something several experts pointed to as a major stressor on his elbow. Finally, see if he can participate in a throwing session later this weekend to make sure that he doesn't have problems with recovery. It's just a first test, but at this stage in the rehab, a lot is riding on the next few outings. I'm sure we'll be talking about Liriano for the next couple weeks, but I hope that I can soon stop talking about him in my injury column and leave him to the guys who debate Cy Young Awards.
Felix Hernandez 0/0
When you hear about a pitcher working on a new pitch in spring training, sometimes it bears watching. Felix Hernandez has had a slider for a long time, but it's finally being unleashed upon the American League this season. In a move that signals that Mel Stottlemyre and the M's are going for it, Hernandez will be allowed to use his slider "normally," according to two sources. One of them thinks that the pitch will be limited somehow, perhaps through calling his games from the bench, but the other doesn't think so: "Johjima and Hernandez don't speak the same language, but they've also not been on the same page. That's some of the problem that [Hernandez] has had with [pitch] selection over his career." The slider isn't inherently much more dangerous a pitch than any other if you look at studies done by Dr. Glenn Fleisig at the American Sports Medicine Institute, but that's only true when it's thrown correctly. Hernandez's already questionable mechanics have caused him elbow problems in the past, so while the pitch is filthy, it's also risky.
Noah Lowry 45/$0.60m
Here's a new one for you: exertional compartment syndrome. It's a condition that one surgeon explained to me as "a repetitive stress injury, something like a cross between shin splints and carpal tunnel." The repetitive motion causes blood flow issues that lead to inflammation. The treatment is surgical but minor, meaning that Lowry could miss minimal time and come back without significant problems. The question is more about how much arm strength and conditioning he'll lose during the recovery period. The best guesses are about a month; given Lowry's control issues, I'm adding on a bit just to make sure that he's able to get back to his former level. As bad as it looked early this week with the whispers of "Steve Blass" circling Scottsdale, this has to be looked at as a positive despite the missed time.
Chad Tracy 30/$0.84m
I've got the good news/bad news scenario for you and it's one you should pay close attention to this spring. Sometimes you get positive signs, but without the proper context, there's no way to make the right judgment about how it will affect your team (real or fantasy.) Chad Tracy is about to get back on the field and, while that's a good thing, it's also unlikely that he'll be able to progress enough to break camp with the team. That's not to mention the fact that the team is still trying to figure out ways to help him rehab and get in shape without significant accommodations, including a high-tech treadmill that takes some of the stress out of running. None of this adds up to the type of problem-free, setback-free process that will net him a spot on an Opening Day roster. If things break right, he could miss as little as just a couple weeks, but I'll stay conservative and say that with the options the team has, they'll let him go a little longer, around a month, to see exactly what they have and to figure out exactly what they need.
Scott Kazmir 0/0
The "ball in a sock" drill is a new one, in which the pitcher holds a ball, then puts his arm in a sock. It allows him to go through his motion, including release, without quite as much stress and without having to chase the ball. It's a pretty smart little adjustment made by Ron Porterfield and his staff and one that has Kazmir on the road to recovery. Kazmir still has some tests to pass along the way, but making the Opening Day start he wants so badly isn't out of the question. He'll be closely watched over the next week as he gets back on the mound and as he prepares to face live hitters for the first time this spring. The AL strikeout champ is a big part of the reason that Rays fans are so excited this spring.
Rocco Baldelli 0/0
Zero days? I'm sure a lot of you are trying to make sense of the latest news out of Tampa, but like the panic surrounding Albert Pujols, there's not much fire to go with the smoke here. Baldelli isn't hurt again, he's simply not recovering well from activity. This isn't good by any stretch of the imagination, but it's not the end of his career either. The Rays don't yet know what role Baldelli will fill or even if he'll fill any role at all. He's no more or no less risky than he was yesterday. If you've got him on your fantasy team, you'd better do what the Rays are doing and make sure that there's a Plan B behind him. As for the zero days, there's still plenty of time for him to heal up and get to some useful place before I drop some days on him.