March 28, 2008
Meltdowns and Bouncebacks
Kelvim Escobar (180 DXL/$10.9 million)
I have no idea where the phrase "it's all over but the shouting" came from, but this one's all over but the official announcement. Escobar has gone from a bit sore to done for the season in short order after being diagnosed with a tear in his shoulder. The LA Times article about this is solid, but misses one detail: where the tear is, but it's actually tipped in the Mark Mulder/Bartolo Colon comparison. Sources confirm that Escobar has a torn rotator cuff, with potentially more damage inside. The official word is that they're going to shut him down for a while and see if they can build his strength up around the area of the injury, but surgery is almost always the end result here. It would stun me if Escobar is able to come back this season, and many are questioning if he can come back at all. It's interesting to note that Colon did have the same injury, and that the Angels have, since their World Series win, experienced a number of shoulder injuries. They've had a couple of pitching coaches over that period, so I don't think we can derive any teaching point or potentially problematic mechanical philosophy; it just bears noting. Of course, it was noted.
Curtis Granderson (20 DXL/$2.0 million)
A win is a win, whether it comes on April 1 or October 1, but the AL Central is going to be close, so losing value at the start of the season is problematic, both in the sense that replacing a player like Granderson is never easy, and that the psychology of the race is going to be a factor. A quick start by one, a slow start by another, or some combination is going to have some impact on the divisional race. Granderson has a fracture at the base of his second (middle) finger. It's an important area for grip strength, which will be exposed when he returns, making this a double whammy as injuries go. Early reports indicate that the team thinks that he can start swinging a bat in two weeks, but as we saw with Chone Figgins last season, swinging a bat doesn't necessarily mean swinging it well. There will be some need for Granderson to get tuned up, either in extended spring training or with a quick rehab assignment. (The Tigers have a tendency to do these in warmer climates at the start of the season, so I'd guess that the extended spring training gig is the most likely.) I'm estimating that Granderson will be out slightly beyond the expectation, or about three weeks into the season. Whether he's effective at that point or not remains to be seen, though we'll get more of an indication once he does get a bat in his hands again.
John Smoltz (7 DXL/$0.6 million)
Anyone who calls this injury a trapezius strain is missing the real story, to the point that I really have to question what they know about pitching. Instead, the signs are that there's some nerve involvement in this chronic injury. But is it a brachial plexus involvement, a slight impingement due to a swollen disc in his neck, or something else? History tells us that Smoltz recovers quickly from this injury, the same one that he's suffered with on and off since 2005. He recovers in a matter of days with rest and treatment, but more importantly, there's no real effect on his pitching once he comes back. It's problematic that it's cropped up so early in the season this time around, but this is a known issue that has never become more than an annoyance for Smoltz and the Braves. The team will put him on the DL with a retro move, allowing him to come back for his first start on April 6, meaning he misses one start. One thing to think about beyond the loss of a start being more important for someone in the rotation than the days that he "misses" is how it affects the team's Injury Cost. Using the normal method (MORP divided by 180 x DXL), Smoltz loses $600,000. If MORP is divided by 34 expected starts, Smoltz's value lost is only $450,000. For starting pitchers, the latter is likely more accurate, though PECOTA only assumes that Smoltz will make 27 starts. Using that as the divisor gets the calculations very close.
Francisco Liriano (0 DXL/$0)
When I hear that a Latino player is 'not communicating,' my instant reaction is to wonder whether or not it's the team's fault. After checking with my sources, it appears that when Ron Gardenhire says that Liriano is "not communicating about his arm," so it's on Liriano. Liriano had the same issue when he initially hurt the elbow, instead telling the team he was fine, pitching through pain in the minors, and then tearing it once he was back in the bigs. It appears that the Twins haven't been able to change him in the year-plus that he's been rehabbing, either mechanically or vocally. I'm not sure that it's enough for them to send him to the minors, since that didn't help at all last time around. The Twins do seem to acknowledge that they'll have to control his innings somehow, and skipping his first couple of starts in some fashion might be it. Late reports from Fort Myers indicate that the Twins are leaning towards leaving Liriano behind to make a couple more starts in extended spring training, followed by one somewhere in the minors.
Chris Capuano (180 DXL/$5.9 million)
Yovani Gallardo (10/$0.7 million)
The news is bad for Capuano, as it looks as if he'll need another go-round with Tommy John surgery, with the Brewers are reporting that he has a torn ulnar collateral ligament. This is a bit of a surprise, since Capuano's motion had always been considered clean, and there had been no previous indications of elbow problems, even at the point where Capuano seemed to lose it at the midpoint of the season last year. The surgery he had to repair his glove-side shoulder certainly was expected by everyone to be an assistance, and no one at this stage seems clear on how or why this happened. With Gallardo opening the season on the DL but expected to be back by his third scheduled start, and with the surprising release of Claudio Vargas, the Brewers' pitching depth is almost gone over the course of one spring. Manny Parra has won the fifth slot in the rotation, giving manager Doug Melvin and his staff a couple of weeks to figure out how to best align things once Gallardo is back. So far, Gallardo has had no problems during his rehab from minor knee surgery, and he should come back at or near full strength.
Carlos Gomez (0 DXL/$0)
Any time that a speed player injures his leg, it's worth noting, even when it's minor. The concept of the speed player is one that many fans don't fully grasp, but with a nod to the work by James Click and Dan Fox to quantify the running game, it's important to explain why in my world the term "speed player" has a bit of a different definition. For me, the term implies someone whose speed is the dominant skill. While Rickey Henderson would have been a good player, even if he had Pete Incaviglia's legs, other players often aren't so well-rounded, making the risk of a leg injury even more dangerous to their productivity. Gomez is one example of this kind of player, with Jacoby Ellsbury, Juan Pierre, and Jose Reyes being others. While all of them have other skills, if their speed can't be used to give them that extra bit of range in the field or to leg out some extra singles and doubles, their value is decimated. On the other hand, a player such as Curtis Granderson or a younger Carlos Beltran has a more rounded skill set, making them something more than a simple speed player. Which is a long way around to noting that Gomez left a spring game with a hamstring cramp. He's had some leg problems before, but nothing chronic; as a speed player, even the smallest leg issue bears watching.
Scott Kazmir (15 DXL/$1.5 million)
The Rays put Kazmir on the DL on Tuesday, a move that had been in the offing for weeks. The retro move was actually a bit of a moot point and served to confuse some. While the move potentially allows Kazmir to come back in the first week of the season, the Rays have consistently stated that their plan is to have him build up his arm strength with an eye towards a mid-month return to the rotation. Kazmir's progress has been slow, as the Rays medical staff continues to be very cautious with his throwing elbow. Scheduled to get on a mound early next week, Kazmir is likely to need at least one minor league or extended spring training start, which should give us a solid timeline once that's scheduled, and also allow us to see just where he is. Missing two starts isn't good, but the conservative plan focused on his arm strength is the smart way to handle the slightly-built Kazmir.
Rich Harden (0 DXL/$0)
In the land of the rising sun, Harden looked like the Rich Harden of old, the one that few of us ever thought we'd see again. His performance against the Red Sox on Wednesday was brilliant, and reports are that he came out of the game as healthy as he went into it. The A's are likely to monitor his workload closely, and limit it where possible, but there are no indications that he's going to get special treatment. Many of you emailed asking about Harden's mechanics, and yes, they did look slightly different. His head seemed more steady but his body was a bit more stiff, but in watching the replay of the game, I get the sense that Harden was just a bit more deliberately mechanical, rather than making any significant change. By that, I mean that he wasn't using his normal instinctual motion, and that he seemed to be thinking about what he was doing a bit more than usual. That's typical for players working on something, and given pitching coach Curt Young's tendency to be hands-off, we have to keep wondering what that might mean for Harden. The early results are good, but I'm not ready to exhale just yet.
Kevin Frandsen (180 DXL/$3.6 million)
After the great season (at least health-wise) that the Giants had last year, the problems they've had keeping their infield healthy this season are even more of an issue. It's worse now that it's been confirmed that Kevin Frandsen tore his Achilles during Monday's minor league game. He had been dealing with soreness and inflammation in the area over the previous week, but there were no indications that there was a loss of structural integrity. Achilles injuries tend to be traumatic, happening all at once, but with the previous problems, there have to be some questions about how this one occurred. The team didn't confirm the injury was a rupture, but if so, Frandsen's season is done, and he'll need surgery. The only upside is that most players that have this surgery come back well.
Quick Cuts: It's not the broken finger that is the biggest issue for Scott Rolen; instead, it's that the fingernail was torn off during the injury. He's expected back by mid-month, though one doctor described it as a "pain tolerance" issue. ... Josh Beckett is expected to miss one start after being placed on the DL. He's had no setbacks while his teammates have been in Japan. ... Andy Pettitte won't technically miss a start with his back issue. The Yanks will simply slot him in later in the rotation, and expect him back for the Yankees' third game of the season. ... If you're in Memphis for the Civil Rights Game, be sure to stop by our Memphis Event on Friday night; tickets are still available.