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April 1, 2008

Under The Knife

No Fooling

by Will Carroll

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No April Fools jokes here. The injuries are very real and coming at an alarming pace on Opening Day. There's not much that can be learned from one day of anything, but where a hot bat or a cold arm can be left behind when the next game starts, injuries carry over. The worst can ruin seasons, for players or teams.

Carlos Zambrano (0 DXL)
Before leaving with an arm injury, Zambrano looked great. He really seemed to be ahead of every Brewer, not just blowing them away, but confusing them. Looking through the MLB Gameday log, it doesn't look like he was doing anything different, though I'm comparing Gameday's new features to my own faulty memory. When Zambrano came out, my initial thought was that it was a blister, but the reports are that Zambrano was merely cramping. It's not a serious problem, though painful, and it certainly points to Zambrano's questionable conditioning. Video showed him having difficulty flexing his hand as his forearm tightened up, very similar to the episode he had a few years back (which was blamed on computer use). He came back well from that, so we'll assume that the Cubs will get their ace back on the mound next time it's his turn.

Chad Cordero (5 DXL)
Cordero wasn't just unable to pitch in the cool weather of Opening Night in D.C.-his arm was swollen, stiff, and painful. He had a cortisone injection into the joint, hoping to relieve what Cordero described in reports as a "sharp pain" once he started warming up. Coming on the heels of a spring where his velocity was off, and after a couple of seasons of heavy but reasonable workloads, there's cause enough for a fantasy run on Jon Rauch. The Nats are calling this "shoulder tendonitis," which is clearly the best-case, placeholder diagnosis pending more tests and exams. The injection will keep him out several days, but the news could get worse if that sharp pain was something acute. My assigned a five to his DXL is the best-case scenario.

Elijah Dukes (15 DXL)
The Nats outfield only has promise if it's on the field. For all the talk of the off-field issues of Dukes and Lastings Milledge, the team knows that keeping them as well as the oft-injured Austin Kearns and Wily Mo Pena available is their best hope of beating the dire predictions many have for the Nats' first campaign in their new park. Dukes' hamstring strain is serious enough to push him to the DL, and while the team is helped by the presence of the versatile Willie Harris, there's a big gap in offensive potential from Pena to Dukes to Harris. This is also a re-aggravation of Dukes' spring training injury, meaning that he'll likely be out longer than normal. I'm not sure yet what that "longer" will translate into past the 15-day mark, so I'll set his DXL at that while keeping an eye on his progress.

Victor Martinez (TBD)
Martinez should just skip openers. He hurt his quad in the snow-marred game the Indians opened 2007 with, and in 2008 he didn't make it out of the game unscathed. It wasn't clear whether he injured himself before or during the stumble, or in the awkward slide that followed, though it was clear that he was in some discomfort as he left the field. There was no direction given by the Indians after the game, but sources indicate that the problem is in his left hamstring. Martinez is headed for some imaging to see how serious this is, but while we await those results and attendant details, I've been assured that Martinez will be out in the short term, leaving the catching duties to Kelly Shoppach. Even if the problem proves minor, Martinez could see more time at first base to help save his legs. Martinez is the first player to get a TBD instead of a DXL figure, but I'll be updating it once there's enough info to make an informed estimate.

David DeJesus (1 DXL)
The Royals lost their leadoff hitter after he aggravated his previously-sprained ankle on Opening Day. DeJesus doesn't seem worried about this being a long-term problem, saying after the game that it's not as bad as when he originally injured it. Despite being a leadoff-hitting center fielder, he's not simply a speed guy, so even hobbled a bit, he's not going to lose too much. The biggest worry is that he'd have to be caddied defensively, losing some at-bats and opportunities, but that's possible throughout the season. For now, DeJesus isn't expected to miss much time, and with several offdays in the first month (including Tuesday), he should have plenty of time to heal. Watch to see how new manager Trey Hillman gets involved, and whether he finds ways to buy DeJesus some extra days off.

Jeremy Hermida (4 DXL)
Things are looking good for Jeremy Hermida's return from a strained hamstring. On the DL with a retroactive move, he's eligible to come off on April 5th. Before that, he'll play in some minor league games, though the Fish haven't announced where yet; he's likely to play on Wednesday and Thursday before rejoining the team. Assuming that all goes well, most in the weekly-move leagues will get an extra MLB game to make sure that Hermida is fully back. The hamstring strain itself wasn't considered significant, and many were surprised when the team placed him on the DL. The move appeared to be more precautionary than a roster-based opportunity. Long-term, the problem is that Hermida is becoming J.D. Drew-like in his ability to lose value to injuries on a seasonal level.

Brad Lidge (4 DXL)
The Phillies watched the Nats explode for five runs in the ninth off of Tom Gordon. Their 2007 closer, Brett Myers, started the game, but their 2008 closer was just watching. The Phils are hoping that Lidge will do much more than watch soon. He's scheduled for a bullpen session on Wednesday, and if that goes well, he'll be activated when eligible on Saturday. That would put him just a couple days short of six weeks from when he had his second knee surgery of the off-season. He's shown no noticeable effects since returning, making steady progress, just not enough to make it back for what ended up being a very costly absence on Opening Day. The one remaining worry is how well he'll be able to make back-to-back appearances, especially in day-after-night games, especially as there's still a small amount of swelling in Lidge's knee.

Kelly Johnson (0 DXL)
"Knee" and "strain" just don't go together correctly in many situations. Sure, I could get technical and say it's never correct, since there are no muscles in the knee, and it's muscles that are strained. But there is an explanation: Johnson's patellar tendon is what's giving him the problem. Johnson's had some minor knee injuries in the past, and reports indicated that he might have had some similar problems with the knee last season. The worry is that Johnson looked pretty rough defensively, and there might be some carryover from the injury if it's causing him pain during certain movements. Patellar tendonitis has a tendency to linger, so this is one that bears watching. Johnson was replaced by Martin Prado, a definite drop offensively but Bobby Cox has always seemed to have a very tenuous commitment to Johnson's ability to hold down second base defensively.

Jason Bay (0 DXL)
There's an interesting analysis of Jason Bay's swing over at a site called Baseball Intellect. I'm not one who can break down hitting, so I'll avoid their points there. What I do see is a pretty notable physical change. In the 2006 video, watch his knee-actually , the way his femur rotates, putting a great deal of torque on the knee. It's not there in '07, with a much softer plant. Knowing the problems he had at the end of 2006 led to surgery, and that his struggles throughout 2007 involved problems with the cartilage in the left knee, this might be an important point. If you're counting on Jason Bay in the way that the Pirates are, it might be time to check out his knee in 2008.

Johan Santana (0)
I mentioned yesterday that Jack Morris thought Johan Santana had fallen in love with his change. I wondered if he was using it as a strikeout pitch, and Dan Fox checked it out from the Pitch F/X data. Turns out that Santana was using it a lot with two strikes, indicating a high confidence in the pitch. He used the change in 123 of 269 two-strike, non-full counts. This isn't to say it always resulted in a strikeout, though Dan's data does show that he gets a disproportionate number of strikeouts, over 60 percent of the ones recorded by Pitch F/X, using the change. On the other side of this coin, Dan also checked to see if Santana's recent homer-prone tendencies also came from a reliance the changeup. The answer? Not even close; of the 11 homers records, eight came on heaters, two on changes, and one on a slider. (Man, who turned on one of those, or did he hang it?) This type of thing is just scratching the surface of what we're going to learn from Pitch F/X; it's the future of baseball analysis.

Quick Cuts: Two of the biggest questions I've gotten from readers relate to the timing of DL moves. Some teams made the move early, leading to questions. Some made the move at the last minute, leading to questions. The answer is the same for both-the disabled list is there for roster relief, not an informative reason, as it is in the NFL. Teams can make moves retroactively, reducing the games lost in the future, but there's no need to make moves if the roster spot isn't the issue. Andy LaRoche, for example, was going to the DL, but the team waited until after the final cuts to make the move, giving the Dodgers more time to set their final roster. In many cases, options and trades were considered, with guys shifted to the DL to essentially delay some hard decisions. ... Yovani Gallardo is scheduled to make a start for Triple-A Nashville on Thursday. His pitch count will be limited, but he could be able to make his next start for Milwaukee. ... Brett Myers appeared to really hit a wall in the fourth. His shift back to the rotation didn't seem problematic in the spring, but this bears some watching, to see if his arm strength or at least his stamina is down. ... J.D. Drew is going to be held out of tonight's game, but he is expected to make his '08 debut on Wednesday in Oakland.

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