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April 11, 2008

UTK Wrap

The Weekly Rundown

by Will Carroll

We can't agree how to assess pitching mechanics or how to measure velocity on pitchers, so why should I expect anything different when it comes to valuing injuries? One of the biggest concerns I've heard about my admittedly quick & dirty Injury Cost calculation is that MORP, Nate Silver's method of valuing a player's contribution, already takes playing time into account, making IC a de facto double counting of value lost. So I'm opening up the floor--is there a better way to do this? I've talked with a couple people on the issue and so far, while better is possible, it's also significantly more complex without the requisite gains. My pal Aaron Schatz over at Pro Football Prospectus always says "the best is the enemy of the better." To me, providing an easily calculated measure of comparison that everyone can understand at a glance ("Oh, losing Garza to the DL is a bit worse than losing Jeter for a week.") has merit. As always, I'm open to improvement. Powered by The Goose, on to the injuries:

(Note: DXL is "Days eXpected Lost", or how many days I am estimating the player will lose. The dollar figure after the slash is "Injury Cost," an estimation of how much value is lost that is determined by dividing the player's PECOTA-calculated value by 180, then multiplying by the DXL. It's calculated in millions of US dollars, though I've considered using Euros lately.)

Derek Jeter (5 DXL/$0.41m)
It's always hard when someone's mystique takes a big hit with an injury. Derek Jeter is one of those players that, like his hero Cal Ripken, seems indestructible. I imagine some Yankees fans couldn't imagine center field without DiMaggio in the same way that a modern Orioles fan will always see Ripken at shortstop or a Pads fan sees Tony Gwynn in right field. Jeter is human, like the rest of those players, and subject to human frailties, such as a quad strain. Jeter injured his quad in the way many do, running hard trying to beat out a close play. The strain is considered mild, but because of its location high on his leg, near the groin, caution is in order. Jeter is expected to be back by the weekend, in no small part because the Red Sox will be the opponent. The effect will be noticeable in his quickness, both out of the box and afield, so look for him to miss a single or two due to his missing that step. The Yankees also appear to be considering a DL stint for Jeter to make sure the problem doesn't get worse, a tough decision not only because of who it is, but because this is a clear "tweener" injury. He should be ready to play, even if at less than 100 percent, before the 15-day minimum. It should be noted here that Girardi likes to have a full bench, which could factor in. Images showed just a mild strain of his quad, so expect Jeter back without a trip to the DL.

Jorge Posada (5/$0.44m)
The news for Jorge Posada is a little better than expected after images showed a strained shoulder. It wasn't, as some reports had, a rotator cuff tear, but a simple strain of one of the larger muscles, though sources are conflicted on which one it actually is. He'll avoid the DL, which is a surprise and a shift from Joe Girardi's history with the Marlins, telling us that the roster moves might not be his call (or that it was Florida GM Larry Beinfest who was more conservative. It's hard to tell). The Yankees certainly shouldn't have much of a problem playing a couple men down, as their roster does hold a lot of flexibility. Jose Molina will continue to fill in, with Morgan Ensberg as the emergency catcher (according to Newsday's Kat O'Brien), though Ensberg has a tender ankle right now. Posada is, however, able to hit, taking BP and even DHing, as he did on Thursday. Due to his ability to hit, I'm hesitant to put even a low DXL or IC up for him, but I think over a period of a couple weeks, saying that he'll miss five games is reasonable.

Matt Garza (15/$0.79m)
It was not the way that Matt Garza wanted to start his career in Tampa. He was ineffective for seventy pitches, then called for the trainers. Garza was feeling pain in his hand, the result of what the team is calling a radial nerve irritation. Garza said he dealt with this last season and that it would go away, but the Rays have to be a bit unnerved (no pun intended) to hear this is a recurring problem, which leaves open the question of how to keep it from coming back next time. One can only wonder if it was a known issue when they traded Delmon Young to get him from the Twins. Garza heads to the DL, and there's a wide range of possibilities for how long he'll be out. Given the conservative tendencies of the Rays, I'm going to put this one in the middle of the possible range. The best case is that this goes away as Garza says is normal and that he gets his work in on the side without issue. The worst case is that the nerve needs to be decompressed surgically, something I don't have any comps for. One doctor I spoke with said the same thing and wouldn't speculate on how long the player would be out post-surgery. That's never a good sign. Tommy Rancel of "Rays Anatomy" was able to find a couple other pitchers who had radial nerve problems, like Shawn Hill and John Patterson. Matching up their experiences with the positive news coming from Tampa on Matt Garza is tough to do. Essentially, Garza isn't in significant pain, but has carpal tunnel-like tingling and numbness, a condition that might make hitting his spots difficult. The DL is the smart move, giving him two weeks to recover while the Rays medical staff works to see if they can prevent this from happening again. Garza has been shut down for a week, making that 15-day mark a bit shaky. Expect Jeff Niemann to get Garza's starts in the interim.

Gary Sheffield (0/0)
Gary Sheffield was back in the lineup last Sunday night, insisting that he could play through a torn tendon in his right ring finger. While he looked solid enough at the plate throughout the week, without discernible pain or alterations to his swing, this is a tough thing to play through due to the issues of bat control. Sheffield's powerful, almost violent swing is going to compound the problem. The trick is that it's his ring finger on his top hand, and while he's not a Hriniak/Lau-style hitter, there's not as much pressure there and the ring finger is often the weakest. (Right, Schumann?) This injury becomes one of pain tolerance, adjustment, and constant maintenance. There's a wide variation of possibilities, but given the Tigers' struggles in the first week, they'll need Sheffield to recover quickly in order to kick-start the offense in Motown.

Francisco Rodriguez (15/$0.98m)
I know I recently said that Rodriguez's altered mechanics didn't bother me. I know I recently said that his reduced velocity didn't bother me. What bothers me is that in a classic cascade, the Angels closer has now injured his push ankle, something that's pushing him to the DL. With Scot Shields back and pitching effectively, it would be a smart move for the Angels to put their closer on the shelf for a couple weeks now, get both his ankles healed up, and make sure that he doesn't injure himself by making further alterations. This episode gives me new respect for Rodriguez's self-awareness, perhaps a tell on how he's survived with what appears to be such a violent motion. Rodriguez thinks a DL stint will help, but the Angels are known for playing down a man in the bullpen, so I doubt a quick decision will be made. In this case, I think Rodriguez is right; a couple weeks off should help immensely. However, after imaging, the Angels appear to be backpedalling a bit, saying that the issue might clear up and that Rodriguez could be in games as early as this weekend.

Rich Harden (20/$1.02m)
Justin Duchscherer (15/$0.46m)
It hardly seem sporting to blame the long plane flight from Japan for Rich Harden's sore lat muscle. I'd understand if that was the cause, but given a couple weeks and two solid starts since the flight, it seems less like the culprit and more like a handy excuse for the oft-injured pitcher. The latissimus dorsi muscle, the large muscle of the upper back, is one that's given Harden problems before, as well as being at the root of other pitcher injuries, such as those of Ben Sheets and Jake Peavy. In this case, however, it's not the problem. Instead, Harden heads to the DL with a strained subscapularis muscle, one of the four muscles that make up the rotator cuff. For a pitcher, it's important because it is the one that rotates the shoulder in to the body. Having seen the mechanical adjustments and solid results by Harden so far this season, I'm optimistic for him to make it, but this latest setback is a bad one. The A's are also without Justin Duchscherer, pushed to the DL by biceps tendinitis. Duchscherer's mechanics have been a bit off all spring, no suprise after hip surgery in the offseason. A minor injury like this is something that often comes along in the adjustment period, but it likely should have been dealt with by the pitching coach much earlier. Chad Gaudin will fill in the rotation slot for Duchscherer, though it's less clear how the A's will fill Harden's slot if his injury proves more than just a minor setback.

John Smoltz (0/0)
"A knot." That's how John Smoltz characterized his shoulder after coming out of his second start. Believe it or not, that's a positive. When the muscle tightens up, creating the palpable sensation of knots, it's doing so to protect itself. The tightening of the muscle stops contractions and creates the discomfort as a way of indicating that it's time to leave the game. Smoltz listened, and with some massage, treatment, and rest, should be ready to go in his next start. Saying the knots are a positive is relative, of course. You'd rather that Smoltz didn't have them. Given the choice, however, knots are preferable to tears. The trick will be reducing the muscle's need to protect itself while keeping Smoltz effective over the course of the season.

Rafael Soriano (15/$0.74m)
It's been a tough early spring for closers. In most situations they're overvalued and replaceable, and now we are seeing just how fragile they can be, as well. Soriano's slow-healing elbow has been problematic since the spring, so a combination of continued problems and a need to get Chuck James back on the active roster pushed the team into making the move. Bobby Cox is saying all the right things about having Soriano healthy over the course of a season, but he neglects to mention that he's had a hard time keeping his two best relievers, Soriano and Peter Moylan, healthy even through spring training and the first two weeks of the season. Manny Acosta will get the save chances in the interim, and Soriano is expected to miss the minimum, as the Braves hope this is nothing more than tendinitis they're DLing Soriano with. His history has to make Braves fans wonder, however.

Barry Zito (0/0)
Barry Zito in Oakland and Barry Zito in San Francisco seem almost like two different pitchers. This change was on display in Zito's start at Milwaukee last Sunday. With the amazing MLB Gameday, it's easy to see. In the first inning, Zito never threw his vaunted curve. By the time the fifth came around, he threw three inside for balls to Gabe Kaper and had to come with his average fastball down the middle. Kapler turned and crushed it. The pattern recurred two batters later when it was Ryan Braun's turn to take Zito deep to left. Even with Prince Fielder in between, Zito wasn't controlling his curve, leaving it on the third base side of the plate. For all the talk about Zito's mechanics, it seems to be more an issue of pitch selection and control in his first two starts. Simply put, he's lost command. Worse, Zito and pitching coach Dave Righetti aren't just not on the same page, they're not reading the same book.

Tom Gorzelanny (0/0)
Things aren't looking good for Tom Gorzelanny. The abuse his pitching arm took last season, when he threw 201.7 innings, is clearly affecting him this season, with his pitches showing little life or movement ... or is it? With PitchF/X now the absolute gold standard for velocity measurement and accurate enough to trust for movement as well, we have a tool that allows us to test our perception of a player. There's little doubt that he's not throwing as well, purely from a results standpoint. As for the rest, I'm curious as to your perceptions. I'll have more analysis of the facts tomorrow. Oh, why is PitchF/X the gold standard, you ask? It's consistent across parks, something we've never had before. The system is calibrated by one entity, ending the days of having to figure out what kind of gun, where it was pointed, and the other vagaries. We've all seen the Fox gun, which is normally amped up a couple mph, but there's also the inconsistent minor league numbers, often reaching us with a couple extra mph due to hype. This is one reason I never take minor league velocity numbers as anything more than a guide.

Quick Cuts: Mike Lowell was placed on the DL after injuring his thumb diving for a grounder. The team is calling it a sprain after images came back negative. At this stage, he's expected to just miss the minimum ... Francisco Liriano is scheduled to pitch this weekend in Triple-A, but there's a chance the Twins will cancel that and have him back in Minnesota for a Tuesday start ... Dave Roberts is headed for knee surgery that he's describing as "more than a simple scope." He has some cartilage issues and some debris inside the knee. For a speed player like Roberts, the recovery and rehab will be key. At 35, he can't afford to lose a step ... Rich Hill, who's never been great mechanically, is throwing "uphill" more noticeably this season. Just watch his motion in Thursday's Pirates game and you'll see immediately what I mean by uphill ... Randy Johnson is scheduled to make his first start of 2008 on Monday. He'll be on a strict pitch limit ... Yovani Gallardo is with the Brewers this weekend and could come back if weather concerns create the need for an extra pitcher, though he's expected to make one more start in Triple-A before rejoining the active roster. He'll be back full-time by the end of the week, either way ... Al Reyes was punched, then tased, during a bar fight. No word on how this will affect his availability ... Best of luck to Doug Davis, who had successful cancer surgery on Thursday.

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