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May 21, 2008

Under The Knife

Revolving Yankee Hurts

by Will Carroll

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Alex Rodriguez (0 DXL)
A couple of weeks back, I got an angry email saying that, while I was assigning A-Rod a DXL of 15, other sources were saying he was out until the All-Star break. I was a bit surprised that a simple, well-known injury to the best-known player in the game could have that broad an area of interpretation, but I went back to my sources again, and kept coming up with the same answer: in his desire to please, Rodriguez had pushed himself from a mild quad strain up to moderate one. "It wasn't Grade II," one person with knowledge of the injury told me, "but it wasn't I+ either. If there was a II minus, that's what we'd call it." Rodriguez was placed on the DL not so much because he needed the full 15 days, but because it was the right way to make sure that he shut things down and followed his prescribed rehab. It also got him away from the pressure of the media and his teammates. "For a guy who's done everything, he still wants to please everyone and prove himself," the same person told me. Sometimes the DL can work that way, as a tool for protecting a player from himself. I had a conversation with a team athletic trainer during the off-season a couple years back while at the ASMI 'Injuries in Baseball' course and asked him what the hardest part of his job was. "Getting players to understand what 'rest' means," he said without hesitation. Rodriguez hit homers during his rehab and in his first game back, so I'm sure that the quad is fine now. I won't always be right, as I was in this case, but I think being here every day and continuing to work with my sources will get you the best information more often than not.

Santiago Casilla (45 DXL)
But there are exceptions to the above rule. I made the mistake of sleeping last night, going to bed before the Rays finished off the A's, and well before Bob Geren made his post-game comments. They included a discussion of Casilla's imaging and prognosis, which were much more positive than the initial reports. While Casilla does have a torn UCL, it's a mild sprain, and the team now thinks that he can come back this season. My initial reports were based off a source's "torn UCL" text, which while not incorrect didn't give the complete picture either, so I apologize for jumping the gun a bit. Casilla will miss around a month, but keep in mind that there's a point-Dr. Tim Kremchek says around 20 percent-where it makes more sense to just go ahead and do the surgery. There are a number of cases, such as Francisco Liriano and Chris Carpenter, where guys tried to pitch through it and ended up needing surgery; it's always preferable to try and make it back without surgery, but it doesn't always work. I'll drop the DXL, but don't be surprised if my initial thought turns out to be the case.

Derek Jeter (3 DXL)
So, Alex Rodriguez comes back, just in time to see the Captain take a hard fastball off of his hand from Daniel Cabrera. Cabrera throws a "heavy" fastball, and heavy or not it was coming in at 93 and was going almost 87 when it hit Jeter. Cabrera was moving in and out on the four pitches, so it doesn't look like he intentionally hit Jeter. Images showed no break, a bit of luck for the Yankees. Jeter's hand will clearly be sore and swollen, so missing a couple games wouldn't be unexpected, but he tends to come back quickly. We'll just have to keep an eye on him to see whether there's any ill effect on his bat control. I'll say three days, but that's just a best guess.

Eric Gagne (0 DXL)
At least there's an explanation this time. Gagne left Tuesday's game with what was described as a sore shoulder. It's unclear as yet how serious it is, or whether Ned Yost is just offering some cover for the once-dominant closer's poor performance. Having looked at his motion and body language, I don't see anything significantly different in this outing from his last two. Admittedly, this is difficult to pick out from the views we get on TV and is hardly a substitute for the type of examination any trainer could give him. Gagne was in late, though it wasn't a by-the-book save situation, so we can't use the "loses focus" excuse this time around. More and more, Gagne is looking like a guy who simply can't recover. A closer who needs days between outings to be effective has a hard time providing much value. Maybe some time off and some work on the side with pitching coach Mike Maddux could help.

Jake Peavy (15 DXL)
Peavy's trip to the DL is still expected to be a two or three start thing, but other observers aren't sure. One person inside the game thinks that Peavy's motion is the root cause of his injury: "Watch the delivery, the deceleration of the arm as it wraps violently around his rib cage. It is an absolute joke that they allowed him to pitch this way without any concern up to this point. The bang of the elbow joint, the lack of deceleration, lack of rotation, and connection is totally absent in Peavy." I spent about an hour yesterday looking at Peavy's motion and it is violent, but very consistent. The 'repeatable' motion is something all scouts (and pitching coaches) look for, but if they're just repeating a mistake, is that worse? Peavy's injury is still unclear, but reports of fluid around the ligament and that it's not the flexor he injured a few years ago are narrowing the possibilities.

Andruw Jones (5 DXL)
The Dodgers are now pushing Jones to have surgery. As well as some torn cartilage in the knee, Jones has a Baker's cyst. The cyst usually develops as a result of the initial problem, like a cartilage tear, and is easily corrected. I'm told that Jones is still resistant to missing time, though with his performance I'm still convinced that the Dodgers are thinking that the time off and rehab time could also be used to try to salvage things. I don't know, however, if the contract is insured. Most insurance has a 90-day period before it kicks in, and Jones' time lost would be less in all but the worst-case scenario. A decision is going to be made soon, however; Joe Torre is making noises like Friday might be the deadline, so watch closely. I'm holding Jones at a low DXL figure for now, but it will jump if he decides to have the surgery, so start planning for that contingency now.

Curtis Granderson (0 DXL)
Reader Diane Firstman took a deeper look at Granderson's recent troubles at the plate, which I discussed yesterday. "He's seeing a career-high 4.59 pitches per PA, swinging at only eight perecnt of first pitches (instead of his 2007's 15 percent or 2006's 25 percent!), basically has the same rate of swinging strikes, and the same rate of favorable counts. So ..... it looks like he's working the count better, but not able to capitalize on the count like he did previously. Also, those 14 Ks came in two games, vs. Buckholz and Beckett .... so we can cut him a little slack there." Firstman's research is interesting; is Granderson consciously more patient knowing he can only hit a certain type of pitch, or is the injury making him more reluctant to swing at all? It's clear that there's something going on here, and there is a positive spin that can be placed on it-adjustments made to play through injuries can lead to bad habits, but are also the type of 'mutation' that can allow for an evolutionary leap.

Ryan Church (5 DXL)
Yunel Escobar (1 DXL)
Concussions are bad, but recurrent concussions are worse. Church has had at least two in three months, so I guess it's good that he's a baseball player instead of a Rugby Union guy. If he was a rugger, by rule he'd be out a month or more, because that's part of their aggressiveness regarding brain injuries. Of course, there are some downsides to that rule, but if you'd like to know more, check out my essay in last year's Pro Football Prospectus (and go pre-order 2008 now. I don't mean to sound all infomercial on you, but I'm really excited about it, including two essays I was involved with). Of course, as bad as concussions are, knee sprains aren't any better. Church slid in headfirst, contacting Escobar's knee on the lateral aspect and buckling him. Church was dazed and taken to the hospital for testing and monitoring, though things look positive for him; we'll nevertheless need to see if he has any symptoms of post-concussion syndrome. As for Escobar, he was helped from the field with a sore knee. He was in the air-and more importantly, not planted-when his knee was contacted by Church's head; it doesn't look as if he'll miss significant time. One other note-I've often discussed equipment changes that would help players stay safe, and a batting helmet that stayed on while guys run would be one of those things that we should work on. Update: Reader F.A. wrote in to correct me--Church slid feet first. The rest of the story holds true, but this was my error for not checking the video.

Ross Ohlendorf (0 DXL)
As I was talking with David Cokin and Steve Cofield in Vegas on their radio show yesterday, and the topic of Ross Ohlendorf came up. Dave compared him to Scott Proctor, who he said was "worn out by the workload." I won't disagree there, but as I said yesterday in regards to Rafael Betancourt, there aren't many relievers who are effective enough to get big workloads over a three-year period and remain consistently good. Ohlendorf is a long way from matching that kind of mark, but Joe Girardi is certainly doing his part early this season to get him that kind of workload. Ohlendorf is a two-pitch guy, mixing in the slider well, but let's keep an eye on the fastball to gauge if he's wearing down. So far this season, he's pushing it up there at 95 on average. Last night, he was a bit below that, but was pitching in a situation where he was expected to go multiple innings and may have been dialing it back a bit. It's worth keeping an eye on, and we can only hope Joe Girardi is doing so as well.

Quick Cuts: Hey, John Smoltz, while I appreciate you don't want to talk about your shoulder any more, I'm going to keep talking about it and don't really need your input. And yes, I still don't think it will help to move to the pen. ... While the Rockies continue to say there's no timetable for Troy Tulowitzki to return, all their actions seem to be pointing to a much quicker return time. I'm still working on getting you more info on this one. ... Brad Hawpe left last night's game with what looked like a hamstring problem. The team is reporting that it was just cramps, but keep your eyes on this. ... Ronnie Belliard hits the DL with a calf strain. ... My pal Luke asks "Is there a firejoemorgan.com type site about coaches and managers? FireDustyBaker.com?" ... Gary Bennett hits the DL with plantar fascitis, though the real problem is throwing the ball back to the mound, Mackey Sasser-style. He's met with Steve Sax, who had similar issues as a Dodger at second base. ... Francisco Liriano had another solid start at Triple-A Rochester. ... Last night in my fantasy league I had four of my starters going. They put up a line of 30 IP, 29 H, and a 30:5 K/BB... and only one win, by Scott Kazmir.

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