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May 23, 2008

UTK Wrap

Fast Work

by Will Carroll

It's Carb Day here in Indy, so today my town is more about 225 mph Hondas and the reunion of Stone Temple Pilots than anything else. In racing, speed is everything, on the track and in the pits. One of the events of Carb Day is the Pit Crew contest, where they'll fuel up and change all four tires in under ten seconds. It would be nice if baseball worked like that, but quick for this game is fifteen days. That doesn't mean that the "pit crew"-the medical staff-isn't working just as feverishly. If you've ever seen the trainer run after a player into the clubhouse, you'll know that time does count. You don't see them re-taping an ankle, coming up with a finger splint on the fly, fixing a contact, or one of the hundred other tasks that might come up without warning, triggering a burst of creativity that would put Angus McGyver to shame. In Wednesday's game, you may have seen highlights of Chris Young and Josh Bard getting injured, but if you watched the game, you saw how quickly Todd Hutcheson and his staff were back out there to tend to Bard, despite having just taken Young into the clubhouse. Beyond the trainers, a team's medical staff extends to an associated list of doctors, dentists, massage therapists, rehab professionals, and chiropractors. Players may not need their tires changed or two turns of wing because they're loose in turn two, but everything else is fair game in the trainer's room. Powered by Wii Fit, on to the injuries:

Jake Peavy (15 DXL/$1.7 million)
While I don't agree with everything written in Tim Sullivan's piece on Peavy, I do think it's one of the best-written pieces on an injury that I've read in a while. While trying trying to put together some wisdom regarding Peavy's injury, he talked to everyone from the manager to the pitching coach, to a biomechanist with a blog. The team isn't saying anything about the results of the MRI aside from that they decided afterwards to put Peavy on the DL. Sources tell me that they think Peavy will miss two to three starts, just enough to make the DL move necessary. Sullivan's suggestion of fewer sliders and more pitch efficiency seems reasonable, especially in that ballpark, but making any adjustment is difficult for a pitcher. There's little doubt that the Pads have a solid medical staff, but they and it will be tested in how they deal with Peavy over the next couple of months. Tim Brown's article on Kevin Towers includes the term "strained" in regards to Peavy. If that's the case, then it's muscular rather than ligament (which would be "sprained"); the two words are so close that they can often be misheard, so let's just take this as an indication rather than evidence. One person inside the game think that's Peavy's motion is the root cause. "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 that all scouts (and pitching coaches) look for, but if the pitcher's repeating a mistake, is that worse? The full nature of 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 narrowing things down a bit. I'm taking the Pads at their word for now and setting the DXL at 15 days, but this could go longer.

Chris Young (15 DXL/$0.6 million)
When Young ends his motion, he's closer than most to home plate. Now add in the fearsome bat of Albert Pujols, and you have a combination that adds up to a worst-case scenario. Luckily, Young came away from a screaming liner off of his head with what looked like a nasty cut and a likely mild concussion, which is relatively light damage compared to what could have happened. I can't say any more than I already have about the need for some sort of protection for pitchers, whether its a shell for their hat or some kind of shielding on their legs. I realize the arms are tougher, but even there, we could stand for it, especially at lower levels. Football evolved its protective gear over time, but aside from better batting helmets, baseball is playing in roughly the same gear of forty years ago-guys, it's time for a change. As for Young, the Pads are being conservative and placing him on the DL, indicating that he's either having some problems with his vision, common and transient after a broken nose, or has some looseness in there that could need surgery. My guess is the latter, meaning he may have to go Rip Hamilton style when he comes back.

Josh Bard (30 DXL/$1.4 million)
Peter Quadrino, one of our hard-working but seldom-seen guys here at BP, said it best: "Albert Pujols-one-man wrecking crew." After Pujols took out Young with a swing, Pujols slid into Bard on a play at the plate and knocked the Pads backstop out of the game as well; Pujols' slide was clean, but hard. Bard appeared to have a lower leg or ankle injury, and was helped from the field and replaced by rookie Luke Carlin. Just as Bernie Miklasz said on his BP Radio interview earlier this week, Pujols plays the game at 11, not 10. With Michael Barrett still coming back from elbow problems, the Pads lack depth at catcher, so this hits them pretty hard. The Pads will put him on the DL after diagnosing the injury as a high ankle sprain; given his position and it demands in terms of squatting and lateral motion, he's going to be out a bit longer than normal.

Joba Chamberlain (0 DXL/0)
The biggest news in Yankeeland was that the "top secret" plan to convert Chamberlain from reliever to starter is in effect. Really? This is news? OK, I guess it's interesting how the team is planning to do it. They'll use Chamberlain in longer relief outings-like last night's two-inning stint-and use side sessions to get him "on schedule" and develop the stamina he'll need. What's gone unsaid is that Chamberlain will no longer be the set-up man, the seventh- or eighth-inning fireman that he's been so effective at being. Instead, they're now carrying a guy that will be used on a schedule, in outings that will have to be guessed at for length (unless they decide to start lifting starters early or perhaps 'pairing' him with Ian Kennedy or Mike Mussina, two guys Chamberlain could replace in the rotation). The side sessions will be more telling as far as where he is with his stamina, since those will be more controlled.

Roy Oswalt (0 DXL/0)
The worst part of Oswalt's groin injury is that it might not have had to happen; if Oswalt said what he says he did, the blame rests entirely with the field staff. On the other hand, if Cecil Cooper said what he says he did, Oswalt endangered himself needlessly. Then again, where were the trainers in all this? I'll venture a guess that they were right there, and if they weren't, then Cooper deserves the blame for that. Oswalt has an extensive history with groin injuries and sports hernias, though he hasn't really had significant issues since 2006. Oswalt felt like it could have been scar tissue tearing loose, but if that's the case, why now? Oswalt added more mileage in the intervening years, as well as less of a willingness to take one for the team. I think that Oswalt will end up sore, and that Cooper, who doesn't like to play a man down, will push him to the DL. Late word is that he'll make his start, but he's on a very short leash.

John Smoltz (45 DXL/$3.8 million)
I'm not sure if relieving is going to help Smoltz stay healthy. What I do know is that he's got to get healthy before he gets to that stage. Smoltz is still having trouble with recovery after even a minimal throwing session. The biceps tendon is still "severely inflamed," and the idea that we'll see Smoltz back in games by the end of the month is looking less likely by the day. The problem is that after treatment and rest didn't resolve the problem, Smoltz is reluctant to shut it down again. With options on his deal and no talk of retirement, this seems a bit short-sighted of him, leaving many to wonder if there's something more going on here. A similarity to the injury that's kept Curt Schilling on the shelf should be noted. Until Smoltz can pitch without pain and recover, the chances of him succeeding in a relief role are nil.

Jorge Posada (45 DXL/$4.1 million)
What if your catcher couldn't throw? There have always been poor-throwing catchers-yes, I'm looking at you, Mike Piazza-but in most of those cases they hit enough to make the value equation work, and there was at least the small threat that they could throw someone out. Maybe the best case for this we have is Mackey Sasser, infamous for his tic in getting the ball out of his glove. Sasser actually had a rate only slightly below average-about 13 runs below, with a 92 adjusted Rate2, or comfortably above replacement level. Now, to continue this exercise, what if Posada couldn't throw? Posada can hit at a high level, so could he still be used as catcher? Posada is worried about "throwing off balance" and how it might affect his shoulder. OK, how about this-if he doesn't feel that he's right, he just eats the throw and allows the steal? Do the Yankees use more throws over to hold runners close? More pitchouts? And just allow the steals? It's an interesting thought experiment, so if anyone has ideas, send'em in. Posada is playing catch and appears to be on track for a return in early June.

Troy Tulowitzki (45 DXL/$4.1 million)
With every passing day, it seems that we get a new activity from Troy Tulowitzki that comes with a disclaimer. Yesterday, the Rockies shortstop took batting practice while the team said "he's still a ways off." Yes, he's a ways off, but is it still August, as we were led to think by his initial diagnosis? That's looking less and less likely. He's running, he's taking batting practice, and he's doing agility drills. To me-and to doctors and therapists I spoke with-that indicates that he's much further along. "You don't do stressful activities at a point where healing is in question," one doctor told me. He indicated that such activities would hint that Tulowitzki's quad tendon strain was either not as complete as we were led to believe, or that it ruptured and that, for whatever reason, Tulowitzki didn't suffer much functional loss. The interesting part comes next: Will the Rockies let Tulowitzki's functional abilities bring him back quickly, or will they be conservative as they slide in the standings? If he does get closer and the team feels he's at risk, will they use him quickly at the major league level, or take the chance on a rehab assignment? At this stage, it wouldn't surprise me if we see Tulowitzki back on the field in mid-June.

Andruw Jones (0 DXL/0)
The headline that "Jones has knee damage" makes it seem a little more dire than it actually is. Jones does have a small tear in his meniscus, not unlike what David Ortiz dealt with last season. Of course, Jones' mobility is at least theoretically much more important to him in center field than it is to Ortiz as a DH. Jones' knee can't really be blamed for his terrible season thus far, but there is some question as to whether he could play on it for the rest of the season. Given his struggles, I have to think that the team is at least considering the idea of giving him a short "vacation" and hoping that somewhere in the rehab process, he'd remember how to play baseball while getting in better shape. It's possible that, like Ortiz, he could delay the surgery until the offseason; if he were to have it now, he'd miss somewhere around six weeks. I'll keep his DXL at zero unless Jones changes his mind about surgery.

Doug Davis (45 DXL/$1.3 million)
With Jon Lester proving that cancer survivors can do anything, we should be less surprised that Davis is nearly back after undergoing the procedures to address his thyroid cancer-he returns to the rotation tonight. Davis will be limited on his pitches, and sources indicate that he may be "paired" with Max Scherzer for at least his first start. That raises the question about where Scherzer will go from there: back to the bullpen, or back to Tucson to keep working towards being a starter? With Davis and Randy Johnson likely to miss starts here and there, I can see where Scherzer might work well as a swingman, assuming that he can keep his arm 'stretched out' to go at least five innings in those occasional starts. Scherzer is young and has a violent motion, so I'd be more inclined to both limit his innings and keep him at the major league level.

Quick Cuts: This story on Pujols' response to being party to the injuries of both Young and Bard explores a side of injuries we seldom consider. ... Victor Martinez might need a manicure after he cracked open the cuticle on his left index finger, leaving him unable to grip the bat. The Indians hope he'll be ready today. ... The Indians will get Joe Borowski back today, and are immediately slotting him back in the closer's role. ... Chone Figgins came off of the DL, but may go right back on if the "whole leg" soreness he experienced doesn't clear up quickly. ... The Tigers will soon have both Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney pitching in extended spring training. It won't fix all of the team's problems, but it will help them to get both back in their pen. ... David Price made his first real start, and did pretty well; just remember that it's A-ball, and he's supposed to dominate. ... Eric Gagne will have a cortisone shot in his shoulder. If he's not better by Sunday, he'll hit the DL. He's not closing for a while either way. ... Austin Kearns will miss about a month after having bone chips 'scoped out of his elbow. ... Moises Alou is back on the DL with a calf strain. ... Kevin Millwood could make a rehab start this weekend. ... Join our Facebook group!

Related Content:  Back,  Batting Helmets,  Josh Bard,  Quad-a

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Premium Article Prospectus Q&A: Ned Yo... (05/23)
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UTK Wrap: Not Just the... (05/16)
Next Column >>
UTK Wrap: Pitch Counts... (05/30)
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Premium Article Transaction Analysis: ... (05/23)

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