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June 9, 2008

Under The Knife

Brown Lessons

by Will Carroll

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I'd planned a big article on this and written most of it, but with everyone trying to explain why Big Brown lost, I think we've missed one important point. While the horse was put on steroids--specifically Winstrol, the same steroid that many players, including Rafael Palmeiro, have tested positive for--it wasn't to make him faster. I'm no doctor and I'm certainly no veterinarian, but I can read. Here are the important numbers:

  1. Big Brown (2008 Kentucky Derby): 2:01:82
  2. Affirmed (1977 Kentucky Derby): 2:01 1/5
  3. Secretariat (1973 Kentucky Derby): 1:59 2/5

I don't need the advanced numbers like Beyer Speed Figures to see what's at work here. Big Brown won two legs of the Triple Crown, possibly aided by steroids, but he wasn't as fast as the last Triple Crown winner, and he wasn't as fast as horse racing's Babe Ruth. Steroids didn't make a horse into Superman. Horse expert Michael Hindman said it better than I could:

Secretariat would be Babe Ruth if Babe Ruth had once hit 90 homers in a season and no one else has ever hit more than 50. The gap in physical ability between him and all other thoroughbreds is unlike anything else in sports history. Put it this way: Secretariat was capable of hitting 600-foot homers. Secretariat's 35-year-old Kentucky Derby record time still stands, and nobody has ever come close to it. His 35-year-old world record time at a mile and a half set in the Belmont has never been challenged by any horse ever, anywhere. He ran his mile and a half in 2:24. No other horse--anywhere, ever--has broken 2:25.3. That means that the second best time at a mile and a half, ever, would have been eight lengths behind him. Secretariat also set the world record at a mile and an eighth. He ran once on the grass and set a track record at Belmont Park (again at a mile and a half) that still stands 35 years later. Secretariat ran against and beat the crap out of at least five other Hall of Fame horses. Big Brown is beating one of the worst crops of three year olds ever. By the way, we've used Winstrol and Equipoise on horses from time to time over the years, and as far as I can tell it doesn't do much for them other than run up the vet bill.

I'm not sure what, if anything, this tells us, but don't let the media make steroids the story here. Tear up over the emotional story of Kent Desormeaux's son if you will, but it seems that sports journalism today is more caught up in telling stories, not reporting facts. Powered by Back Door Slam, on to the injuries:

Jeremy Bonderman (90 DXL)
We've seen this before, and if you're paying attention, the news is positive... in the long term. Bonderman had surgery on Saturday on a near-emergent basis to clear a clot formed as the result of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. The angioplasty cleared the clot from his shoulder, but the root cause is still in question. Doctors will determine if his first rib is impinging the blood vessels, and could elect to remove it if this is the case. This is the same type of condition that Kenny Rogers and Hank Blalock had and came back from. Bonderman's shoulder had been feeling weak, so some of his poor results have to be chalked up to this condition. If there's any good news here, it's that Bonderman will be fine and should pitch again. If the rib is removed, he'll miss roughly a year, though recent work in the field might bring the total time lost down some. He'll have Rogers on hand to help him understand the process, and his heavily-worked young arm will get the benefit of some rest. The Tigers are going to need Dontrelle Willis to slot back in and try to salvage the rotation right now; the Tigers aren't panicking yet. I'll set the DXL at 90, leaving open the chance that he might come back late this season, though this is admittedly unlikely.

Chipper Jones (5 DXL)
Hearing that your star hitter has a "small tear" in his quad sounds worse than "mild strain." Really, they're the same thing. All strains are tears of muscle or tendon fibers. The degree--Grades I through III, or the more common mild/moderate/severe continuum--is just the amount of fibers torn. Jones did this on Saturday and is part of the normal, expected wear and tear on him now. He'll miss much, if not all of the Cubs series, but then lucks into some interleague games, where he's the likely DH. That scheduling quirk should save him from the DL if his normal "put me in, coach" act is wearing thin on Bobby Cox. Overall, this isn't as bad as any of the other relatively minor injuries that Jones has had thus far. He's well on his way to Moises Alou territory--constantly hurt in a tightening spiral, but when healthy, he can hit with anyone.

Rafael Soriano (7 DXL)
After losing John Smoltz, the Braves had expected to turn to Soriano for saves, but the oft-injured pitcher is injured again, leaving them hoping that Mike Gonzalez will be back soon. It's not so much a setback as it seems that Soriano can't recover, making back-to-back days tough, forcing Bobby Cox to committee the closer role. With Soriano, Smoltz, and Gonzalez, Cox had figured to have several options on any given day for the eighth and ninth, but now, he's back to Manny Acosta as his best available reliever. The Braves bullpen has quickly gone from a strength to a problem spot, leaving many wondering if they'll try to go young or look outside for trades. Sources tell me that Gonzalez "is the savior right now," with the team hoping he can do what Soriano hasn't, and that the Braves are most concerned about Soriano's loss of control. I'm putting a seven for Soriano's DXL, since he'll miss a day here and there, making him available about half the time that the Braves would like.

Vernon Wells (0 DXL)
It wasn't how we figured Wells would come back, but Shannon Stewart's ankle sprain pushed him back into action. It wasn't a rush, though many are asking me how Wells came back so quickly from his wrist injury. The answer is that Wells appears to be a quick healer and that he performed well at every step of his rehab. Coming back in under a month from this is unprecedented in my database, but no one seems to think that Wells is at a significantly increased risk. It's too early to tell how his bat will handle the quick comeback, though the early results are positive on both control and power. The Jays are happy to have him back, and there's no reason for anyone to wait on getting him back in their fantasy lineups. I don't think this will be as smooth as it could have been, but any setback should be minor.

Jake Westbrook (110 DXL)
Frankly, I never saw this coming, and looking back through my data Westbrook comes up green on every measure. It proves just how much I don't know about pitcher health and how much more emphasis teams should be putting on objective testing, especially biomechanical analysis. Westbrook will need Tommy John surgery and will miss the rest of the season. There's some question as to whether this was the normal insidious injury--wearing down over time--or whether this was a "snap," perhaps the result of altered mechanics due to Westbrook's core injuries. Either way, the Indians will miss a year of the deal Westbrook signed last year, though he should be able to come back around the All-Star break in 2009.

Adam Wainwright (5 DXL)
Todd Wellemeyer (5 DXL)
The Cardinals' rotation took a double hit, with Wainwright suffering a sprained finger at the same time that Wellemeyer's elbow came up lame. Wainwright left his start on Saturday when he couldn't get a good grip on the ball. There wasn't much improvement on Sunday, pushing the team to send him back for tests. Wainwright described a "pop" in the fifth inning and a sudden loss of grip, bringing to mind Joel Zumaya's injury last season. Right now, it looks as if Wainwright will miss one start at a minimum, but this could be much more serious. For Wellemeyer, an MRI allayed fears that it was more serious for him, but he will miss his next start. The soreness is leaving the elbow, with Wellemeyer quoted that it was improving significantly. The Cards are being conservative here; if Wainwright is out and Chris Carpenter a month or so away, they'll need him even more.

Johan Santana (1 DXL)
Finally, a good argument for the DH. Santana was struck in his pitching shoulder while attempting a bunt, but rest and treatment has calmed the bruise, which is all this appears to be. The Mets will be ultra-conservative with him and are willing to juggle the rotation to give him more rest if needed or even to skip over him in his next start, scheduled for Thursday. Santana hasn't done any between-start work and is normally on a third-day throw, so there's still some open question about the start. All indications are that the most likely Plan B is that he'll make it with a one-day delay. In the long-term, this shouldn't affect Santana at all, assuming it calms normally and doesn't throw his mechanics off. I'll be watching next time he gets to the mound that he's getting his normal long follow through. Like the Mets, I'll be conservative and give Santana just one DXL.

Pedro Martinez (0 DXL)
I love PitchFX; it's amazing and could change the way we look at and analyze the game. The guys at MLBAM are doing some amazing things over there, but let's not get carried away quite yet. It's not a perfect system, and we don't have the experience with it to make judgments. I think we can look and say, "I think I see something," which will help us learn, but I've seen people jumping to conclusions over chasms I'm not sure they can clear. The system is useful for taking a look at Pedro to see if his legs are back under him. Josh Kalk's data shows that his fastball isn't what it used to be, and that he's relying more on his curve, but his release point seems very consistent, especially considering the past couple of seasons where Martinez would "drop down," slinging the ball the way we saw John Smoltz doing before his season ended. Results have been mixed, but Martinez seems to be able to pitch more consistently, if not more effectively, this season.

Ryan Church (14 DXL)
More than two weeks after the initial contact, Church is still experiencing symptoms from his concussion. This is not a good thing, and the treatment of Church's condition has raised questions along the way. Church complained over the weekend about a pulsing sensation on both sides of his head, a classic sign of post-concussive syndrome. Add in fatigue, nausea and a sense that he "didn't feel right," according to Willie Randolph, and the team is going to send him for neurological tests. If he does need time on the DL, the team could only go back to June 5th on a retroactive move, this after Church has gone 3-for-17 since the concussion, with all three hits coming in one game last week against the Giants. The symptoms could be much worse, but given the severity of some lingering concussions, we can only hope this will fade.

Quick Cuts: Jake Peavy is expected to make his first start coming off of the DL on Thursday. ... Troy Percival will be back at the minimum, and will slot right back into the closer role, allowing Cardiac Dan Wheeler to make the eighth inning an adventure, rather than the ninth. ... Michael Young's fingertip fracture shouldn't affect him any more than the same injury did for Alfonso Soriano. ... Mike Hampton is throwing all of his pitches from a mound, and could start a rehab stint soon. One crazy idea? Closer. ... "Viral infection" sounds worse, but reads as "flu-like symptoms," so Josh Hamilton shouldn't miss that much time. ... Clickable line scores! ... Fernando Rodney should be activated this week after having no serious issues at Triple-A, while all you need to know about Joel Zumaya is that he hit 98 mph. ... If you didn't click that 'powered by' link at the top, do yourself a favor and do it now. Back Door Slam might be the most impressive new band I've heard in a couple of years.

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