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June 27, 2008

UTK Wrap

Slugger Recoveries and Ace Injuries

by Will Carroll

You'd figure that the halfway point of a season would be more notable than it is in baseball. There's no real divider, since the All-Star break comes a bit later than normal this season. The 81-game mark is close, but the 81st game seems no different than the 82nd, not unless you're counting. It's no different for injuries-they're not up, actually, it just seems like it. The spectrum is about the same as in any other year. The Cards, Yankees, and Marlins have already lost more than 700 days to the DL, while the Dodgers have spent $22 million on the players they have on the DL. On the other side, the White Sox are leading in terms of general health, losing only 120 days to what are mostly insignificant injuries; they are one of three teams, along with the Royals and Marlins, who have lost less than $2 million so far. I'll wait until the end of the season to see how DXL and Injury Cost work out, since even half a season is too small a sample size to gauge its usefulness in analysis. Powered by Monday's Pizza Feed (and birthday party) in NYC (click for details), on to the injuries:

Albert Pujols (15 DXL/$2.4 million)
Don't make him angry. You wouldn't like him when he's angry. One observer who saw his four-for-four comeback on Thursday texted me to say "he's not human." You know what? I'm not sure anymore myself. Pujols was activated in time for yesterday's game against the Tigers, coming off of the DL at the minimum. I'm on record as being worried about this, in the sense that I'm convinced that Pujols' calf injury is at least weakly interrelated to his chronic foot problems. We'll have to watch to see how Pujols plays, but it's hard to evaluate any potential effects since the guy plays so well through even major injuries. The Cards gave back a couple of games in the standings while Pujols was out, but making sure that he's healthy and available is going to be a lot more important for them in the long term, especially if the Cards and Brewers wind up not only chasing the Cubs for the division title, but also battle one another for the wild card slot. I'm not sure if he's more Incredible Hulk or Hancock, but the guy just doesn't seem like he's from this planet-and he's done it all without ever being fully healthy during his career.

One other note here-the injury cost calculations might seem to be high, but looking at Pujols in comparison to the team during his short DL stay is informative. The current "cost" of a win is about $2 million, and during Pujols' DL stint the team dropped two games in the standings. At the extremes in terms of ability-where Pujols as an asset clearly ranks-injury cost might be understated.

Felix Hernandez (5 DXL/$0.3 million)
As expected, the Mariners have acknowledged that Hernandez isn't going to make his next start. After missing his throw day, even he understood that he wasn't going to be able to make it, and with Erik Bedard ready to be slotted in, the M's will just skip Hernandez this time through. Sources tell me that the ankle is making good progress, and that another week of rest and therapy should have him back. There's still some concern that Hernandez's tenuous mechanics will be altered by the pain in his landing foot, so they'll be watching him closely once he's ready to do a bullpen session. While I don't expect this to rise to the level of a DL stint, the M's are holding onto the possibility of a retroactive move in case he needs to miss a second start. Given where they are in the standings, I'd guess that they can afford to be conservative with him; Mariners fans should certainly hope so. By the way, there's no truth to the rumor that Hugo Chavez has asked for UN assistance to the Disabled List for Venezuela after seeing two of his country's best injured this week.

Carlos Zambrano (15 DXL/$1.0 million)
I'm going to take the odd (for me) position of defending the Cubs. Yes, they have in the past been less than transparent about their processes in dealing with injuries. I'll take Jim Hendry at his word that he's given as much information as he had, though I'll admit that the results we've seen haven't matched up with that assertion. I'll even state for the record that I know that some of his players have held back information from the team in the past, something Hendry shouldn't be held accountable for today. So when Carlos Zambrano comes out of his imaging with the diagnosis of a mild strain, I'll accept that for now and watch for more information. If Zambrano does just have a small strain, we'll assume it's to the rotator cuff due to the way he dropped his arm over the last two innings of his last start. I can't figure out why it started acting up, but I do think that this has been an ongoing problem, one that goes back to mid-May and predates Zambrano's 130-pitch outing. It wouldn't surprise me if that outing was Lou Piniella's test of Zambrano, who was insisting he was fine at that point despite some symptoms. The one point of interest I have is that when Zambrano was heading back to Chicago, word was that he was going to have an arthrogram, a procedure where dye or air is injected into the joint space to better visualize soft-tissue structures like the labrum. When the test results were announced, they were given as a simple MRI. This could be a simple use of "MRI" as a generic term, or a change in what the doctors initially asked for, but as yet I don't know why they wouldn't have done what appears to be the more specific test given the symptoms. This is definitely one to follow closely; I have a feeling it will go something beyond the minimum, even with Zambrano upset at being placed on the DL. He has already been playing catch in the outfield, so watch to see if he gets in a bullpen session this weekend.

Alfonso Soriano (30 DXL/$1.9 million)
If you don't consider an ace hitting the DL as good news, at least Cubs fans did get some with the results of Soriano's latest x-ray on his hand. The bone is healing up nicely, and he should be taking batting practice soon. The Cubs are trying to pull back on the reins a bit; with the cushion they have in the division, they can bring Soriano back slowly to make sure that he doesn't have a setback. That potential setback would be if he re-broke the bone, which would re-start the process, so the downside here is clear. Soriano is cleared to start baseball activities, so he's ahead of schedule. That means he'll be back around the All-Star break, not next week as Soriano is pushing for. Live batting practice is the best sign we'll have, so watch for him to start that. On the plus side, the rest is reportedly helping his legs as well, as the team has been able to work a bit on his flexibility during the downtime. He'll have another set of x-rays over the weekend to make sure that he's ready for the next step.

Curt Schilling (180 DXL/$6.7 million)
Here's the most interesting takeaway from Curt Schilling's Monday surgery: the condition of Schilling's shoulder was in many ways similar to the way it was going into his 1995 surgery, meaning that he did similar damage by doing similar things after that surgery. In other words, from the second Schilling started throwing again after that surgery through a couple of World Series wins, he was leading up to this with each pitch. The ankle? My guess is that it was not an issue, at least not in relation to the shoulder. It's almost purely a matter of his mechanics. Of course, given that he went twelve years between procedures at a high level for much of it, that doesn't really say that we should change things. Most pitchers don't get twelve years in their careers, let alone twelve between surgeries. We still don't know if Schilling will be able to return, but he's an object lesson of the fine balance between health and effectiveness that all pitchers, pitching coaches, and general managers have to think about every time out. Schilling did get a positive result, but the kind of surgery done on him has not been done on a big league pitcher before. There's nothing to go on here but hope and Schilling's desire. The great part is that Curt's likely to give you the scoop and clear up any lies at his site. One sources told me that Curt has pictures from his surgery he may post.

Tom Glavine (120 DXL/$0.9 million)
Like John Smoltz and Curt Schilling, Tom Glavine has nothing left to prove. The guy has put up numbers that certainly make him a Hall of Fame lock, even more than Smoltz and Schilling because of his achieving the magical 300-win mark. He's always been a smart player, belying his hockey background by staying healthy and playing within himself (like Greg Maddux), rather than wind up fighting through injuries. It's that latter that has some with the Braves thinking that Glavine's not likely to want to go through any extended rehab if his flexor tendon needs surgery. "I'm not questioning his heart," said one source close to Glavine. "It's a combination of pride and brains. He doesn't want to pitch for a check or look like [Bobby Cox] should be pulling him." Unlike Smoltz, who wants to leave the game on his own terms, Glavine is more likely to tip his cap and walk away if surgery is needed. That's where I think this is headed, leaving the Braves with yet another rotation slot to fill, and Cooperstown with another plaque to get ready. A final decision will be made just before the All Star break. (Before you ask, yes, that Injury Cost is correct and might surprise you. PECOTA was not expecting much out of Glavine, and that's what the Braves got.)

Shaun Marcum (20 DXL/$0.6 million)
The Jays got good news from Birmingham, though just having to make that trip tells you it's not all good news. Shaun Marcum came away from his visit to Dr. Andrews with "no major damage," but does have a sprained elbow. The bottom line is that he'll be out until after the All-Star break, though with any elbow injury for a pitcher, there has to be discussion of the "Kremchek Line." Dr. Tim Kremchek has often noted that any pitcher having a tear of 20 percent or more has to at least consider surgery, since in many cases, even if he heals at the time, his ligament is compromised enough that he'll need surgery later. We don't know how torn Marcum's ligament is-and yes, a sprain is a tear-but knowing that it is indeed torn to some level has to increase the risk of Marcum making a return trip to Birmingham at some point in the future, and not flying back so quickly.

Jeff Francouer (0 DXL/0)
The interesting part of Francouer needing one contact isn't that he got it done, as detailed well by Dave O'Brien, but that it took this long for the Braves to figure out what he needed and then get it done. It's not clear if Francoeur didn't tell them he wasn't picking up the rotation of the ball, but it's been clear for a while that his odd day/night split had to have some sort of explanation. Optics is one of the lesser-known areas in sports medicine, so a lot of people will be watching Francoeur and checking their stat page for players with day/night splits of their own.

Chris Young (60 DXL/$2.5 million)
Young is making progress at returning to the mound, although in a fashion you wouldn't expect. He's working on building up his arm strength so that some time off to have surgery to fixate bones inside his nose won't cost him much time. Young made it through a short 40-pitch pen session ahead of surgery next week; his only problem on the mound was with his breathing, which should be corrected during surgery. The expectation is that Young will miss about ten days as the bones heal up after surgery before he gets back on the mound; that would put his return somewhere in late July. Stamina is the short-term concern and the reason he's working on arm strength now. Long term, it doesn't look as if there will be any problems here.

Troy Percival (3 DXL/$0.1 million)
The Rays are going to give Percival a couple of days off to see if a little rest and a lot of time with head trainer Ron Porterfield can fix whatever's going on with his hamstring. The problem is chronic, so it's not going to clear up, but the discomfort that's causing some significant alterations in his mechanics is what the team will be focused on. Giving Percival occasional days off is smart, but it only works if there's someone besides Cardiac Dan Wheeler to hand the ball to in the ninth. The Rays made a save irrelevant Wednesday by pounding on the Marlins, which is a pretty effective bullpen-saving tactic, but if there's anything that GM Andy Friedman and the front office have to work on between now and the trading deadline, it's finding another arm, internally or externally, that can help take some of the late-game workload off of Percival.

Quick Cuts: The Rays might have the best minor league rotation at Double-A Montgomery (and the best nickname!). Or maybe the had it, because Jacob McGee could be headed for Tommy John surgery. If so, he'd be the first significant arm the team has lost to Tommy John surgery since Seth McClung. ... It's got to be tough to be Josh Hamilton right now. He was dealing with some minor knee inflammation, then got back in the lineup only to get plunked on the hand. It didn't look serious, but you never know. Can I ask again why padded or hard plastic gloves aren't being used? ... If Clayton Kershaw gets ten more starts, he'd be at the 120-inning level. My question is whether the Dodgers will have the organizational will to shut him down in mid-August, especially if they're still in it. ... Ian Snell went to the DL even after getting relatively positive news about his elbow injury; it's nice to see the new Pirates taking the long view ... Kelvim Escobar has looked really good in rehab, meaning the Angels bullpen could be really deep down the stretch, or that Scot Shields could be used as trade bait. ... Ed Wade's day to day.

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