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August 22, 2008

UTK Wrap

Expansion

by Will Carroll

Fatigue is the enemy. As you watch the faces of runners approaching the finish line during the Olympics, watching them struggle for just a bit more speed over a few more meters, you'll often see them grimace; their muscles tightening up. It's like that for baseball players as well. It's not just the fatigue of the game, but rather the seasonal toll-the travel, the odd sleep patterns, the hotel beds, and who knows what else. It's at this point in the season where we see injuries spike a bit as the fatigue begins to bite. While too many worry about in-game fatigue for pitchers-look, 130 pitches absent any other information does not indicate abuse-few are noting the seasonal problem. Some teams have begun looking at ways of dealing with this, while others have whispered that players are missing their greenies. Just watch the faces of the pitchers and players as they come down the home stretch of the 2008 season. Some have it, and some... don't. Let's get to the injuries:

Josh Beckett (1 SXL/$0.5 million)
Yesterday, I broke my rule of not saying something about a story unless I have something to add. I gave possibilities about what might be ailing Beckett in as much (or in this case as little) detail as my advisors and sources could give me. One of those possibilities-carpal tunnel syndrome-isn't a possibility at all. Sports medicine has its bugaboos, little things that trip people up, even when they know better. We swap sprain and strain, we find it difficult to differentiate between abduction and adduction (leading some to pronounce them as "ay-bee-duction" and "ay-dee-duction"), and the one thing that always throws me is "anatomical position". In everyday usage the body is described in many ways, so a standard terminology for position can help. The problem is that these terms can be confusing. The palms are facing forward (or upward if the body is prone) and that makes the thumb lateral (outside) and the pinky medial (inside, or closer to the midline of the body.) I missed that when I took Anatomy and Physiology back in 1992, and for some reason my brain fights it to this day. So, when a doctor said "tingling on the lateral aspect of the hand," I thought fourth and fifth finger. Nope; carpal tunnel affects the lateral portion-the thumb side.

Enough about me and my mental blocks. You want to know what's up with Josh Beckett? The best indicator might be something that Terry Francona said, that Beckett fell asleep with his arm in a funny position, which can often lead to tension in the ulnar nerve than can produce his symptoms. On the other hand, combined with Beckett's earlier neck problem and the kinesthetic issues he's had with his wrist, it still suggests double crush syndrome. In the short term, Beckett is going to throw on the side on Friday, and then a determination will be made on when his next start will be (likely on Tuesday). In the longer term, the worst-case scenario is an ulnar transposition, which could cost Beckett around four months, although that time frame would only be for a chronic problem.

Oh, and what's "SXL?" That's Starts eXpected Lost. Saying that Beckett will miss nine days (one start and the days around it) skews the Injury Cost calculation too much. This is an experiment, calculating the Injury Cost as MORP divided by 34 times SXL.

Hanley Ramirez (1 DXL/$0.139 million)
Headlines suck. "Ramirez Exits Game With Injured Thumb" really doesn't tell you anything, but I bet a lot of fantasy owners and Marlins fans felt their hearts jump when they saw it. Ramirez jammed his thumb sliding into second base, but it turns out to be nothing more than a garden-variety ouchie. X-rays were negative, and as it turns out Ramirez has a nice bruise at the base of the thumb, nothing more. Although Fredi Gonzalez thought that Ramirez might play on Thursday, he was held out for one more day. This one shouldn't be a major issue; nothing more than a day or two as the Marlins play it conservatively with their star.

Ian Kinsler (20 DXL/$1.6 million)
There can be some value in second opinions, and the one that Kinsler got may give hope that he can avoid surgery and play again this season. The idea is that the sports hernia, if it gets worse, could still be corrected in time for spring training '09, so the main risk now is that Kinsler could be playing in pain if he comes back. Most players, especially ones as intense as Kinsler, gladly take on that kind of risk. The team's concern is for the long term, and sports hernias tend not to be long-term problems once corrected. He'll still miss at least the next two weeks, and the rest of the season is in doubt, but Rangers fans are starting to get used to a new feeling of hope.

Billy Wagner (30 DXL/$1.5 million)
Wagner came out of yesterday's tests with... well, not much. The Mets closer won't be throwing any time soon, but the chance is still there for a return this season, which is better news than most expected. Still, the flexor tendon in his elbow is inflamed and painful, which means that the Mets will have to find a way to patch up the end of their bullpen before he even has a chance of getting back. The team and Wagner both insist he'll be back this season, but as we've seen time and again, this type of injury seems to have a tipping point where, once it's crossed, the pitcher simply can't get back without re-aggravating the problem. The other curious part of this is the fatigue factor. Wagner's injury may have been brought on by the seasonal wear and tear that he's always dealt with-seemingly earlier each season-but on the plus side this injury could help him stay fresh further into October, much in the same way that the blister worked for Kerry Wood. We'll see, but one way or another, there are a lot of Wagner-related pixels in this column ahead of us.

Aaron Harang (0 DXL/0)
Dusty Baker dropped the problems of this team on Wayne Krivsky, but while this might not be "his team," I think Dusty might want to remember some of those Cubs rosters that were designed for him by Jim Hendry, who for a time served more as a butler than as a GM. If it's not Dusty's team, he can certainly take a look at the pitching staff and claim it. He's extolled the work of most of them, aside from the peripatetic fifth starter, and has put all four in the top 35 of PAP. He's taken the credit for Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto, and sung the virtues of Bronson Arroyo, all but taking him off of the market last month, so he should also accept the blame for Harang. As the workhorse that Baker loves to have around, Harang had no problems until Baker worked him like the proverbial rented mule. Harang hasn't been the same since his relief outing, and his control continues to be very problematic. Instead of being worried about his arm for next year, Baker is worried about his psyche. Me, I'm just worried about his elbow; he should clearly not be on the mound as he continues to compensate for a lack of command. He's going to have a giant red flag on him next year, if he makes it that far.

David Price (0 DXL/0)
I met up with a small group of readers to take in Indianapolis to take in David Price's second Triple-A start. We were seated next to his family and a crew from ESPN who was shooting an E:60 piece on Price, and it was an interesting perspective. Remember that I am not a scout, but to me Price was merely good, not great. He's very polished, but didn't dominate, as his final line showed. His changeup was average at best, and the hitters were laying off the slider. One surprise was that, for a power pitcher, he was missing down regularly. Good hitters (and by good, I mean major league-level hitters) like Jose Bautista and Ronnie Paulino could hit his fastball. Price was never flustered, though it appeared his pant legs were bothering him. He does have a bit of an uphill motion, but he comes way over the top so that the ball planes down. He'd be very solid in the rotation, but I think that even without an effective third pitch, he'd do better right now in the bullpen.

Evan Longoria (25 DXL/$2.5 million)
Troy Percival (20 DXL/$0.4 million)

The Rays got some good news. First, Fay made a bit of a right turn and seemed to veer away from the Trop, so that's good. Then they found out that Longoria and Percival might be back sooner than expected, and that's also good. The fracture near Longoria's wrist is healing well, and he could begin taking swings early next week, putting him on track for a return in the first week of September. For Percival, he'll be able to avoid surgery for now, and will work on getting back to the mound without taxing the knee so much that it might push him back off of it. That will involve a tough balancing act for Percival, pitching coach Jim Hickey, and Joe Maddon. Percival has been plagued by leg problems all season, and while it's not precisely a cascade, it has acted in much the same way as one, working its way down. Figuring out how to keep him healthy and effective, while juggling a bullpen that has been effective but unpredictable, is going to be one of the biggest challenges for the Rays as they head into their first meaningful September. (Yes, the Injury Cost seems low on Percival, but I don't think anyone expected him to be this good.)

Kaz Matsui (15 DXL/$0.4 million)
The Astros' signing of Matsui was supposed to charge up their offense. Instead, it's just provided me with a lot of material. He's back on the DL with a back strain, and while when healthy he's put up similar stats to what he did in last year's Colorado campaign, I think he still has to be considered a disappointment, especially when the major concern coming in was his injury history. The back problem isn't serious and shouldn't keep him out much longer than the minimum, and Mark Loretta should wind up with the bulk of the playing time. The team isn't going to shut Matsui down, so he should be back around September 1 to still give them (and you) some steals.

Quick Cuts: Here's something to know going into the next few weeks: teams will be very reluctant to use the DL for short-term injuries at this point in the season. Roster expansion comes in less than 15 days, so putting someone on the DL has an additional cost. ... When a trainer came to the mound in the fifth to check on Carlos Zambrano, the gasps were audible. Luckily, the problem is a sore tooth, not a sore arm. ... Carl Crawford says he'll be back this season. We'll see if he means the regular season. I hope to be able to check with him next weekend. ... If Brad Penny returns, it will be as a reliever. If he returns. ... Is it just me, or do the A's have a ton of hip injuries? Probably coincidence, but worth mentioning. ... Bartolo Colon has looked good in Triple-A, but he probably won't be back with the Red Sox until roster expansion. ... Just as Sean Gallagher crossed his career high for innings pitched, he came up with a dead arm. Probably coincidental, but it's worth mentioning. ... Tom Glavine had his flexor tendon repaired, and Dr. Jim Andrews tossed in a shoulder cleanup. Maybe Glavine paid with frequent-pitcher miles. He could be back next season if he so chooses.

Related Content:  A's,  Back,  The Who,  Year Of The Injury

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