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September 15, 2008

Under The Knife

Coming and Going

by Will Carroll

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Tim Lincecum (0 DXL)
From the sheer volume of emails, it seems that everyone not in the path of Hurricane Ike was watching Lincecum's pitch count. There was an interesting internal discussion about the value of a shutout, his long-term health, and his general Freakness. Let's look at the facts: Lincecum threw 138 pitches, an average of just over 15 per inning, and his single-inning high for the game was 22 in the first. He had thrown a 132-pitch game three starts ago, had followed that high-count outing with a 92-pitch game where his effectiveness was down, but he came right back with an effective 127-pitch game before his most recent outing. His fastball sat at 92/93 all game long, and he did not appear to be reaching back in the later innings. In fact, it seems that he was pitching to contact and trying to go for quick outs rather than strikeouts in the later innings. While I'm not big on the value of a shutout, I'm not sure that Lincecum was taxed by this. Just after the game, I wondered if the Giants might be thinking of shutting him down, and that's still not the worst idea, especially given that Brandon Webb's 20th win likely takes Lincecum out of the Cy Young running. All that said, I completely agree with Gary Huckabay-there was no reason to do this. There's a giant difference between "could" and "should," and apparently Bruce Bochy doesn't understand that.

Carlos Zambrano (0 DXL)
I told you that Zambrano would be helped by the extra day's rest, but I had no idea that a no-hitter would be coming. He dominated the Astros in Milwaukee-now there's an odd statement-completing the game in 110 pitches. He was clearly refreshed from the time off, and perhaps helped by the cortisone in his shoulder, throwing 95 mph in the first inning, and reaching as high as 97 (via Gameday). The key was that his elbow was higher, and on most pitches, it was right at the level of his shoulder and didn't dip as low as previously. At the very least, he was very consistent to the naked eye, so I'll be interested to see if Pitch-f/x agrees. The worry is that, as before, he'll come off of the DL rested and relatively pain-free, and then the inflammation will slowly come back. If the Cubs medical staff can't get him through the playoffs before that happens, they'll deal with the consequences. The 110 pitches in this context is tough to figure; he was cruising, and 110 isn't that high for Zambrano in normal circumstances, but then these aren't normal circumstances, so I'd have liked to have seen more caution here. His next start will be the tell. I'm also relatively sure that he threw the first no-hitter ever thrown in the first game after coming off of the DL. Even Baseball Reference doesn't have an instance of that!

Chone Figgins (3 DXL)
Juan Rivera (5 DXL)

The Angels' record has allowed them to be very conservative with the injuries they've had all season. Figgins missed a week after being hit on his elbow by a pitch, but under normal circumstances, he could have been back in a day or two; he should have no problems returning. Rivera has been used to buy some rest for various outfielders over the past few weeks, but now has a groin injury of his own and could miss a week, though again, the conservatism afforded by clinching will affect the length of his absence. His numbers on the season look pretty anemic, but he's played well lately. Even as locked-in as the Angels have been all season, they have a lot of decisions to make over the next two weeks about who will be on their playoff roster.

Paul Konerko (7 DXL)
It's taking a bit longer than any of us expected to get Konerko back on the field. The Sox have taken the long view and been very conservative with him. He's expected to return on Monday weather permitting, but even then, sources tell me that the Sox are planning on giving him more offdays, especially if they're able to clinch a playoff spot. Konerko shouldn't have any problems playing with the knee in terms of risking further damage. The concern is how the knee will respond to playing-the possible onset of any swelling or pain-and whether the bracing he'll need will limit his mobility. The knee will likely not need off-season surgery; MCLs are not normally repaired since there are adequate secondary stabilizers in most cases.

Conor Jackson (5 DXL)
The Diamondbacks continue to slide, and Jackson could be facing an early shutdown because of it. He had a cortisone shot in his shoulder after an MRI last week, but there's been no word on what the actual condition is, though there is informed speculation about it being a rotator cuff problem that will require an off-season 'scoping. It's his throwing shoulder, so any serious injury could limit his positional flexibility, something that's been a big asset for the D'backs this season, shifting Jackson around to cover for injuries and roster construction. The Snakes have a lot of talent, but they also have some tough decisions to make, and Jackson's shoulder injury could complicate many of those.

Adrian Beltre (15 DXL)
Beltre ended his 2008 season on Sunday and will now prepare for surgery on his thumb and wrist. He's played since mid-2007 with both a torn ligament in his thumb that is scheduled to be re-attached, and also a sore shoulder that will require a cleanup. The shoulder surgery is described as very minor, and will be done more for maintenance and future comfort than any real effect on his play. The thumb is a bigger concern, though he's certainly been able to play (and play well) despite the problem, which makes judging how it may have been affecting his play very difficult. Players have come back from similar surgeries in the offseason with little trouble, so I'd assume that Beltre will return to level very quickly. The upside on gain is limited, though extant.

George Sherrill (0 DXL)
Sherrill returned to the mound over the weekend, but if he didn't have his name and number on the back, and that notable cap, you'd be forgiven if you didn't recognize him. His stuff certainly didn't look the same, and many wondered aloud if he was fully healthy. The thing is, Sherrill's not a flamethrower, so the fact that he was throwing 90 isn't unusual. Yes, his pitches were ineffective, but not so far outside the norm that it seems like the injury and the time off took something away. The O's have options heading into next season with Chris Ray coming back, so expect Sherrill to have more opportunities to show that he can be a solid closer again before the end of the season.

Takashi Saito (0 DXL)
Clayton Kershaw (0 DXL)
Chad Billingsley (0 DXL)

The Dodgers bullpen was strengthened when Saito came off the shelf. He won't immediately return to the closer role, though Joe Torre made open comments that he was hoping that Saito would force that isue. In the interim, Jonathan Broxton will get the opportunities, but I'd expect that Torre will look for a three-run lead to try Saito out, maybe on a night after Broxton has closed. Saito's elbow remains a major risk, with the possibility that he could exacerbate the damage. The Dodgers are also dancing on the edge with Kershaw. The organization has been pretty clear that they want to limit him to around 170 innings on the season, and he's very near that now. With three scheduled starts remaining you would expect that he'll clear that cap, so they'll have to look for some opportunities to limit his innings to try and hit that number. The playoffs also pose a challenge; while sources tell me that Kershaw will not be part of the playoff rotation, I have a hard time believing that he's the fifth-best starting pitcher on the staff. And for those of you asking about Billingsley, I was certainly wrong about him this season, but I'm not quite as worried about him next year as you'd think. While he is showing a 30-plus inning increase year to year, those 2007 innings were not strictly as a starter. While I haven't done a full study that shows the exchange rate between relief innings and starter innings, there appears to be such a thing, skewing the results of players that did either one or the other, and in the case of someone like Billingsley or Joba Chamberlain, players who did both.

Quick Cuts: In a previous life, I was an investment banker. Thank you for letting me not be that today. ... As with Carl Crawford and the Rays, the Dodgers seem willing to put Rafael Furcal on their playoff roster without much of an in-season return. ... Alex Rodriguez left the first game of Saturday's doubleheader with a stiff neck, but showed no signs of trouble on Sunday, though he did DH. ... The Red Sox are shifting Bartolo Colon to the pen and think he could set up. The question is how quickly he can warm up. ... Andruw Jones went onto the 60-day DL, an accounting move that ends his season. ... Michael Cuddyer returned to the Twins lineup, but is still limited by his foot. The team is concerned about playing him on their home turf. ... Chris Carpenter was shut down after the Cards found another nerve irritation in his pitching arm. It's not clear where this irritation is, though they describe it as unrelated to his ulnar nerve problem experienced early this year. ... Scott Downs could be shut down after re-injuring his ankle. The Jays will wait to see how he responds to treatment. ... Carl Pavano hurt his hip during his start on Sunday. It doesn't appear to be serious, but this is Carl Pavano we're talking about.

23 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links


re: Conor Jackson

I wonder if his rotator cuff issues can be traced to his move to left field? He didn't have to make those kind of throws from first.

re: Lincecum

Does the pitcher have any say in this? Couldn't Lincecum have come to Bochy after the 7th or 8th and said "I'm pooped ..."?

I'm not absolving Bochy of any guilt or reckless managing, but we have to understand that the pitcher knows best how he feels.

Sep 15, 2008 09:53 AM
rating: 0

The answer to the question of whether or not Lincecum could have asked out is obviously "yes," but you're ignoring the culture of professional athletes. Lincecum is going to do what he's asked to do. Remember Grady's Boner? Pedro thought he was coming out, and Grady said "We need another inning from you. Can you do it?" Pedro felt he had nothing, but he's a man and wouldn't say "No, I can't do it." He's gonna man up.

Sep 15, 2008 11:20 AM
rating: 1
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

D- ask any pitcher if he wants to come out and the immediate answer is "no." The exceptions to this are when his arm has detached from his body or if he's crazy. You have to protect the pitcher from themselves most of the time.

Sep 15, 2008 12:57 PM
Robert Flaxman

While I agree that the Cubs should be as careful with Zambrano as possible... it's a freaking no-hitter. Piniella said he was looking to top Zambrano out at 100, and 110 isn't too high above the watermark. Obviously if Zambrano's arm falls off again in the next three weeks there might be some after-the-fact second guessing, but I can't think of a manager in history who would pull a guy after eight no-hit innings when he's only thrown 99 pitches to that point.

Sep 15, 2008 09:55 AM
rating: 2
Henry F.

I completely agree. Lou even said after the game that if he felt he had to take Carlos out he was going to send Alan Trammell out to do it for him. I'm pretty sure that Z might have punched Trammell in the face if he still had the no-no going.

Lester threw 130 pitches in his no hitter and Lester is still in the injury nexus. Sometimes history gets in the way of the best laid plans of mice and men.

Sep 15, 2008 10:06 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

Yep, I agree. I said on XM today that if Lou'd come out, there would have been gunplay. There's the reality of the situation and how you'd play it in a vacuum. Two different things.

Sep 15, 2008 12:58 PM

David Cone was never any good after his perfect game.

Schilling gave up 11 runs in 9 IP in his two starts after his near no-hitter last year, went to the disabled list, and and never came back fully healthy so would say.

Sep 15, 2008 10:09 AM
rating: 0

I think the Cone case might be coincidence.
He made only 88 pitches in his perfect game.
The "problem" may have occurred earlier in the year, as he had 3 starts of more than 120 pitches, and 4 others with 110 or more.

Schilling had issues prior to his near no-no. He was out for 5 weeks earlier that year, 1 start after back-to-back starts with 120+ pitches.

Sep 15, 2008 10:23 AM
rating: 2
Robert Flaxman

Irish, is that supposed to be a sarcastic response to Henry's implication that Lester's general health proves anything about Zambrano? Because it doesn't make a lot of sense otherwise. Among many other things, Cone was 36 when he threw his perfect game; Schilling was 40 last June. Zambrano is 27. Also, I could name like a thousand other guys who had a really good outing and then were healthy thereafter.

Sep 15, 2008 11:03 AM
rating: 0

Ok, Lincecum.

dianagram, i think there's more than enough evidence that most pitchers are too competitive to ask out of a game when they're getting tired, unless they feel a specific PAIN in their arm. The excitement of the game hides any damage they may be doing to themselves...also tissue and ligament damage will hurt when it occurs but the discomfort doesn't peak until hours later.

If Lincecum is healthy for his next start, I don't see him being shut down. If the giants will leave him in to get a shutout, you've got to assume they'll let him pitch to go for the cy young. Though webb is 20-7, lincecum has him beat by 70 k's and 85 points of ERA. He also has only three losses. I don't think you can give webb that big of an advantage just yet. Four of the last 8 Cy Young races have been won by starters who didn't lead their league in wins (Sabathia '07, Carpenter '05, Clemens '04, Santana '04). Two years ago writers were lamenting the demise of the 20-game winner, but we've had a few in the last few years and somehow i think Cliff Lee's accomplishment may take the luster off the 20-wins thing.

Sep 15, 2008 10:30 AM
rating: 3

My feelings on Lincecum is that he had a lot of high pitch count starts at Washington, but never got injured, never felt pain, and didn't really lose his stuff. The game in Colorado was him trying to get his curve and changeup to work, which has great movement, but doesn't do much at all in that high altitude. Him being pulled after five innings had more to do with him not being able to spot his pitches more than anything else. I know people want to use metrics and such to try and gauge what Lincecum can do as a pitcher, but considering he's worked under high stress before and hasn't felt any long term effects from that (and that was now about three years ago) there should be a little bit of a benefit of a doubt when it comes to analyzing a game like he had this past weekend.

Sep 15, 2008 10:56 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

Look, I'm not saying he CANT do it or even SHOULDNT do it. I'm saying that ... look, my car can go 150, but unless I really need to go that fast, what's the use? There was no gain besides a shutout in September. There's much better ways to use that Freak.

Sep 15, 2008 13:01 PM

In response to BigFlax: on 9/2/06 Joe Torre pulled David Cone after 7 no-hit innings and only 85 pitches. It was his first game back after surgery for an aneurysm.

Sep 15, 2008 11:34 AM
rating: 0
Robert Flaxman

Yeah, Cone had missed four months. Zambrano missed like ten days. Piniella was planning to hold him to 100 pitches; he was at 99 after the 8th. If he'd been at 99 after the 7th I'm not sure he would have been left out there even with the no-hitter intact (maybe Lou would have given him a chance to breeze through the 8th, but I don't know). At any rate, it's pretty rare to see a guy get pulled during a no-hitter, and excepting for a few cases of extreme extenuating circumstances like Cone's, it virtually never happens.

Sep 15, 2008 15:10 PM
rating: 0

"...whether the bracing [Paul Konerko will] need will limit his mobility."

How can something that doesn't exist be limited?

Or, less sarcastically, are you referring to his batting and (already limited) fielding range here?

Sep 15, 2008 11:42 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

He's not fast or rangy, but he's not a literal statue. Even slow people have to move.

Sep 15, 2008 13:04 PM

I respect Will Carroll completely, and I know he's been a huge fan of Tim Lincecum even before most others realized how good Tim truly was. So it surprised me when he said that Brandon Webb's 20th win would likely shut Tim out of the Cy Young Award.

I realize that wins have been greatly overrated by the Cy voters in the past, but those who focus on won-loss records surely must realize that while Webb has three more wins than Lincecum, he also has four more losses.

I mean, which is really a better record -- 20-7 or 17-3? Not only is Tim's spectacular .850 winning percentage 109 points higher than Brandon's, despite having seven fewer decisions, Tim is 14 games over .500 compared to Brandon's 13 games over.

Cy Young Award winner Steve Carlton in 1972 is considered to be the best pitcher compared to his poor team. Steve went 27-10 for a Phillies team that won only 59 games. Steve's .730 winning percentage was a spectacular .461 better than that of the Phillies when Steve didn't pitch or have a decision.

After his shutout win Saturday night, Tim's .850 winning percentage was .459 better than the Giants without him factoring in the decision. That's virtually identical to the difference Steve made.

Tim is 13-2 in games after Giants' losses. Brandon is just 8-5 after Arizona defeats.

Both pitchers began their seasons 9-0. Since then, Tim has been far more consistent, going 8-3,while Brandon has been just 11-7 over that same period (nearly four months).

Down the stretch in his last four starts, Brandon has averaged 5.42 innings, going 1-3 with a 7.89 ERA. Tim has gone 3-0, averaged 7.50 innings and posted a 2.10 ERA.

Brandon has seven more decisions than Tim. But in those extra seven decisions, his winning percentage is below .500, at .429.

Tim's 2.43 ERA is nearly a full run better than Brandon's 3.28.

Tim has 237 strikeouts and with 15 more will set a new SF Giants record. Brandon has 168.

Brandon has three complete games to Tim's one, but Tim has actually pitched two more innings than Brandon in the same number of appearances.

Brandon is arguably the game's top sinker ball pitcher, yet with 13 homers allowed, he has yielded more than Tim's 10.

There must be a few reasons to vote for Brandon, but I'm having a hard time figuring them out.

Sep 15, 2008 12:24 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

Rog -- I agree that Lincecum is a better candidate for all the reasons you state, but I have no faith that it will vote that way. That 20th win is very overvalued.

Sep 15, 2008 13:03 PM

Will --

I realized you felt that way (and that you are and have long been one of Tim's very top supporters). I guess I was just shocked that the 20th win could mean that much.

I too have mentioned how overrated wins seem to have been in Cy Young voting, but I figured even those who overvalue wins would be smart enough to realize that 17-3 is better than 20-7 -- particularly when the team for which the one pitcher is 17-3 is worse than the one for which the other is 20-7.

The Giants have given Tim precisely two runs of support in his three losses, with both runs coming in the same game. So in games in which the Giants have given Tim any run support at all, he actually is 17-1.

Any idea how many games Tim has lot in his career when he has received three or more runs of support? That would be none.

And as great as Tim has been this season, there are several areas of his game (control, batters leading off innings, first-pitch strikes) that he can improve, meaning we may not yet have seen his very best.

I realize you must be incredibly busy, Will, but is it possible you could respond to my recent e-mail -- either here or via e-mail -- about the factors that keep you from being concerned about what one long-time Giants fan (not I) worries about, which is his pitching off a so-called stiff front leg.

Under separate cover I will e-mail you Chris Lincecum's reply, which I thought was really good. You two were the only ones I trusted enough to answer the question.

Sep 15, 2008 14:47 PM
rating: 0

Yes, 138 pitches is a lot to throw in a game. But there's a huge difference between throwing 138 pitches in mostly non stress situations than 138 pitches mostly in stress situations. Lincecum didn't really have one stress inning until that nineth inning, so just looking at the pitch count by itself is certainly not the way to judge how much of a toll it might have on him.
And as for the Cy Young. I don't see how Lincecum shouldn't win the Cy Young. Lincecum's peripherals are all superior compared to Webb. If win total is the big deciding factor, than maybe take into account this: Lincecum has 10 no decisions this year, in 6 of them, he's allowed 2 runs or fewer. If the Giants were any capable of scoring runs early in the year, Lincecum may already have 20 wins by now. The Cy Young is awarded to the best pitcher in the league, not the guy with the most wins and I certainly hope the voters can look past the number in that in column.

Sep 15, 2008 12:58 PM
rating: 0

Actually, the Giants have done a surprising good job of hitting for Tim. When one thinks about it, it's almost impossible to go 17-3 without pretty good run support. And the Giants have indeed averaged about a run and a half per nine innings MORE in supporting Tim than their other pitchers.

Where he hasn't gotten the good support has been from his bullpen. I guess they can't be criticized TOO much, since they have finished all but one of his 17 victories. But the bullpen has been as big an Achilles heel for the Giants as their poor hitting, and in Tim's case they have lost six leads he has left them with.

But regarding Tim's run support, you will be surprised at how GOOD it actually has been if you check out his game log at www.fangraphs.com.

Defense hasn't been a big issue for Tim, since he really hasn't allowed the defense to be overly tested. They did turn three double plays for him in his shutout win Saturday night (meaning 18 of the 27 outs came via strikeout or double play), and the last I heard Tim had been tied for second place in the NL in double plays induced.

When batters hit Tim's off-speed stuff, they tend to hit it into the ground. And when he has really good command of his fastball, that pitch also induces a fair amount of ground balls.

And of course, Tim has done his best pitching with runners on base, holding batters WELL under .200 in such situations. I believe he is at only .161 with RISP.

Here's a good one for you. If you were batting against Tim, wouldn't you be looking for the first fastball you saw in the zone? And indeed Tim does throw a high percentage of strikes on his first pitch.

Yet of the 846 batters Tim has faced this season, only 63 have put the ball in play. That's only one out of 13.8 batters. Worse, only 17 have gotten a hit, which is one every 49.8 batters.

And here is the most amazing statistic of all. Of the 846 batters Tim has faced this season, only one -- ONE -- has gotten an extra base hit on the first pitch of the at bat, and that one hit was only a double.

The last time I looked, when Tim's first pitch to a batter was a strike, batters had only about a .450 OPS against him. When Tim misses with his first pitch, he's human. But if he gets it over, he's not.

Sep 15, 2008 14:59 PM
rating: 0

FWIW, Carlos was not on the Disabled List, he was just skipped in the rotation...I think.

Sep 15, 2008 16:48 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

Good point, but in normal non-September circumstances, he would have been. My error.

Sep 16, 2008 09:56 AM
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