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June 14, 2010

Under The Knife

Monday Update

by Will Carroll

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Stephen Strasburg had eight strikeouts in his second start Sunday against the Indians, coming off a dominant 14-strikeout debut. David Wright had four strikeouts over the weekend, adding to his season total of 73 and putting him on pace for around 190 in 2010. Baseball is a game where everything balances—or every batter with a K beside his name on the scorecard, there's a pitcher that gets to add it to his stat line. I'm no stat guy, so I'm not going to go into what it means or the value, but I do want to address the perception of a strikeout. There's no question that Strasburg's dominant starts are in large part due to his ability to blow his pitches past hitters. It's to the Nationals right-hander's credit that he can do so. Read any media story about Strasburg and it's clear that he's being credited for striking players out. It's his skill that leads to the event. Read any story about Wright's strikeouts this season and the reverse is true. The Mets third baseman is being blamed for striking out. Both can't be true, can they? Is it the pitcher who strikes someone out or the hitter that strikes out? Is it more a positive event for a pitcher or a negative event for the hitter? Of course, the answer is both, but we seldom see this looked at from both angles. There were the occasional wags that griped that Strasburg's 14-K debut came against a weak Pirates lineup, but has anyone looked at the pitchers Wright has faced?

BPro has an often-ignored stat called Pitcher's Quality of Opponents. It's very simple to understand, so I'm not sure why it's never really caught on. Perhaps for the same reason that strength of schedule, a staple of discussion in football, is seldom mentioned in baseball despite overweighted importance. I'd love to see the reverse of this. I'm not sure if Wright is facing "better" competition, a composite opponent that is more likely to strike him out, or not. In not knowing, we're left with mere speculation. Of course, that's easier, if less informative. Raw information without context is the kind of thing that led Twain to list statistics after lies and damned lies.

Alex Rodriguez (strained hip, ERD 6/15)
There are some interesting theories floating around about Rodriguez's latest hip problem. Like most body parts, each person has two hips. It's a symmetry issue, not a redundancy. Because of that symmetry, it's reasonable to think that when there are issues with one, there will be issues with the other. While that's generally true, at least in terms of probability, it's not true to any sort of certainty, largely because of how the body is used. Rodriguez's right hip is not used in the same way as the left hip, whether it's at the plate, in the field, or when he's home doing whatever it is he does. Rodriguez is out until Tuesday with an injury variously described as an iliopsoas strain and a hip flexor tendon problem, itself alternately described as a strain and a tendinitis issue. Rodriguez famously had a hybridized version of the FAIL surgery to repair his hip last season, but never had the second part after his surgeons felt it wasn't needed. (The second part was much more clean-up and not nearly as big a deal.) The great part for me is that all of those can be accurately described as "strained hip" as you see above. The specifics, while unclear, really don't matter. This is a maintenance issue for Rodriguez and the Yankees medical staff. Don't expect this to be a significant issue, though somewhere down the line—this upcoming offseason or perhaps much later—Rodriguez will have to have those hips worked on and likely replaced. In the short term, Rodriguez has to deal with what to him feels like a groin strain.

Jacoby Ellsbury (fractured ribs, ERD 7/15)
Jeremy Hermida (fractured ribs, ERD 6/30)
Two collisions have led to two extended absences. Paired with injuries to Mike Cameron and the known fragilities of J.D. Drew, that's left the Red Sox not star-studded, but replacement-level in the outfield. Darnell McDonald, Bill Hall, and Daniel Nava isn't exactly what the Sox brass was expecting to fight the American League East with. As Dr. Thomas Gill gave statements explaining how Ellsbury's treatment was appropriate and didn't contribute to the extended absence, the medical staff got hit with a secondary problem for the other collision victim. Hermida has five fractures, non-displaced, and doesn't appear to be headed for an extended absence. While Hermida is pointing at June 25, the first day eligible, to return, I'll give it a couple days beyond that given the way things have been going for the Sox recently. Maybe it's worth doing something about Adrian Beltre.

Homer Bailey (strained shoulder, ERD 7/30)
I told you something didn't look right about Bailey's arm. In athletic training circles, it's called a "Houdini diagnosis"—seeing an injury and calling the diagnosis without ever touching the player. It's pretty common in football where ACL sprains and ankle sprains are pretty easy, but occasionally, some hotshot student trainer will get good at Houdinis. There's a separate class, one where no matter the diagnosis, they're convinced it's not right and that's what I felt like with Bailey. Just watching him standing on the mound and gritting his teeth was one thing, but it was that odd way he shook his arm—back and forth, then twisting. After a short rehab start last week, Bailey didn't recover well and had pain in the front of the shoulder. The Reds have shut him down and are working to get the pain and inflammation out before they move to the next step. That Bailey was offered "the kitchen sink" tells us how serious this is. While I'm sure it wasn't presented as the right option yet, surgery was likely mentioned. The inflammation and symptoms point to some kind of impingement, if not some internal damage. It's possible Bailey can rehab back to the Reds rotation, but this one doesn't look good. I'll go in the middle of the possibilities with a late-July return date, but this one could change rapidly.

Kendry Morales (fractured tibia, ERD 10/4)
If you believe doctors didn't know that Morales was out for the season before they opened him up, I have a nice bridge to sell you in Anaheim. If you've watched the ERD since his fluke injury, I've played along knowing that while it was unlikely that he could return, I didn't have enough information definitively to say "nope, he's out." That's the problem with this job and with expected return dates. While I do my best, the dates themselves are never going to be accurate. Teams will insist that a player can come back, and absent that one locked-in source, I can't counteract something I know is, at best, an obfuscation. Teams lie, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for bad. They do it to get an advantage while they look at the trade market or just because they can. Morales shouldn't have long-term consequences—fractures heal—but his 2010 is over. We'll have to see if that means anything similar to the Angels.

Chipper Jones (sprained finger, ERD 6/18)
Stop me if you've heard this one before. Jones dealt with an injury, came back, and seems to have made it worse. Despite a cortisone injection in his finger last weekend, Jones didn't make it through this weekend without pain and swelling in his index finger. He'll sit out until Tuesday when a decision will be made about what the next step is, which could be another injection or a trip to the DL. Jones has indicated that he "can't get another injection" which would indicate that this last one wasn't his first one. This one is about pain tolerance and comfort, something that Jones simply doesn't have—or didn't allow by pushing for a quick return. While there's been some recent talk that Jones wants to go into managing someday, I get the sense that he's really more Mickey Mantle than Billy Martin. Like Mantle, another switch-hitter, one of the memes we'll deal with for the next 20 years is how good Jones might have been if he were just a bit healthier.

Daisuke Matsuzaka (strained forearm, ERD 6/24)
Matsuzaka went from bad sushi to bad forearm. The circumstances here are a bit odd and the quick DL move is more about the bullpen than the severity of Matsuzaka's injury. The forearm is not a big deal, as an examination showed no structural problems. It's most likely a bit of cramping, much in the same way that Carlos Zambrano has had issues and likely resulting from some weakness and dehydration from events earlier in the week. What is a big deal is the increasing fragility of Matsuzaka, especially in light of news that prized Japanese starter Yu Darvish is having elbow pain himself. Granted, Darvish went 150 pitches into his last start, but given the changes in Matsuzaka since coming to Boston, it's going to be tough for any team, no matter how good Darvish is, to write a Matsuzaka-sized check. We can't keep American pitchers healthy, so how the heck do we think we'll be able to keep a Japanese one healthy through all those changes? 

Carlos Beltran (arthritic knees, ERD 7/15)
Jerry Manuel said that Beltran could DH as soon as next week, but assistant GM John Ricco quickly shot down that idea. That should tell you a lot about the Mets and who has the keys right now. Manuel is getting towards the end of his rope, but points at injuries like the one that has cost Beltran over a year of time and says "ain't my fault." While the New York media went nuts for this kind of story, it's red meat, there was really no chance that Beltran could go from playing intrasquad games to the Mets lineup with no intermediate step. It's possible and actually something I'd argued for, at least in the sense that once the Mets are confident that Beltran can come up, they need to do so. Still, it's not going to happen or even be considered before we see Beltran make it through a series of rehab games. I'm not sure what they want to see there, but it's their dime, not mine. Beltran's knee has been relatively good through his increase in running and his move to the batter's box. With Manuel continuing to insist that he considers Beltran his center fielder, I'm not sure if the Mets really get this one. At least, the ones speaking publicly for organization don't.

Quick Cuts: It wasn't that long ago when Kerry Wood was the Strasburg of his day. Looking at his pitch counts in his first year—which ended with Tommy John surgery—it's a very different game. While I think the pendulum has swung too much to protection, I'm glad it has swung. ... Brandon Webb pitched from a mound over the weekend. That doesn't mean he'll be "trade bait" or in the Diamondbacks rotation any time soon. He's a couple weeks away from even a rehab assignment, but this is a positive step. ... Oliver Perez is not going to do a rehab assignment when able, according to multiple reports. It's not as if he's close to that now, but the Mets are being backed into a bad corner by Perez and his advisors. ... Troy Tulowitzki is expected back on Tuesday after missing a couple games with a sore groin. ... SI.com's Jon Heyman reported last week that the Yankees aren't sure Nick Johnson is going to be able to return. Sources tell me that's "possible. He's behind, but [the Yankees] expected that." ... Austin Jackson left Sunday's game with back spasms. For a speed player, that's not good. Keep an eye on this one. ... Jason Bartlett will play a couple of games at Triple-A Durham to test his hamstring. If all goes to plan, he'll meet the Rays in Atlanta mid-week and be activated. ... Gabe Kapler goes to the DL with a strained hip flexor. He's not expected to be out more than the minimum. ... Jeff Mathis had a mild setback during his rehab. He injured his thumb, but the wrist that sent him down in the first place is fine. ... With Derek Holland heading to Arizona to continue his rehab, losing Rich Harden wasn't part of the plan for the Rangers. A strained gluteal gave the team a reason to put him on the DL. There's some speculation that Tanner Scheppers might be seen as the long-term solution for that slot, but Harden is only expected to miss the minimum. ... John Maine had a nice first rehab start, going four scoreless innings. He'll need at least one more before returning to the Mets. ... The scary part of this isn't that schools are trying to come up with a "learning batting average" but that the people creating this think batting average is a good enough stat. Bring on the edumetricians! ... Thanks all for the support in regards to my Twitter feed. As soon as I can have it back up and be in control of it, I'll let you know.

Related Content:  Year Of The Injury,  Strained Groin

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