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July 19, 2010

Under The Knife

Double Rainbow All the Way

by Will Carroll

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Jose Reyes (strained oblique, ERD 7/19)
Everyone’s up in arms over Reyes being out for the Mets, but there’s a reason. Any oblique strain is a tough read, but assuming that those of us out here—especially the more paranoid Mets fans out there, some of whom couldn’t think their way out of a paper bag—have better knowledge. So let’s start with that. As far as last year, it was fluke, and let’s give Mets athletic trainer Ray Ramirez and orthopedist David Altchek the benefit of the doubt. There’s also an equation, one that’s overly simplified, that lets you figure this out for yourself. The base of it is MLVr, a stat that gives us a per-game value for every player:

Jose Reyes’ MLVr: 0.025
Ruben Tejada’s MLVr: -0.237.

That’s a quarter of a run per game. (0.262, if you want precision.) That difference needs to be factored out to figure the loss for a 15-game (normal, minimum) DL stint. That’s 3.93 runs. Simple, understandable. Right? This is a bit oversimplified, since it shows value that's essentially averaged out. Tejada could have a great game along the way and essentially outperform Reyes for a short period of time. This happened last year when Manny Ramirez was suspended, and for the first two weeks, Juan Pierre hit like he thought he was Ramirez. Granted, Tejada has gone 3-for-12 over the last four games with no power, so maybe it's worse than the oversimplified calculation. It shows just how hard it is to make that type of decision. Add in the complexities of managing a roster that has other injuries, like that of Luis Castillo, who is expected back soon, and it gets even tougher.

Now here’s the tough part. Let’s say that Reyes needs to sit out, oh, four games. That’s just over one run. Essentially (and very roughly), the Mets could save/gain two runs by not losing Reyes for the extra lost days. Now yes, the intervening break would have reduced the loss, but I need to keep this simple. I’m no math whiz here, OK? Where the art is remains with the medical staff. They have to truly believe that Reyes will be back and that he won’t aggravate the injury, extending the lost value. I’ll refer you above where we should be giving the medical staff the benefit of the doubt because of superior information. 

Some of you—and I have an idea which among you—will say “Two runs? Not worth the risk!” That’s fine. Maybe you’re right. Maybe the Mets are. We’ll see when Reyes is back in the lineup; he could be back tonight. 

Carlos Beltran (arthritic knee)
All you need to know about Beltran isn't in a box score. Beltran's hitting the ball and showing some power, but that triple? Well, Bengie Molina hit one this weekend as well, so it can be as much about a trick play as blazing speed sometimes. Beltran is not running like Beltran, which probably makes him about average. (I spoke with a scout who saw him this weekend who agreed, saying he's a 45-50 runner right now on the standard 20-80 scouting scale.) It's quite the positive that Beltran has been able to play several games in a row with no real problem, but he's not out of the woods by a long shot. Beltran acknowledged this weekend that a recent scan showed continued bruising inside the knee, though there has been some improvement due to the brace he's been wearing. The Mets' medical staff is walking a very thin line between keeping Beltran healthy and productive and keeping him available. So far it looks like they're willing to push things, taking the risk that the next step is likely to cost him six months, perhaps ending his time as a Met.

A.J. Burnett (lacerated hands)
Burnett is certainly not the first pitcher to do something stupid. The meme of a pitcher hitting something with his pitching hand is so strong that it's a full scene in Bull Durham. Burnett cut his hands on a plexiglass lineup holder. Burnett is expected to be back for his next start, though there are some whispers that there could be a push-back if he doesn't make his throw day and show that the cuts won't be an issue. The bigger issue for Burnett is with the athletic trainers. Burnett lied initially, and while that's bad, the fact that it came out is going to create some tension. Trainers don't like to be made fools of, and when someone makes a fool out of the guys responsible for keeping them healthy, it's pretty easy to see who the real fool is. Expect some penance and for Burnett to be back in the rotation later this week. (I'm not kidding here, but I'm curious—did Yogi Berra's fall that kept him away from Yankee Stadium this weekend put the idea of "falling" in Burnett's mind?)

Andy Pettitte (strained groin, ERD 8/2)
At least Pettitte didn't injure himself slamming doors, which is really good since it's his groin. Pettitte left yesterday's game and reports just after are that despite the strain being minor, the team will push him to the DL. Late word from the Yankees is that they're anticipating Pettitte to be out more than the minimum, with some reports going up to five weeks. It's possible that Pettitte's strain is a I/II (or I+ in the old vernacular), meaning in between a Grade I and the more serious Grade II. It could also be that they're being cautious or that people are just guessing at this stage. I'll keep the ERD based off a Grade I and adjust if necessary.

Jason Heyward (bruised thumb)
Chipper Jones (strained hamstring, ERD 7/21)
A lot of things sound like the old "good news, bad news" jokes. The good news is that Heyward has come back from his sprained thumb and is showing that he's ready. With any thumb injury, the usual issue is bat control. This is pretty simple—if you can't squeeze the bat, it's hard to have the fine control necessary to hit the ball, which leads to an elevated SAM rate. In a very small sample size, Heyward's rate is up, but it's also up with his leap to the major leagues. We'll know a lot more in a couple weeks. It's also very difficult to separate Heyward's thumb injury effect from his slow adjustment rate. Heyward is very talented, but he seems prone to slumps, which many interpret as an adjustment period as he sees new pitchers and pitch types, and as those pitchers adjust to him based on results. It's a cat-and-mouse game. Over the next month, separating the two will be nearly impossible, so don't even try. The Braves will go on faith and you'll need to as well. The bad news is that Jones is up to his old form. He strained his hamstrings, pushed his way back into the lineup, only to re-injure it. This is the same old story that we've seen a million times and that defines Jones as much as it does Mickey Mantle—what might he have done if healthy? Jones' injuries mostly comes at the tail end of his career, when it's typical and Mantle—well, even injured he's about a third better than Jones. Jones, as usual, will miss a couple days, avoid the DL, and be back out there until his next injury. (Quick quiz: Does Jones' peak at age-34 and age-35 mean anything in the post-steroid era?)

Bengie Molina (strained quad, ERD 7/22)
Molina strained his quad while running out a triple. Yes, folks, a joke here would be easy, but Molina deserves a bit of respect. He's slow, but the things he does well have kept him at the forefront of catching in the majors for a decade. For the most part, Molina has been a healthy player over that period. There's a lot of thought that it could be genetic, since Molina's two brothers have also been healthy relative to the positional average. Molina's quad strain isn't good, but many have pointed out that aside from his cycle, Molina really hasn't added much at the plate for the Rangers over Max Ramirez and Matt Treanor. Wait... this is more a stathead thing, but look back to March and say "You can have Matt Treanor or Bengie Molina." How many of you don't quickly and immediately say Molina? The 30-point TAv difference makes it pretty clear why. But now, even with a bit of bloom off Molina's 2010 rose, he's still a better player than Treanor by the numbers. If you don't think replacement level is often a tough standard, look at what the Angels have been using since Molina left—Jeff Mathis has a .236 TAv, a career high. The quad strain is minor and Molina is expected back quickly... and yes, it makes a difference.

Kerry Wood (blister on finger, ERD 7/30)
Wood is familiar with the DL. He's been there 13 other times in his career, but a blister? That's nothing compared to what he's been through previously. This is just one of those things that happens and should heal up without any problem. The bigger question that many Indians fans have is whether Wood can still be traded. From a procedural standpoint, yes. It's possible to trade a player on the DL. Medical records are shown, physicals are taken, and it's generally a situation where the risk is easily assessed. For something like a blister, that would be almost no barrier, though it's a bit of one due to the limited number of possible appearances. Still, Wood is a trade possibility for a team like Texas or Tampa Bay, looking to shore up their bullpen on the cheap.

Edinson Volquez (sprained elbow)
It's hard to find any negative out of Volquez's first start back. He showed good velocity, but also good command and a touch that seemed to belay his quick rehab from Tommy John surgery. He worked hitters with all of his pitches and never seemed to be out of sorts. As long as he can stay in this area, he's going to dominate. The problem for Volquez is that while he's always had almost every tool a pitcher needs, he hasn't put consistency in the toolbox. Just ask Rangers fans. Beyond that, the only worry is stamina. We'll learn a lot more about that down the line, but even making his throw day and showing something against the Nationals next time out is instructive. Dusty Baker seems conscious of a need to protect Volquez, but with some depth issues and a chance to win a division, that's going to be tough reins for Mr. Baker to hold. One interesting note: I noticed that the Associated Press uses "reconstructive elbow surgery" instead of "Tommy John surgery" when referring to this surgery. I asked Joe Kay of the AP if this was policy and he responded that yes it was, pointing out that many general readers don't know what Tommy John surgery is. I think this makes sense, but I'm not sure it does for my readers, who almost by definition know a lot more about sports medicine than general readers. Add in that on the web, I can just do this if I want to explain the procedure rather than have to use a lot of words and column inches. What do you think is the best way to handle it?

Mat Latos (strained oblique, ERD 7/24)
So Latos sneezed and ended up on the DL. People are convinced this is a story to allow the Padres to stash him on the DL while keeping his inning count down. If so, well, at least it's an entertaining story, à la Sammy Sosa. The team insists the injury is legitimate and without evidence to the contrary, we have to let it stand. Latos is already throwing on the side and appears to be on track to come back once eligible. While the DL stint did save him a bit of workload, the Pads aren't going to stop there. They'll be walking the "win/protect" tightrope and appear to be putting a bit more emphasis on July and August than September. Teams deal with rest differently. Some like to hold guys back at the start. Some like to shut guys down early. It appears that with Latos at least, GM Jed Hoyer and his team want to kind of coast him through while the team has a lead and let him gear back up when things might be tighter in September. October is the wild card, but flags fly forever. So do scars.

Quick Cuts: As expected, Josh Beckett will return Friday against the Mariners. ... Yovani Gallardo will come off the DL this week, though his first start won't be until Thursday. It's a rotation issue, not a setback. ... Shin-Soo Choo will head out on a rehab assignment today. It's expected to last three games as he tests his thumb and gets some swings in. If all goes well, he'll be activated at the end of the week. ... Mike Lowell is having a cortisone injection in his hip. He's on the trade market, so the Red Sox are hoping this will be a quick fix. ... Daniel Schlereth came in on Friday night when I was at Jac - err, Progressive Field in Cleveland. He wasn't very good and kept shaking his hand, a sign that often points to ulnar nerve issues. He was sent down after the game, but keep an eye on this one. ... Very nice article, though the 1-in-100 anecdote is incorrect. It would have been a great story if he did have his wife's tendon. ... Colby Rasmus' "tired legs" are a bit more serious than they sounds. The Cards are on top of this, but rest is going to be key for him over the next few weeks. ... Todd Helton will take BP this week and could end up on a rehab assignment next week. That said, Helton has made it clear that he hopes he can show in BP that he doesn't need that rehab time. ... Friend of BP "Dianagram" has a new blog. Great idea, D. ... A lot of people have been asking about Kyle Blanks. Sadly, there's just no new news, positive or negative, about Blanks. So far, the only good news is that surgery isn't on the schedule. ... The Marlins are waiting until today to make a final decision about Chris Coghlan, though it looks as if he's headed to the DL after straining his back on a dive. ... Oliver Perez will be back with the Mets as soon as this week, but I'm told he'll relieve, at least to begin with. Don't expect much beyond mop-up duty unless Jerry Manuel gets his hand forced. ... Tim McCarver, meet Helen Thomas. ... Ramirez will be out through at least tonight with a strained calf. He's not a quick healer (or good communicator in these situations). ... Carlos Quentin injured his hand on a slide and left yesterday's game. Early word is that he might miss a couple games. ... There is no more underrated American songwriter than Chris Whitley. Period.

33 comments have been left for this article.

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