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September 15, 2010

Under The Knife

About Those Pitch Counts

by Will Carroll

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UTK Flashback

It confuses people when I talk about the tyranny of pitch counts and the need to protect pitchers at the same time. In Monday's pitching duel between David Price and CC Sabathia, I disagreed with pulling Price in the ninth if it was done solely on the pitch count. Price was cruising and,at 120 pitches, didn't seem to be losing any velocity or "reaching back"to keep it there. He was simply a dominant pitcher on this given night. Later, Jason Collette of Fanball pointed out that Price was losing his location a bit, leaving the ball up. If that was the reason, fine, I wouldn't argue a bit, but I believe that pitch counts in and of themselves are among the most worthless pieces of information in baseball and the most misunderstood. When I wrote this article back in 2006, I believed that I was enunciating something that teams already believed, but instead, it took almost no time to realize that teams didn't just ignore this type of approach, but actively rejected it. One hundred pitches mean nothing in any individual case and yet too often, teams and managers are using this round number, selected by Paul Richards 60 years ago, as a crutch, an excuse, rather than a meaningful tool. On the one hand, we don't know how far a pitcher can safely go because no team uses a logical progression to build and monitor arm strength. On the other, teams have limited some top pitchers. Where pitch counts are most useful is at the youth level, where untrained coaches and parents lack medical supervision and the training to notice mechanical changes. Anyone can use a pitch count and as a safety measure, it's the best tool available. In the major leagues, it's something like the RBI—useful, but there are much better tools to do the job. As with many things in the sports medicine sphere, the team that does this first is going to have a huge advantage, but I'm also pretty sure that no team will do this in the next decade.
 

Jay Bruce (strained oblique)

Two weeks off seem to have agreed with Bruce. He came back to the team on Monday night after missing time with a strained oblique and promptly exploded. Two homers and four RBI later, Bruce appears to be fully healthy and ready for a stretch run with the Reds that's getting a bit easier. The Reds were able to rest Bruce because of their lead, so with Bruce back, they'll be able to start buying their other outfielders a bit of rest here and there. Dusty Baker and athletic trainer Paul Lessard will keep a close eye on Bruce in hopes of making sure that he's got both the opportunity to succeed and the best health he can have come October. There's still some semantic debate as to whether Bruce has a strained oblique or a strained abdominal, but it's really no difference other than to the point of treatment. At just 23, Bruce's health and pitch selection are all that holds him back from having a chance at being on the same level as Joey Votto.
 

Jimmy Rollins (strained hamstring, 9/30)

Rollins is getting pretty educated about muscle strains. That's not a good thing, but I like that he's paying attention. If you read his quotes on the problem, he pretty much nails it. Rollins is going to have to be careful with the hamstring, even if the Phillies hold him out until the ERD, but with a tight race in the NL East and September rules, Rollins could be available at any point along the way if absolutely needed. If he does play, look for him to be strictly limited on running. Essentially, his value as a fantasy player is gone for the season, but his value to the Phillies is being protected. 

Albert Pujols (inflamed elbow)

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Albert Pujols is that all his MVP trophies and all his Hall of Fame caliber numbers have been put up while he was injured. The guy's just never been completely healthy in any season, yet he's been one of the best players in the history of the game. Pujols has long had trouble with his elbow, avoiding Tommy John surgery by the shift of positions to first base and rehabbing through it. Since having bone chips and spurs removed a couple seasons ago, things have held together, but now, Pujols is having trouble on the other side. Pujols had a cortisone injection into that elbow on Tuesday in hopes of keeping him on the field as the team continues to chase the Reds and Pujols chases the Triple Crown.

Johan Santana (sprained shoulder, 10/4)

"Capsulorrhaphy" is not a word for the Twitter generation. That's the procedure that Dr. David Altchek, the Mets' team ortho, performed Tuesday on Santana's shoulder. It's a big word that usually means "closing the hole in the shoulder capsule," but there's a secondary procedure often performed that uses heat to "shrink" the capsule and tighten things back up, kind of like shrink wrapping a package. I'm told that secondary tightening was not performed. Santana will immediately begin rehab which is normally tagged at 20-28 weeks with an overlap of a throwing program towards the end. There's no new info on whether there was anything found during the procedure that would change the outlook or prognosis. The first real sign we'll get is likely to be when pitchers and catchers report to Port St. Lucie in February.

Brandon Webb (strained shoulder, 9/30)

Remember Webb? He was a heck of a pitcher, back in the day, but shoulder injuries? They're a bitch, man. (Jerry Crasnick's article really gets it, as opposed to some dilettante articles making the rounds this week.) Webb is still on the path to a comeback and maybe a big contract for next year. Webb is up to 50 pitches on the side and may make an appearance out of the bullpen for the Diamondbacks in the next 10 days. The D'backs don't really "owe" Webb anything—he's been paid while rehabbing and they get no real return on that—but teams do like to let players get a bit of a showcase as they head toward free agency, if for nothing else than the goodwill. Some reports say that Webb has decent velocity, but that his sinker has been negatively impacted. I haven't seen Webb throw so I can't speak to that at all, but that's what everyone will be watching for, whether Webb pitches this week or at the inevitable free agent showcases he'll have this winter.

Andy Pettitte (strained groin, 9/18)

I could tell you more about Pettitte, but Baseball Prospectus' John Perrotto was at Pettitte's second rehab start, in Altoona. His report here gives more detail. Having made it through the start, Pettitte is headed back to the Yankees and is expected to start Sunday, on normal rest. There's no reason to think that Pettitte has any greater recurrence risk than anyone, given the conservative nature of his return. He made it through his five planned innings on 67 pitches, throwing 10 more in the pen to put him in the 75-80 range expected. Pettitte did have to cover a bunt and showed no issues with it. Pettitte left with the Thunder behind, so I guess the whole "integrity of the playoffs" thing wasn't ruined.

Nick Swisher (bruised knee, 9/16)

Getting hit by a pitch is never good, but it seldom lingers. Swisher's knee has been actually degrading since he was hit a couple weeks ago, leading many to wonder if this was something that was going on beforehand or whether getting hit led to some sort of cascade leading to another problem. Swisher himself sounds like he's leaning that way, saying the knee is affecting "his swing, his running, how he throws the ball." The MRI showed no significant damage, but Swisher had a cortisone shot to reduce swelling. There's some interesting things in there, like the athletic trainer giving the injection, and that a cortisone shot is thought to help. Something is causing swelling, the doctors must think that temporary relief is enough, but the "no structural damage" trope really doesn't tell us much. The Yankees have to hope this helps, but behind it, there's still some questions to be answered. Swisher will miss a couple days while the cortisone takes effect.

Quick Cuts:

The issue is not Mark Teixeira is playing with a broken toe. It's that he's playing well with a broken toe. There's not much that can be done for a broken toe, except keep it safe and comfortable ... As expected, Josh Johnson has been shut down for the season by the Marlins ... Brian Roberts was out of Tuesday's lineup with a bruised knee after being hit by a pitch ... Brian Matusz is expected to make his next start. He was hit by a comebacker in the back of his arm ... Kevin Kouzmanoff is out until the weekend, at least, with a sore lower back. If it doesn't clear up by then, it could end his season ... Scott Hairston was expected back for the Padres, but his shoulder was sore after taking batting practice on Monday ... Nice article from Peter Abraham on Rich Hill, who's had a long road back from shoulder surgery ... Starlin Castro Darwin Barney. That sounds like a law firm rather than shortstops, but Barney will fill in for Castro, who has a hip bruise ... Tony Gwynn Jr. was taking batting practice on Tuesday and should be back soon for the Padres' stretch run ... Joel Piniero is scheduled to return this weekend, starting against the Rays ... 10,000.

 

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