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September 17, 2010

Under The Knife

Is Ryan's Way Working?

by Will Carroll

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UTK Flashback

A lot has been made of Nolan Ryan's edict on pitch counts. Never mind that it was actually Scott Servais who pushed for this; pitching edicts are more marketable when Nolan Ryan is doing it and backing it with stories based on his ridiculously unique career. But when we look at facts rather than anecdotes, do we see any changes for the Rangers over the three years of pushing pitch counts aside? Not really. Whether we look at Pitcher Abuse Points (which should be increased considering higher pitch counts), raw pitch counts, or even the follow-through on things like the "pitchers throwing batting practice" edict that came out, there's not much there. Injury numbers are the same, though it's impossible to tell what effect, if any, the new mindset has made when the turnover and the normal variations from year to year make those comparisons near impossible. Saying that Nolan Ryan threw a lot of pitches is great, but the Rangers haven't found some magic bullet that creates more Nolan Ryans. For years, the Rockies tried everything they could to figure out what would work in Coors Field. In the end, it took getting talented young pitchers who weren't intimidated by altitude, having come up through a system that had gotten them used to it. There's nothing negative about what the Rangers are doing or more importantly, trying to do. We just have a long, long way to go before we figure it out. In the eight years of this column, injuries have remained roughly static around a variance, which implies that not much has changed. At least the Rangers are trying.

Jaime Garcia (fatigue, ERD 9/23)
Chris Carpenter (strained hamstring)
With their playoff odds slipping under one percent, the Cardinals are starting to wind things up, especially with their pitchers. Garcia has had a year worthy of Rookie of the Year consideration, but has seemed to be fatigued in his last few starts, a reasonable assumption for a young pitcher in his first year back from elbow surgery. It appeared that the Cards had decided to shut Garcia down for the last few weeks of the season. He's already over 160 innings and 40 more than he's ever gone, but remember, the post-Tommy John year tends to be an apparent anomaly in many year-over-year reports. If you believe at all in the "Rule of 30," then Garcia is only a real concern at about the 180-inning level. If he misses one start, he'll come up right at that mark with three more normal outings. One source says that one of Garcia's arguments was that he was in close competition with Jason Heyward and Buster Posey and that being shut down might cost him ROY votes. If true, that's a poor reason for not shutting someone down. For me—and I am an NL RotY voter this year—I wouldn't count a shutdown against a player the same way I would (and did) count against someone for missing time due to injury. Garcia is a valuable asset and the Cards would be smart to shut him down if they feel it necessary. The Cards also have to think about Chris Carpenter in the same light. He's not a young pitcher, but given his past struggles and injury history, even something as innocuous as the hamstring cramps he had in his last inning have to be considered. It's not outrageous to think he could exceed his career high for innings this season, but with no return, the Cards should be thinking about pulling him early, if nothing else.

Jason Kubel (sprained wrist, ERD 9/19)
If there was a way to credit team medical staffs for minimizing the injuries they did face, the Twins would be contenders for the Dick Martin Award this season. The Twins have been hit by a lot of injuries, though for the most part, the training staff has been able to keep the team productive, avoiding the "death spiral" that we've seen in other teams. Maybe the Twins and Phillies will meet in the World Series and the medical staffs can look across to the opposing dugout and just nod, knowing their teams wouldn't be there without them. (Hopefully, they'll get a playoff share as well, which can be more than their annual salary.) The latest injured Twin is Kubel, who's having some recurrence of his wrist issues. The team doesn't feel the problem is serious, but will use their large lead in the AL Central to get Kubel some rest. Kubel showed some power after returning from the problem initially, so it doesn't appear as anything more than a pain management issue.

Jenrry Mejia (strained shoulder, ERD 10/4)
It's not easy to break into the major leagues. The Mets have bounced Mejia around, from the rotation to the bullpen and across three levels of their system, trying to figure out the best way to break him into the majors. I won't rant about pigeonholing here, but there's a bigger question about health. Did the Mets' tinkering contribute to the shoulder strain that's ended Mejia's season? If you look at past pitchers that have been treated similarly, the answer is a clear yes. Both Joba Chamberlain, Brandon Morrow, and a few more on the minor-league level have had similar problems. Almost all were to the shoulder and almost all came late in the season. This strain is of the rhomboid, an unusual muscle for a pitcher to strain. (You can see it indicated here on this model of Barry Bonds.) That indicates that this is most likely an exacerbation of normal fatigue patterns or something along the lines of the "muscular confusion" passed as a feature by some popular workout regimens. While shoulder strains do tend to recur, we can safely assume that Mejia will get plenty of rest and treatment before spring training.

Jason Bay (concussion, ERD 10/4)
I believe all sports should organize a concussion awareness fundraiser. It's a massive problem in the NFL, but baseball has the issue as well. Bay is done for the season due to his concussion. He'll shut things down and focus on trying to get past the post-concussion symptoms for the next few months. It's scary to think that one tough play and not reporting it could lead to something that might end Bay's career, but that's how serious this is. Ask Mike Matheny, Corey Koskie, or even Aaron Hill. The problem isn't just at the major-league level, but goes down to every level. Head injuries have serious short-term and long-term consequences. Major League Baseball has done its part and team medical staffs have been at the leading edge of this, but more has to be done and once again, I'd like to see MLB lead on this issue.

Chris Young (strained shoulder, ERD 9/18)
Young will return to the Padres' rotation tomorrow. It's his second start of the season and it's still a surprise that without him, the Padres remain a contender. (Actually, it would have been a surprise if they'd contended with him as well.) Young isn't expected to come in and dominate, but the team does need him to put up some league-average innings. They can take the risk because of roster expansion, knowing it's nearly impossible to burn out a pen at this stage of the season. Young's work on the side was enough to convince Bud Black that he'd be able to do more than just the bare minimum. With an $8.5 million option hanging over his 2011 season, these next couple weeks could be a nice audition for Young... or the end.

Justin Upton (strained shoulder, ERD 10/1)
Upton is out again, the shoulder not responding well to playing despite the rest and treatment. The next option is to shut him down for the remainder of the season to focus on the rehab and see if surgery can be avoided. I've stated all along that the danger here was that the Diamondbacks are bumping up against a timeline that's framed well by Justin's brother B.J.'s surgery after the 2008 season. The team and Upton have about a month to figure this out or they'll be risking part of the '11 season if the surgery is delayed. One complicating factor here is that the D'backs have spent the season working on Brandon Webb and his shoulder problem, in full view of Upton and the public, without much to show for it. Are Upton and his agent going to think that he'd need special care? I don't think this is a real issue, though someone's trying to bubble it up. B.J. Upton's surgery was done by James Andrews and if Ken Crenshaw and the D'backs staff, who have worked closely with Andrews in the past, end up pointing him that way, I don't think anyone on either side would mind. The ERD above isn't "real," but indicates that I'm not quite ready to cap the season for Upton. One final issue with Upton is that any decision on surgery lies ultimately with Upton, though the new GM—likely to be Kevin Towers—is going to want his input heard. Upton's situation may be part of the reason why the GM search has accelerated over the last week.

Scott Podsednik (plantar fasciitis, ERD 10/4)
Somehow I missed that Podsednik was going to miss the rest of the season with plantar fasciitis. Forgive me, but I know how I missed it—he's Scott Podsednik. At this stage in his career, he's a possibility of stolen bases for fantasy owners and a trivia question answer for the Jeopardy categories of "2005 White Sox" and "Married a Model." He's headed for a second opinion, but at best he could be ready for the last few games of the season. Plantar fasciitis is a nasty injury that lingers, but there's never really been a pure speed player that has had it. Instead, it's been power guys. Carlos Quentin's return this year has been largely successful, but at age 34, only 35-steal speed is keeping Podsednik on a roster.

Quick Cuts: I know David Altchek understands the issue better than it looks here, but it's simple variance and regression as to why the Mets have returned to below average in days and dollars lost this year. It's not like they're suddenly competing for the Dick Martin Award and if they did, it wouldn't be because of reduced off-season workouts. ... Speaking of Altchek, he needed to use an open procedure rather than just scopes to perform the surgery on Johan Santana's shoulder. The Mets are saying their guidance shouldn't change on Santana's return, but most of the doctors and therapists I spoke to were dubious of that, expecting him to be out closer to six months on the low side. ... Looks like Jay Bruce will get regular rest down the stretch for the Reds. ... Scott Rolen is out with a mild neck strain and like Bruce, figures to see more rest down the stretch. ... "I made the Yankees hat more famous than the Yankees can." Yeah, I'm feeling you, Shawn.

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