September 1, 2008
Under The Knife
"If I could do one of these every week, I'd do it," I said, as I was leaving the Tampa Ballpark Event. Sure, I might have been a little lighter in the wallet due to an extra fine from Andrew Friedman-and I'll put my money into the charity pot for all the times I've said "Devil" in front of "Rays" this season-but getting pinged for wearing my retro Devil Rays '07 jersey is a bit much. For the packed room, Friedman was the highlight during a great night of talking baseball. From the big swings in the team's performance since last year's event, the attendance issues, building a team and a ballpark together, to discussions of what to do about "too much talent," the attendees got their money's worth... and a hat! Heading down to our front-row seats right behind the bullpen, we received a lot of attention from the players there. Chad Bradford and Troy Percival seemed to be looking over at us quite often, surprised that Baseball Prospectus was there. (What? They were looking at Jenn Sterger?) I have pictures up and believe me, if you've never seen Ben Zobrist hit a grand slam in person, you haven't lived. I do want to thank everyone with the Rays-especially Andrew Friedman, David Baggs, and Stephen Thomas-for helping us to do this. Powered by one heck of an event, on to the injuries:
Matt Garza (0 DXL)
On Saturday, I had a chance to speak with Garza on the field at Tropicana. I recently read an article by a writer who I know believes in what he wrote, saying that Garza was doing damage to his elbow "with each pitch" due to a minor mechanical flaw. Only time will tell, but I explained to Matt what had been written about him and asked him what he thought. Of the flaw-a pronation of his wrist during his takeaway-Garza said he "didn't realize he was doing it." He did a quick motion while watching his wrist, and yes, he pronated. I asked if he felt any tension in his arm, and he said "no, this is what feels good. It's what I've always done." Explaining that the writer thought that he was destroying his elbow by doing that, Garza laughed. "I guess we'll see," he said, "but I had an operation when I was in high school, and they said I have some scarring at the ends and that the structure of it makes it tougher, stronger." I asked if his innings increase (noted on Friday) had him worried, and he said that he wasn't, and that he felt "as good as ever and we're winning and I'm pitching well. That's what counts to me." While he agreed that major league innings are more stressful than minor league innings, he said that he's had no problems at all since his nerve trouble last spring, and he again insisted that he felt great. I've often said that players are the worst sources of info about their own health, but in this case, I think that Garza is right and that the writer is dead wrong.
Carlos Zambrano (1 DXL)
Rich Harden (0 DXL)
The concern here is that the "dead arm" that Zambrano is experiencing isn't simply the normal fatigue that can occur with a pitcher. With his altered mechanics and the known strain from earlier this season, the worry is that there are new muscles being taxed, and that like Pedro Martinez or John Smoltz, he's headed for a bigger and more serious problems. The Cubs think that all he needs is rest, and claim that he's not experiencing any pain. I'll just note that the change in arm position seems to be consistent with ones made in order to try to find relief from discomfort. An extra couple of days could be all the tonic that he needs, and the velocity will tell us very quickly. The Cubs are also making an interesting move, resting Harden by having him skip a start. He isn't scheduled to pitch again until September 9, which will frustrate fantasy owners, and also risks taking him out of the great rhythm he's been in since coming to the North Side. Because this isn't an injury, there's no DXL, but I think this is still a risky move. It's one of those that could go either way, although at least it seems the Cubs are now thinking about things like pitcher usage.
Josh Beckett (15 DXL)
Seeing an article like this one reminds me of a topic that came up on Friday night. People mentioned to me that in the years that they'd been reading Baseball Prospectus and UTK, they had learned more and were noticing more articles that intelligently discussed sports medicine. I agree, that's the case, and on this score I also tip my cap to Rick Wilton, the dean of injuries. The thing is that articles like Bradford's can make it more difficult for me to find an angle for analysis. Bradford-a long time friend of UTK-nails everything, adds in some video, and leaves me nothing more to do here than nod in agreement. It looks as if Beckett is on track for recovery, and that his trip to see Dr. Andrews provided the confidence boost that he needed so that he could get back out there. I found it interesting that John Farrell had Tommy John surgery, something I did not know, and that might make him the first TJ survivor to become a pitching coach in the bigs. (Am I missing anyone?) I'm not worried about Beckett going forward, and in fact the results of the exam may reduce the risk that Beckett carries going forward.
Billy Wagner (45 DXL)
Wagner isn't getting any time off on Labor Day, which will instead be a Very Important Bullpen Day (for him). It's been a few weeks since he's been on a mound, though he has been throwing and playing long toss without significant issue. According to Tony Bernazard, if this goes well the next step would be a minor league rehab stint, but I can't figure out which of the Mets affiliates might still be playing by the time he's ready. It's possible that the Mets could send Wagner down to the spring training complex. Today's session is a big test, since another setback would make a return during this season nearly impossible.
J.D. Drew (25 DXL)
Drew won't come off of the DL when eligible this week, but he is making progress. Drew has begun taking swings in the batting cage and is expected to progress to batting practice and more 'baseball activities,' assuming he continues to respond to treatment on his back. The concurrent back issues-muscular and disc-related-are complicating things slightly, but the Red Sox staff is getting this under control. That they're doing it despite a growing number of injuries on both their pitching staff and the lineup shows just how much depth the Sox have, and also the importance of the four-man staff that the team has to help keep things under control. If Drew returns under the DXL, that's a big plus that needs to be credited to the team's training staff.
Rick Ankiel (0 DXL)
As we get into the part of the season where the DL ceases to matter, we also get into the area where teams make decisions about shutting guys down. The Cards seem to be on the edge of doing that with Ankiel. His abdominal strain needs rest; he simply can't play through it without it significantly affecting his game, and without risking a further strain. There is an enormous amount of great info in Derrick Goold's notebook, but the most informative piece he has here is that this is comparable to Chris Duncan's injury. I've often wondered if some of Duncan's problems this year went back to the way that the injury altered his swing last year, so this is something to keep in mind if you're thinking about slotting Ankiel in on your keeper list.
Yorvit Torrealba (30 DXL)
It's a torn meniscus that seems to have derailed the stretch for one of last year's post-season heroes. Torrealba is likely headed for surgery, which would end his season, although in the longer term this type of surgery should only have minor consequences. He could even make it back if the Rockies were to go on another run like they did last year, but that's highly unlikely. Torrealba has been playing with the injury for more than a month, but the wear and tear behind the plate has become a literal grind for Torrealba's knee. In his absence, Chris Ianetta will get that much more of the catching duties in September.
Melvin Mora (10 DXL)
Talk about being on the spot! When Mora went down on Friday grabbing his hamstring, the entire Baseball Prospectus section turned to me as if I wasn't sitting there watching with them. My initial reaction when someone asked about his DXL was 15-if they use the DL. As it turns out, the O's won't, and it looks like Mora could be back in about ten days. I think they'll be conservative with this, both due to their record and to the idea that Mora could be used as a trading chip this offseason. It looked pretty bad at the time, and it served as a reminder that, even at a Ballpark Event, injuries can be a big part of the story.
Jeff Kent (10 DXL)
For a sore knee, the Dodgers media are being very melodramatic. Yes, Kent is getting older and experiencing the normal degenerative problems that eventually hit all players, but the thing is that Kent is already older than most, and his skills can still play. Most fade out slowly, and the injuries and the soreness end up sapping what remains. Kent is headed back for an MRI, and while there's likely some degeneration involved, it doesn't seem that there's anything structural. If he's having cushioning or articular problems, those are easily fixed and could even allow him to get back for the playoffs-without him, the Dodgers may not have a shot. If this is Kent's last hurrah, he has an interesting career under his belt, and it will make for a great Hall of Fame debate. (Jay Jaffe, I just tee'd you up!) For now, the Dodgers will try to get by using Blake DeWitt, who is also a long-term possibility if his defense is good enough.
Quick Cuts: CC Sabathia went 117 pitches in a one-hit complete game. Jeff Karstens, who's been very good since the trade, went 110 pitches in 6 1/3. Who do you think we should be more worried about, from a pure workload standpoint? ... Joba Chamberlain should be activated on Tuesday, but there is no official word on how he'll be used. ... Ian Kinsler is targeting a return sometime next week, but even the slightest setback could push the Rangers to shut him down. ... Carl Crawford told me that his wrist is "on schedule." When I asked how his legs felt, he smiled and said "much better." ... Andruw Jones cut his rehab short and is headed back to LA for tests. ... There's still a chance that Eric Byrnes could return this season. He'll have tests to determine if he can start baseball activities soon. ... Jon Rauch is having some swelling in his forearm, but there is no structural damage. No word on how long he'll be unavailable. ... Mike Aviles left Sunday's game after taking a hard pitch off of his hand. No word on how bad it is, but may I suggest these once he returns? ... The Rangers pushed Vicente Padilla to the DL with a hamstring strain. He suffered it while recovering from his neck issue. The DL isn't used much this time of year, but the Rangers needed the roster space. ... Justin Duchscherer is due to come back off of the shelf late this week.