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September 11, 2008

Under The Knife

Central Mischief, plus Figgs and Riggs

by Will Carroll

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Here at Baseball Prospectus, we've been advocating the four-man rotation for a long time-longer than I've been here, actually. There have been a very few teams who have tried it, and they invariably changed course quickly, usually because they didn't really prepare and just tossed guys into it without altering the real process. Other teams have talked about it, but lacked the institutional will to carry it through. Tom Verducci wrote recently that teams used closers in the same way for no real reason, other than that handing the ball to that designated guy is not only easier to explain to the media, it also makes it easier to blame someone else on the occasions when it doesn't work. So it surprised me when I discovered that the White Sox have shifted, if not to an out-and-out four-man rotation, to a five-day rotation, where their four starters are taking their regular turns every fifth, and the fifth starter in the rotation gets skipped as often as the schedule permits. I paused, thought about it, and realized that this shouldn't have surprised me at all; Kenny Williams isn't afraid of trying new things or of doing things his own way. We haven't always been supportive of his methods or his choices, but the results speak for themselves, both positively and negatively. The same could be said for Ozzie Guillen, or for Don Cooper. They've also set an apparent lower pitch limit, with none of the four starters going more than 110 pitches. I say apparent, because aside from Javier Vazquez, none of the other four have gone over that number more than once all season. If the White Sox get to the playoffs, these are the kinds of moves as far as pitcher handling that deserve far more notice than Williams and Guillen and Cooper have received, but that doesn't make this kind of management any less smart.

Paul Konerko (5 DXL)
The White Sox are going to be without Konerko for a while, though I can't be more specific than that. Early reports were that it was a mild strain of his MCL and that he'd be back in a matter of days. Later reports have him out indefinitely, though there's some overlap there; "indefinitely" and "day to day" aren't mutually exclusive. While it's easy to worry that this will drag on, the White Sox have a great record of getting people back on the field, and more importantly, keeping them out there. I'd anticipate Konerko missing time perhaps through the weekend, but not much longer. The key will be whether the sprain is affected by his high-torque swing, and if he can safely run the bases.

Michael Cuddyer (90 DXL)
With only a few games remaining and fewer games separating the White Sox and Twins, even small improvements can make a difference when the margin's slim. Cuddyer could make it back for the last week or so of the season, as his recovery from a broken foot is going well. He's up to about 60 percent according to Ron Gardenhire, but he hasn't been cleared for baseball activities quite yet. Once he is, he'll head to Ft. Myers to work with the instructional leaguers for a few days. The current plan might get him back with the Twins when they meet up with the Rays, which would save on travel costs in these stressful economic times.

Chone Figgins (2 DXL)
Torii Hunter (0 DXL)

Despite their clinching, the Angels have some issues. The middle of the infield is thin enough in the OC, and missing Figgins throws things off a bit. He missed Wednesday's game with a sore elbow as the result of a HBP. Beyond some stiffness and the normal soreness, he's fine and won't miss significant time. Expect Mike Scioscia to give him a few days off, mostly because he can. As for Hunter, we all know the suspension system in MLB is broken, and since it is, the Angels' center fielder can take advantage of the suspension by resting his sore quad. He was likely going to get a day off here or there anyway, and with their lead they can afford to be conservative. Since he's not missing time due to injury (though he really is) I won't calculate the DXL. This is not a long-term issue.

B.J. Upton (5 DXL)
Shawn Riggans (20 DXL)

Upton is making progress and should return to the lineup this weekend. Tampa managed a split with the Red Sox despite not having a full third of their starting players available. To me, the story of this season is not that the Rays made their big leap, but that they managed to find and maintain such a high level despite setbacks, injuries, subpar performances, and other challenges. I'm not sure if it's the existentialist manager with a taste for cabernet, or just a collection of talent that runs deeper than even we expected, but it is impressive. Upton should be limited by the quad, so don't expect him to run, and there's some chance that he'll have to resort to some DH playing time, though without Upton out in center, the team puts together a pretty ugly-looking outfield. The Rays will also be without Riggans for a while, as he's out with what may be an infected bursa sac in his knee. If you're a football fan, you'll recognize that injury as the same one that's plagued Peyton Manning through the preseason. Riggans will need surgery, which leaves them thin behind Dioner Navarro. The season-ender comes at a bad time, forcing the Rays to call John Jaso away from Durham's push to win the International League title.

Gabe Kapler (3 DXL)
I'm not going to do more than stare at my ceiling to think about this, but I think Kapler has to be the NL Comeback Player of the Year. (Does Kerry Wood qualify as well?) He's been a great bat off the bench and the occasional fill-in for a deep outfield. Unfortunately, Kapler is going to miss a few days with a shoulder strain. The Brewers need all of their weapons right now, but Kapler can go missing for a couple of days without it causing too much trouble, especially with some of the offense they've gained with their call-ups. It is his throwing shoulder, but defense isn't really where his value lies anyway. The Brewers don't think it will affect his swing, but they'll be waiting and watching.

Chris Carpenter (0 DXL)
To paraphrase the great LL Cool J, don't call it a setback. Carpenter was unavailable on Tuesday, and unsure about his availability on Wednesday, but this sort of thing is what was expected. While the Cardinals said they would use him at closer, they also said they would do so when he's available. He won't do back-to-back games, and I'm not sure that they'll put him in any true closer situations. It seems as if they'd like to use him in less stressful spots, where he can start an inning, have a few runs worth of cushion, and regain some confidence while saving the pen a bit. This is smart usage, and while it's not going to add up to that much work for Carpenter, it will be enough for the team to just have him around even after the Cards are eliminated.

John Maine (40 DXL)
The Mets may try something similar to what the Cards are doing with Carpenter to try and get Maine back in some kind of useful role. Maine has bone spurs in his shoulder, and will need to have that fixed, but he's fighting to get back in some capacity to help his team. There are still questions about whether or not he can, if he can do it in time to get them to the playoffs, and if he'd be used in the postseason if he's able. He won't have enough time to build up his stamina in order to start, so some type of limited role is about all he'll be able to do, if he can do even that much. Jerry Manuel doesn't sound pessimistic as much as he sounds disinterested, so this one is a longshot as far as helping the Mets or anyone's fantasy team.

Quick Cuts: In memory. ... Evan Longoria took batting practice with one of the trainers, but he'll need to go off of live pitching before he comes back. That should be very soon. ... Brad Penny was activated and put in the pen, but there's no clear indication of how he will be used. Assume low leverage for now, and keep your expectations low. ... Troy Glaus had a cortisone injection in his shoulder and will miss a few games. ... Freddy Sanchez is dealing with blurred vision that may be a result of a small piece of metal he had stuck in his eye last year. ... The Rays insist that Troy Percival is healthy, but his results do not match up with the claim. ... One note with DXL for those who care-DXL ends with the end of the season. I hadn't taken playoff teams into account, so while a player might seem to be expected back on October 1, it's actually that we stop counting on that date. I'm debating some solutions, but I don't think it will carry into the post-season. While DXL is intended to be a quick guide (and yes, there are a lot of improvements I hope to make in the offseason), it's important that you read the notes to make sure you get the full picture.

Related Content:  Back,  The Call-up,  Quad-a

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