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April 27, 2009

Under The Knife

I Can See Clearly Now?

by Will Carroll

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This Pujols kid is good. That's the line that keeps coming to mind, watching Albert Pujols play. There's something about his play on the field that makes me feel as if I'm making a discovery every time I watch him, or maybe it's that he does things so differently that he makes it seem that hitting a homer or stealing a base is entirely new. With every hit, homer, RBI, or breath, we find out that he's done something only the immortals have achieved before him. He may be called "El Hombre," but I wonder if we shouldn't find out what's Spanish for "Machine." (It's Maquina, by the way, but that sounds feminine somehow.) He hit a grand slam-a monster shot of almost 450 feet-becoming one of the five fastest men to reach 1,000 RBI, joining guys like Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio. I'm not one obsessed with round numbers, but the milestones remind us that we're watching a guy that deserves to be mentioned with those kinds of players. Favorite Toy estimates don't do him justice, because the things he does are just so unbelievable. It was nice to see that all the guys up in the St. Louis press box seem to understand that they're privileged to be seeing this level of excellence, day in and day out.

---

Can you tell a Cy by sight? With the Cy Young Award largely determined by wins, it stands to reason that getting off to a hot start and then staying hot would be the ticket to winning the Cy Young Award. Bil Burke pulled this data to test the theory:


Year League  W    L     IP    H   BB    K  HR    ERA   Pitcher
1999   AL    4    1    36.2  29    7   48   1   2.21   Pedro Martinez
1999   NL    2    1    45.0  33   19   63   6   3.40   Randy Johnson
2000   AL    5    0    35.1  22    8   50   2   1.27   Pedro Martinez
2000   NL    6    0    49.1  26   10   64   2   0.91   Randy Johnson
2001   AL    3    0    41.1  37   14   31   3   4.35   Roger Clemens
2001   NL    3    3    44.2  38   11   61   7   4.03   Randy Johnson
2002   AL    1    2    33.2  33   18   33   4   4.81   Barry Zito
2002   NL    6    0    46.0  28   11   61   2   1.37   Randy Johnson
2003   AL    0    2    38.2  49    9   29   8   4.89   Roy Halladay
2003   NL    0    0    14.1   6    3   24   0   0.00   Eric Gagne
2004   AL    1    0    28.1  30    8   24   5   5.08   Johan Santana
2004   NL    5    0    32.1  21   14   32   3   1.95   Roger Clemens
2005   AL    3    2    31.1  28   13   23   4   3.73   Bartolo Colon
2005   NL    4    1    33.2  34    6   27   2   4.01   Chris Carpenter
2006   AL    1    3    32.1  34   10   28   4   4.45   Johan Santana
2006   NL    4    0    44.2  42    6   25   3   2.22   Brandon Webb
2007   AL    3    0    34.0  37    8   35   4   3.18   CC Sabathia
2007   NL    3    1    39.1  29   13   46   1   2.06   Jake Peavy
2008   AL    5    0    37.2  19    2   32   1   0.96   Cliff Lee
2008   NL    4    1    36.1  35   15   40   1   1.73   Tim Lincecum

This is May 1 for the last ten years' worth of Cy winners, and while it's not perfect, it looks like the theory holds up pretty well. There's a lot of 4-0, 5-0, even 6-0 in there, though Johan Santana didn't have that great of a start in either of his Cy seasons. By the end of the week, it will be interesting to see if we can take a look and find this year's possible winners.

---

Terrence Taylor was taken in the third round of the NFL draft by the Colts, and in the notes on his selection, NFL.com said he "dominated the Big Ten." It also noted that he "lacked size." At 6'0" and 306 pounds, I think the NFL might be the only group of people in the world that thinks he lacks size. This guy has about fifty pounds on Prince Fielder, benched 550 pounds in high school, and ran a 5.3 40. There are other physical freaks like Brian Orakpo, drafted by the Redskins, who ran a 4.7 and jumped 40 inches at the Combine. Yet it's baseball that is seen as having a problem with PEDs. I'm not implying that either of these players used drugs, but standing at the NFL Combine in February or just watching the film at the draft, it's clear that either the NFL is made up of the largest collection of outliers the world has ever seen, or that their successful drug program isn't successful at getting these substances out of their game.

---

Brian McCann (20 DXL)
McCann went to the DL after the Braves thought they had the all clear, or at least that's how it was presented; McCann went from 'blurry vision' to 'eye infection' rather quickly, with an intervening couple of days where the contact lens seemed to be making a difference. In talking with both an optometrist who specialized in assisting with LASIK and with an opthamologist with experience with the procedure, neither felt comfortable with the facts as presented, insisting that something was missing in the public narrative. "They wouldn't have  put a contact into an infected eye," I was told, "and infections are easy to diagnose and treat." Clearly, we don't have all the information on this, which leaves us in one of the "unknown unknowns," the worst place to be. There's not much to do here but ride out the DL stint and hope that the Braves, who have plenty of incentive to get McCann back on the field and healthy, do so. The downside is there are no good comparisons for this, and worse, the opthamologist stated that he'd be very uncomfortable letting a baseball player-let alone a catcher-go back after a secondary LASIK procedure inside of six weeks. DXL's are usually informed guesses, but the 20 days I'm putting up there is just a guess.

Josh Hamilton (2 DXL)
Hamilton hasn't gotten off to the quick start he did last season, so in comparison, his decent-enough stat line looks like a slump. The biggest concern is that, his odd career pattern aside, he was hurt for much of 2007 and faded in 2008. The Rangers might not need him to equal last year's huge totals, but somewhere in the vicinity would be nice, so a healthy "Hambone" is a must. Hamilton slammed into the wall, injuring his ribs, but it's not an oblique strain as was reported, just the typical soreness that comes after a collision. After a couple of days of rest he should be fine, though one doctor I spoke with mentioned Hamilton in the course of another conversation, reminding me that "seasonal fatigue often starts with something small, snowballing on itself."

Nate McLouth (5 DXL)
Jack Wilson (20 DXL)

Oblique strains linger, heal slowly, and recur if pushed back too quickly. The Pirates know all this and still think that McLouth will be back by mid-week. That's the best indication that this is a very mild strain and that his missed time is more a matter of taking precautions than anything serious. Still, it's that recurrence risk that represents the big worry, as even the best medical staff can be wrong from time to time. They'll be watching McLouth very closely over the next few days, and even closer once he's back in the lineup. The Pirates will also be without Wilson for at least 15 days, as he tries to heal a sprained left middle finger. It's affecting his batting, and the team decided to make the conservative move here, though giving Brian Bixler a chance to prove something likely factored into the decision as well. The Pirates hope shutting Wilson down will get him healthy, more productive, and make him a viable trade candidate this summer.

Milton Bradley (10 DXL)
Aramis Ramirez (5 DXL)
Carlos Marmol (5 DXL)
Derrek Lee (3 DXL)

Injuries sometimes lead to a bit of fun. Maybe not fun for the Cubs, watching Carlos Zambrano taking grounders, but fun with the idea of what comes in their wake. The Cubs are pretty close to that stage with a set of injuries; Zambrano would actually be about Option D at third base, behind Aaron Miles, Koyie Hill, and of course Aramis Ramirez. Over at second base, some fantasy players in quick eligibility leagues are hoping for just a visit to the keystone by Alfonso Soriano. The problems are a series of minor injuries and the team's long-held preference to keep players off of the DL if they'll be back before eight days. The Cubs had already been playing with a short bench due to Bradley's lingering groin strain and Lee's occasional problems with a bulging disc in his neck when Aramis Ramirez pulled up with a strained calf. It's A-Ram's left calf (the one on his front leg when he's hitting), so it's going to have much more of an effect in the field than when he's batting, but the combined effects led to a case of Piniella desperation. Add in Marmol being shut down after he caught his spikes in the mound, resulting in a mild knee sprain, and it's an injury stack attacking a Cubs' tendency for injury management. They should be fine and actually come out ahead by not panicking and losing players to unnecessary DL days. More teams should take note.

Stephen Drew (15 DXL)
Brandon Webb (60 DXL)
Tom Gordon (20 DXL)

The Diamondbacks may seem a little desperate, clawing for every win in an April that shouldn't be that big of a deal. Yes, every win counts the same, but the Snakes' psychology seems to have been damaged by injuries as much as any team. There was more bad news over the weekend on Webb, as he won't throw for at least two weeks, focusing instead on a shoulder strengthening protocol to help his strained rotator cuff. The positive news is that there are no worries about the shoulder's structure, including the posterior capsule. This means that he'll need a rehab stint, and that we won't see him back on a mound until at least June. The D'backs will also be without Drew, who was placed on the DL with a recurrent hamstring strain; he's not expected to miss more than the minimum. On the plus side, they do get Flash Gordon back today to help their struggling pen.

Quick Cuts: Alex Rodriguez will play in a minor league game this week. With the Yankees still saying he won't return until May 7, his play (and theirs, in Boston), might be the final push to have him back on his schedule. ... Here's the genius factor with Joe Mauer's rehab: after catching, his knees were sore, pushing his return back a few more days. ... Trevor Hoffman was activated this weekend, and is expected to get right into action, if not closing right away. ... The Astros' Carlos Lee caught his spikes during a swing and has a mild strain of his Achilles. It's on his back leg, so watch to see if his power numbers are affected. ... Julio Lugo should be back early this week at shortstop, but the Red Sox are doing some roster juggling, so his return might be slightly delayed. ... Yes, it's possible to visit Jim Andrews and not receive bad news. That doesn't mean Jesse Litsch shouldn't be worried, especially given the sheer inability of the Jays to keep young pitchers healthy. ... Carlos Ruiz has started his rehab assignment; the Phillies don't expect any setbacks with his recovery from a strained oblique. ... Susan Slusser reports that Justin Duchscherer isn't going to even start throwing in the near future. ... There's been a really odd injury to Matt Antonelli. This is something to watch, and yet another injury in a week with no good comps. ... Eric Chavez's elbow problems are a clear cascade from the shoulder injuries he's dealt with. There's always a weak link in the kinetic chain. ... While some are raving about Homer Bailey's 15 strikeouts this weekend, he lasted only six innings because he'd maxed out at 118 pitches on a limit of 120. He's talented, but efficiency and consistency still escape him.

Related Content:  Back,  The Who,  Year Of The Injury

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