Will goes long covering the action in trainers' rooms around the leagues as teams try to get their best ready for October's big test.
Normally, Under The Knife and UTK Wrap cover the ten biggest injuries in the game. It's sometimes necessary to add one, or there are not enough good ones and I just go with eight or nine, especially if there's a lot to say about someone. My editors like it when I keep my word count down, after all! [Ed. note: We do not.] For today's Wrap, there are too many to cover, so I'm going seventeen deep to make sure that we get to all of the important injuries that could affect who's in and who's out for the playoffs. Since it's already running long, I'm not going to ramble. Powered by Ron Santo for the Hall of Fame, on to the injuries:
Whether evaluating throwing motions off the field or adapting rotation usage patterns on it, smart people are doing cool things.
If there's one thing I've learned in the seven years that I've been doing UTK, it's how much we don't know. Each time I learn something new and think that the game has figured something out, there comes new information that poses new questions. My job is to report the story as best I can based on the information I have, and because of that, I regularly make mistakes, but I am learning from them as well. I wish I could go back in time and retract saying that CC Sabathia was overused in 2003, or that Frankie Rodriguez's arm had to fall off at some point. (It still hasn't!) As I learn more, those mistakes become part of the process of learning itself. What we can't do is ignore the facts or the mistakes; to do either would slow the pace of our learning. Back in 2004 when I wrote Saving The Pitcher, I listened to people who I trusted, experts like Tom House, Bill Thurston, Craig Yeager, Marty Kobernus, and others.
The Zambrano arm-slot dread quotient ratchets up a bit and leads off in this week's injury review.
With September comes a major shift, both to MLB rosters and to the way in which I do my job. During the regular season, the disabled list is there to offer a team roster relief when a player is injured, but at this time of year comes roster expansion, and the DL ceases to be a an option with any relevance or value. (There are also some accounting and insurance issues in play, but I won't bore you with that!) Now that there is a way for teams to move players around without the need for a formal shelving, it allows the teams to rest some players with minor injuries with a minimum of spin, but the media landscape won't allow any major events to go unreported. When I began doing this column, it was easier for teams to just wave their hands as a distraction, and it was more Lance Burton-effective than today's Gob Bluth attempts. It's getting to a point now that there are teams that have learned that it's better to go through the season just telling the truth and owning the story, rather than trying to spin it. Even so, there's still plenty of room for me to dig, to explain, and to analyze, and there's still plenty more to learn and to study; with the tools that are being developed, who knows what's next? I do know that September is going to be one heck of a month for baseball, and I have no idea how it's going to turn out. Well, that's not true—I do read the Playoff Odds Report every day when I wake up.
Top teams in the two Easts are both reeling and dealing with hits in their rotations.
Let's get right to this, but be sure to read down-what I'd normally put in the intro ended up in the flow of the column. Powered by my Ballpark Event with the Tampa Bay Rays tonight as they try to go over 81 victories and ensure a finish above the .500 mark for the first time in team history, on to the injuries:
More information on the Beckett situation, anticipating a few returns, and other injury news from around the leagues.
Fatigue is the enemy. As you watch the faces of runners approaching the finish line during the Olympics, watching them struggle for just a bit more speed over a few more meters, you'll often see them grimace; their muscles tightening up. It's like that for baseball players as well. It's not just the fatigue of the game, but rather the seasonal toll-the travel, the odd sleep patterns, the hotel beds, and who knows what else. It's at this point in the season where we see injuries spike a bit as the fatigue begins to bite. While too many worry about in-game fatigue for pitchers-look, 130 pitches absent any other information does not indicate abuse-few are noting the seasonal problem. Some teams have begun looking at ways of dealing with this, while others have whispered that players are missing their greenies. Just watch the faces of the pitchers and players as they come down the home stretch of the 2008 season. Some have it, and some... don't. Let's get to the injuries:
Updates on the hurtful week that was, as injuries affect the stretch runs of both leagues.
Last night I heard an announcer say that the pennant races are "starting to get interesting." I immediately replied to the computer screen: "where the [bleep] have you been, buddy?" It's been interesting all season long, and with just a few weeks left, the tension is mounting, as eleven teams fight for five playoff spots that are up for grabs. (The Angels are at 99.88 percent according to our Playoff Odds Report, so I'll consider that one wrapped up.) In each of the other races, injuries to key players will have an effect. Whether it's David Ortiz's wrist or Evan Longoria's wrist, Francisco Liriano's elbow or Bobby Jenks', Ryan Braun's back or Kerry Wood's, whether it's Ryan Church's head or Manny Ramirez's, injuries look to be a major factor in deciding who'll be playing baseball in October, and who will be playing golf. It's been like that all season, pal, and in ways and places we didn't expect. That's what makes this game so great.
A full spread of injuries are impacting the tight races in both leagues' Eastern divisions.
I started my week sitting in the Texas sun, looking up at the scoreboard to see that the game-time temperature was 105. I'm pretty sure I could have qualified at welterweight after three hours of sweating, but there are times when you have to make sacrifices for baseball. As we cross the hottest part of the season, the races in five of the six divisions are almost as hot as an Al Gore summer. That means that some of these races will be decided not by the best pitcher or the hottest hitter, but by which team can avoid or at least minimize injuries. The most important names to know might end up being Gene Monahan, Paul Lessard, Ron Porterfield, or Herm Schneider. (Go look them up if you don't already know who they are.) I heard Kevin Kennedy say on XM this week that when things are this close, it's the little things that make the difference. I'd argue that health is not one of those "little" things. Powered by Twitter (where we're @baseballpro), on to the injuries:
For some players, the upcoming break looks like the dawn of a new day, but for others, the sun may be setting fast.
The halfway point in the season has come and gone, but the All-Star Game is still a week away. The season seems to be dominated by injury news, but it's really not. Looking back, we've had some big names go down, but not so many that it would be outside the normal variance. Injuries, in some ways, are actually down from recent levels. We're seeing players come back much more quickly than in the past, and some returning from conditions that would have been career-ending five years ago. Medical science changes faster than I can type, but we're seeing those changes work to the field's advantage in most cases. Players don't just blow out their arm and head back to Spavinaw or whatever small town they came from anymore. No, the team is on the hook for a couple million and spends a year working him back. That's tough, but in the end it makes the game better. Where would the Cubs be without Kerry Wood or Ryan Dempster, two guys that are back on the field because of Tim Kremchek and Jim Andrews? Would the Rays be in the position they're in if they'd had arm injuries, or if Ron Porterfield (and before him, Ken Crenshaw) didn't do such an outstanding job of keeping players on the field? The Red Sox, the White Sox, and the Diamondbacks are all winning teams with winning medical staffs. The two go together, so when you see the athletic trainers take the field at the All-Star Game, cheer for them. They deserve it as much as the players. Powered by the iPhone 3G, on to the injuries:
Several long-term contracts to aging players look bad in retrospect, given their health issues.
It's been a heck of a week, for baseball and for me. From a birthday party with 200 of my closest friends in New York City to an amazing meal at Mesa Grill to a Rays sweep over the Red Sox, it's been pretty amazing. Unfortunately the injuries keep coming and altering the landscape of baseball, turning contenders into panic-stricken seekers in one traumatic moment or that final straw that pushes someone from pitching ace to patient. Powered by Amp, on to the injuries:
A group of hitters get relatively good news, but it's tough times for moundsmen.
You'd figure that the halfway point of a season would be more notable than it is in baseball. There's no real divider, since the All-Star break comes a bit later than normal this season. The 81-game mark is close, but the 81st game seems no different than the 82nd, not unless you're counting. It's no different for injuries-they're not up, actually, it just seems like it. The spectrum is about the same as in any other year. The Cards, Yankees, and Marlins have already lost more than 700 days to the DL, while the Dodgers have spent $22 million on the players they have on the DL. On the other side, the White Sox are leading in terms of general health, losing only 120 days to what are mostly insignificant injuries; they are one of three teams, along with the Royals and Marlins, who have lost less than $2 million so far. I'll wait until the end of the season to see how DXL and Injury Cost work out, since even half a season is too small a sample size to gauge its usefulness in analysis. Powered by Monday's Pizza Feed (and birthday party) in NYC (click for details), on to the injuries:
Quality arms and top shortstops are in focus within this week's edition.
I'm going to see Francisco Liriano tomorrow. While I'm glad to get a close look at him, he's wasting away. Last year, Gary Huckabay wrote that there's a twist on the sabermetric "rule" that "there is no such thing as a pitching prospect." Huckabay wrote that, once a pitcher in the minors establishes dominance, there's no reason to have him shooting what might be a limited supply of bullets against a collection of minor league "talent." This isn't to say that many pitchers don't have some or many things to learn in the minors; I'm looking at you, Homer Bailey. What I'm saying is that teams should be using some very close approximation of the best ten to twelve arms in the system as their major league pitchers. There are exceptions, of course, mostly relating to experience and development, but also in regards to control and the injury nexus. Liriano has none of those concerns, and if the only reason to keep him down is his arbitration status, then the Twins are only hurting themselves. I'll report on what I saw next Monday.
Injuries are mounting, but are we just more concerned about the who than the how many?
Even if it wasn't Friday the 13th right now, some teams would be feeling like it is. It's been a horror show of injuries this year, with the DL packed with more than 150 players. Some are the injuries we count but that really don't matter in the normal scheme. For example, Thomas Diamond is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, but the Rangers weren't expecting him to be a big part of their '08 plans in the way that they were counting on Jason Jennings or Brandon McCarthy, but a day is a day. Even dollars can be a bit skewed; Philip Hughes makes the minimum, but his value to the Yankees is far higher than that. So as we watch player after player and star after star headed to the DL, we have to ask ourselves two questions: Are things actually worse? And why can't we prevent this or at the very least reduce their number and impact?