Losing Smoltz and Prior, again, while the Red Sox deal with mounting concerns about their lineup.
The hamate bone. The glenoid ligament. The extensor carpii ulnaris. These are terms that we're adding to the baseball lexicon. I like to think we're expanding the knowledge base to the point where you'll someday say, "How 'bout them Mets" to a guy on the street and he'll say "Sure, but Jones' swing still needs to come back after he had the hook of his hamate removed if we're going to have a shot at the pennant." That's a ways off, but we're getting the chance to use these terms far too frequently. Still, as the names get ticked off the middle rounds of the draft today, remember that bonuses through about the tenth round are still about equivalent to one more athletic trainer or, better, a raise for the current staff. It's one thing to draft a Dan Schlereth, but I'll bet you that no matter how good Schlereth turns out to be, Ken Crenshaw will be more important to the D'backs' success over the next five years. Tim Beckham may be as good as the scouts say, but Ron Porterfield is already producing in the bigs. A lot of teams are talking a good medhead game, but very few are rewarding the guys on the front line. One of the great things about my job is being able to champion these men and women, telling their tales of success as part of the overall story of winning baseball. I can only hope some GMs and owners will realize what a resource they have. Powered by the upcoming Pizza Feed on June 30th in Manhattan, plus upcoming feeds in Tampa and Pittsburgh, on to the injuries:
Progress in the pro game doesn't mean there isn't work to be done in the amateur ranks, plus hurts and healing around MLB.
Time flies, but sometimes the story remains the same. Four years ago, I wrote an article that detailed an exceptionally high pitch count game by an Indianapolis-area high school pitcher named Lance Lynn. Lynn came out of that game with a sore arm, missed some time, but went on to help his team win the state title and then went on to college. Nowadays, Lynn is expected to go in the first or sandwich round of next week's draft. Lynn is still racking up some high pitch counts at Ole Miss, but nothing like he did in high school. Boyd Nation, who watches pitch counts in college baseball as one of his many admirable areas of interest, has Lynn's single-game high this season at 121. Lynn is a couple of years older, hasn't had arm problems, and has seemingly earned that high slot. If I'm a scouting director watching him, I'd have to wonder a bit about the past usage (and his falling off to the first base side) before I risk such a high pick on him, but he's hardly alone, just an example. As you can see on Nation's list, starts with pitch counts in the 140s happen regularly in college baseball, and can go as high as the 170s. Not a week goes by that I don't get sent an article about some high school pitcher throwing over 150 pitches, and too often I get a note from a parent telling me about kids-12 or 13 years old-throwing insane workloads, such as both sides of a double-header. (Little League pitch counts haven't helped, you ask? Sure they have, but they've also driven many to the more cavalier travel teams.) Some make it through, like Lynn, and some don't, like another Indy-area pitcher, Garrett Berger. I wish Lance Lynn all the luck in the world as he finishes his college career and starts his professional one. I just hope I don't have to write this kind of article in another four years.
The Padres' double dose of injuries in a single inning shows a quality staff rising to a terrible challenge.
It's Carb Day here in Indy, so today my town is more about 225 mph Hondas and the reunion of Stone Temple Pilots than anything else. In racing, speed is everything, on the track and in the pits. One of the events of Carb Day is the Pit Crew contest, where they'll fuel up and change all four tires in under ten seconds. It would be nice if baseball worked like that, but quick for this game is fifteen days. That doesn't mean that the "pit crew"-the medical staff-isn't working just as feverishly. If you've ever seen the trainer run after a player into the clubhouse, you'll know that time does count. You don't see them re-taping an ankle, coming up with a finger splint on the fly, fixing a contact, or one of the hundred other tasks that might come up without warning, triggering a burst of creativity that would put Angus McGyver to shame. In Wednesday's game, you may have seen highlights of Chris Young and Josh Bard getting injured, but if you watched the game, you saw how quickly Todd Hutcheson and his staff were back out there to tend to Bard, despite having just taken Young into the clubhouse. Beyond the trainers, a team's medical staff extends to an associated list of doctors, dentists, massage therapists, rehab professionals, and chiropractors. Players may not need their tires changed or two turns of wing because they're loose in turn two, but everything else is fair game in the trainer's room. Powered by Wii Fit, on to the injuries:
Updates of some of the more fragile arms around the game, but also on scrappers like Ryan Doumit and Jeff Keppinger.
I thought I'd left the days of doing Time Value of Money calculations behind, but the spate of recent low-service, high-dollar contracts is getting me back to the days when my lack of math skills probably cost me some commission. The signings of Evan Longoria, Scott Kazmir, Ryan Braun, and others are turning the way we think about low-service baseball players on its head. These deals go well beyond what former Indians GM John Hart was trying to do in the early '90s, which was mostly centered on achieving cost certainty and avoiding arbitration. Instead, these contracts are more about fairly valuing talent and avoiding distractions with the cost certainty a nice secondary value. I'm sure we'll see more of these deals as they work out far more often than not. The interesting thing is taking a look at the values of these deals versus the MORP calculated by Nate Silver's PECOTA projections. In almost every case, the teams are getting the better end of the deal, though it's not as if becoming a multi-millionaire is ever really a bad outcome:
Baseball has some common ground with Indy racers, though the injuries are seldom the same.
It's Indianapolis in May, so I'm checking in from the track. It's a big switch from 90 mph fastballs to 200 mph straightaways, and the injuries come at a different level. It's one thing to see Aaron Rowand hit the wall and a whole other thing when Danica Patrick does it. The great thing is that I can keep up from anywhere there's WiFi or even just good cell coverage. Drivers want to talk baseball more than you'd think, a reminder that for all the problems, even in an international sport, baseball is still the great American game. Many of these guys grew up playing shortstop as often as they drove go-karts. The best part is finding that commonality, where a driver with more nerve and reaction speed than I could ever hope for talks to me about his fantasy team the same way you or I do. A Yankees or Cubs cap is almost like a fraternity pin, a conversation starter in a way that, around these parts, an Andretti Green or Penske hat marks you as one or the other.
Some serious star power winds up on the DL for the Yankees, Braves, and Rockies.
Philip Hughes (60 DXL/$2.31 million)
At this time yesterday, there was a lot of question about the validity of Hughes' injury. The odd timing-he's fine, and then suddenly he's not?-led many to wonder, including me. The problem is this is my area and I'm supposed to know, and Hughes wasn't faking anything and the Yankees weren't playing a roster shell game. Instead, he's got a stress fracture of his ninth rib on his right (pitching) side. Wonder how something like this gets missed? Check out this MRI and see if you see it. Here's an X-ray, which is usually clearer; while this is at the fifth, not the ninth you can see that even something easy like a traumatic fracture isn't clear. Hughes' injury was a stress fracture, a small break that results from the strains of activity rather than an incident, and it's very painful. Hughes is likely to miss at least two months with recovery and then rebuilding his stamina. The pain that he played through would explain his poor start, but he'll have to come back and pitch well for it to be that simple. So, Mr. Hughes, my apologies and best wishes in your recovery.
Sometimes, a pitcher just needs to trust that he's been fixed up and needs to fire away.
We all know that recovering Tommy John surgery is as close to an automatic there is in the world of sports medicine. Return, yes, but there can always be complications. Many players either change their mechanics and hurt themselves (usually the shoulder) or don't change their mechanics and end up hurting the elbow again. Some never get it all the way back, something that most think is mental. Coming back from any injury is tough, but the fact is that while a return to competition happens in upwards of 85 percent of cases, some players don't come back to level. I can remember in 2004 a pitcher was coming back from minor elbow surgery (he had some chips removed), and in the first month of the season he pitched tentatively. Through May 7, he was only 1-0 with an ERA in the mid-fives. It's said that pitching coach Rick Anderson came out in this game and told him to just "let it go." Johan Santana did, ending up with a 20-win season and becoming the pitcher we now know. Maybe it's time for that talk with Francisco Liriano. I had Eric Seidman, one of those who looks at PitchFX data, to take a look at his release point; watching the game, Liriano seemed to be hunting for it, but my eyes and the data don't match up. Liriano's not to May 3 yet, so just like C.C. Sabathia, he's still got time to turn it around.
A recap of the week's top injuries, plus some thoughts on the spread of new-age smarts in the game.
I've been watching the Diamondbacks a lot over the last week, and they're a solid, exciting team. As I've been watching, I've been taken with the way that everything they do seems to have a purpose. That, plus the pedigree of GM Josh Byrnes, led me refer to them on radio this week as "Red Sox West." That's not purely accurate, but it did get me to thinking about the future. What if every team was equally smart? We may never see equal talent across the board on the field, but there's little reason that, within narrow bands, front offices shouldn't be working from the same information with roughly the same level of brainpower. The decisions they make will be different, some good, some bad, but would homogeneity actually be a good thing? Would that environment just give an opportunity to a team willing to zag while everyone else zigged?
Two iconic Yankees are dealing with minor ailments, while a key part of the Rays renaissance faces a more troubling setback.
We can't agree how to assess pitching mechanics or how to measure velocity on pitchers, so why should I expect anything different when it comes to valuing injuries? One of the biggest concerns I've heard about my admittedly quick & dirty Injury Cost calculation is that MORP, Nate Silver's method of valuing a player's contribution, already takes playing time into account, making IC a de facto double counting of value lost. So I'm opening up the floor--is there a better way to do this? I've talked with a couple people on the issue and so far, while better is possible, it's also significantly more complex without the requisite gains. My pal Aaron Schatz over at Pro Football Prospectus always says "the best is the enemy of the better." To me, providing an easily calculated measure of comparison that everyone can understand at a glance ("Oh, losing Garza to the DL is a bit worse than losing Jeter for a week.") has merit. As always, I'm open to improvement. Powered by The Goose, on to the injuries:
One week into the season, injuries are already mounting, but it's part of the game that different teams handle different ways.
So we've made it through the first work week of the season, and instead of TGIF, the injury blotter is filled to overflow. It's not any worse than last year, not much worse than any random week, and sadly, not any different than the next twenty-something weeks that we'll do this. It's easy to overreact to any small thing in the first week, injuries or otherwise, simply because there's nothing to compare it to and because of the perceived importance. The one thing I'm noticing is that medical staffs are actually a bit more conservative and risk-averse in the season's opening days. Since the first game on the schedule is as valuable in the standings as the 162nd, with the only difference being available recovery time, I'm not sure whether that's an optimal strategy, so I'm taking a harder look at that. Maybe there's something in the data. Let's get to the injuries:
Some players are likely already lost for the season, but others have recovered quite nicely from past hurts.
Kelvim Escobar (180 DXL/$10.9 million)
I have no idea where the phrase "it's all over but the shouting" came from, but this one's all over but the official announcement. Escobar has gone from a bit sore to done for the season in short order after being diagnosed with a tear in his shoulder. The LA Times article about this is solid, but misses one detail: where the tear is, but it's actually tipped in the Mark Mulder/Bartolo Colon comparison. Sources confirm that Escobar has a torn rotator cuff, with potentially more damage inside. The official word is that they're going to shut him down for a while and see if they can build his strength up around the area of the injury, but surgery is almost always the end result here. It would stun me if Escobar is able to come back this season, and many are questioning if he can come back at all. It's interesting to note that Colon did have the same injury, and that the Angels have, since their World Series win, experienced a number of shoulder injuries. They've had a couple of pitching coaches over that period, so I don't think we can derive any teaching point or potentially problematic mechanical philosophy; it just bears noting. Of course, it was noted.
A rundown of some recent injuries, both familiar and unfamiliar.
Perhaps the only thing that can compete with the building excitement for Opening Day is a Bruce Springsteen concert. It was a great show, if far from sold out here in Indy, with the return of Danny Federici reminding us all just how much difference one guy can make. Teams have learned that too, though between bad luck and teams that don't invest enough in prevention, I'll still have plenty to write about this season. Here are the ten biggest injuries of the week: