Under the Knife: Harper and Gomez Lose to Walls
As you look at the next 10 slides, think about how much value each of these players have to their respective teams. Not just salary, but value. Even just the names tell you a lot—Bryce Harper, Alex Rodriguez, Jose Reyes and more. Teams can overcome injuries, but they cannot replace value in most cases and if you add in the value of time lost, it's pretty clear that teams need to be doing more.
That's easy to say, but if injuries are "part of the game," as some will try to infer, and since all injuries can't be prevented, then finding solutions is rendered moot in their mind. That's defeatist. If a team can't hit, the hitting coach is going to be asked why. More and more teams have hired assistant hitting coaches for the major league team in addition to coaches at every level. Some teams even have a bunting coach!
For injuries, which has as demonstrable an effect on a team as a hitting coach, the simple solution would be to add one more assistant trainer. The ratio of two trainers to a roster of 25 seems manageable until you see how many man-hours are required per injury, and that's before we talk about how much is required for immediate care, rehab and the administrative tasks.
Another assistant trainer would add one-third more man hours immediately and, if a team simply called up its Triple-A trainer, there would be very little change since they should be familiar with many of the players and procedures. The reason teams do this simply can't be cost. It can't be availability either, since finding a competent athletic trainer for short-season ball could be done in an afternoon.
Baseball is seeing a significant increase in injuries this season and I believe it's the result of being penny wise and pound foolish. Lack of manpower in the medical staff, a lack of knowledge about biomechanics and predictive measures and little to no research on sports science is going to leave teams exactly where they are now, or worse, and that's not a good place.
Bryce Harper (Knee)
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Bryce Harper will be coming back soon. How soon? Well, that depends on who you listen to. While Davey Johnson thinks Harper should be headed to the minors for a rehab stint on Tuesday, Harper thinks it will be a few more days. The Nats think Harper's stint will be short, just enough to make sure that his bursitis doesn't act up after games and get him a few swings. Harper thinks he might need a week.
It didn't take long to see who won, with the Nats sending Harper to Single-A Potomac starting Tuesday, as reported by the Washington Post.
It's a push-pull that is seen across baseball. Athletes take responsibility for their health when it's in their interest but give in to the paternalistic model most of the rest of the time. Harper didn't play conservatively when he was bouncing his knee off the wall, but he's happy to do so now. Maybe that's just learning or maybe we're seeing a new paradigm.
Lost in this is the fact that Harper is coming along nicely. The bursitis is fading, and while his trip down to Pensacola and the PRP injection he got there don't seem to have sped things up, they didn't slow things down, either. Harper should be back quickly, though we'll just say "soon" for now.
Mark Teixeira (Wrist)
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Wrist injuries have a tendency to linger, but with Mark Teixeira this has gone beyond lingering and is getting to the stage where he and the Yankees may have to make some long-term decisions about the problematic wrist.
Teixeira had a cortisone injection that was ineffective, leaving his wrist in the same tender and inflamed state, per the New York Times. While another injection could be done, the lack of any effect is making everyone wonder if another would have any more effect.
The hope was that Teixeira could heal up without surgery, but it seems that the very act of hitting is what is exacerbating the condition. A tendon sheath is easily fixed, but it's also a delicate surgery that requires a full healing before any activity stresses the area. That means that surgery now could cost Teixeira the bulk of or even the rest of the season.
The same would have been true if he'd had the surgery when the injury first showed up in the spring, so it was worth the try. Teixeira did show some positive signs and had more power than expected, which is usually the last to come back after wrist problems.
Expect the Yankees and their first baseman to make a decision in the next week. For fantasy owners, waiting around for that isn't necessary. He can be cut in all but keeper formats.
Alex Rodriguez (Hip)
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While Mark Teixeira is headed out and Derek Jeter is a bit of an unknown, Alex Rodriguez is getting closer, according to many media reports, including the New York Daily News. That's going to create a lot of mixed feelings in the Bronx, but if Rodriguez can hit, he'll have a place inside their duct-taped lineup.
Rodriguez has been right on schedule since his hip labrum surgery and has showed no real problems. We haven't yet seen any real indication of any movement deficits, though Rodriguez is hardly a speed/range player at this stage in his career. It will all come down to when his bat is ready.
While Rodriguez has been cleared medically to start a rehab assignment at the end of the month, the Yankees are being a bit more conservative. Rodriguez's off-field issues are sure to become distractions, so even something as simple as a rehab game turns into a production. Look for the Yankees to keep him close, using their home base in Tampa and perhaps a trip to Double-A Trenton for Rodriguez.
While normally there are several keys—lateral motion, footwork, plant and throw and hip turn on both hitting and throwing—the only one that counts for Rodriguez is hitting. If he shows a minimum level of speed and a bat that looks better than the available options, he'll be back just after the All-Star break.
Ryan Braun (Thumb)
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There's a bright side to the news that Ryan Braun will be on the shelf longer than 15 days. Instead of having a serious sprain, the issue that Braun is having is a nerve problem. Given that issue, it's going to take longer for him to be ready to hit, but he also has a problem that should clear up with time and treatment.
Nerve issues tend to be one of getting to the root cause and removing or at least padding the problem. With Braun's smooth, powerful swing, it might be a bit harder than most, which is why this is going to take longer. Not only will Dan Wright and his staff have to get the inflammation calmed down inside the hand, they'll have to figure out how to keep it from happening again.
Braun has made some slight changes to his swing over the last year, so this may be the result of that. While Braun won't be back in the next 10 days, after the nerve is calmed, he should come back quickly and without much problem. It's certainly better than it could have been, but patience may be in short supply in Milwaukee—though scouts certainly aren't as they watch to see if this injury pushes the team into becoming sellers.
Carlos Gomez (Shoulder)
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Walls are hard.
Even with padding, Carlos Gomez is just the latest to play that old Eddie Cochran tune, "I Fought The Wall (And The Wall Won)." Gomez slammed into the wall and was lucky to come away with only some bruises and a strained shoulder. It was just last year that Gomez missed a significant portion of the season after a fractured collarbone suffered on another spectacular outfield play.
Gomez is not only fast, he's much bigger than most expect. That mass plus the speed makes any collision a problem for Gomez, so it's something he simply has to avoid. While he escaped serious injury this time and will miss only a few games, we can only hope that Ron Roenicke and Scott Boras both have a talk with him about not doing it again.
Beyond that, is there anything that baseball itself or even a team could do to help prevent this? Padding really isn't that soft and I've often wondered if there's a better solution than the thick foam padding covered by canvas or plastic. Perhaps Tempurpedic could be talked into a sponsorship in return for its soft foam covering the outfield and foul walls. A reader once suggested airbags, though I'm not sure how that would work.
Ideally, baseball should be researching just this kind of thing, which could lead to safety innovations around the game. Remember, it's not that long ago that fence tops were unprotected and a cause of major injuries to youth players. Now the yellow tubing that covers the chain link tops is nearly universal, and while it's not cheap, I haven't seen leagues going under or reducing play because of the cost.
Jose Reyes (Hamstring)
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Well played, Alex Anthopoulos. After news dropped that Jose Reyes would come off his rehab assignment and return to the Blue Jays for Thursday, the Jays GM said those reports were inaccurate and Reyes was "day to day."
It turns out that Reyes won't be back on Thursday. No, the Jays get their shortstop back from his severe ankle sprain on Wednesday, bringing him up instead of sending him to Double-A New Hampshire. (Or at least shortening his trip; there's mixed signals on that, too.)
Reyes was able to avoid surgery and has been running well during his rehab and rehab stint at Triple-A Buffalo. He's shown near normal speed and the ability to steal, though box scores won't tell you that he's sliding head first again, which is understandable, if not perfectly logical.
Reyes should be near normal when he returns, a big plus for the Jays as they continue their push back into playoff contention. While Reyes might be leashed a bit in terms of steals for the first few games back (the ZIPS projection system has him getting 15 steals the rest of the way), it's unlikely they'll hold him back much longer, assuming he stays healthy.
Peter Bourjos (Thumb)
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The Angels have enough issues this season, so a little bit of good news has to be taken wherever it comes. Peter Bourjos is just off the DL, but he immediately looked to be heading back on it after a thumb injury. Instead of heading back to the shelf, he'll just miss a few days as the hand heals, according to Mike DiGiovanna.
Bourjos injured himself on a slide, this time what looked like a simple takeout slide, but his extended arm impacted the bag in just the wrong way. It's the kind of minor but problematic injury that Bourjos has dealt with throughout his career. It's a problem of the type more than any sort of genetic or personal issue. Guys that slide a lot, or dive, end up with more injuries.
Bourjos is a solid player, but his value is partially in keeping Mike Trout out of center field. Reducing the risk of injury for the stars like Trout and Bryce Harper is a value often not acknowledged in Bourjos or Denard Span.
Of course, if they can't stay healthy themselves, some of that is lost. Expect Bourjos back in the lineup by the end of the week, but with any hand injury, grip problems can cause more contact issues.
Dan Haren (Shoulder)
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"What did they say was wrong?"
That statement is not going to endear Dan Haren to the Nationals. Haren, who has been struggling since coming over to the Nationals and seemingly deteriorating with every outing, was placed on the DL with shoulder stiffness. While there is an injury there, it's the kind that could probably be said of any pitcher with any sort of mileage on him. Haren's statement makes it clear that the Nats were just looking for a way to stash Haren.
The problem in his shoulder is interesting since the worry with Haren has always been his back. This could of course be a cascade injury, a change in his mechanics or even his treatment. If his back is better or if the Nats medical staff has been overfocused on that, it could have opened things up to an unconscious change in the shoulder. Haren could have simply overthrown, putting more pressure on the shoulder to compensate for the back. It could be a new injury.
Once again, we don't know, but neither do the Nats. The inability of the team to use any sort of scientific data has left them in the standard position of trial and error, educated guesses and fervent prayers from the fanbase. Haren's status is unknown in the short and long term, but the Nats simply can't rely on any production from him, even though I don't expect him to be out for an extended period.
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The Twins' newest starter might be the wave of the future. Gibson makes it to the majors after four years in the minors despite having Tommy John surgery. While no one wants these pitchers to have the surgery and lose a year, teams seem less inclined to see it as a major problem. In fact, the data shows that the "lost year" may not even be an issue.
Gibson is much like some other pitchers—Jarrod Parker and Nick Adenhart—pitchers that injured themselves in the minors and sailed through the minors despite having surgery. Adenhart's injury came before he was drafted, a risk taken by the Angels that paid off well.
Pitchers who are young seem to not lose much in the year they take rehabbing. For some, they could almost skip a level, gaining strength and stamina in addition to repairing the torn ligament. It doesn't make them better, but it does appear that there's more to rest and physical maturity for pitchers that age, especially if they've been used heavily as high schoolers.
The success rate of young pitchers is unfortunately the result of an increasing number of young pitchers that are ending up on an operating table instead of a progressive throwing program. I'll have a lot more on this in the next few weeks, but Gibson's success is just a reminder that we don't have any idea why we're losing so many young pitchers, even if they make it back after rehab.
Dylan Bundy (Elbow)
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Roch Kubatko of MASN broke the bad news that Dylan Bundy, the Orioles' phenom, had a setback in rehab. His elbow became sore while throwing at 120 feet. There's a couple key facts to remember here as Twitter does its normal manic-depressive meltdown.
First, Bundy was diagnosed with a flexor tendon problem, not a UCL problem. As fans say Tommy John is inevitable, showing nothing but ignorance, there's more of a concern that Bundy will need to follow the path of Colby Lewis and Scott Baker, both of whom have had their own issues with flexor tendon repair and extended rehabs. There's actually less of a positive track record with flexor tendon repair, though neither is "better" than the other.
Second, 120 feet isn't much for Bundy. As one of the exemplars for extended long toss, along with Cleveland's Trevor Bauer, Bundy regularly threw at 300 feet or more, though his pregame warm-up was not as extreme as Bauer's, nor as polarizing.
The downside is that while long toss made for a nice story, it didn't injury-proof him and we didn't know how much was method and how much was talent.
If Bundy was on a normal workout program, would he have been better? If Pitcher X was on Bundy's long-toss program, would he have been better? We just don't know, though we do know that the Orioles at least had the foresight to use biomechanical evaluations on Bundy and the rest of their pitchers.
Of course, some will say that biomechanics didn't save Bundy, assuming this setback leads to surgery and a lost 2013. Maybe not, but biomechanics do show the forces on the elbow, which may have tipped them off to this risk and allowed them to do some things to minimize the damage or at least extend the shelf life. It will also give them a point of comparison if Bundy needs surgery, to see whether this is going to happen again or whether he'll need to make some mechanical changes.