Under The Knife: Posey's injury shows need for protecting elite bats
Value of elite offensive catchers at plate outweigh their worth on defense
Chances aren't good but Posey may be back in 2011 depending on injury
Joakim Soria's struggles are likely due to mechanical issue he's working on
The concept of risk is often abstract, but Giants fans got it quickly on Wednesday night as Buster Posey lay writhing in pain after a collision at the plate. I'll talk more about the injury below, but Posey, Joe Mauer and Carlos Santana bring up the concept of positional risk. Each is a solid major league catcher, but each is also a solid major league hitter. A catcher is the most injury-prone position on the field, for many reasons, so the value between the benefit of a good hitter at a primarily defensive position can be mitigated by the additional risk. Fantasy players are familiar with the concept of positional scarcity, but it seems that many teams are taking it a step too far.
Positional scarcity is worth, at best, half a win for elite catchers. At the same time, defense at catcher is worth less than a win. Mauer, for example, was worth 0.4 wins in 2010 due to his defense. (That number is surprisingly low and will come with arguments from many inside baseball.) Compare this to the three wins he contributed with his bat. To clarify it further, totaling all of Mauer's offensive contributions (oWAR) make him worth 5.2 wins while his defensive contributions (dWAR) come out to only 0.4 wins. Of course, in '11, Mauer's oWAR is 0.0, since the injuries have barely allowed him to play thus far. (I use Mauer over Posey for simplicity's sake; Mauer played most of his games at C while Posey played 1B regularly for the Giants in '10.)
If teams were smart, they'd do a lot more things like that for elite catchers more often. The reward isn't worth the risk. (WAR statistics come from the invaluable Baseball-Reference.com.)
Powered by Carb Day, on to the injuries:
Just days after the Giants discussed getting Posey out from behind the plate due to the hits he was taking, he took one big one. Scott Cousins tagged and scored the winning run Wednesday night, putting a shoulder to Posey's chest on the most dangerous and unnecessary play in baseball. Posey's ankle was caught under him and as he rotated through the force, the twisting also put stress on his knee.
Watch the video and see how his toes are to the outside of his legs. If Posey is hit (and at this stage, he knew he would be), all the options are bad. If he is knocked to his right, he'll crank his right ankle out. To the left and his left ankle is at risk. Even if he's knocked straight back, there's a likelihood that one or both will be inverted (rolled in), which also puts a great deal of stress on the respective knee.
Posey isn't that experienced as a catcher (he was converted in college) and dropping down isn't the ideal way to block the plate. Catchers are usually taught that the best way to block the plate is either to deliver a hit themselves or to be back on the heels, rolling back the way an NBA player takes a charge. The way that Posey set himself put his ankles at risk.
Of course, every collision comes with risk. Carlos Santana used the more preferred method, but got caught by a slide, costing him months. Calls for rule changes are a bit reactionary. As the Santana collision shows, it doesn't take a run-over move to cause an injury. I'd rather see the catcher treated like any other infielder and not allowed to block the base physically. As Joe Sheehan put it in his Thursday newsletter, "The majority of catcher injuries on plays at the plate come due to the de facto legalization of obstruction, in which a catcher sets up without the baseball and impedes the runner's progress to home whether the ball is there or not. This was not one of those cases." While Pablo Sandoval tweeted that Posey would be out for the season, the move to put Posey on the 15-day DL offers some hope. (Remember, Sandoval's been in the training room a lot lately, but it doesn't make him a trainer!) The Giants are deliberately not saying which bone is broken, as well as limiting who knows the full extent of the medical information. If the fractured bone is his fibula and if the ligament damage that the MRI is testing for does not need surgical fixation, it's possible that Posey could return later this season.
One of the most interesting concepts I've discovered over my years of doing this is the "Tommy John honeymoon." After surgery, pitchers seemed to have a five-year period where the fixed elbow seemed to be less prone to injury than all other factors would indicate. Last year, I learned that the process of "ligamentization" -- the transplanted tendon turning into a ligament -- takes four to five years, which matches up nicely and likely explains the difference. What we haven't explored is whether the risk increases afterwards. That's largely because we haven't had the same statistical underpinnings for injuries that we do with statistics. If you want to find out anything about any player ever, Baseball-Reference has a number, but injuries? If you can find accurate information, it only goes back to 2001, if that. (Worse, most data is scraped from an MLB feed that is nothing more than what's reported by team media relations. It's better than nothing, but there are missing pieces that worry me too much to use just that. My database isn't public, however.) That all leads us to Soriano, who visited Dr. James Andrews at his Pensacola facility this week. Andrews repaired Soriano's elbow in '04, giving him a solid baseline for checking it now. Soriano doesn't need a repeat, as some feared, and will take a couple weeks off before starting a throwing program. He's likely out through the bulk of June.
Ramirez got away with just a bruise, but came out of Wednesday's game. He'll likely miss Thursday and perhaps a couple more games, depending on how his foot responds to treatment. It's not a long-term problem, but the Marlins don't want to cause a cascade issue or expose an already painful foot to more stress. Ramirez is an interesting player from a risk standpoint. He has a significant injury history, but has avoided anything that can wear too much on his overall talent level, something that stands in contrast to similar players like Jose Reyes and Ian Kinsler. There's a question as to whether that's luck or skill, but my guess is that it might be genetic. Ramirez should be back without issue sometime this weekend.
The Indians expect to have Sizemore back on Friday, which gives Lonnie Soloff a win in two ways. He said last weekend that Sizemore "wasn't a lock" to come back when eligible on Thursday. Sizemore showed this week that he could run just fine now and that his bat didn't need a trip to Akron. He should be back to normal immediately and activated in all formats. The DL stint highlights the uncertainty around Sizemore and the possibility that conservative treatment like this will cost him some opportunities. It doesn't change that Sizemore has been a solid player since returning. Mistaking the two will cause you to mis-value Sizemore and miss out on opportunities of your own. This injury changes nothing about Sizemore, positive or negative.
The catch that Drew made in foul territory against the Indians Tuesday is the kind that makes me wish that Field FX data was available. Tom Tippett might know exactly how far and how fast Drew went to make that catch, but it looked like a long way to me. In doing so, he taxed his hamstring and will miss a couple days. The team doesn't think he'll miss more than a handful, so the DL isn't likely. Drew's injury-prone tag is still hanging on him despite an adjustment that he and his employers have made over the years, finding a nice balance and keeping him in 135 or more games four of his five seasons in Boston. Drew might not be someone that Sox fans think they will miss next year, but they will.
Santana threw from a mound for the first time Wednesday at the Mets complex in Port St Lucie. It wasn't 100 percent, but he did go through what one observer called a "normal side session." It was about 25 pitches with no breaking balls. His arm "reacted normally," which includes some "normal soreness, no inflammation," according to sources. The Mets say they want to have Santana back by the All Star break, but for that to happen, we'd need to see some acceleration in his rehab. A more likely scenario is that Santana starts throwing in XST by mid-to-late June, and gets into a rehab assignment in early July, putting him back around the Aug. 1 ERD I've had. If the Mets have a fire sale, the return of Santana could be a seat-filler as well.
Hudson strained his groin, just days after coming off the DL due to a strained hamstring. Is this a cascade injury? Did Hudson return too soon? Both are possible, but it's very difficult to judge. Trainers will do strength testing and watch a player run or do baseball activities, but in the end, the player often doesn't communicate well or is deliberately ... well, let's just say obtuse. Hudson's never had trouble communicating, however, so let's hope this is just the kind of bad luck that hurts, but only for a short time. The Padres are bouncing off the plexiglas after last year's unexpected run. Injuries are often a part of that, assuming a team was a bit lucky in that respect the previous year.
Joe Blanton saw Dr. Andrews on Wednesday, and it was confirmed that the Phillies are on the right track with his throwing program ... The Angels will place Howie Kendrick on the DL unless he convinces them he'll be able to play by Friday. They'll watch him run later Thursday before making a decision ... A lot of people are asking if Joakim Soria is hurt. Sometimes, guys just have a bad week. Soria has been struggling, but he's also been working on some mechanical issue. I don't know if Occam ever played baseball, but he's definitely in play here ... Geovany Soto is expected to be back in the Cubs lineup. He's been on the DL with a groin strain ... Justin Morneau and Peyton Manning have something in common (or did, if Manning's surgery worked as expected.) Morneau's minor neck issue is painful, annoying, and will be taken care of in the off-season ... Josh Johnson is long tossing, but the Marlins appear to be putting him on a conservative path back to the rotation ... Brandon Webb will begin a rehab assignment early next week, starting the 30 day clock on his return to the majors ... With the Indy 500 this weekend (weather permitting), I'll be off on Monday. Have a safe weekend, salute a veteran, and we'll meet back here next week.