Under The Knife: Red Sox, Braves forced to dig deep into rotations
Josh Beckett's ankle strain may have him sidelined for two-to-four weeks
Increased workload in 2010 foretold Tommy Hanson's arm troubles in 2011
After surgery to end season, Hanley Ramirez may be good fantasy value in 2012
I'm an "injury guy," as Sammy Sosa once called me. I probably overvalue availability. In light of increasing debates about the term "value," the wider adoption of stats like WAR, and consistency, the ability of a player to play is of interest.
Take Dan Uggla, he of the terrible first half and the solid second half. I asked some of the best baseball minds inside and outside the game to imagine a player -- I called him Bobby Bipolar -- who would either go 2-for-4 with some pop or 0-for-4 with some bad strikeouts. They wouldn't be predictable, but they would be equal. In theory, Bobby's going to end the season with a .250 average, a low OBP and a slugging percentage that wouldn't carry anything unless he was a plus defender up the middle. Would he be as valuable as a guy who had a more "normal" shape to his season?
On a pure statistical basis, the answer is yes. Of those informally polled, those inside the game valued consistency more than those on the outside. Tom Tango, a widely-cited sabermetrician, didn't believe that Bobby Bipolar could be consistent enough to show any increased value. An assistant GM said that he would always pick the player that was more consistent. "I'd give up a little bit for predictability, but I'd give up more to know that the guy was never going to slump or at least not for long." Jon Sciambi, one of ESPN's baseball announcers, was right in the middle, saying "It probably affects how he's perceived" but wouldn't affect his real value.
No definitive answer seems apparent, but it's a question I think needs to be asked. If you have an idea on this, e-mail me and I'll get it in here on Friday. Powered by the Hawthorne effect, on to the injuries:
The Red Sox already have one famous ankle. They don't really want another. Beckett was pitching to Brett Lawrie when he had a pain that he said was "like nothing he had felt before." That may sound bad, but there are a lot of ways that can be taken. Beckett was sent to Boston for tests and an exam, with the Sox quickly saying that they'd be cautious and push him out of his next scheduled start. Initial reports were that Beckett's ankle was sprained, but that there was "no ligament damage." By definition, a sprain is ligament damage. Semantics aside, my sources say that the test results (manual and imaging) are consistent with a Grade II sprain. That could mean anywhere between two and four weeks recovery.
Beckett doesn't have to be fully healthy to return, with bracing taking up the slack. This is going to be a big test for the Sox medical staff and how they get him back, both in time and function, will determine how they close out the season. If Beckett can get back for one or two outings at the end of the season, both he and the team could gain some confidence, and then he could buy a little more rest by being the No. 3 starter in the ALDS.
With Beckett out, getting Clay Buchholz back could be more important. While Buchholz says he wants to start, I'm curious if pairing him with Beckett wouldn't be a better idea. If any team could pull off a tandem start in the playoffs, it's the Red Sox.
The Red Sox aren't the only team struggling with their rotation. The Braves, once very deep, are now seeing that depth tested. Jurrjens' situation is one to watch closely. The Braves said he had no structural damage, but the definition of "structure" can be very wiggly when it needs to be. Usually, it means a bone, ligament or tendon, but not always. Jurrjens' problem was thought to be a bone-on-bone grinding or bone bruise, which wouldn't be structural under some definitions, but would be a big problem regardless. Jurrjens will be shut down for a couple of weeks, but watch to see how he handles gearing back up. The pushoff has been the biggest issue.
Hanson is perhaps a bigger worry. As a relatively young pitcher, his big innings increase last year was a huge red flag. One of the ways Tom Verducci and I differ on how we calculate the "Verducci Effect" is that I don't count minor league innings. I know, it shouldn't be zero, but I found a better correlation when I did my original work on this back in 2002. Under my variant, Hanson was a red light this year, and sadly, that looks prescient. Hanson's rotator cuff strain demands as much caution as the Braves can give. He's throwing well so far and has the example of Cole Hamels, who had a similar but less severe cuff strain, to look at fondly.
Where did Jose Reyes go in your draft this year? According to MockDraftCentral, Reyes went No. 33, putting him in the third round for most leagues. And at where did he produce? He's 18th overall in WAR. Only Reyes' availability kept him from being a Top-10 overall guy. Remember, WAR doesn't overvalue steals the way that fantasy baseball does. Next year's Reyes could be Ramirez. He's had a down season after being generally selected No. 2 overall, and will see his season come to a close with a shoulder surgery on Sept. 15 with Dr. James Andrews. Like Reyes, the upside will keep him from plummeting too much, but there's still a good chance to get great value at a good price. That's how you succeed in fantasy. Ramirez's shoulder will be tightened up and he should be back in plenty of time for spring training. Players have come back from this type of surgery well, with B.J. Upton the best example. And I wonder if anyone noticed Justin Upton rehabbed his way out of it this winter.
Weeks was thought to be ready to go on a rehab assignment 10 days ago, but didn't. The Brewers were surging and questions about Weeks' lateral movement delayed things. Now, there's no more minor league to go to for Weeks, so the Brewers might end up getting creative. Weeks can continue his rehab, but with roster expansion there's no reason the team couldn't activate him and use him as a pinch hitter. Weeks ran well on Monday and it looks like the team will do just that, according to MLB's Adam McCalvy. He's not going to play much, but this will let him help as he continues his rehab and work on his timing.
The Phillies are doing much the same thing with Rollins as the Brewers are with Weeks. Rollins is eligible to come off the DL now, but the Phillies aren't in any rush to do so. I'm a bit surprised they don't activate him, but keep him on the bench, just to stop the DL days from racking up, which is something teams do think about, though the Phillies have been so good with injuries over the last five years that they're likely seeing their premiums reduced as is. Rollins should have no problem once he's back, but the continual leg problems this season do have to worry Rollins as he heads toward free agency.
Tuesday night wasn't "Strasmas." Instead, this year's version was "Strasurrection." OK, that's not going to work as well on the T-shirts, but the Nats are more concerned with the product than the marketing. Mostly. Strasburg looked like Strasburg for the most part, featuring high 90s heat and a low 80s breaking ball. His mechanics looked like they did before the injury and the results did as well. He was efficient with his pitches and didn't seem bothered by much of anything. I was a bit worried when he ended up on the basepaths in the second inning, reaching on an error and coming around to score, but he didn't show any fatigue issues. (For pitchers on hard pitch limits on rehab assignments, hard running usually subtracts five pitches. Fatigue is fatigue.) The problem is that as good as Strasburg looked, it's just a look. The Nats don't know any more than we do. Strasburg's last year wasn't wasted, but the Nats did miss some opportunities to learn a lot more about one of their most important assets.
With the minor league season over, teams that didn't have affiliates reach the playoffs have lost the chance to have rehab assignments ... Nelson Cruz is taking batting practice, but isn't eligible to come off the DL until next week. Looks like he'll be back at the minimum ... Mark Teixeira is showing no issues with his knee after missing time earlier this week ... You have to twist the stats around to say whether Erik Bedard or Rich Harden has been better since the trading deadline. What I do know is that Harden is the only one available for his next start. Bedard is having knee soreness ... Josh Johnson threw a bullpen and came out saying things went well. He's still a longshot to return this season, though I can't explain a lot of things the Marlins are doing this year. It's clear they want to keep Johnson working ... Grady Sizemore returned from the DL after knee problems and hernia surgery. The Indians are watching closely as Sizemore's $9 million option for '12 is on the line ... Casey McGehee left Tuesday night's game with a decided limp. Watch this one ... Johan Santana only went two innings, but the recovery is what counts, and that went well. He's not long for the minors as the Mets realize he has a lot more value in the majors, both for marketing and for evaluating him for next season. Don't expect much in fantasy terms as he'll be more pitch-limited than Strasburg ... The Mets got a bit more good news with this simple statement: "Ike Davis avoids surgery." He won't play this year, but things look positive for next year. We'll want to see him on a field in the spring before we put him back on draft lists ... The Reds are seriously discussing moving Aroldis Chapman to the rotation next year. They hold an option of Francisco Cordero for next season, but Dusty Baker and Bryan Price aren't sure Chapman's shoulder can handle the normal workload of a closer ... Justin Morneau is scheduled to take some swings on Wednesday. The Twins are suddenly regretting their trade of Jim Thome ... Carlos Gomez is back in the Brewers CF platoon after missing just over a month with a broken collarbone ... The White Sox are going to start shutting some guys down, beginning with Jake Peavy ... Rajai Davis was shut down by the Jays after a minor setback in rehab. They elected to just close things down rather than fight for a few meaningless games. Smart ... What in the bleep was baseball thinking with the end of that Yankees-Orioles game Tuesday night. Bryan Hoch of MLB.com said "every single play looks like someone's going to get hurt." I agree. Ridiculous.
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