The effect of injury on elite players

The debate about Hall of Fame worthiness is as healthy now as it’s ever been. As fans are provided with more statistics that illuminate certain aspects of value (here’s looking at you, WAR) and fantastic sites like Baseball Reference have all the information available a click away, within 24 hours of a game finishing, the fire is fueled for some healthy discussion.

In that vein, earlier this month Joe discussed Hall of Fame credentials and standards. There are some basic guidelines that won’t change in the eyes of the electorate (namely, baseball writers), and Joe does a good job outlining them. There are, however, some great players who are on the bubble for the Hall of Fame because of the negative impact of injury on their careers. How much should that affect the voters? It might seem unfair to keep great players from the Hall because of injuries, but it’s one of many aspects that feed into the composition of a career. None of those should be taken lightly.

Pitchers with poor deliveries

Sandy Koufax was a legend, without a doubt. His career-ending injury, however, could have cost him a Hall of Fame spot. He pitched brilliantly in his final six seasons and earned three Cy Young awards before leaving the game at 30. With what Larry Schwartz calls an “arthritic arm,” Koufax pitched four no-hitters.

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Next stop: US Open

One year ago, Roger Federer was being urged by critics and fans to retire. The Maestro’s subpar performance at Wimbledon was still fresh in everyone’s minds, and Federer’s hard court form seemed less than average, producing only a quarterfinals billet at the Cincinnati Open. His prospects looked bleak heading into the US Open. Ultimately, the Swiss fell in the fourth round of the Open to low-ranked Tommy Robredo, ending a month of poor results and disappointing tennis.

Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal was scooping up titles like candy, winning both the Rogers Cup in Canada and the Cincinnati Open back to back in preparation for what would be a historic run to the top at the US Open. Novak Djokovic had been playing some great tennis as well, but his game was largely overshadowed by Nadal’s “Summer Conquest,” and the Serbian had fallen prey to Nadal’s unique brand of tennis multiple times during the year. These two faced off in the US Open final, and though Djokovic forced the match to four sets, Nadal lifted the trophy yet again.

Fast forward a year. Here, at the cusp of the 2014 US Open, all roles seem reversed. Federer is now the favorite at the Open, Djokovic is under pressure due to multiple losses at the hands of lesser ranked players, and Nadal has dropped out of the Open to tend to his right wrist injury. A number of upcoming contenders have garnered their share of the limelight, most notably Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. With a week of rest now in effect for the highest-ranked players, the courts of Flushing Meadows are prepared for what can only be a fascinating US Open.

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The Dodgers’ adaptation amidst pitching questions

The Dodgers have seen their fair share of injuries. Hanley Ramirez sits out with a strained oblique as I write, but the overwhelming majority of the club’s injuries have come from the pitching staff. As such, the rotation continues to develop as pitchers move on and off the DL (or extend their time on the injury list).

Still, only the Orioles have a larger lead in the division than the five games the Dodgers hold over San Francisco. Some of that is due to initial composition of a team with the largest payroll in baseball ($238.8 million, according to ESPN), but a portion of the credit can be given to the front office for moves that didn’t involve big spending.

The rotation

Earlier this month, Joe wrote a defense of Clayton Kershaw as one of the faces of the game. The Dodgers ace has been one of the best in the game, and since returning from DL in May, he’s been phenomenal. The lefty has a career-low 1.78 ERA to this point in the season. His numbers keep getting better, so the Dodgers can take comfort in the extension of an elite starter who continues to live up to his billing.

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Will Bryce Harper ever achieve superstar status?

Since the start of the 2012 season, one of the most talked-about players in all of baseball has been Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper. The 21 year old was called up that year at the tender age of 19, and was extremely impressive. His 20 home runs, 58 RBIs and 18 stolen bases warranted him a trip to his first All-Star Game, as well as the Rookie of the Year Award. Since then , Harper’s young career has been something of a roller coaster ride. He has shown flashes of brilliance, but will he ever be the once in a generation talent many experts believed him to be?

Harper’s journey through the Major Leagues

After winning the ROY in 2012, Harper looked to be getting even better in 2013. Through April of that season, he hit .344 with 9 home runs and 18 RBIs. For that first month, he seemed ready to become an MVP-type player, following in the footsteps of fellow outfield phenom and 2012 AL ROY Mike Trout. However, that’s when things started going downhill.

In May of 2013, Harper hurt his knee crashing into the wall in Dodger Stadium. A month-long trip to the disabled list did not turn out to be enough, as he would not be the same player after returning. For the year he actually put up nearly identical statistics to his rookie year, with 20 home runs, 58 RBIs, and a .274  batting average. These were good numbers, but slightly misleading, considering Harper was at his best in April. After his injury, though, he struggled mightily at the plate, partly because of the residual effects of his knee injury.

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One Frenchman’s conquest of Montreal

It takes a lot of skill to beat a Top Ten tennis player. It also takes a lot of skill to beat one who has won Grand Slams on that particular surface. It takes a completely different set of skill entirely to beat three such Grand Slam-winning Top Ten players, all while marching on the road to a Masters 1000 title.

Meet Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The Frenchman is not exactly a household name, but he has had some degree of success in the past, contesting the final of the 2008 Australian Open as well as making showings in the semifinals of Wimbledon and the French Open. He holds a career 11 titles, including two Masters 1000 titles, and spent the better part of 2013 within the lower levels of the Top Ten.

His 2014 season prior to Montreal, however, has been less than satisfactory. He failed to win a single title, and produced sub-par fourth round showings in the first three Grand Slams of the year. As a result, Tsonga dropped down to World No. 15, finally falling out of the Top Ten for the first time in nearly a season.

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