Elbow issues: Entering the majors too early

Major League Baseball may have a serious problem on its hands.

Teams that sign young pitchers to big bonuses often accelerate the process to the major leagues so they get an earlier return on their investment. That may actually be hurting the players they’ve drafted and increasing risk for an already common injury.

But let’s start with the news on elbow injuries in general.

Scanning the stats

A recent study from Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit encompassed 168 major leaguers who had undergone UCL reconstructive surgery (more commonly known as Tommy John surgery). The lead-up to the injury was indicated by a “statistically significant decline” in performance in the season before the surgery.

We’ve heard very little of this, and it’s somewhat alarming, partially because it hasn’t been noticed before. But the good news is this means it may be possible for trainers to use statistics as a red flag. When a UCL is undergoing stress that may lead to a fracture, a corresponding drop in statistics could be a good warning that prompts proper rest.

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The Aiken affair

Last week, the Houston Astros made history in the worst way by being the first team to not sign the No. 1 overall pick since 1983. It may go down as a historic blunder. The ramifications of not signing Brady Aiken are far-reaching for the organization and a number of its 2014 draftees.

A building plan going to waste

A plan predicated on getting young talent through the draft in high positions that’s not necessarily college talent (those who are generally closer to MLB-ready) depends on timing. Look no further than the Marlins of 1997 and 2003. Two World Series runs were made entirely built on a strategy of using talent that came together at the right time. After winning the championship, they started over due to small-market restrictions.

The Astros already somewhat into their long-term plan, as a chunk of the talent drafted and acquired via trade — Jon Singleton, Jarred Cosart, L.J. Hoes, Domingo Santana and Dallas Keuchel — is already at the major league level. Failing to sign three players, including two of early round potential (one a No. 1 overall) works against the talent-compiling objective.

This year might not be the only aspect of this failure, though. If this year’s performance is any indicator, it appears the Astros might also have whiffed on Mark Appel from last year. His numbers skyrocketed in a bad way this year, as he sits at A+ Lancaster with a 10.80 ERA. The 2013 first round selection has faced a number of injuries, and speculation leads some to say he may have been poorly picked.

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The “team” part of “team sports”

Sometimes it seems like we forget the “team” part of “team sports.” Sure, we acknowledge that a combination of talents leads to a better result, but we still focus on that talent aspect. How the players come together is vital to any team’s success, as well as its dynamic, and having clearly defined roles is a big part of that.

Let’s use some relatively recent examples of championship matchups to explore the importance of roles within a team.

NBA Finals

The Spurs trumped the Big Three of the Heat by having more players step up and fulfill their roles.

LeBron put up an average of nearly 30 points while Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh each averaged double digits, but Mario Chalmers and Chris Andersen — role players key to the Heat’s success, as Andersen proved in the 2013 playoffs — contributed low totals. A large bulk of the weight landed on LeBron’s shoulders as Wade underperformed and five Spurs averaged double digits. San Antonio outrebounded, outshot, and outdefended Miami by strides.

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Impact injuries

Injuries play a major role in the direction a team takes when approaching the trade deadline. Injuries to a few impact players can drastically change the team’s momentum and approach. Occasionally a club can work around such an injury to a degree of success, but it’s not an easy task. It’s usual for a number of contending clubs to have this issue in the middle of the season, and this year is no exception. The current injury situation among teams like the Cardinals and the Yankees provide some excellent examples for observation.

Losing the league’s best catcher

The Cardinals may have to change their strategy after losing one of the game’s best catchers, Yadier Molina, for 8-12 weeks. The Cards are undeniably better with Molina, but will be without him until at least mid-September. Though I couldn’t find the win-loss records, last year he was worth 5.5 WAR, and he was on pace for over a 4 WAR this year before the injury.

It’s not just his bat that contributes to wins, though — Molina has won five straight Gold Glove awards and the team has a losing record when he sits. For a team that has won at least 85 games every year since 2008, that speaks volumes to his ability to manage a staff and run the game. Removing that sort of presence can have disastrous effects.

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FIFA’s dysfunction evidenced in the World Cup

FIFA’s corruption becomes immediately obvious when viewing how many countries were passed over as potential hosts of the 2022 World Cup in favor of Qatar, where the average temperature in June and July is over 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

I’m not saying Qatar can’t push enough money forward to create a decent World Cup, but there were some other obvious contenders that were snubbed — countries where soccer is already huge, or on the rise. (The New York Times has an interesting feature on Qatar’s focused effort to promote soccer and win the bid. Some good things, but FIFA could have waited another round to get a clearer picture of Qatar’s progress.)

But that sort of corruption far from FIFA’s only problem. This World Cup gave plenty of reminders of the organization’s dysfunction.

Brazil-Netherlands

Saturday’s third-place game gave the most recent example of FIFA inconsistency. Fortunately, it was not enough to affect the outcome of the match.

In just the second minute, Thiago Silva — just back after his disqualification from the semifinal due to two yellow cards — pulled Arjen Robben to the ground as he entered the box. Under almost any circumstances, that calls for a send-off, whether or not the foul happened in the penalty box.

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