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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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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Cuban Crossovers: Aroldis Chapman

This week I’m writing a series on a number of high-profile Cuban players who defected to the MLB, focusing primarily on expectation and payoff, to varying degrees.
From Monday, Jose Abreu.  Tuesday: Yasiel Puig. Yesterday: Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez.
Today’s subject is the Reds’ high-powered closer, Aroldis Chapman.

Aroldis Chapman appeared on the scene in late 2009. At least half the league showed up to see him work out in Houston on December 15 before the Reds came out the eventual winners of the bidding. His signing came after months of interactions with MLB teams after defecting in the summer of 2009. He was called up in September of the following season, in his first year of American baseball.

Scouts saw Chapman as a unique talent. Speculation swirled about as many teams were thought to be interested in his services. The Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Angels were considered front-runners to get the lefty, but the Reds had been active all along under the radar and signed him, putting forward a better offer than the runner-up A’s. (Just two years later, the A’s won big in the bidding for Yoenis Cespedes. More on that tomorrow.)

When the Reds announced they had signed Chapman in 2010, they hoped he would be a starter. They gave him starter’s money, too, at $30.25 million over 6 years before incentives. The biggest question about Chapman was control. His repertoire had two plus pitches, a fastball and a slider, but his changeup was only adequate — a primary factor in his control issues. Could this Cuban starter improve his changeup and control enough to become an effective starting pitcher?

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Cuban Crossovers: Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez

This week I’m writing a series on a number of high-profile Cuban players who defected to the MLB, focusing primarily on expectation and payoff, to varying degrees. There is sometimes a tendency to over-hype international players, especially when the comparison is made based on Cuba’s somewhat spotty statistics, but the scouting has been generally solid, and a number of recent signings have worked out for Major League clubs.
Yesterday’s subject, which you can read here, was phenom Yasiel Puig. Monday’s was Jose Abreu.
Today I turn to a man who remains a big question mark: Phillies pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez.

Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez was more touted than Abreu and Puig, and perhaps about as much as Yoenis Cespedes. He defected from Cuba in 2013 after an unsuccessful attempt in 2012 that left him out of competitive play following the 2011 season.

Last July, reports surfaced saying the Phillies had signed him to a six-year, $60 million deal. It was never confirmed by the organization, and later the terms were released at a much lower 3 years and $12 million. The reason? Concerns over his elbow:

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Pitching injury rates

I wrote these thoughts down a while back, and added to them this week.
Some linked articles are old, but the links are updated.

The injury issue

Pitching an extensive amount is not good for the human body.
In fact, it has become debilitating.

Starters are breaking down.
The way the closer role is set up is incredibly harmful to the players.

The words “elbow surgery” appear 37 times on the current USA Today injury report, only once in reference to a position player (catcher Matt Wieters). 102 pitchers are on the disabled list (n.b. one of those is for food poisoning).

So why is it nothing is being done about it?
It would seem that either the players or the owners would care enough about the problem to speak out and do something to fix it. Yet they stay silent.

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