Under The Knife 8/2/21

Sleep No More, August

Let’s get right to it today:

Fernando Tatis Jr SS SDP (subluxated shoulder)

This isn’t unexpected. Fernando Tatis Jr’s shoulder, from the first time it popped out was likely to do it again. And again. The question, as it has been during the other ones, is can Tatis and the medical staff work to maintain it, to strengthen it, or to find any sort of way to keep him going at or near peak level as the Padres fight for their spot in the playoffs.

The Padres didn’t hesitate to push Tatis to the IL and there is some worry that this one is worse. With each episode, there’s the chance that the laxity inside the shoulder is getting worse and at some point, the surgery to fix things that they’d hoped to hold off until the off-season is going to have to be done. Again, this is very similar to the Cody Bellinger injury and surgery, so there’s not a major long term concern. (My comparisons to Matt Kemp for Bellinger don’t hold due to changes in technique and rehab. Doctors and therapists get better with practice and sadly, there’s a lot of practice.)

The Padres won’t hesitate too much if surgery is the best course. Tatis is as important for next year as he is this year, but losing this year hurts in other ways. You never know how many shots you get in this game. That said, there’s no reason to rush either. Bellinger showed that late surgery doesn’t mean Tatis would lose much of next year

There’s a really interesting dichotomy with the Padres medical staff. On one hand, the results of days and dollars missed look horrible, amplified by the sheer number of pitchers that are going to miss a season or more with Tommy John surgery. On the other, their ability to keep some players going and productive despite significant injuries is part of the reason the Padres are notable. I’ll be very curious if the Pads’ front office makes any changes there and I’ll again suggest giving them more resources, especially if prevention work was compromised by the lack of man-hours.

Tyler Glasnow SP TBR (sprained elbow)

Tyler Glasnow threw off a mound for the first time and while he’d had some positive signs with his early, low-intent throwing, getting on a mound told him that his rehab was unlikely to be successful. He’s headed to see Dr. Keith Meister, team doc of the Rangers and a frequent surgical consult. In all likelihood, he’ll have surgery shortly after the appointment, if not immediately. That means he’s done for 2021 and with the current timeline, all or much of the 2022 campaign as well. That’s a very high cost for what Glasnow blames on grip.

There’s some question about Glasnow’s UCL tear. Since the Rays and doctors Glasnow consulted with didn’t immediately go to repair or reconstruction, the thought was that the tear itself was mild, somewhere short of 25 percent. Instead, a source tells me that it was “significant” - more like 50 percent, which seldom has a chance of conservative success. I think the truth lies somewhere in between.

Here’s another interesting idea - if Glasnow truly believes that the lack of grip enhancer and the change in enforcement caused his injury, would he or the team be within their rights to demand compensation. Talking to various people around the league, many thought that the answer is no. “Anyone using something foreign was, by the rules, cheating,” said one AL front office type. “I have a hard time believing they could have some kind of grievance for that.”

However, one team counsel I spoke with said while a grievance wouldn’t succeed, Glasnow is definitely due Worker’s Compensation benefits. “They changed the workplace and did it without significant input,” I was told. “It’s like the thing about right of way, where they close the sidewalk in New York once a year. Baseball let it happen for so long, they pretty much lost the moral high ground. If [Glasnow] isn’t able to come back, he’s going to have a case.”

All that aside, most will come back from elbow reconstruction and there’s no reason to think Glasnow will be any different. It’s just a shame that we lose a great pitcher for a year, like all the others.

Jacob deGrom SP NYM (strained forearm)

There are two ways to look at Jacob deGrom’s setback. The first is the simple and negative way - that deGrom’s setback is neither special nor unexpected, given the recurrent nature of his forearm strain, as well as the patterns we’ve seen with this Mets team over not just the last few years, but reaching back a long way. Is this an isolated case where “some pitchers just get injured” or one where inaction and mismanagement cost the Mets time and value? I think it’s the latter.

There’s one “particularly neurotic Mets fan” (as he described himself) who’s a subscriber here who’s always convinced it’s going to be the worst, so let’s assuage those fears - once again, the forearm and the elbow are two different things and while there’s been no new imaging* of deGrom’s elbow, the Mets also don’t see the need for it. Tommy John is not on the radar and getting the forearm right should preclude the need for any further elbow issues.

I’m going to ignore all the “blame the Mets” angles here. It’s easy to go down that road and certainly, we can take a look at deGrom’s workload, history, and management, especially in comparison to several other pitchers. It’s hard to tie deGrom or Noah Syndergaard to the shortcomings with Paul Wilson or Bill Pulsipher, but at some point, culture becomes destiny.

There was a lot of talk when Mickey Callaway was named manager of the Mets, which seems like eons ago, where things were going to change. He publicly talked about bringing Motus sensors in to help with pitcher workload management, but since I worked at Motus, I can tell you the Mets never ordered sensors. Callaway aside, there were discussions with very innovative people about process changes on that side for years with no push by ownership. Even after Cohen’s ownership happened, that’s an area that largely remains untouched. This is the cost.

*I’ve had conflicting reports on whether the Mets have been using ultrasound imaging on deGrom and other players. It’s a technical detail, but I like to be as complete as possible, so it’s possible there has been some imaging done, even routine imaging over the course of the rehab. One of the things Steve Cohen’s money - or just the lack of cash flow issues any non-Wilpon owner should have - is supposed to do is buy the best of everything. An ultrasound imager would be the least of that, given the relatively low cost and access of portable and high definition units.

Kumar Rocker SP Vanderbilt

Kumar Rocker is headed back to Vanderbilt. Word from Jeff Passan and Kiley McDaniel is that the $6m agreement didn’t mesh with their physical, where there was some concern about wear and tear in both the elbow and shoulder. Essentially, the Mets decided that the risk of Rocker wasn’t worth his price and neither could find a middle ground. Instead, the Mets will lose Rocker’s rights and get an extra pick, essentially the 11th next year. There’s no way to tell now who that pick will be, but early signs are that next year’s draft is deep.

Any pitcher is likely to have some signs of wear and tear and these are seldom used as major concerns. Rocker’s teammate, Jack Leiter, has already had Tommy John surgery and missed starts this college season due to both fatigue and soreness. The Rangers are sending him back to Vanderbilt for the fall, largely because they have such trust in the program and it’s coaches. The Mets clearly don’t have the same and I wonder if there might be any long term issues between the Mets and the pitching factory in Nashville due to this.

Mechanically, as analyzed by PitchAI and in discussions with several scouts and crosscheckers, Rocker isn’t perfect, but is far from problematic. There were questions about how his mechanics broke down over the season, his body type - especially in comparison to his father, a thick NFL lineman - and flexibility, but again, Rocker performed on the highest stages of college and was long considered the top talent in this draft. The Mets disagree, but there are a number of baseball people who saw Rocker as late as Omaha that are calling this move “cheap” by the Mets.

The worst case scenario is that Rocker would miss time, but given that the Rangers are essentially putting Jack Leiter and a million bucks more back into the same situation as Rocker, things look confusing. If Rocker were to miss a full year or more, the way Gunner Hogland will after Tommy John surgery in April, would he have been better off in the eyes of the Mets? Holland signed just under the $3.2m slot at 19 for the Jays despite having the surgery and being unlikely to start the 2022 campaign in a minor league rotation. Given that nearly a third of pitchers in MLB have had this surgery, this seems almost a baked in risk for someone like Rocker and one really has to question what the Mets saw. If it was that bad, Rocker’s value in next year’s draft is going to be problematic. If it isn’t and Rocker is a top college arm again, the Mets are going to have some questions to answer.

One other note: I’m told by multiple sources that while Rocker did not take a late MRI as many other pitchers did, the Mets and several other teams were given access to detailed medical information on him ahead of the draft. One source that saw this information says there was “nothing unusual” that stood out to him and that Rocker was not red flagged by his organization. If Rocker didn’t take a new MRI after the draft, which could have been required as part of the physical, I don’t know what they could have said failed the physical. There’s really no process for Rocker to go through if he wasn’t willing to take less money, aside from going back to Vandy.

(Or maybe not. A late report from Jon Morosi says Rocker won’t be going back and could sign in another pro league, though regardless, he would be subject to the 2022 Draft. This could get messy, but peep this: Jack Leiter signed and will go back to Vandy, while Rocker won’t, and won’t!)

Also relevant:

Domingo German SP NYY (strained shoulder)

Innings aren’t the best way to measure workload, but they are a good first look. I’ll almost always look at a young pitcher’s previous innings workload to give me an idea if he’s a bit in deep and I did just that with Domingo German when the Yankees put him on the IL with shoulder inflammation. The problem is that 2020 makes reading his stat line almost meaningless. German is at 97 innings, well below his 147 in 2019 between Triple-A and the bigs.

So what do we do with that big gap while he served his suspension and a year where his only pitching was 16 innings in the Dominican Winter League? Is he making a big jump in innings or is he well rested? Without more information, such as what he did in 2020 and how he was ramped up to the season, there’s simply no way to tell. The Yankees aren’t a dumb organization and have advanced tracking, motion capture, and more tools to help monitor, so let’s give them the benefit of the doubt here in a way we don’t do with some other teams (cough, cough, Mets.)

German isn’t young and certainly has some marks against him for his off-field issues. He’s been good, but he’s hardly the type a team like the Yankees would keep around because he’s too good to replace. The most interesting thing here is that he hits the IL just one start after he carried a no hitter into the eighth. We’ve seen time and time again that no hitters and near no hitters carry a cost. Let’s hope that letting German go deeper than normal, though 93 pitches would have been giggled at just a few decades ago as “deep,” doesn’t add his name to the roster of those sacrificed on the No Hitter altar.

Quick Cuts:

Chris Sale went 81 pitches at his first Triple-A rehab start. You can’t convince me he couldn’t have done this solid five innings for the Red Sox rather than the WooSox … Shohei Ohtani has a sore thumb. It doesn’t affect him at the plate, but the Angels will delay his next start until Thursday and could elect to skip his turn this time through the rotation if it remains an issue … Rafael Devers is back in the lineup after missing a couple games with a sore quad. The Sox feel he won’t need much more time off, but a rest day here or there shouldn’t be too much of a red flag either … Both Gio Urshela (hamstring) and DJ LaMahieu (triceps) remain on the bench for the third game. The Yankees brought in a lot of depth, but the idea wasn’t to replace those two per se. Urshela is more the worry and the IL remains a possibility, as soon as tomorrow … Andrew McCutchen is headed for an MRI on his knee. He left Saturday’s game with an issue. It his left knee, the same he had the ACL reconstructed back in 2019 …Billy Hamilton has been a key bench guy for the White Sox, but he’s re-strained his oblique and will miss a couple weeks. The hope is he’ll come back well as he did before, but they’re also worried about why this recurred at all … Huascar Ynoa is starting his rehab at Single-A, but his first outing didn’t go well. He went two innings and 50 pitches (which was his goal), but gave up six runs and eight hits. He got his work in, but the Braves have to be a bit worried with the results … Spencer Turnbull had his Tommy John surgery this week and begins his rehab process. We’ll have to see if 2021 rehabbers are on a more normal schedule than 2020, but my guess is no.

As many of you know, I’m in the peak of finishing “The Science of Baseball” and while the schedule will stay the same here at UTK, don’t be surprised if they get a bit less wordy. I’m excited about how far the book has come and am on track to hit every deadline. As I’ve said, I feel like this book is guided by readers here, so expect a couple more of my requests for assistance as I close this thing out like Trevor Hoffman.

Between Rocker and deGrom, I think I’ve had more people ask for my take ahead of the newsletter than ever before. I wonder if I could charge more to let people see what I was writing as I was writing it, or some sort of ‘early access program’. Then again, I could probably just charge Mets fans extra.