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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Grantland: Jazayerli :A National Mistake

From 1984 to 1998, one out of every two young starters was still starting regularly five years later. From 1999 onward, two out of every three young starters have done so. These are the best young pitchers in the game — and their failure rate has been cut by a third. That ain’t beanbag. You can credit some of this to improved surgical techniques, perhaps, but it’s worth noting that the success rate in the 1980s (13-of-24) was actually higher than it was from 1991 to 1998 (7-of-16), even though Tommy John surgery, for instance, was commonplace in the 1990s. More to the point, almost none of the 19 “survivors” from 1999 to 2006 overcame major arm problems through surgery or rehab — nearly all of them avoided injury in the first place.

That’s the take-home point here: Major league baseball teams have dramatically altered the way they handle starting pitchers — and in doing so, they have significantly reduced the risk of injury to those pitchers.

a long and convoluted article

Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: September 12, 2012 at 05:20 PM | 36 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: nationals

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   1. BDC Posted: September 12, 2012 at 05:47 PM (#4234177)
After many threads on this, my thinking is less thinking than feeling. Ray has best analysed the legal situation, and none of us knows anything about the medical situation. As a baseball fan, I am sorry that Strasburg won't pitch in crucial games. Who wants a big star to be off the field? I am the sorrier that baseball, which is supposed to be a fun game, even at this high professional level, is hostage to various non-baseball calculations.

I understand that the Nationals have "invested" a lot of money in Strasburg. But ironically, the amount of money involved might be an argument to use him now and try to win the World Series. They've paid him $15 million, which is over fifteen times what I've earned so far in my 32 years of working. It's a lot of money. And, given the labor situation and the great riches of MLB, he's probably already given them more than $15M in value at the going rate for great, indeed drawing-card, pitching. IOW, nobody owes nobody nothing after October. And literally anything could happen over the next few years: he might turn into Curt Schilling's tougher big brother, he might wash up as a middle reliever, the Earth could be hit by an asteroid. Why not play good baseball for good money and let us all have fun this year?

But if not, well, fine, best wishes, I hope it keeps fair for everybody, I'll watch the guys who are playing.
   2. Walt Davis Posted: September 12, 2012 at 06:46 PM (#4234222)
The article doesn't address the Strasburg question in any useful way. The first half of the article is pretty good and could be titled "the history of pitch counts and injury risk" or something. We'll leave aside the whole correlation-causality thing and simply say that as the workload for young pitchers has gone down, the "survival rate" for young pitchers has gone up. Rany's analysis here could be stronger but that's OK, it's nice to see somebody address that question.*

But, nowhere in the article does he adress the survival rate of injured young starters or injured starters regardless of age. I didn't see anywhere where he distinguished between shoulder injuries and elbow injuries -- which likely would have helped his Strasburg point. He counters the Zimmerman example with Kerry Wood and pretty much leaves it at that. He makes the point that the key change is that younger pitchers are getting injured at a lower rate (although it's not clear from his data that this is true). But Strasburg has already been injured so the now-standard tender loving care that Rany credits for reducing injury rates already didn't work the first time in Strasburg's case so why should we assume they'll work fine now without some tweaking.

His argument for why the Strasburg decision is a mistake is that since teams have increased the survival rate of young pitchers (that's all young pitchers, not ones recovering from injury) from 50% to 67% then (by assumption) the Nats can only at best make a small marginal improvement on Strasburg's survival probability (which Rany seems to assume is 67%). Even if we grant that, at best, the Nats might improve his survival probability from 67% to 70%, you still need to go through the exercise to show that this would not be "worth it." After all, it's pretty easy to argue that any wins added by Strasburg this regular season are almost certainly not going to matter (the Nats have a 7.5 game lead in the NLE and 2.5 for overall record) and that, in the playoffs, he could be anywhere from god-like to awful in such a small sample.

* I remain disappointed that, as far as I know, nobody has done the legwork to put together a database of injury histories or at least DL trips. We've got almost every box score. B-R is now listing years missed due to military service. I'm pretty sure the old baseball encyclopedia had DL days. Where's the geek who's willing to use his free time to put that together. We shouldn't have to measure "survival" by "made 25 starts 5 years later." (Note that Rany ignores quality in his survival measures. Although he cites him as a victim of "abuse", I'm pretty sure that, as he measures it, Bobby Witt was a survivor.)
   3. KJOK Posted: September 12, 2012 at 07:02 PM (#4234236)
* I remain disappointed that, as far as I know, nobody has done the legwork to put together a database of injury histories or at least DL trips.


I know of at least two of these databases, plus some 'partial' ones, and there are probably a few out there that I don't know about.

It may not sound like it, but it's a HUGE project. I started on one, initially doing just 2002 thru current, where there are some electronic records you can grab, and it was still very time consuming to put those records into a useable database.

Then for pre-2002 you have to do the research, and THEN you have to do tons of data entry.

But I agree I wish someone or some group would do it, AND make it publicly available.

   4. with Glavinesque control and Madduxian poise Posted: September 12, 2012 at 07:08 PM (#4234241)
I was faintly disappointed by this article, for almost precisely the same reasons Walt brings up in #2. I normally think of Rany as doing better work than this.
   5. Steve Treder Posted: September 12, 2012 at 08:13 PM (#4234289)
But I agree I wish someone or some group would do it, AND make it publicly available.

Sure, but it would seem that the only enterprise with sufficient resources and self-interest in the results to properly and rigorously undertake the project would be an MLB franchise. And if they do it (or have done it), they aren't going to make it publicly available.
   6. dr. scott Posted: September 12, 2012 at 08:22 PM (#4234294)
Funny, first time Ive seen Rany's photo. I always assumed he was 50 or 60 for some reason. The old wise guy who likes the loser team and befriends the young stat nerds.
   7. Guapo Posted: September 12, 2012 at 08:43 PM (#4234311)
#### it, I'll do it. See you guys in a couple of years.

*trudges down the basement stairs*
   8. Super Creepy Derek Lowe (GGC) Posted: September 12, 2012 at 08:47 PM (#4234312)
I think all those original BPro guys are still under 50.
   9. Squash Posted: September 12, 2012 at 08:48 PM (#4234313)
Not a huge fan of this article. Half it is just reinforcing a premise we already know (pitchers threw a ton of pitches in the 70s-80s - who knew?!!) and the rest counters the Nats seemingly mostly anecdotal decision with an argument that is completely anecdotal. He starts off talking about finding a middle ground and then immediately starts taking shots from an extreme end of the spectrum ("If you want your pitchers to be completely healthy, never have them pitch at all! Golly gee!!!"). And the seeming argument that because Strasburg has been hurt already that therefore there isn't really anything to be gained from treating him carefully is to put it politely, tortured.

Here's a middle ground - there are entirely understandable reasons from each side of this debate to support the Nats' decision or not.
   10. bunyon Posted: September 12, 2012 at 09:30 PM (#4234328)
*trudges down the basement stairs*

What were you doing out of the basement?


   11. NJ in DC (Now with Wife!) Posted: September 12, 2012 at 09:32 PM (#4234330)
Sure, but it would seem that the only enterprise with sufficient resources and self-interest in the results to properly and rigorously undertake the project would be an MLB franchise. And if they do it (or have done it), they aren't going to make it publicly available.

It would be really cool if some enterprising franchise with a stud young pitcher to protect put together a comprehensive report assessing this exact type of stuff. It should probably be about 50 pages too.
   12. McCoy Posted: September 12, 2012 at 09:47 PM (#4234337)
There is a legal side to the Strasburg debate?
   13. spycake Posted: September 12, 2012 at 09:54 PM (#4234341)
It would be really cool if some enterprising franchise with a stud young pitcher to protect put together a comprehensive report assessing this exact type of stuff. It should probably be about 50 pages too.

Is that 50 pages double-spaced?
   14. Walt Davis Posted: September 12, 2012 at 10:01 PM (#4234349)
Sure, but it would seem that the only enterprise with sufficient resources and self-interest in the results to properly and rigorously undertake the project would be an MLB franchise.

I know it's a big project (so I'm kinda joking about some geek doing it) but c'mon -- this (and virtually everything else we can think of) is dwarfed by retrosheet and b-r. Minor-league records for every player; Negro League data. Like I said, b-r now has an entry for years missed due to military service -- I assume that was the result of somebody building a database of that which required somebody digging through newspaper records. Add all the work done by Szym and Tango and MGL and ... all started in a free, open-source world. Heck, the daily Primer Dugout digging through the newspapers of 1912 for fun stories isn't substantially less work than looking through daily baseball news to see who went on/came off the DL on a given day.

A Lexis/Nexis search on "Tommy John surgery"; "torn rotator cuff"; "disabled list"; "Frank Jobe"; "Dr. James Andrews"; "the third Dr whose name escapes me at the moment"; "hamstring; baseball"; "truck washing". That probably covers 85-90% of what we want.

My amazement of course is really about the crazy amount of stuff we have, for free, not really whining about what we don't have. But, call me crazy, this obsessed saber-ite cares a lot more about injury histories than I do about Phil Rizzuto's minor-league career or even how a batter does against power/finesse pitchers or where he stands on the HoF Monitor. It's the big missing piece in the ZiPS/PECOTA/Marcel puzzle.* We are flooded with all sorts of (wonderful!) micro-data that I am surprised we don't have something as basic as "on the DL from 16th June to 27th July" in a game log.

In fact I'm certain that one of the fantasy sites did have this info in the record of current players for at least a few years.

Let me add that ANY team doesn't already have such a database is negligent. This is why God created unpaid/underpaid interns.

*I'm sure you recall Steve when I asked you to provide evidence that previously injured players were more likely to be injured again (not that either of us really doubted it). I recall you went to the Baseball Encyclopedia for the info and nicely showed that previous DL days were a good predictor of future DL days.
   15. Walt Davis Posted: September 12, 2012 at 10:05 PM (#4234353)
There is a legal side to the Strasburg debate?

In the sense that if the Nats ignored the explicit advice of Dr. Andrews and other medical experts, the insurance company might avoid paying off if Strasburg got hurt again.
   16. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: September 12, 2012 at 10:10 PM (#4234355)
In the sense that if the Nats ignored the explicit advice of Dr. Andrews and other medical experts, the insurance company might avoid paying off if Strasburg got hurt again.

Except the Nationals almost certainly didn't insure a $15M contract.
   17. Chris Needham Posted: September 12, 2012 at 10:18 PM (#4234359)
[16] They supposedly did. But half that contract's been paid out. And they'd get only a portion of that money back. So it's like over $2 MM. I guess an argument could be that their willingness to ignore advice would make future insurance impossible or more costly.

____

As far as the article, my takeaway was slightly different. Basically, he's arguing that baseball has cleaned up its own act. A large part of that 50-page report is supposed comp-based studies of similar pitchers. But, if a pitcher today is treated much better than one even 15 years ago, that doesn't leave a whole lot of viable comps.
   18. McCoy Posted: September 12, 2012 at 10:28 PM (#4234363)
NM/
   19. Good cripple hitter Posted: September 12, 2012 at 11:06 PM (#4234383)
Heck, the daily Primer Dugout digging through the newspapers of 1912 for fun stories isn't substantially less work than looking through daily baseball news to see who went on/came off the DL on a given day.

A Lexis/Nexis search on "Tommy John surgery"; "torn rotator cuff"; "disabled list"; "Frank Jobe"; "Dr. James Andrews"; "the third Dr whose name escapes me at the moment"; "hamstring; baseball"; "truck washing". That probably covers 85-90% of what we want.

Speaking as someone who once read a post like this and decided to catalogue every single Jeff Francoeur article posted to this site, I would actually enjoy doing that but you are vastly underplaying how much work it'd be. It took a few hours to do the Frenchy Archive, and that was just a few years worth of news stories for one player, located on one site that has chronologically sorted archives. To find all the injuries for everyone who played in the MLB (Eg: including injuries suffered in the minors) for any amount of time would be a massive undertaking if you were starting from scratch and had to comb through news sites to find the injuries.

It would take a lot of hours of research and inputting for even a limited version of this. Not to mention it'd be really easy to miss non-DL injuries like Colby Rasmus's groin injury that hurt a player's production but don't lead to a DL stint. "Big project" doesn't really do what you're talking about justice.

That said, it does sound like it'd be fun to do. There was a site where this information was searchable but it looks like it's been taken down.
   20. Walt Davis Posted: September 12, 2012 at 11:28 PM (#4234400)
I'm certainly not suggesting it could be done in an afternoon. A weekend minimum! :-)

The first swipe is obviously gonna miss injuries that don't result in a DL trip ... but I think this are sufficiently trivial to not matter anyway. It is likely only going to go back 10-15 years to start. It might even miss injury type. And we already don't have minor-league game logs (well, somebody probably does) so I'm not too concerned about tracking minor-league injuries either.

But I'm not sure that first swipe is as hard as you suggest. All you need is to track one major newspaper (or an mlb.com archive if such a thing exists) and look at the "transactions" section of the sports section. Track 2-3 papers as a safeguard. Not necessarily any need to pull up all those duplicate stories.

Again, b-r gives us (nearly) every trade involving a major-leaguer. It gives us service time on current major leaguers. We have pretty excruciating detail on every contract. Somebody went through transaction logs and media reports to find all that stuff. Somebody with the retrosheet skills can already identify players with gaps of 15+ days in their game logs. Presumably that can be matched up with minor-league records to at least give us a good guess as to whether they were sent down (something else I'd love to see added to game logs while I'm wishcasting).

Maybe it's just me but given all the incredible detail we do have I'm surprised that I can't find a current 25-man roster, 40-man roster and DL list on b-r.* I'm not sure anybody but mlb.com tracks 25-man rosters. We (amazingly!) have people posting Primer Dugout, playoff races, WBC updates, ZiPS projections (and an entire ZiPS DMB database and the old Baseball Stars version!) and the much missed Photo of the Day -- where's the sucker who'll post the daily DL update? :-)

Anyway, I will shut up now before somebody thinks I'll actually do something with this data after they lovingly collect it all for me.

*OK, b-r is about history and there's a natural reluctance to add things that only go back a few years. Make that fangraphs then if you want ... of course they might have 25-man rosters, I've never looked.
   21. Walt Davis Posted: September 12, 2012 at 11:31 PM (#4234403)
I guess an argument could be that their willingness to ignore advice would make future insurance impossible or more costly.

I didn't follow whatever legal discussion that did take place but I suppose there's some chance Strasburg could sue for lost wages if the Nats "forced" him to pitch more than the medical experts advised and then he got hurt.
   22. Ray (RDP) Posted: September 12, 2012 at 11:52 PM (#4234418)
There is a legal side to the Strasburg debate?

In the sense that if the Nats ignored the explicit advice of Dr. Andrews and other medical experts, the insurance company might avoid paying off if Strasburg got hurt again.


Boras made some noise about this, but I can't imagine the Nationals bothered to insure Strasburg's relatively small contract.

But the "legal side" was mainly about another issue, i.e., one poster arguing that Strasburg/Boras could sue for $100 million if the Nats went against a medical opinion and had him pitch 200 innings instead of 160 and he got hurt at some point in the future. It was entirely fantastical and utterly frivolous, based on a negligence cause of action that (a) didn't apply and (b) wouldn't have helped even if it did apply. There was no breach of duty, no way to show that 200>160 caused the injury, no way to get around that Strasburg has a contract to pitch and assumes the risk of getting hurt pitching, no way to get around that industry standard was that scores of other pitchers go 200 innings even coming off of TJ surgery.

At best there could be some sort of workman's comp claim or grievance if the Nats forced him to pitch through an injury, but (a) he's not injured and (b) he wants to pitch, and (c) the damages wouldn't be $100 mil.

   23. Walt Davis Posted: September 13, 2012 at 12:09 AM (#4234429)
It was entirely fantastical and utterly frivolous

But Ray, you haven't seen James Spader's brilliant closing argument yet!
   24. JoeHova Posted: September 13, 2012 at 12:11 AM (#4234430)
I swear that there used to be a site that had DL information, at least for recent players. I can not for the life of me remember what it was though. I remember I only heard of the site because it was linked to in an article I read. (I think the article linked to Ken Griffey Jr.'s extensive injury history, iirc.) I looked at the site a few times but DL history wasn't quite as interesting as I had supposed it would be and so I've now forgotten what the site was.
   25. JoeHova Posted: September 13, 2012 at 12:21 AM (#4234434)
Damn, I found the site, but it's down. The site is being squatted by a Japanese loan company. Still, this shows that somebody has a lot of the DL data organized into a searchable database. It's possible that they've moved it to another site or that they would be willing to share it if whoever ran the site could be tracked down.
   26. Brian C Posted: September 13, 2012 at 12:33 AM (#4234438)
At best there could be some sort of workman's comp claim or grievance if the Nats forced him to pitch through an injury, but ... he wants to pitch

Does he? I know he publicly says he does, but the bottom line is that his agent works for him, and if Strasburg didn't want Boras to advocate that he be shut down, he'd tell Boras to STFU.
   27. Jay Z Posted: September 13, 2012 at 12:40 AM (#4234439)
Walt, I am working on a personal transaction project for pro football and it does take forever, believe me. With the minor league stats you just need a guide and someone to type in the numbers. With transactions or injuries there is no central source and you have to do search after search.
   28. Steve Treder Posted: September 13, 2012 at 12:46 AM (#4234441)
I have a raging mancrush on Walt Davis.
   29. Walt Davis Posted: September 13, 2012 at 01:05 AM (#4234451)
Ewww.
   30. Good cripple hitter Posted: September 13, 2012 at 01:11 AM (#4234453)
Damn, I found the site, but it's down. The site is being squatted by a Japanese loan company. Still, this shows that somebody has a lot of the DL data organized into a searchable database. It's possible that they've moved it to another site or that they would be willing to share it if whoever ran the site could be tracked down.


I'm pretty sure that's just an earlier url of the site I linked to in #19.


All you need is to track one major newspaper (or an mlb.com archive if such a thing exists) and look at the "transactions" section of the sports section. Track 2-3 papers as a safeguard. Not necessarily any need to pull up all those duplicate stories.


If you did this at the start of a season, it wouldn't be a lot of work because it'd just take a few minutes per day and you'd be done. But if you wanted to do this for multiple seasons, you'd take that few minutes per day, multiply it by 180 and you've got a single season. Of course, that's not nearly enough data, so you'd have to repeat it ten times, then ten more times, then another...

It's likely that someone smarter than me could come up with a quicker way to do this, but I can't imagine this being a relatively easy thing to accomplish.
   31. BDC Posted: September 13, 2012 at 08:33 AM (#4234520)
The old Neft/Cohen/Neft print encyclopedias have a brief coding of significant injuries, alongside a player's line on the team pages. For instance, I open mine at random right now and discover that Johnny Evers, who played just 83 games for the 1915 Braves, had (NJ) that season: not New Jersey, but "ankle injury."

The older Macmillan encyclopedias have something similar: opening my 1969 edition, I discover that Wally Gerber had a broken hand in 1921 (missed 40 games) and a broken leg in 1925 (missed half the season). The information is extremely terse, and who knows how accurate it is, but it's information.
   32. John M. Perkins Posted: September 13, 2012 at 11:26 AM (#4234726)
Why such a brouhaha about shutting down the Nationals #3 SP who sucked in his last two games against the Marlins (sandwiching an excellant game against the Cardinals) while his replacement is outpitching him? I believe Johnson's statement about media hype is a cover for a tired arm.
The Nationals with a current Lannan are better than the Nationals with a current Strasburg.
   33. Ray (RDP) Posted: September 13, 2012 at 11:41 AM (#4234745)
Why such a brouhaha about shutting down the Nationals #3 SP who sucked in his last two games against the Marlins (sandwiching an excellant game against the Cardinals) while his replacement is outpitching him? I believe Johnson's statement about media hype is a cover for a tired arm.


What a ridiculous statement. Strasburg is their best starting pitcher this year, and he's their best starting pitcher going by career.

Also, who cares what his last three starts show? Not that you're looking at his last three starts if you're ignoring the game against the Cardinals.

The Nationals with a current Lannan are better than the Nationals with a current Strasburg.


No, they are not.

Claiming the world is going to end if Strasburg goes 200 innings instead of 160 is bad enough. Claiming that there was no other way to do this is bad enough. Claiming that sacrificing a postseason run when you are the best team in the league for speculative future years when you have no idea if you'll ever be in this position again is bad enough.

But claiming that John Lannan is currently better than Strasburg? What in the world is this about?
   34. Walt Davis Posted: September 13, 2012 at 08:39 PM (#4235358)
But if you wanted to do this for multiple seasons, you'd take that few minutes per day, multiply it by 180 and you've got a single season.

That's why God created the offseason. :-)

I know it's a lot of work. But as I keep saying, it's not obviously bigger than other labors of love people have provided for us (Negro League stats, minor league stats, trades, draft histories, studies of BA prospect rankings, ZiPS projections, nicknames, high school attended, college attended, death dates/places, hell we even have burial sites for a lot of guys) and is absolutely dwarfed by retrosheet.

I'm just surprised. I mean, I can find all this in a second:

Braggo Roth
Robert Frank Roth (The Globetrotter)
Born Aug 28, 1892 in Burlington, WI
Debuted Sept 1, 1914
Final game Oct 1, 1921
Died Sept 11, 1936 (44) in Chicago, IL
Buried St. Mary Cemetery in Burlington, WI
Brother of Frank Roth
Purchased by the White Sox from Kansas City in Aug 1914
Traded by the White Sox with a PTBNL, Ed Kiepfer and $31,500 to the Indians for Shoeless Joe Jackson (was Gabe Paul in charge back then too?) on Aug 21, 1915. CWS sent Larry Chappell to complete the trade on Feb 14, 1916 (Happy Valentine's Day)
Traded by the Indians to the A's for 3 players (I'm getting lazy of coruse we know their names)
Traded by the A's with one other guy to the Red Sox for 2 guys
Traded by the Red Sox with the same guy to the Senators for 3 guys
Traded by the Seantors to the Yankees for 2 guys.

Look at that list. Debut and final game probably lifted from retrosheet (think of how much work went into assigning and verifying unique player IDs). Birthplace/date was also in old encyclopedias and I'm pretty sure they had death dates, not sure they had death places. At some point, all of that had to be transferred into digital databases (I've always wondered where the Lahman database came from). Burial sites (which I assume are not known for everyone) I can only assume came about because somebody or some group took the time to compile it then some other people took the time to code those to the unique player IDs. Identifying other family members in baseball must have taken quite a lot of work. Tracking down transactions, the dates, the names of PTBNLs and (for crying out loud!) the amount of money in a trade had to involve tracking down media reports.

What I can't tell from anything on b-r is why he only played 106 games 1918 despite his 131 OPS+. I assume it was injury -- game logs start in 1918 conveniently enough -- since he played every day until Aug 12tth then not at all.

Would you like to know more? If so, just click on the link to his entry in the SABR Bio Project. Here you will find even more about his minor-league days (they go back farther than that listed on b-r), his personality, the lovely town of Burlington WI.

And lo and behold I find "In 1918 Roth hit .283 in a season abbreviated by the war. Despite a back injury that plagued him most of the year and kept him from the Cleveland lineup for nearly three weeks, Bobby banged out 12 triples and was among the league leaders in extra-base hits and RBI."

So the detective work on this one has already been done only nobody's coded it up. And I never knew the 1918 season was cut short.

The biography appears in an edited volume on "Deadball Stars of the American League" which I'm guessing took rather a large bit of time to put together. :-)

Again, not suggesting it's easy, I just find it odd that this particular labor of love hasn't been tackled yet. B-r tells me where Braggo Roth is buried but not that Tommy John missed the 75 season because he had Tommy John surgery. :-)
   35. Walt Davis Posted: September 13, 2012 at 08:41 PM (#4235363)
Claiming that sacrificing a postseason run

That's a funny way to characterize the possible reduction of the probability of winning a WS title from, oh, 15% to 14%.
   36. cardsfanboy Posted: September 13, 2012 at 09:20 PM (#4235377)
For current players, I don't see it being a problem. The St Louis media guide has every dl stint for every cardinal in the media guide, so that information is easily findable. The pre-internet days is going to be a lot trickier, although the shorthand you proposed(any gap over 15 days)is relatively easy to catalog, separating it between injury, sent to the minors or just having a manager like Whitey Herzog who doesn't believe in using a bench, that would be a little more time consuming.

.....I never really thought about using the gap as a down and dirty proxy.....you will miss end of year injuries of course, but it would be easy to get a pretty deep list by just using the gap.

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