Will Carroll is a sports injury guru. He’s been writing the Under The Knife column for Baseball Prospectus for many years, and also compiles the annual Team Health Reports for BP as well. Carroll also authored Saving the Pitcher, a detailed look at pitching injuries, the primary factors for injuries, and strategies to prevent them.
Carroll was kind enough to answer a few questions over email.
DTW: Jeremy Bonderman has experienced elbow pain in two of the last three years. Is this a product of the high proportion of sliders he throws, or is it simply a matter of a young pitcher with quite a few innings on his arm? Could an increased reliance on the change up help him from an injury standpoint?
WC: I think it’s more the latter, which is the more disappointing result. Bonderman has been handled very carefully and smartly, but he’s young and used heavily. (Not abused, just used.) If it’s just inevitable that a heavily used youngster who’s not a freak will break down, well, at least we’ll know.
As for the changeup, no, not really. Glenn Fleisig is the expert here and his research has shown that all pitches thrown well have a smaller than expected difference in force.
DTW: Fernando Rodney has had TJ surgery in his past, and now several bouts of tendinitis. Last year he was basically an every-other-month pitcher and things aren’t starting off well in 2008. Do you see him ever throwing a complete season again?
WC: No, the wear and tear is simply too much. I don’t think he’s ever really been healthy, which is pretty amazing considering how effective he’s been in spurts.
DTW: If you were in charge of pitching in the Tigers farm system, how would you set Rick Porcello’s workload limit?
WC: I wouldn’t limit him.
Ok, that’s a bit dramatic. I did an article at BP a couple years ago which I think is one of the most important I’ve done. (That’s not setting the bar very high.)
I think some type of logical, progressive approach is the future. Some organization is going to do it — and I’m not saying my idea is right, though I think it’s close — and they’re going to be way, way ahead of the game because not only will they know what their pitchers can do, they’ll know how they can use them best.
DTW: When making the decision to go the rest/rehab route or go right to surgery, do different teams have different tendencies? If so how much is dictated by the front office versus the team medical staff versus the specialist (Andrews/Yokum types)?
No, not really. Almost all teams will try to avoid surgery, which is smart. Sometimes you can, sometimes you can’t. I think some are starting to take a look at the times when surgery is probably the best possible result, but it’s all about the timing. The Curt Schilling situation is one of the toughest ones, where disagreement and varying timing and biases all end up with the player’s career caught in the middle.
DTW: Have you seen any teams make a concerted effort to focus on the mental aspect of the game by bringing psychologists on to the medical staff?
Several. Not only teams, but agencies. I think the Indians are at the forefront, but there’s a lot of teams that have been doing this quietly.
DTW: I know we’re working with little comparative data here, but give me your odds on Joel Zumaya ever being able to throw 100mph again?
WC: You know, I actually talked to Brian Griese who had similar surgery about this and he thinks it will take Zumaya a full year, but if his mechanics stay sound, Griese thought he could get back to full strength. Take that for what it’s worth.
Thanks to Will for taking the time chat with us. You can find the Tigers Team Health Report at BP.