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Chat: Will Carroll

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Friday August 29, 2003 4:00 PM ET chat session with Will Carroll.


Will Carroll is an author of Baseball Prospectus and host of Baseball Prospectus Radio.

Will Carroll: OK ... let's do this thing. Welcome to my first chat, so cut me a bit of slack for inexperience and six cups of coffee today. I'm excited about getting to answer your questions, so let's get to it. Powered by images of Britney and Madonna kissing ... let's chat.

Ellis (Albuquerque, NM): In all seriousness, why does anyone answer your questions? When you talk to a club, all you can do is raise expectations and bring scrutiny to medical treatment. Where's the upside for the trainers and staff? There's also the issue of medical privacy. I'm not trying to rag on you, I'm just not sure why anyone ever actually speaks with you.

Will Carroll: This is one of the questions I'm often asked - why or how do you get these people to give you the info? There are two big reasons: 1. I'm pretty charming on the phone. 2. Sports medicine is one of the most undercovered subjects in sports. No one talks to - or even knows - most trainers, even if you're a fan of the team. I speak their language, they've come to trust me, and as sports medicine gets considered by more people, they get taken more seriously as important parts of a team's success or failure.

Ron (Providence (RI)): When someone has a muscle tear or a sprain, and they're "getting treatment" at the park, what does that really mean? How many hours a day, and aren't they just doing RICE and maybe a stimulator? Can you really speed up rest?

Will Carroll: A lot of times it means just that - simple treatments, lots of observation to make sure that players are doing the things they need to do to heal. Other times, you'll see hands-on involvement in rehab programs, more complex modalities, and even things like Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation. Add in that there's never just ONE guy in the training room for a staff of two or three and you can see how busy they get. There's seldom a substitute for time, but the best trainers can make sure none of that time is wasted.

Bill Johnson (Los Alamos, NM): Warning: This one's ultimately about steroids. It seems to me that there have been an uncanny number of injuries/disabilities in recent years with a diagnosis of patellar tendinitis. I've been a baseball fan for 40 years, and I don't remember hearing about this particular disability until VERY recently, read, until Mark McGwire. What's up? New name for a well-known disorder, or is it something really new? And the reason for the up-front warning: is this the kind of thing where a new epidemic might be the result of steroid or other substance use/abuse? Where WOULD you look in injury patterns for evidence of that? -- Bill.

Will Carroll: Ahh, steroids. I knew we'd have one of these. Patellar tendinitis has been around forever - whether called "knee pain" or "water on the knee" or any other colloquialism, it happens, but we have better treatments and diagnostics now, so we have more specific names. As for steroids and the condition, yes, it's one thing that can be the result of PED (performance enhancing drug) abuse. I wouldn't say that anyone that has it is an abuser any more than I would say it about hamstring strains. Where would I look for evidence? In a well-run drug testing program.

Roland (Yerington, NV): How long until we see elective surgery by baseball player to increase their skills?

Will Carroll: Too soon. We're seeing younger athletes having Tommy John because it's a "simple" and successful procedure. Just ten years ago, the kid would have a blown elbow and move on with his life without baseball. I hope it never gets elective, but there's amazing work being done in genetics and that's the next dangerous frontier.

David (Akron): Is the Scott McCauley on Baseball Prospectus Radio the same one that used to be the Aeros announcer? He's awesome and we miss him here. Please keep archiving the show so I can listen on my iPod.

Will Carroll: Scooter did used to be with the Aeros and I'm glad everyone seems to be enjoying BPR. This week's show is great!

ScotMartin (Bedford, TX): So Will, both Juan Gonzalez and the Rangers say that his 3rd doctor's opinion support their side of the Juan injury situation. What's your take all on this nonsense? -Scot

Will Carroll: Jim Andrews is the third physician and he does sound from the quotes like he's somewhere in the middle. This is clearly an issue of much more than an injury, but it does point out that medicine is still part art and not all science. Gonzalez has no incentive to get better right now and I don't know how baseball can combat that. It's about heart in some respect.

William O'Brien (Las Vegas): Two Questions concerning the Athletics: 1. Did you ever get any confirmation that Eric Chavez did break his hand/wrist back in May? Remove that month and his season is right in line with the Pecota projection. 2. Is Mulder's injury something that could be a recurring problem from year-to-year? He seems to be a health risk, having spent a month plus on the DL every year except '01. Thanks, and keep up the good work.

Will Carroll: No confirmation, if you mean that the A's never gave a press release or called me up. Still, it makes sense and it's a "smoke/fire" thing for me in that case. For Mulder, fractures are normally simple. They break, you image it, it heals on a normal schedule, and life goes on. There's no indication that this won't be the case with Mulder.

Ken (Osaka, Japan): Bp is great. Thanks for your columns. How has the recupartation period for Tommy John changed? Wasn't it two years just a few year back, and now Brandon Claussen's back to being a prized prospect the very next year? How short can we expect the recuperation to get?

Will Carroll: Thank you, Ken. Go Chunichi!

Tommy John, as the doctors and trainers learn more, is getting to be almost routine and the recent changes in the rehabilitation protocols have reduced the time. It used to be that it took a year to heal and a year to regain control. Two organizations believe they've found ways to reduce that time and overlap the healing and command timeframes to some extent. It's a major advantage that they have now. I can't imagine it getting much less than Claussen's one year to the day.

Josh (Philadelphia): Hey Will, love UTK. Put a whole new persepctive on the game. Your column has me a lot more curious as to the reason when I see players struggling. My question is when you see a drop-off in performance, particularly in pitchers (take Randy Wolf for example), do you think it is better explained by an "unreported" injury or just a common slump?

Will Carroll: Thanks. As people begin following sports medicine in UTK or some other source, it becomes a crutch to see everything as some injury. We don't know enough about pitching yet to explain anything - from mechanics to dead arm to labrum tears - to make any blanket statement. We have to look at every case differently and not fall back on any comfortable, throw up your hands "it must be something I don't know" explanation. When I don't know, I don't know and while I might throw something out as a possibility, I'll always make it clear that it's an educated guess.

Greg (Boston): Hi Will. In the Aug. 20 UTK, you said the following: "No one is better at keeping things close to the vest, but unlike most things the A's try to do, this one [Hudson's injury] gives them no advantage." Why exactly is it disadvantageous to be very protective of injury information? Intuitively I would think it to be exactly opposite. Am I missing something? Thanks.

Will Carroll: There are cases where it could be an advantage, but in a world filled with Peter Gammons and Derek Zumsteg, not much is going to remain secret. While you might not want your next opponent knowing your ace is sore or on a pitch count, trying to hide or misinform the public is usually counterproductive. I've had teams ask me not to report something or to word it in such a way that it doesn't cost them their advantage. With Hudson specifically, it happened on the mound, in full view. Some teams stupidly try to hide those.

Medea's Child (LA): Will, how about naming some players that you believe to be larger than perceived health risks? (The 2004 Roy Oswalts?)

Will Carroll: I haven't gotten to the stage in the season where I've even thought much about it. I worry about young pitchers, but that's not really a news flash. I worry about the "high effort" players that have to put their bodies on the line to overcome their challenges. Naming names? I wouldn't want Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez, Gil Meche, or Sammy Sosa on my team next year at their current prices.

Jorens (New York): What is the biggest flaw among all teams regarding their usage of young pitchers?

Will Carroll: Not having a plan. Most teams treat them like any other pitcher and sacrifice their best years for a glimpse at their potential. Earl Weaver understood how to break guys in years ago and most minor league organizations do reasonably well at managing young arms. I think the Cluck Tandem Starter system might catch on in more minor league systems and that the four-man rotation will be back in the next few years.

Shaun Montana (Boston, MA): Will, how can teams owned by businesses not be doing everything they can to protect their best assets - young pitchers? I don't always agree with "business-type thinking", but since "baseball is all about business", why isn't this simple concept being applied? EG, How can the Tribune Co let Dusty Baker sacrifice what should be a decade of dominance by the Cubs, by continually throwing Prior, Wood, Zambrano et al, out there for 120+ pitch outings? I know you're a Cubs fans, so this must drive you, in particular, nuts. And more importantly, how come Prior and Wood and Zambrano's agents, who technically have a legal duty to look out for their clients, aren't up in arms about the pitch counts? Thanks!

Will Carroll: Good question. The question we need to ask is what risk are they being placed in? Any starter that takes the mound has nearly a fifty percent chance of ending up on the DL in any year in a five year period. How much additional risk do you get and what's the possible gain? Would the Cubs (and Cubs fans) trade a year of Mark Prior for a World Series ring? I'm not sure. Let's also not look strictly at pitch counts - there's other factors that are harder to quantify like mechanics, situation, psychology, and bullpen. I'm also seeing very interesting results from the Velocity Project which I'll be sharing early next year.

Greg Pizzo (China, Maine): Will - do you get any endorsement dollars for the "powered by" portion of UTK?

Will Carroll: No, but wouldn't that be nice? I'd settle for what Mister Tony calls "product"!

John (Oakland): What are your medical qualifications to be making injury diagnoses?

Will Carroll: I am not a doctor and I do not play one on TV. I have an extensive background in sports medicine, literally growing up around team physicians and training rooms. I think my dad used athletic tape to make diapers for me. I also have a great network of physicians, physical therapists, trainers, and other professionals that help me interpret the information I come across. While it's my name on the byline, UTK is very much a group effort. I'll also say that most trainers and team physicians take the time to make sure that I have my information correct and that I understand what they've told me. As I said earlier, sports med is an almost criminally uncovered area and giving these professionals their due is one of my loftiest goals.

Julio (Los Angeles, CA): Hi from SoCal... Is there some nagging injury that makes Adrian Beltre into a worthless pile of molten slag?

Will Carroll: Beltre keeps infecting my fantasy league teams. Still, I think he has a world of potential. The botched surgery and resultant fix really took a lot out of him and he's never been the same since. I can't point to it and say "that's it!" but the circumstancial evidence is strong. He's still awfully young to melt him down, slag or not.

Casey Howard (KC): Will, with the continued injuries to the pitching staff in KC, plus lingering problems for Sweeney, Beltran & Relaford, one starts to question the medical staff. Is there a problem here with recognizing the injuries? Or with knowing what to do once they find what they believe to be the problem? One just hopes a 2nd-rate medical staff is not one of the ways David Glass has chosen to save money. Thanks

Will Carroll: It's been a long time since Mickey Cobb kept that team healthy enough to win World Series. The staff at KC has had some challenges, some of their own making and some the results of the players they were given. For a "small-market" team to not go out and get the best medical staff they can is throwing away a major, but inexpensive advantage. I don't know a single trainer who makes even the major league minimum and that's just sad. We're losing too many good trainers. Don't even get me started on the doctors either ...

J.T. Walsh (Chicago): Will, I'm a big fan of your work. One of your readers recently reported the FACTS about Kerry Wood's performances after racking up huge pitch counts. Do you think subsequent performance after high pitchcounts would tend to be widely affected negatively? If so, would that in itself give the "old guard" a solid reason to limit pitch counts for young pitchers since injury prevention does not encourage sane usage among the "old guard"?

Will Carroll: Changing people's minds takes a long time. I think that the people I am changing are the kids in high school or college that will be the next Theo Epstein, the next Grady Fuson, the next Mike Smith. They grew up thinking about baseball in different ways, reading BP, and eventually, they'll have medhead ideals in mind. I think most baseball executives are smart enough to realize that things like pitch counts make sense in some situations, but that few have enough courage and control to actually make major changes. If going to a four-man rotation might cost you your job if circumstance outside your control make that fail, there are few people who have the chutzpah - or desperation - to try something like that.

James Golden (Chicago, IL): Braves questions: I'm surprised I haven't seen you criticize the Braves handling of injuries this year. Andruw always has nagging injuries and almost never gets a day off. That's why his numbers always collapse in August. Also, Chipper's played hurt most of this year. Is it a chrnoic injury that wouldn't heal over time, or would he also be better off with a 15-day DL stint. The Braves are being cautious with Smoltz: Why not with Chipper and Andruw? Love Under the Knife.

Will Carroll: Thanks ... good question and it's one of both style and substance. Bobby Cox, like Joe Torre, has "his guys" and has a very strong comfort level with them. He also perennially has a weak bench. If either Jones at 75% is better than his replacement at 100% and there's little or no chance of exacerbating the injury, there's an argument to play him. I've heard that Andruw is a player that needs to be in the game every day or he can get lost mentally, but I don't know that to be true. Cox has proven he knows how to manage, but with a new head trainer in Atlanta, I'm watching how that affects things there (so far, not much.)

Teddy Ballgame (New York): Do you believe that teams can catch "the injury bug," or that they are victims of bad luck and coicidence?

Will Carroll: Nice of you to thaw out and join us.

There's no such thing as the injury bug. There are injuries that seem to come in viral patterns, but that's just the mind looking for patterns where there really are none. A coin might come up heads ten times in a row, but that doesn't change the odds on the next coin flip. (Or does it? I was never good at probabilities.) There are such things as bad management of injuries, poor conditioning and "prehab", and players that hide injuries or don't take their condition seriously.

Joe (LA): Who are the best and worst medical staffs in baseball?

Will Carroll: Put me on the spot, why don't you? The best ones, to me, would be the ones with the best results over an extended period of time and the worst would, of course, be the opposite. I think the world of Stan Conte and Barney Nugent with the Giants. I think Dave Tumbas and Sandy Krum do a good job with the Cubs. Two teams at the lower end of the spectrum - Texas and Milwaukee - have made changes in the last couple years so I think we'll see the results in a couple more years. Honestly, there are only about three teams where I would say there are bad staffs in place.

Pete (Cincinnati): Halfway through and no mention of me?

Will Carroll: Yes, isn't it wonderful?

Teddy Ballgame (Tucson, AZ): What's the rehab time to REATTACH MY HEAD? AAAAAAAaaaaaahhhhhh!!!!!

Will Carroll: Better yet, could we just take John Henry's off?

Manning (Milwaukee): I'm new to BP and to UTK, so what is the Redbook you refer to? It's not the old Stats book is it?

Will Carroll: No, the Redbook is a document produced each year by MLB's insurance broker. I got a chance to take a look at it last year and the data is phenomenal. There are facts in there that would make your head spin, especially things like "Dollars lost, per team, to DL" and "Five year trends, preventable injuries." The company that does it, American Specialty Insurance, is an interesting story in itself, and I hope to get another chance to talk with them soon ... and to bring you some of the data.

Better, I wish some of the major league teams would sit down and look at it. They're missing some simple things.

Rich (Palo Alto, CA): I have to ask. How come no journalist has been able to come up with a source to verify your Rose story? Gary Huckabay spoke about it at the Menlo Park Pizza Feed, and his display of the evidence was somewhat compelling but aren't you concerned that Stark, Gammons, and Neyer on ESPN all say you got it wrong? Most times, you can see Selig's motivation to lie to the public, but in this case, even early exposure of the deal doesn't really harm baseball. What is the nature of your sources, and how do you know you're not being lied to?

Will Carroll: Without knowing what Gary said, our evidence is both compelling and correct. I think that the writers you named - all heroes of mine - have agreed with us on most of the points of the story, but differ mostly on the issue of the admission and the actual signing of the deal. With Mike Schmidt's recent statements, I don't think the latter can be argued. As to admission by Rose, all I can report factually is what was relayed to us in the document. Whether there's more to it or the wording is still being negotiated, I'm not sure.

Here's the Schmidt statement - and I should have quotes from a recent radio interview very soon - "I think Pete's living up to his end of whatever bargain he made with the commissioner back in November, and that's in their hands, and he's just going to sit quiet until something happens, one way or the other," Schmidt said.

Eitan (Portland, OR): What's wrong with John Olerud? There has to be something wrong, or else it's a really big fluke.

Will Carroll: John had some hamstring troubles earlier this season and while the Mariners say the problems have resolved, you're right, it sure seems like there's something wrong. I'm digging for more information on that.

Nigel Tufnel (Squatney (UK)): 'ow long until the Mariners entire rotation completely collapses from criminal overuse, then?

Will Carroll: This answer goes to 11.

The entire rotation? I have some open questions about Garcia and Meche, but I don't see Moyer as being a breakdown candidate, do you?

One of the more interesting things is the change in managers hasn't really changed anything in regards to pitcher usage or injuries. While some in Seattle think the world of Bryan Price, I'm not sure his results live up to his hype.

Will Carroll: I have to go interview the Famous Chicken, but thanks to everyone that submitted questions. I hope we can do this again soon and that you'll continue to email me with questions, suggestions, and the type of intelligence that educates me, day after day. I take pride in answering all my mail, but sometimes some slip through the cracks. Thanks again and go watch some baseball.

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