Sunday, September 19, 2010

When Does a Hero Become a Hindrance?

No, this post isn't about Derek Jeter. There is this axiom in sports that to play with injuries is heroic. What a man! What guts! You'd have to tear the uniform off of that guy! Yeah, we've heard it all a million times. But there are two things to consider about such heroism. First, is the player going to do further damage to himself and thus threaten his long-term existence? The second is: When does an injured starter (pitcher or fielder) hurt the team more than that player helps the team?

Let's deal with the first question since it is more personal but less interesting. That's cold, eh? How many times do we see a pitcher start to struggle, see his strikeout rate plummet and then after four or five games of said troubles, find out that the pitcher was hiding an injury or trying to work through one? It happens a lot. How long did Johan Santana pitch with an injury last year and this year? How much worse could that have made his injuries? Some players feel they have to live up to their salaries (which is admirable). Some feel the peer pressure to keep going out there. Some just don't like admitting that they can't will their bodies to overcome what hurts.

Nick Johnson signed with the Yankees in the preseason and was penciled in as the team's DH. His signing set in motion the Johnny Damon power play that booted him to Detroit. Johnson went nearly zero for April before finally admitting that he was a wreck physically. He had such a tendency for injury over his career that he did not want to admit he had another one. How much more serious could he have made his injuries?

The hero thing with injuries is much more dangerous with pitchers than any other player. The shoulder can take only so much fraying and a bad knee can alter a pitching motion and kill an arm. Teams should have some sort of rule where if a pitcher pitches two or three straight starts with uncharacteristic results, that pitcher should get a physical and be checked out. The pitcher, nine times out of ten, is not going to tell anyone that he hurts. It seems Maine with the Mets did just that and nearly ruined himself.

The second part of the equation comes down to how much an injured player hurts his team by playing. Nick Johnson really hurt the Yankees early in the year because he couldn't do anything at the plate and yet kept silent. Maine cost the Mets with a half dozen terrible starts before he was mercifully put on the DL.

In recent weeks, we've heard of Albert Pujols getting a shot and Cliff Lee and Nick Swisher getting a shot (and there were others). Does that scare anyone else besides the Fan? Yeah, let's give a guy a shot so he doesn't feel how bad he really should feel because his body is basically broken. That doesn't make sense.

The Fan has to admit that this post was completely inspired by Placido Polanco of the Phillies. About a week or two ago, it was revealed that Polanco's left shoulder (not throwing shoulder) was basically spaghetti and that he needs an operation. But Polanco is playing with the thing. That's probably not the right call for his long-term health. It's also a potential hindrance to the Phillies and their post season hopes. The Phillies are going to win the NL East. It's quite possible that they don't lose another game. But still, Polanco is real close (if not over the line) to being much more of a hindrance than a help.

Polanco is hitting just under .240 for the month of September. He's still getting his fair share of walks, but his OPS is .663 this month and it was .644 last month. When do you decide that what he is able to do with a spaghetti shoulder just isn't good enough to carry his line up position? Albert Pujols is hitting .250 this month. If you are the Cardinals, do you shut him down when the magic number gets to zero?

The Fan doesn't have any real answers here. Let's just say that the questions are being put out there. Each situation is different. Joe Girardi seems to have a real good finger on the pulse of his team's health. He's a big picture kind of manager. More managers have to be that way. There aren't a lot of them out there. Girardi's only blind spot might be Jeter. The Fan suspects that Jeter gets dinged up pretty good some times and will not sit. See, this post got back around to Jeter some how after all.

No comments: