Putting On The Tin Foil Hat

This weekend the Toronto Blue Jays announced that the team’s closer Sergio Santos will miss the remainder of the season after opting for shoulder surgery as a means of repairing his injured labrum. Prior to this concession, the right handed pitcher had been trying to rehab his injury through good old fashioned hard work.

Almost immediately after informing reporters of Santos’ fate, Blue Jays manager John Farrell attempted to put any negative speculation to rest by reiterating that the reliever was not damaged goods when he was acquired from the Chicago White Sox this off season in exchange for sell-high prospect Nestor Molina. In fact, he informed the throngs of reporters, Santos didn’t even experience pain in his shoulder until April 20th, what will be recorded as his last game of the 2012 season.

Of course, Blue Jays fans can be forgiven for being suspect, as there has been a history of bushwhacking between the two clubs dating back to the David Wells for Mike Sirotka deal in 2001 which brought about the infamous claims of “caveat emptor” from Commissioner Bud Selig.

I’m not suggesting that there wasn’t enough due diligence exercised on Toronto’s part in acquiring Santos, or that the White Sox avenged themselves for the Alex Rios “by all means, have him” waiver pick up of 2009. However, I do think it might be somewhat disingenuous to suggest that the Santos injury is as new as the team is saying. At the very least, there’s a lot of circumstantial evidence to suggest that not all was right with the player as early as this Spring.

How else does one explain the lack of in-game work from Santos in Spring Training, where he faced only 19 batters over five appearances? That’s much fewer than any other pitcher who made the big league team. This, combined with his erratic performances throughout the first month of the year, including the Season Opener against the Cleveland Indians, when he appeared to be severely overthrowing his pitches only to watch them all cross the plate low in the zone.

A quick look at his release points in each of his six appearances this season also reveals that outside of his first two times out of the bullpen, he had some difficulty settling on his mechanics:

Again, we’re admittedly dealing in the realm of speculation here, a land I’m not normally eager to visit, but there are a few reasons the Blue Jays might want to suggest that Santos’ injury occurred at the end of April and not earlier: 1) It’s the truth; 2) The team wants to justify waiting this long before resorting to surgery; or 3) The red flags and warning signs coming from Santos in the early going weren’t heeded as they should have been.

Personally, I have no problem allowing a player to rehab an injury through means other than surgery granted that the rehab shows progress and recovery time isn’t expected to be longer than what going under the knife would require. If a player prefers rehab to surgery when both are valid options, ideally he and his team would agree on a date that considers recovery time, at which point a certain amount of progress would need to be made in order to continue with the rehab. I suspect that this is what happened with Santos and the Blue Jays.

However, it’s possible that the team mishandled some early warning signs as well. And if that was the case, it would be magnified by the horrendous luck that the team has experienced so far this season with the health of its pitching staff.

As analytics progress in telling players what to throw to who, how and why to swing and even where to field, it seems to me that the next step will be in injury prevention and rehabilitation. While injuries are bound to happen, no matter how cautious the front office or how excellent the training staff is at preventive care, there is too large of an advantage to be had by keeping a roster healthy to not look at ways of exploiting that edge.

More than a year ago, Will Carroll of Sports Illustrated wrote about investments in injury prevention.

Certainly there will always be injuries in sports — which keeps me employed — but there doesn’t have to be quite so many and they don’t have to be quite so serious. Many will ask how I know this to be true, and I’ll direct you to look at the massive gap between the best teams and the worst teams when it comes to keeping players healthy. This isn’t a flukish statistic, but one based on a decade of numbers. Looking back through 2002, the gap between the best and the worst teams is almost $100 million dollars. In fact, the team that saved the most money over that time period — the Chicago White Sox– saved almost exactly enough money to have bought their entire 2005 roster. You might remember them as the team that won the World Series. Thanks to Herm Schneider and his staff, the Sox got that one for free. You can think of a good medical staff like a “Buy 9, get the tenth free” deal at Costco. On the other side, there are teams that lost significantly more than expected, costing their teams as much as $30 million.

Looking at all of this is a means of telling you that you’re not crazy for thinking that there’s more to this story than what’s being told. While suggesting that Sergio Santos was damaged goods when he was acquired from the White Sox is the stuff of hardened conspiracy theorists, there still exist some legitimate questions surrounding the timing of his injury and the fashion with which it has been dealt.

If we want to take those questions even further, we can also ask why so many of the team’s pitchers have gone down to injury this season. For the most part, it’s been played out as something of a fluke occurrence, and that might very well be accurate, but again we’re presented with circumstantial evidence suggesting otherwise – new members of the coaching staff, prospects being rushed, adaptations to pitching repertoires.

However, the most important factor for me is that there is a clear correlation between investment in health and injury avoidance. And, as Mr. Carroll points out:

A player moving from a weaker team to a better team in terms of medical results isn’t guaranteed a change, but the data shows that his risk does go down significantly. It allows a team like the Brewers to make a deal for Shaun Marcum, knowing that even with his significant injury history, he’s more likely to stay healthy in Milwaukee’s rotation than in Toronto’s.

Given what’s happened to the team’s pitching staff this season, this proved to be an example full of premonition.

Comments (24)

  1. Thanks for this. For me the spring training nonsense is the biggest indicator that we aren’t being told the truth. It never made any sense that he was “too ready” to see live game action.

  2. There’s a brain under this tinfoil hat.

  3. (Tin foil hat on) Maybe that’s why Santos came so cheap. If the Jays knew that there is a shoulder issue that may or may not go away, it’s a perfect buy low opportunity. Jays have show that they are willing to take injury risks if the price is right and Santos is on a fairly cheap team friendly contract.

  4. If you look at his stats last year you have to be suspicious. Especially at the end. September 2011 – 8.2 IP, 12 H, 4 BB, 3 HR, 9 ER.

    • Thanks. That’s very interesting. Although, he did sign his contract extension on September 30th, so if there were problems, it’s unlikely the White Sox were aware.

      • c’mon folks, let’s take a harder look.

        15K’s over 8.2 innings last September, doesn’t suggest an injury, just a really high BABIP.

        • All I am saying is that his September stats from 2011 look identical to his April stats of 2012. He was lights out at the start of 2011.

    • As was pointed out at DJF, his BABIP, xFIP & K/9 over those exact 8.2IP suggest that your suspicion is unwarranted.

      • HR balls don’t lie bro. Find me a reliever who gives up 3 HR in 8.2 IP and I’ll show you a reliever who sucked, whatever the peripherals tell you.

  5. I hope I don’t get tossed for bringing up another sport, but there was quite a bit of discussion in the spring about the Phoenix Suns training/medical staff and the fact that very few professional sports teams allocate sufficient resources to the area.

    http://bit.ly/HhQpZG and http://yhoo.it/HEg825 for a couple examples.

  6. Considering the Blue Jays have remained relatively healthy over the past few years, I tend to think that this year’s decimation of the pitching staff is more of a fluke. However if I were to put on the tin foil hat for a moment, I find Hutchison’s sudden addition of 2-3mph on his fastball to be highly suspicious notwithstanding the hogwash about creating more power on his pitches because of better lower body mechanics. Not surprisingly, he ended up on the shelf with a “strained” elbow ligament after only a few starts with the new found zip. I suspect (although I hope I’m dead wrong) he’ll eventually need TJ surgery as well.

  7. I’m happy he needs this surgery, what a blessing some injuries can be. He didn’t pitch well even before he felt the pain, and most importantly Janssen is perfect in the closers role. I couldn’t be more pleased he will be the closer thru next year now. {:o)

    • Maybe that came out wrong, but anytime you’re happy that someone gets injured and requires surgery it sounds kinda shitty. I don’t think labrum surgury is the same as Tommy John where there are some camps that think its good to get over with early in the career.

      • Im happy he needs surgery so Janssen can continue to close thru next year, i never said im happy he is hurt. So that came out RIGHT, not wrong. N

        • Not like he had an accident, so i dont give a shit if he fkd up his arm, it happens to most pitchers at some point. I dont feel bad, why would I? He is still getting rich the whole time he is off. Janssen is a much better pitcher, so im very happy the injury happened so Casey can be the closer.

          • It would still be way better to have them both healthy. You can delude yourself anyway you want, this hurts the team and you pretty much sound like a tool.

  8. I was at Dunedin one March Saturday afternoon this spring, and Santos was scheduled to pitch, was eager to see him for the first time as Jay, but never appeared, didn’t appear on Sunday either. I emailed a couple of folks to see what was what and finally about a week later I got a reply saying he was at the minor league complex working on a new pitch or something. Man, I found that bizarre. Then the April meltdown, now this. Tin foil heating up.

    AA is notoriously secretive despite his apparent accessibility and candour with the media, there’s really very little meat on the bones when he talks. We’ll never know what really happened here.

  9. You dont get it, Janssen would not of been closing. Santos would have kept struggling like Cordero i feel. It was a blessing in disguise, how could you not see that with Casey’s performance closing?

  10. Another point to boost the conspiracy theorists. Some talking head mentioned early in the season that rival executives were shocked when the Santos-Molina trade happened, implying that Santos was not actively shopped. Now why would Chicago do that unless they wanted to keep the due diligence to a minimum?

  11. sigh. converted position player. ’nuff said.

    anyone who thought this trade was going to be anything other than a molina-giveaway was a wishful thinker.

    AA is pennywise pound foolish.

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