Under The Knife: Can a healthy Harden impact the pennant race?

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There's nothing worse for any team, real or fantasy, than seeing a player come off the DL only to head right back on it. A recent injury made my researcher, Dan Wade, dig through the database to see if any teams had a worse time of it than others:

"Alexi Casilla returned from a brief stint on the disabled list a week ago, played seven innings against the Indians, then promptly returned to the DL the next morning, where he'll rest for the foreseeable future. His unexpected about-face seemed somewhat remarkable, as training staffs take great care to make sure players are healthy before activating them, and to a certain extent it is. From 2005 to 2010, there were about 40 instances of players coming off the disabled list, then returning in a week or less with the same injury. So, while Casilla's brief interlude between acts of the same injury is uncommon, it's far from unprecedented.

What is somewhat puzzling is the lack of a pattern in what teams see their players boomerang back to the bench. The top four medical staffs, as judged by how many days their players spent on the DL over the last five years -- the White Sox, Indians, Pirates, and Diamondbacks -- had more recurrent injuries than the Nationals, Mets, Royals, and Braves -- the bottom four staffs -- did. Muscular injuries seem more likely to recur, but inflammation and sprains made joint injuries problematic as well. Perhaps the best news from this survey is that there was only one repeated concussion, that belonging to Ryan Church in 2008. Thankfully, Church was placed back on the disabled list not because of a second injury, but just a persistence of symptoms from his first concussion. Neither is pleasant, but the former is certainly better than the alternative."

Sometimes not finding anything in the data is as telling as finding something. I think there's something there, likely in the severity which would point to some advantage towards the top medicals staffs having their players a bit more ready to deal with the inevitable injury problems a baseball club will have. We're always looking. Powered by the slick redesign of the SI Fantasy page, on to the injuries:

Rich Harden

There are rumblings in the rumor mill that the Yankees, among others, are taking a look at Harden. Remember that Harden was passed on after the Red Sox medical staff got a peek at his file. Since Harden's a well-known risk, I wonder what red flag was in there that made Mike Reinold and Tom Gill's opinion outweigh the pro scouting staff's. Harden's outpitched the risky guy the Sox did bring in, Erik Bedard, since the deadline. That has teams looking for a guy who some think could clear waivers despite a low salary. Harden remains risky but talented, the same as he was at the non-waiver deadline and at the start of the season. That risk doesn't change because he's on a hot streak, though it does limit the risk somewhat my reducing the "rolls."

Jose Reyes (strained hamstring, 8/28)

After some running this weekend, the Mets are ready to send Reyes on a rehab assignment. It's a bit of a surprise that the team is going to send Reyes upstate rather than Brooklyn, keeping him close while letting him get his swings, but it actually says something about his hamstring. Reyes will work on turning corners on Monday, which is his final physical test. The Mets are working on something of a biomechanical model of what stresses Reyes' hamstring, trying to find the root cause. I wonder if they're using a tool like the Optogait that they use for similar issues at St. Vincent's Sports Performance. Reyes should be back by this time next week, if not by next weekend. This rehab assignment shouldn't be long and no, he's still not getting any cheaper this offseason.

Jimmy Rollins (strained groin, TBD)Placido Polanco (strained abdominal, 8/23)Roy Oswalt

Reyes wasn't the only NL East SS with leg problems this weekend. Rollins pulled up lame on Sunday, leaving the game in the third inning with what the team is calling a groin strain. Rollins has been dealing with knee and hamstring issues all season, so there's a chance that this is more of a cascade issue than it is a simple traumatic muscle strain. The Phillies will be very cautious with this no matter the severity. With Polanco coming back early this week, it might allow them a bit of room to play it safe and DL Rollins without crippling their roster. The downside here is that Polanco's sports hernia is very risky and could push him back to the DL and to surgery at any point. The Phillies medical staff tends to be pretty conservative, so I'll be watching closely to see how they handle things. The last outing for Oswalt has to be considered a success to that approach. Oswalt showed good velocity and solid results, setting him up well to lock down the four slot in the playoffs if they can keep him at this level of production.

Brian Wilson (inflamed elbow, 8/30)

The Giants were smart to put Wilson on the DL. It's not that he needed the full 15 days, but the Giants know who Wilson is and how he does things. They also know Bruce Bochy, Dave Righetti, and even Brian Sabean. The combination of knowledge led the Giants braintrust to say "we don't trust ourselves to be patient with Wilson." Wilson's inflamed elbow was checked and cleared by James Andrews, so with some rest and treatment, he should be back at the minimum. The Giants (and some fantasy teams) will miss the saves, but it's nice to see that even in the midst of a chase, the Giants are doing the right thing for a player and for their franchise.

Carlos Quentin (sprained shoulder, TBD)

Quentin is no stranger to the White Sox training room. He knows Herm Schneider's domain well and has been the beneficiary of Schneider's brand of magic. Quentin's latest injury is to his shoulder, an AC sprain. The "AC" is the acromioclavicular joint and the "sprain" part indicates that there's an injury to the ligaments in that joint space. (Honestly, does it take an advanced degree to explain that? And do you need much more?) The day-to-day designation tells us this is on the low end of the sprain spectrum and that they're more worried about discomfort than stability. Quentin should be back later this week, though with the Sox fading, they can afford to be conservative if they choose to be.

Mike Leake

Dusty Baker is saying that Leake won't have any innings limit on him this season. "I don't see the same fatigue," he told John Fay of The Cincinnati Enquirer. I like that he's looking, but Leake is coming up on his innings high from last year and is past it if you include his 12 minor league innings this season. Assuming six or seven more starts, that's going to put Leake into the danger zone, exceeding his innings high by at least thirty innings. At age 23, that's not ideal and with option, there's no need for the Reds to take him that far. Then again, I do like that Baker is monitoring the fatigue rather than simply the innings. Leake is a good athlete, so I'm not overly concerned about his future given this workload ... but I am a bit concerned.

Quick Cuts:

Jacoby Ellsbury has nothing worse than a big bruise, but the pain and stiffness did keep him out a couple games ... Justin Morneau fouled a ball off his foot and missed Sunday's game. Have the Twins sacrificed a live chicken yet? ... Rafael Furcal injured his thumb after tripping on the netting near the batting cage. No word on severity, so watch this one ... Adrian Beltre was scheduled to run this weekend, but wet conditions pushed that back. The Rangers will wait until they're home on Monday now ... Chris Narveson will start on Monday, with the hope his finger will hold up. The Brewers will have him shadowed, which is tough in the midst of a doubleheader ... Paul Maholm is headed to visit Dr. Andrews. While some teams might shut a pitcher down at this stage of the season, the Pirates are pushing for 500 so might be a bit more aggressive than you'd expect, but not at any cost ... Chipper Jones has announced he's coming back for '12. Let me go ahead and tell you he'll be a red flag player ... Travis Hafner left Sunday's game with what the Indians labeled a "foot strain." He was running and while injury prone, he's never had something like this ... Nick Blackburn left his Sunday start with a strained forearm. No word on how severe this is at deadline ... Prospects Drew Pomeranz and Tyson Gillies join Bryce Harper as top prospects that had recent injuries ended their seasons. With only a couple weeks left in the minor league season, it's just timing, not severity for any of them ... I'm heading out to Victory Field this afternoon to try and chat with Iron Pigs manager Ryne Sandberg. I grew up worshipping Sandberg in that way only an obsessive teen ballplayer can. In three previous meetings, I haven't been able to get a word out yet, but I'm hopefully this is the time I can speak to my hero. Wish me luck.