clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

the good news: cards sign ryan franklin

Update [2007-1-11 15:52:57 by lboros]: Erik and Mrs. Erik had a healthy baby boy --- Landon James. add'l info at this diary. congrats and blessings to the new parents.[end update]

i checked in with will carroll, who wrote the book (literally) on pitching injuries, to ask him what we can reasonably expect out of mark mulder in 2007. his response:

I don't think we have any idea where this is going to go. I think the best comp here is Matt Morris. Similar, but not identical injuries. Similar styles (different throwing hands, obviously).

The mid-season target seems reasonable.

at the time of mulder's surgery last september, carroll wrote this in his Under the Knife column at Baseball Prospectus:
Mark Mulder had successful surgery last week, but what does that mean? All surgery where the problem is corrected and the patient wakes up can be qualified as successful. What Cards fans want to know is if Mulder might come back as something near what he was. (Of course, Cards fans might not care if Walt Jocketty elects to let Mulder move on.) Mulder had a repair of his shoulder, specifically focused on the rotator cuff. The expected debridement became more significant once the shoulder was visualized, making this surgery much more like the 2005 surgery on Kerry Wood than the 2004 surgery on Matt Morris. Mulder faces a long road and a likely change in style when he does return.
the reference to kerry wood does not exactly inspire confidence. wood had his pitching shoulder cut on in late august 2005 and threw his next big-league pitch 9 months later, on may 18, 2006; he lasted only 4 starts before returning to the DL --- for the season, as it turned out. i scoured the archives looking for other examples, to see how other guys who've had the same surgery fared in their comeback seasons. between will carroll's archives at BP, some medical-journal searches, and plain old google, i came up with a list of about 30 names. and there are at least another 30 listed in USS Mariner's "attrition war" compilation, which examines injuries to high-ranking pitching prospects. you're never heard of most of those casualties, because the injury ruined them before they got a chance to get established.

but a lot of guys you have heard of came back from rotator-cuff surgery; that's the good news. the bad news is that only one of them came back to pitch with any degree of effectiveness within 10 months of his surgery: roger clemens, who was operated on in late august 1985 and returned the following april --- less than 8 months after surgery --- to post one of the best seasons in recent memory, 24-4 with a 2.48 era. he won the mvp and cy young awards that year. another pitcher, jimmy key, returned to action in april 1996, just 9 months after having rotator-cuff surgery, and had a decent season: 12-11 with a 4.68 era. the caveat is that he was absolutely awful for the first 2 months of his comeback; through june 5, his record stood at 2-6 with a 7.06 era. from that point --- 11 months post-surgery --- forward, key was very good: 10-5 with a 3.65 era. mulder will reach the 11-month point in his recovery in mid-august.

below is a list of the rotator-cuff recoverees who most resemble mulder --- starting pitchers who'd achieved some degree of success before getting hurt. i won't claim it is a complete list, but i bet it's pretty close. if anybody knows of others (starting pitchers only), add 'em below:

date of
age at
date of
length of
year 1
year 2
scott elarton 9/99 23 4/23/00 7 mos 17-7, 4.81 4-10, 7.06
casey fossum 9/03 25 5/14/04 8 mos 4-15, 6.65 8-12, 4.92
aaron sele 9/02 32 5/9/03 8 mos 7-11, 5.77 9-4, 5.05
joey hamilton 9/99 28 8/19/00 11 mos 2-1, 3.55
(6 starts)
6-10, 5.93
orel hershiser 5/90 31 5/29/91 12 mos 7-2, 3.46 10-15, 3.67
tony armas jr 5/03 25 6/1/04 13 mos 2-4, 4.88
(16 starts)
7-7, 4.97
el duque 5/03 37 7/11/04 14 mos 8-2, 3.30
(15 starts)
9-9, 5.12
ramon martinez 6/98 30 9/2/99 15 mos 2-1, 3.05
(4 starts)
10-8, 6.13
carlos hernandez 2/03 23 8/14/04 18 mos 1-3, 6.43
(9 starts)
bret saberhagen 10/95 31 8/22/97 22 mos 0-1, 6.58
(6 starts)
15-8, 3.96
justin thompson 8/99 26 8/18/05 72 mos 0-0, 21.50 n/a
dave fleming 10/95 25 n/a n/a n/a n/a

the players are ranked in order of the time it took them to get back on the mound --- shortest to longest. the top guy on this list, elarton, had a comeback similar to jimmy key's: he returned too soon and performed miserably, with a 7.11 era through his first dozen starts in 2000. the same goes for fossum, who came back after an 8-month layoff and posted an era of 7.64 over his first 18 starts post-surgery, and aaron sele, who put up an era of 7.01 in the 1st dozen or so starts after his premature return. don't overlook joey hamilton as a comp; he was the same age as mulder at the time of his surgery and had a somewhat similar path, pitching extremely well through age 25 and then slowly crumbling under the weight of faulty mechanics and declining peripherals. despite a triumphant 6-start return from surgery in august 2000, he was never the same pitcher after the injury.

continuing down the list from this point, all of the rehabs are at least a full year in duration --- which, if applied to mulder, would mean a september 2007 return. even at this point of the table, not all the stories are pretty. hershiser scuffled for most of his first year back; as late as labor day his era was worse than league average, but he prettied up his final line with a stellar september --- 16 months post-surgery. el duque waited more than a year before he started pitching again, and the patience paid off: he had a great comeback season, the best on this chart. but saberhagen didn't recover effectiveness until nearly 3 full years after his surgery; if it take mulder that long, his contract will be expired before he's a useful player again. ramon martinez, pedro's older brother, was at the peak of his career when the injury hit him; after his 6.13 era in his "comeback" season he stopped playing. justin thompson was a 15-game winner and former all-star whose big-league career was essentially ended by this surgery; in the 3 years following his operation he only took the mound 3 times, all in the minors. dave fleming went 30-15 over his first two-plus seasons but never threw a single pitch after his rotator-cuff operation. carlos hernandez's promising career had just begun; now it may be over.

it's not an encouraging track record, at least where starting pitchers are concerned. (i didn't look closely at the many relievers who've come back from this surgery.) aside from clemens, all the guys who resumed pitching less than 11 months after rotator-cuff surgery pitched abysmally for the first 2 to 4 months, at least, post-surgery; those who took longer to come back have what could generously be described as a spotty record. maybe mulder will be a rare case; maybe he'll come back in july and go 8-4 with a 4.25 era the rest of the way. but the odds are strongly against it, based on the evidence i've been able to find so far. for that matter, the odds are strongly against mulder's ever regaining his former level of ability, or even coming close to it; those few pitchers who played a number of years after the surgery (hershiser, hamilton, el duque) came back greatly diminished, although el duque was able to regain his old form for half a year. only clemens has been able to get back to his former level and stay there --- and he was 22 when he had his surgery.

and was roger clemens.

conclusion: mulder shouldn't be counted on to provide any help in the short term, ie in 2007. if we're lucky, he might start pitching at a league-average level by august --- but it would be imprudent to depend on that. so the rotation remains a big problem. having looked at all these rotator-cuffers, i have to wonder why the cardinals considered mulder a better gamble than john thomson. thomson has shoulder issues too, but he's rehabbing them nonsurgically; he'll be ready to pitch opening day, and he only cost $500,000 guaranteed, plus incentives.

as for the other pitcher the cardinals signed yesterday --- ryan franklin, for a $1 million guarantee --- i actually like that signing quite a bit better than the mulder deal. to my eye, it's 50-50 that franklin outperforms mulder in 2007.