Monday, February 27, 2006

Maybe Kevin Towers Wasn't So Dumb

So I come back from a weekend of playing Abraham Lincoln - chopping down trees with an ax, "bucking them" and splitting some old logs - to find out that the Nats lost Brian Lawrence to a torn labrum. Estimates are that he is out at least until the All-Star Break and possibly the whole year.

When I heard that the Nats lost Lawrence (from our anonymous poster), it was a real bummer. The guy who would be our fifth third starter being out for four months is bad in its own right. But oh, no! Not the dreaded torn labrum.

As a cradle White Sox fan, I know a bit about torn labrums - the Sox suffered a rash of them in the 2000/01 time period. In fact, the Sox's most painful torn labrum was suffered by one of our Nats - Jon Rauch.

It is inestimable what his torn labrum did to Jon Rauch's career. He was the 2000 Minor League Pitcher of the Year after putting up a 16-4 record with 187 strikeouts in 166 innings between the Carolina League (high-A) and the Southern League (AA). He walked only 49 against those 187 strikeouts and looked like a top, top prospect.

Then he was found to have a torn labrum in 2001 (an injury also suffered by Jim Parque), and did not pitch at all. He was a shell of his former self in Charlotte in 2002 and 2003, putting up ERA's of over 4.00 and his strikeout rate declined from 10 per 9 innings to less than 8 per 9 innings. He gave up a lot of hits and a lot of homers.

Now, at 28, Jon Rauch is something of a journeyman looking for, at best, a swing-man spot on a last-place team's roster. His luster has faded, and, what could have been his free-agent season in a lucrative career, is just another season of hanging around the bigs.

Will Carroll has written some excellent stuff on the torn labrum, including this piece in Slate from 2004, subtitled "Why the torn labrum is baseball's most fearsome injury." Here's the most ominous part:

But if pitchers with torn labrums were horses, they'd be destroyed. Of the 36 major-league hurlers diagnosed with labrum tears in the last five years, only midlevel reliever Rocky Biddle has returned to his previous level. Think about that when your favorite pitcher comes down with labrum trouble: He has a 3 percent chance of becoming Rocky Biddle. More likely, he'll turn into Mike Harkey, Robert Person, or Jim Parque, pitchers who lost stamina and velocity—and a major-league career—when their labrums began to fray.

Yeah, yikes. Mind you, Rocky Biddle's "prior form" that was regained was a high-walk-rate, high-homer-rate, borderline pitcher (who, by the way, was Les Expos
closer in 2003. I shudder to think and thank heavens for the Chief).

So things do not look good for Brian Lawrence. One wonders whether Lawrence's injury was known or could have been known to Kevin Towers before he made the trade for Vinny Castilla. One thing is for sure - that trade is not looking as lopsided as it once did.


At 10:48 AM, Blogger dexys_midnight said...

Let your mind wander for all the conspiracy theories you want on this one...they are probably true.

Chances that Brian Lawrence just happened to get the tear on his first warmup pitch of training as opposed to it being there already? I'd say somewhat low.


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