Potential first-round pick Karsten Whitson out for season following shoulder procedure

13 Comments

You may remember right-hander Karsten Whitson, who was drafted ninth overall by the Padres in 2010 before turning down $2.1 million to attend the University of Florida. It turns out that his gamble might not pay off.

Per Aaron Fitt of Baseball America, Florida baseball head athletic trainer Pat Hassell announced yesterday that Whitson would miss the start of the season due to continued shoulder fatigue. The exact nature of today’s procedure isn’t yet known, but Whitson’s father, Kent Whitson, told Rogers that his son’s rehab process will take about four months.

While Whitson enjoyed a strong freshman season, forearm tendinitis limited him to just 33 innings last year and he was forced to leave the Cape Cod League after three innings due to shoulder stiffness. Still, the potential was there for him to be a first-round pick this year. He’ll likely draw interest from MLB teams even after today’s procedure, but Whitson’s father says his son is “fully prepared” to return to Florida as a redshirt junior if things don’t work out.

The Padres took second baseman Cory Spangenberg in 2011 as a compensation pick for failing to sign Whitson. The speedy 21-year-old batted .271/.324/.352 in 98 games last season with High-A Lake Elsinore and was ranked as the organization’s No. 7 prospect by Baseball America last month.

UPDATE: Good news. According to Aaron Fitt of Baseball America, Whitson didn’t have any damage to his labrum or rotator cuff and Dr. James Andrews was able to locate and repair an impingement that was causing discomfort.

Astros exemplify the player-unfriendly bent of analytics

Scott Halleran/Getty Images
2 Comments

Even as recently as a decade ago, Sabermetrics was a niche interest among baseball fans. As various concepts began to gain acceptance in the mainstream, players slowly began to accept them as well. Players like Brian Bannister and Zack Greinke were hailed as examples of a new breed of player — one who marries his athleticism with the utilization of analytics. This year, much was made of certain players’ data-driven adjustments, including Daniel Murphy and J.D. Martinez. Both had great seasons as a result of focusing more on hitting more fly balls instead of ground balls and line drives.

Statistics can clearly benefit players. They can also be used against them, and not just by opposing players. The Astros, who are in the World Series for the first time since 2005, are a great example of this. The Astros spent a few years rebuilding after a complete overhaul of the front office, which included bringing in analytically-fluent Jeff Luhnow as GM after the 2011 season. That overhaul instilled so much confidence that, in 2014, Sports Illustrated writer Ben Reiter predicted that the Astros would win the 2017 World Series. He’s only four Astros wins away from being proven correct.

The Astros’ front office, though, took advantage of its players at various times throughout the process. Their success is owed, in part, to exploiting its players. On Twitter, user @chicken__puppet chained a few tweets together exemplifying this:

At its core, analytics is about optimization: getting the most bang for your buck. If you read Moneyball, you know this. Wins Above Replacement (WAR) quickly became synonymous with the field and $/WAR was a natural next step. Sabermetrics defaulted to ownership’s perspective, so highly-paid players who performed poorly were scorned. Cheap players who performed well were lauded.

It is no mere coincidence that once most front offices installed analytics departments, teams stopped handing out so many outrageous contracts to free agent first baseman/DH types. Instead, teams focused on signing their young players to long-term contract extensions to buy out their arbitration years ahead of time, ostensibly saving ownership and the team boatloads of money. Teams began to pay close attention to service time as well. Service time determines when a player becomes eligible for arbitration and free agency, so teams that are able to finagle their players’ service time can potentially delay that player’s free agency by a year. The Cubs tried to do this with third baseman Kris Bryant in 2015, as Craig wrote about.

There is a very real ethical component to covering and being a fan of Major League Baseball, despite the common plea to separate sports from politics. The Astros and Cubs aren’t the only ones exploiting their players; the Angels, for example, made some odd personnel choices earlier this season that happened to allow them to avoid paying some players incentive bonuses. Every front office, in one way or another, games the system because the system is set up to benefit ownership first and players second. And if the likes of Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa can be taken advantage of so freely and openly, what hope does anyone else have?

Fans have been conditioned to group players and owners together as one group of rich people. In reality, the player earning $30 million has more in common with the office worker making $35,000 a year than with team owners. When fans hear about Correa making $507,500 instead of $550,000, or about free agent who wants a nine-figure contract, they wonder why he had the nerve to ask for so much money in the first place. We praise players, like Cliff Lee, who “leave money on the table.” Both the player and that fan, by virtue of existing and participating in this system, are locked in an eternal battle with those who cut their paychecks. Regardless of salary differences, the player deserves to benefit from the fruits of his labor as much as the office worker. Part of being a baseball fan should also include rooting for the players’ financial success and not just the owners’.

Praising the Astros for being smart and savvy will only create more incentive for other front offices to mimic these unethical behaviors. The whole theme of the World Series shouldn’t be about smart, analytically-inclined teams reaching the summit; it should in part be about teams getting ahead with a multitude of exploitative practices against their players.