Craig Calcaterra

FILE - In this Tuesday, March 1, 2016 file photo, Milwaukee Brewers' Will Smith throws during a spring training baseball workout in Phoenix. The Milwaukee Brewers will start the season without reliever Will Smith, who tore a ligament in his right knee while taking his spikes off after a game, Saturday, March 26, 2016.  (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)

Brewers reliever Will Smith tears knee ligament taking off his cleats


Brewers’ reliever Will Smith tore his lateral collateral ligament in his right knee. How? Taking his cleats off after a game:

Smith said he was getting ready to shower after pitching in a minor league game on Thursday and was standing on one leg to take off his other shoe when he lost his balance and twisted the knee.

“I pulled hard (on the shoe) and it stayed on,” he said. “My knee just went up and popped. Everyone tells you there is nothing you can do about it, but you still feel like you are letting people down.”

They’re trying to figure out now if he needs surgery. Either way, he’s looking to miss an extended period of time. Which stinks for the Brewers given that he was likely to spend some time closing this year after a pretty fantastic spring training in which he hadn’t allowed any runs in seven outings. Smith has pitched 154 games in the past two seasons.

2016 Preview: Los Angeles Angels


Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2016 season. Next up: The Los Angeles Angels.

With Mike Trout, all things are possible. Well, not all things, but a whole lot more wins than a team with this many holes and as thin a system as the Angels have might otherwise expect to get. When you start with the best player in baseball — and when you back him up with a declining but still dangerous Albert Pujols — you’re starting out OK.

Beyond those two things get a bit uncertain. The trade for Andrelton Simmons definitely shores up the defense up the middle, but unless he has that breakout offensive season some have figured he has in him someplace (Braves fans waited for four years and it never happened), his bat won’t add much to the party. Yunel Escobar at third base is an intriguing option for some offense if you think his nice 2015 was indicative of a resurgence as opposed to an outlier. Kole Calhoun took a step back last year but is still solid and has some upside. C.J. Cron‘s power is the real deal and he could hit between 20-30 homers. Overall, though, there’s an awful lot of low-OBP dudes on this Angels lineup, minimizing the damage Trout, Pujols and Cron can do with their bombs. And that’s before you figure that Pujols, who is battling some foot problems this spring, is likely to continue to go slowly and gently into that good night. Last year the Angels were close to a bottom-third offense. It’s hard to see them improving dramatically this year.

Garrett Richards tops the rotation. He wasn’t as great in 2015 as he was in 2014, but still has fantastic stuff and is another full offseason and a regular-ramp-up removed from his ugly knee injury from late in 2014. Jered Weaver‘s velocity — or shocking lack thereof — is concerning. Hector Santiago‘s screwballs are fun. Andrew Heaney could truly emerge this year as a solid number two or three starter. C.J. Wilson will start the year on the DL and there is no solid timetable for his return. Matt Shoemaker was a disappointment last year but he’ll fill in for Wilson. Huston Street and Joe Smith in the pen is pretty decent. The rest of the pen is neither great nor terrible.

The biggest issue with the Angels: there’s not a lot of upside to be seen here. Mike Trout is amazing, but you can’t reasonably expect him to get better. You can’t expect most of the rest of this club to get better either, but that’s because it’s less than amazing. They won 85 games last year and it felt like that exceeded their real level of talent by a good deal. Where does the improvement come from this year? Especially given how barren their minor league system is?

Prediction: Third place, AL West.

An excerpt from Jeff Passan’s “The Arm”

tommy john surgery

Yahoo’s Jeff Passan has written a book about pitching. Specifically, about the awful, horrible things that happen to pitchers’ arms and the wonderful, amazing things surgeons have been able to do to fix them once they are destroyed. The book is called “The Arm,” and it’s mostly about Tommy John surgery, how it has changed baseball and all of the things the Baseball Industrial Complex has done to help pitchers avoid ligament replacement surgery, endure it, recover from it and everything in between.

I have an advance copy of it, I’m a few chapters into it and so far so good. Today, however, you have a chance to read a long excerpt from it. It’s about a guy most of you have never heard of throwing a 106 m.p.h. fastball. For real. It’s also about the mad genius in an out-0f-the-way warehouse who helped him do it and why they’re doing it in the first place. All of it has to do with how arms work and break and the work people are doing to keep that from happening.

My thoughts from the excerpt: I am usually skeptical of stories about mad genius outsiders changing established industries. I realize that’s how change happens a lot of the time, but as a literary thing that sort of thing has become something of a cliche in modern non-fiction (some entire books, though not this one, seem to have been sold entirely on the basis of interviews with these kinds of guys). This excerpt and its subject is an archetype of that and it’s hard to shake the notion that you’ve sort of read this whole thing before.

However, I am not as skeptical about it here as I might otherwise be. Mostly because Major League Baseball is about as crazy-conservative an institution as it comes and the level of buy-in you need in order to do something unconventional on a baseball team is so much higher than you may need in, say, technology, that it may very well be the case that all of the big innovation comes from outside rather than inside the mainstream. The form may be familiar, but the substance of it seems pretty legit.

Beyond that, there is a bit of this excerpt — the part where one of the mad geniuses is hired by a club — which makes me wonder about whether we’ll see some ethical issues arise in the near future with respect to Tommy John recovery.

If a club comes up with some new analytical approach — a super stat or a something — it’s obviously proprietary. They’re not gonna share that with another team. Heck, that whole Astros-Cardinals hacking scandal shows just how protected such data is supposed to be, at least in theory.

What happens, however, if a club comes with some technique which cuts recovery time from Tommy John surgery in half? Or, even better, some training technique which helps reduce or prevent ligament damage altogether? If a doctor does this, sure, it’ll be shared because of professional responsibility considerations. But what if a coach or an athletic trainer does? Is there a similar obligation then? Is there a tension between the clear competitive advantage which would come from ensuring pitcher health and the well-being of pitchers overall?

I figure people in the game have thought about this. I also hope — and lean toward expect — that something so important would not be kept in-house given how clearly it would benefit the sport overall. But I wonder sometimes. The problem with the mad genius types who come up with innovation is that they tend to be . . . mad. UPDATE: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote about this exact topic earlier this month.

Anyway: go read the excerpt. And pre-order “The Arm.” It’ll be key to the conversation about pitching and pitcher health for a long, long time.