Fantasy Training Room: Outlook For Stephen Strasburg, Sean Doolittle & More

by Jeremy Tiermini

“And you know what? ‘Stras’ knows exactly where everything’s going. H e can put it right where he wants. He’s good, man. He’s really good.”
— Tony Gwynn

Gwynn was Stephen Strasburg’s coach at San Diego State and I thought this quote was appropriate for this week, as ‘Stras’ has been anything but really good this season. There are some significant pitchers to discuss in this week’s Fantasy Training Room so let’s get to it.

Sean Doolittle (OAK RP)
Just three days after making his 2015 debut, A’s closer Sean Doolittle headed back to the disabled list with another injury, as he was diagnosed with a strained left shoulder. The good news is that Oakland indicated that this injury is a different one that previously had him on the DL…and that’s about it for the good news.

The next two weeks will be the “rest” portion of the “rest and rehab” plan, so Doolittle will not do any pitching-related activities for at least that long. Assuming that he has no other setbacks, expect Doolittle to need at least an additional two weeks of rehab after that. This injury is to Doolittle’s subscapularis muscle, which is found between the shoulder blade and the ribcage; the subscapularis is the strongest of the four rotator cuff muscles. Due to its anatomical location it is very difficult to treat and rest, to calm the inflammation, is the primary option.   I don’t expect the A’s closer to return until after the All Star break.

In addition, Doolittle’s fastball velocity was down, as he threw in the mid-to-upper 90’s pre-injury; he was only throwing in the 88-89 mph range during his one game (click here for more). With this latest injury, I am not optimistic about Doolittle’s prospects for the rest of the season. Since he could potentially get some save chances upon his return (and I don’t think Billy Beane will able to move him in his upcoming rebuilding project because of the injury history) you should put him on your DL. If you play in a league with no DL/bench, however, you are absolutely justified in dropping him. Tyler Clippard still walks too many batters but he has earned seven saves for the A’s and should continue in the closer role for the time being.

Scott Kazmir (OAK SP)
The news about the other Oakland pitcher in this report is much better. Kazmir left his last start early, throwing just 30 pitches, because of muscles tightness/soreness behind his left shoulder (an MRI showed no structural damage). He threw a pain-free bullpen session on Sunday and the Athletics have indicated he will miss just one start. This is good news for fantasy owners, as he has posted solid ratios (2.93 ERA, 1.23 WHIP) with 57 strikeouts in 58 1/3 innings of work. This is also good news for the A’s, as Billy Beane should get a nice return if he deals Kazmir. Don’t be surprised if the lefty is dealt once he shows he is healthy and a move to a contending team could help his win total.

James Paxton (SEA SP)
Paxton injured his hand during his last start on Thursday, leaving the game against Cleveland in the fifth inning. In watching the replays of the pitch, he started shaking his hand after delivering the pitch to Brandon Moss. His battery mate, Mike Zunino, was blocking the cameras so it was difficult to see exactly what the Mariners’ athletic trainer was evaluating. After an MRI the Mariners reported that Paxton had a strained tendon in the middle finger of his pitching hand. He has been placed in a splint to immobilize that finger and will be on a two-week shutdown from throwing. Assuming he then has no setbacks during the rehab process he is looking at a return right around the All Star break.

It appeared, from the video, that the Mariners athletic trainer was looking at the palm-side of Paxton’s hand, which would indicate the injury was to a tendon responsible for flexing the finger. In this case you are looking at issues related to grip, which could impact velocity and control for a pitcher. With this injury, and if the Mariners fall farther behind in the AL West race, I would not be surprised if Paxton does not return until some point in July.

Stephen Strasburg (WAS SP)
Strasburg’s rough 2015 continued after he left his last start against the Reds after one inning he was placed on the 15-day disabled list because of tightness in his neck. His fantasy owners should be relieved to:

1) have their ace rest in the hopes that he returns to his normal performance
2), get a break from his 6.55 ERA and 1.72 WHIP.

This injury reminds me of Adam Wainwright’s situation from last season (click here for our look at it). Strasburg suffered an ankle injury during spring training and had altered his mechanics to compensate for this; I have preached about altered mechanics and this is the primary thing I look for when evaluating the fantasy prospects of injured players. Nationals’ manager Matt Williams elaborated on Strasburg’s situation: “It all starts form the ground, right? So if he’s got a different feel from his ankle or he’s landing in a different spot or he’s compensating for it somehow going through spring training, then it’s gonna kind of come up the chain.” Williams continued, “So it’s something to do with his back and his alignment, and it could be from the adjustment that he’s made where he’s landing and having to throw across his body more. We’ve looked at all that. We’ve exhausted everything.” (click here for the article)

This injury is on his left side, whereas the injury earlier this year that caused him to get a chiropractic adjustment was on his right side. Without having access to any other information I am going to speculate that there is nothing structural going on here. I am going to make a SWAG (scientific wild-ass guess) that the ankle injury, which resulted in a change of Strasburg’s mechanics, is causing some form of muscular imbalance for him. Muscle memory that he has built up over the years of throwing has been changed with throwing across his body. I think his body is doing things it has never done before when pitching, which is causing changes in muscular activity in his shoulder/torso. This is, admittedly, a very simple explanation of the complicated process.

The same report indicated that Strasburg will continue to throw until the team can diagnose him with a treatable injury. If his ankle injury has been fully rehabilitated this would give the Nationals a chance to “reprogram” his pitching mechanics to his pre-ankle injury form. That would be a positive for his return timetable, as he would be able to keep throwing while on the disabled list. His return will depend on how quickly the muscle imbalance can be corrected to allow him to return to those normal biomechanics.

I am just speculating but I think that he will be out for longer than the minimum DL-stay because Washington needs to make sure those mechanics are corrected or Strasburg will ultimately suffer another injury to his shoulder/arm. The longer the Nationals can get production from Tanner Roark, and if A.J. Cole can be productive, then the longer they can have Strasburg rehab. For fantasy owners, I would plan on Strasburg being out until the All Star break (again, just my speculation!) and any earlier return would be a bonus. I am in a holding pattern with him: I am not looking to dump him yet but I am not looking to trade for him, either, until I know the extent of the mechanical issues.

One comment

  1. JT says:

    Prof,

    How severe do you feel Devon Travis’s injury will have on him the rest of the year. He already had a setback from his rehab assignment. Do you believe he will produce if he comes back? I’m concerned he won’t be 100%’healed. Thanks!

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