It’s been almost two weeks since I attempted to quantify the absence of Mark Teixeira from the Yankees’ lineup under his original 8-10 week diagnosis. Now, however, new information straight from the horse’s mouth makes the timetable for the switch-hitting slugger’s return uncertain. While the plan is still for him to return in the middle of May, Teixeira suggested he could be out until June. Most alarming, however, is the potential for this injury to result in season ending surgery, which the previous two linked articles indicate a 30% likelihood.
After perusing the web for information about players with ECU tendon sheath tears, I came across this article via Baseball Prospectus about Jose Bautista. Bautista attempted to rehab the injury, like Teixeira plans to do, but for whatever reason, Bautista’s rehab failed. Did Bautista attempt to return too soon? Perhaps. Teix indicated he has no plans of rushing back as it could result in season ending surgery.
From the sounds of it, surgery appears to be the best long-term option. But, given the nature of the surgery requiring a 5-6 month recovery, it makes sense to at least give rehab a chance. Obviously, the Yankees and Teixeira don’t want to simply throw out 2013.
Is rehab a realistic option for full recovery? Bautista, Mark DeRosa (twice), Nick Johnson, Rickie Weeks, and Sam Fuld have all had this rare injury, and all had surgery. Despite the small sample, completing a successful rehab seems optimistic. One player to avoid going under the knife with the same injury was David Ortiz in 2008. But why?
Admittedly, a six player sample from a very uncommon injury is hard to draw any conclusions from. Nonetheless, I was curious to find some sort of reason that Ortiz’ rehab was more successful. Ortiz missed nearly all of June and July in 2008, yet came back to post a 133 wRC+ in 245 PAs during the second half.
Is there some sort of commonplace between the other players’ injuries that Ortiz didn’t have? The only thing that caught my eye was the hand each player experienced the injury. For all five players who had surgery, the particular damaged wrist was the bottom hand of the two that hold the bat. For illustration, the righty-swinging Jose Bautista‘s injured wrist was his bottom left hand. In contrast, the southpaw Ortiz’ wrist injury was on his top hand (the left hand). Is this significant? Not only am I not a doctor, but it’s also hard to say given the small sample. Nonetheless, maybe there is something to it.
The bottom hand is the one that guides the swing through the zone, while the top hand is known to be the “power hand”. Many players let go at some stage of their swing, finishing the motion with the bottom hand alone. Is it possible that the swing’s bottom hand ECU tendon endures more stress than the top hand? If so, such may have been the reason Bautista, DeRosa, Johnson, Fuld, and Weeks opted for surgery. Knowing that Ortiz always finishes his swing with a one hand grasp, perhaps he was able to recover without surgery because his right wrist wasn’t affected. If this theory held true, Teixeira would be compromised one way or another because he is a switch hitter. With perhaps two-thirds of Teixeira’s plate appearances from the left side, the fact that it is the right ECU tendon is particularly disconcerting.
I would be remiss not to note that Ortiz still felt a “click” in his wrist in August of 2008 after his return, so there’s certainly more to it than simply which wrist was injured. Not everyone is going to have the exact same severity of injury, natural recovery, or a slew of other factors. However, considering the unique motion of a baseball swing, I think the particular wrist that gets injured is worth noting.
Surgery or not, we already can be assured that Brian Cashman is on the lookout for help. Perhaps a match could be found with Texas (Mitch Moreland), Seattle (corner position logjam), Minnesota (Justin Morneau), or Houston (Carlos Pena, although would need his permission to trade prior to June 15). Should Teixeira go under the knife, projection systems indicate the Yankees could lose 3-4 wins from their total. The internal cast of replacements certainly aren’t coming near that.
By Keith Allison on Flickr (Originally posted to Flickr as “Mark Teixeira”) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons