Saturday, March 31, 2012

Alberto Arias' shoulder vs. Cecil Cooper

What with the news that Alberto Arias has been released, it's worth looking at what the heck happened to the 2009 breakout star - and it has a lot to do with Cecil Cooper. We actually speculated on just this subject in March 2010. Let's see what happened up to that point.

First of all, Ed Wade picked Arias off waivers on July 31, 2008 from Colorado, where he spent his whole career, signing with the Rockies as an amateur free agent in 2000. Arias was a starter in the Rockies' system for the first two years of what Baseball-Reference has listed, throwing 73IP in 2003, 135IP in 2004, 90.2IP in 2005, 111.2IP in 2006. In 2007, Arias made his MLB debut and, between the minors and Colorado, threw 33.2IP; that was bumped up to 91IP in 2008. With Colorado's system from the beginning of the season to the point where the Astros acquired him, he threw 59.1IP. Doing the remaining math, he threw 30.2IP in August and September for the Astros/Express.

And then 2009 happened, where Arias threw 62IP - again between Triple-A and Houston. We can go to FanGraphs and see his gamelogs from 2006-2008. What do we find?

Appearances on consecutive days

2006: 3
2007: 1
2008: 1 (with Colorado)
2009: 8

We don't have pitch# data from the minors, but we can see a few things about how Cooper used Arias in 2009.

Appearances on 0 days of rest, 2009: 9
Appearances on 1 day of rest, 2009: 13
Appearances on 2 days of rest, 2009: 10

Pitches per outing, May 2009: 13.45
PPO, June 09: 22.78
PPO, July 09: 21.46
PPO, Aug 09: 14.44

 There were some telling signs about Arias' future troubles towards the end of his 2009, which occurred on August 23 as a result of a sore knee:

*Arias threw 30+ pitches seven times in 2009 - five of them between June 26-July 27.
*In May, Arias' sinker was sitting at 93mph (1,555 rpm). In June, it was at 93.27mph (1,859 rpm). In July, it was at 94.07mph (2,051 rpm). And in August, that slider was even higher, at a season-high 94.53mph (2,045 rpm).
*From May-July Arias allowed a .224/.325/.294 line, with 35K in 38.2IP. In August, Arias faced 40 batters, and got 21 of them out, allowing a .459/.500/.595 line with 4K in 7IP.

Later in August, Arias pulled his hamstring slipping in the bullpen. On September 17, his simulated inning didn't go well, and he had knee surgery on September 23. Still, there was no reason to think that Arias wouldn't be ready in 2010. Wade mentioned him as a late-inning bullpen candidate in December 2009.

Thing is, Brad Mills was the manager when Arias was pronounced healthy enough to go after a middle-relief role in March 2010. That said, Arias strained his trapezius on March 9, threw two bullpens and a live BP before needing an MRI on March 21 before getting the report that he jacked his rotator cuff on March 23. Wade was not optimistic about his short-term recovery. On April 21, 2010, Arias was throwing, had a lot of pain, and ended up having surgery, ending his 2010 season. On August 30, he began throwing off flat ground, in preparation of 2011. On January 14, 2011, Arias would be ready for Spring Training, but felt tightness on Feb 21 - four days later he got a cortisone shot.

By March 2, 2011, Mills was talking about Arias' career with concern. On April 5, Arias was throwing off a mound and looking good, but had a set-back on April 19 and flew back to Houston to get examined by the team doctor. He was placed on the 60-Day DL at the end of June, and was outrighted off the 40-man roster in October.

So. Who is to blame for what happened to Alberto Arias? Cecil Cooper rode him hard in 2009, but ultimately what sent him down the injury path were knee and hamstring issues (and remember, the hamstring issue was a result of slipping in the bullpen). Now, was the knee issue a result of poor delivery? Was Arias pushed to return due to a questionable bullpen heading into 2010? Was the shoulder injury overcompensating from a dodgy knee, and things just snowballed? Was it a complete breakdown of the entire system as a whole? It's hard to say for sure. But while Cooper started him down the path, Cooper was gone long before Arias' career was in question.

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