Nationals Nation (village?) suffered a huge setback when it was announced that top prospect Stephen Strasburg would need to undergo Tommy John surgery.  The surgery, named for the former pitcher whose career it saved, involves having an elbow ligament replaced with a tendon harvested from elsewhere in the body.  There’s a roughly 90% chance of success, and rehabilitation generally takes a year.  This means that Strasburg will likely be aiming for a return on the opening day of the 2012 season.

Interestingly, some players actually throw a bit harder after the surgery (for a few years) than they did previously – so Strasburg’s fastball might have a bit more kick when he returns.  (Some nut job parents have approached doctors requesting that the surgery be performed on their healthy sons, simply to get this benefit).  While this is obviously a setback for Strasburg, I’m confident that he’ll return as strong as ever in time for the 2012 season.  MLBDepthChart.com has put together a Tommy John Tracker that will track the progress of those slated for the operation.

If you’re in a “keeper” fantasy league and Strasburg’s owner drops him, I’d suggest snapping him up for the long haul.  Similarly, if you can make a trade for pennies on the dollar, go for it.

My Rockies have been alternating hot and cold streaks.  They faced off against the Phillies on Thursday.  A win would have allowed them to climb within 4 ½ games of Philadelphia in the wild card race.  The Rockies got out to an early 7-3 lead, but ended up losing the game 12-11, slipping to 6 ½ games out of the wild card race.

At this point, there seems to be little hope of catching the Phillies in the wild card – but I’m not convinced that the Rockies are out of the division race.  We’re 7 ½ games behind the front-running Padres – but the Padres have been in a free-fall recently, losing seven straight games.  The Rockies began a 3 games series against the Padres on Friday night (after this article was written) – and a sweep would pull the Rockies to within 4 ½ games on the division lead.  A Padres sweep would likely close the curtain on the Rockies’ playoff chances.

If you haven’t been paying attention to Carlos Gonzalez, this would be a good time to start.  CarGo launched his 31st homer (“car bomb”) on Thursday night.  He leads the National League in batting average (.332) and slugging percentage (.610) and is 5th in homers.  It’s possible that a hot September could push CarGo to the lead in homers and RBI and allow him to be the first NL triple crown winner since Ducky Medwick.

CarGo has dramatic home/road split (.391 with 24 homers at home vs. .275 with 7 homers on the road) but you can’t just point to Coors Field as the source of his numbers.  Overall, Coors has tended to add about 120 OPS points to a player’s numbers – CarGo’s 2010 differential is nearly 500 points.  I hypothesize that a large mental factor comes into player that allow some players to amplify the effects of their home park and other players to consistently underperform expectations (such as Ryan Howard of the Phillies, who has roughly even career home/road splits despite playing in a hitter’s paradise).  Whatever the reason, a player who can be absolutely dominant in half the games provides considerable value to a team.

Gonzalez’s teammate Troy Tulowitzki sports a .319 batting average, but you won’t see him listed among the league leaders.  That’s because an earlier  injury cost him playing time and is causing Tulo to fall just short of the threshold to qualify for the batting title (3.1 plate appearances for each game his team has played).  Tulo is currently 8 plate appearances short, so expect him to pop up on the list soon.

You might wonder what would happen if a player had a much higher batting average than anyone else in the league, but fell just short of the threshold – would he be denied the batting title?  Nope.  In these cases, “empty” at bats are added to a player’s totals to determine if he is the champion.  For example, Tulowitzki has 114 hits in 357 at bats, for a .319 batting average.  If the season ended at this point, we’d add 8 at bats (and no hits) and recalculate – 114 hits in 365 at bats, for a .312 batting average.  If this was the highest batting average in the league, Tulo would be the batting champion.  If someone else had a .313 batting average, he wouldn’t be the champion.  In either case, he would still be credited with his actual .319 batting average.

The Iowa State Cyclones kicked off the football season on Thursday night against Northern Illinois.  The Cyclones looked good at some point and bad in others.  It was a definite must-win game for a team facing the schedule from hell.  We face road games at Iowa, Texas, and Oklahoma – and face Utah in one of our pre-seasons games.  It’s possible that the team would be better than last year’s 7-6 squad, but emerge with a worse record.

And in my own backyard, the University of Iowa (in-state rivals to my alma mater) locked up head football coach Kirk Ferentz through the year 2020.  His base salary starts at $3,675,000 and he get a longevity bonus that starts at $325,000 and increases each year.  I think Ferentz is a great coach, but this makes no sense to me.  These sorts of deals just give a false sense of security to the fans of the team.  The coach can still bolt for a better job at any time.  The only thing that it really does is make it impossible to fire a coach if things head south – because the school is on the hook for the entire value of the contract.  Hopefully Ferentz will still be around in 2020 and this will be an academic issue.

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Kosmo is the founder of The Soap Boxers and writes on a variety of topics. Many of his short stories have been collected into Kindle books.

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