There have been reports that the Twins are interested in Joe Crede and sent 2 scouts in his Arizona work outs yesterday and today. Earlier this off-season, Joe Crede was called a free agent bargain, even though he had 2 back to back back surgeries to repair 2 herniated discs in his spine. How much of a bargain he is?
Let's examine the facts.
First: What they hey is a herniated disc and why have a back surgery:
WebMD defines a herniated disc as a protrusion of a degenerated or fragmented intervertebral disc into the intervertebral foramen with potential compression of a nerve root or into the spinal canal with potential compression of the cauda equina in the lumbar region or the spinal cord at higher levels characterized by disruption of the annular fibrosis. In plain English: there are discs in your spine that are located inside vertebrae (those are your stacked spine bones, think Jenga). The discs are flexible and they are lubed and help you move. All around them there are nerves. The spine is the mother of all nerves in the human body. And nerves make things move (formally: propagate signals sent from your brain to your muscles) and are the things that make you feel pain. For example, if you have a tooth ache, your tooth doesn't hurt, but the nerves in your teeth "hurt" (formally: send "pain" signals back to your brain; it's a 2-way street), so the dentist goes and does a "root canal" (gets rid of the nerves inside your teeth) and you don't feel the pain. Not that getting Crede will be like getting a root canal (watching Buscher buschering balls is like one), but I am digressing...
Back to the back.
When you do something funky with your back (like trying to throw 50lbs of cement in a truck X 100 a day or try to give your 110lb 12 year old a piggy back ride) or have an accident (like have some cleats landing on your back the wrong way or having your aforementioned 110lb 12 year old land or your back the wrong way or consumed about 20 too many cases of beer last year and your 50lb overweight gut had no muscles to support your back when tried to lift that one last box of books off your basement to sell on ebay) one of those spongy little things might 'slip'. And that is called a "herniated disc" and usually hurts like hell a bit higher than your tailbone. If you messed it up bad enough, you feel it down one or both of your legs (and butt) and it is called "sciatica" (remember, the spine is the mother of all nerves and one of them is the longest nerve of your body, the sciatic nerve that travels from the spine, just a couple of inches north of your butt crack down to the bottom of your feet. That's a nasty nerve because when it's messed up in the bottom of your feet, esp. if you have high arches, it is called patellar tendinitis and hurts like hell, too. Think Marty Cordova and Shannon Steward, but that's a different story).
Back to the back
So Crede had not one but two of those discs messed up. What does the average Joe do when his disc is messed up? He (if he has adequate insurance these days, goes to his primary care physician who writes him a pink -or yellow- referal slip to a specialist, to cover his/her rear end, who in turn subjects him to a bunch of X-rays and MRIs to cover his rear and the result is that the average Joe/Jane) takes medication (anti-inflammatory, think ibuprofen and cortisone shots) rest, heat pads and physical therapy. Half of the average Joes (and Janes) affected by herniated discs are fine after a month of this regiment. 90% of the average Joes (and Janes) are fine after 6 months of this regiment. Only 10% of the herniated disc cases result in surgery. What kind of surgery? Well, this is not exactly therapeutic surgery (like you got an inflamed appendix, you get it out, no more inflamed appendix, no more pain) but it is the equivalent of a root canal: You either get the extra fluid that builds up and presses on the nerves making them hurt sucked away in a variety of ways or get the misplaced disc out of there and two neighboring vertebrae are "glued" together (the latter is called "fusion" and its a kind of an old school method). These days for degenerative conditions like osteoporosis (or a nasty accident) when the vertebrae themselves are shot, one can get brand new titanium vertebrae, but this is not the case here. Surgery is all about pain management. Get the disc out of there that rubs the nerve the wrong way or get the fluid out of there that rubs the nerve the wrong way. Nerves are divas. You gotta take care of them. Crede had door number 2: Fluid drainage. Twice.
Back to the average Joe with the average back problem. How rare is to need 2 consecutive operations to solve the same (or 2 of the same) issues? Only about 1% of average Joes (and Janes) need to have that to be done to them to be pain free. Crede did. And Crede is an athlete and much better conditioned that the average Joe or Jane with a herniated disc, who is probably 25-50 lb + overweight. Two conclusions here: either this is the mother of all herniated discs (or a couple of them) or Joe did not receive the proper regiment to allow him to heal (rest, rest, rest). Hard to tell what it might be.
Enough pig Latin Anatomy; back to baseball: Let's assume that Crede's surgery is successful (and I wholeheartedly wish it is.) What should a team anticipate from him?
I looked at all the major league position players I could find who had back surgery from their mid twenties to their mid thirties (if you know of anyone else, please tell me; pitchers like Kevin Brown, Eric Gagne, Randy Johnson and company were excluded, so were position players- Cal Ripken- who had the surgery in their late 30s) and here are their slash number lines the season before surgery, the season of their surgery (in bold) and the two seasons after surgery (if applicable.) The year of the surgery is indicated by the player's name and the player's age at the season of the surgery is indicate in the line of that season:
John Castino (1981)
1980: .302/.336/.430 (546 AB)
1981: .268/.301/.396 (381 AB) age: 26
1982: .241/.304/.344 (410 AB)
1983: .277/.348/.403 (563 AB)
last season: 3 years after surgery
Ron Kittle (1989)
1988: .258/.323/.533 (255 AB)
1989: .302/.378/.556 (169 AB) age 31
1990:.231/.293/.438 (338 AB)
1991:.191/.291/.319 (47 AB)
last season: 2 years after surgery
David Winfield (1989)
1988: .322/.398/.530 (559 AB)
1989: DNP age: 36
1990:.267/.338/.453 (475 AB)
1991:.262/.326/.472 (568 AB)
last season: 6 years after surgery
Darryl Strawberry (1992)
1991: .265/.361/.491 (505 AB)
1992: .237/.322/.385 (156 AB) age 30
1993: .140/.267/.310 (92 AB)
1994: .239/.363/.424 (89 AB)
last season: 7 years after surgery
Sandy Alomar, Jr. (1993)
1992: .251/.293/.324 (299 AB)
1993: .270/.318/.395 (215 AB) age 27
1994:.288/.347/.490 (292 AB)
1995: .300/.332/.478 (203 AB)
Jose Canseco (1999)
1998: .237/.318/.518 (583 AB)
1999: .279/.369/.563 (430 AB) age 34
2000: .252/.377/.444 (329 AB)
2001: .258/.366/.477 (256 AB)
last season: 2 years after surgery
Eric Chavez (2007)
2006: .241/.351/.435 (485 AB)
2007: .240/.306/.446 (341 AB) age: 29
2008: .247/.295/.393 (89 AB)
Mark Kotsay (2007)
2006: .275/.332/.386 (502 AB)
2007: .214/.279/.296 (206 AB) age: 31
2008: .276/.329/.403 (402 AB)
And here is the point of the inquiry:
Joe Crede (2007, 2008)
2006: .283/.323/.506 (544 AB)
2007: .216/.258/.317 (167 AB) age: 29
2008: .248/.314/.460 (335 AB) age: 30
If we average the OPS and the AB of these players before surgery, the year after surgery and the second year after surgery and look at OPS and AB the first and second years after surgery as fractions of the year before surgery we have:OPS 1 year after surgery = .92 of year before surgery, OPS 2 years after surgery = .96 of year before surgery;AB 1 year after surgery = .66 of year before surgery, AB 2 year after surgery = .62 of year before surgery
if these fractions are applied on Crede's 2006 numbers the predicted values for Crede's 2009 and 2010 seasons are:
2009: .763 OPS in 359 AB
2010: .796 OPS in 337 AB
As a reminder in 2008, Brian Buscher had .730 OPS in 218 AB and Brendan Harris .721 OPS in 434 AB. Harris had a .777 OPS in 521 AB with the Rays in 2007. Also Wigginton had an .876 OPS in 386 AB with the Astros in 2008. And a .792 OPS in 547 AB with the Rays and the Astros in 2007. And it sounds like he will be jumping in joy if he receives half of what Crede allegedly wants to play next year.
Draw your own conclusions about what is the best direction that the Twins should go. Here is my analysis of the third base situation last October and I still stand by it.
Remember the off-season contest is still on. Go to the link and give me your thoughts. 4 people did already. If you guess better than they did, you will win a copy of one of the best minor league publications for the Twins, the Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook - 2009, by Seth Stohs of SethSpeaks.net a major authority in the Twins' blogosphere, personally autographed by Seth himself.