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Torn Labrum Ends Barton’s Year

July 26, 2011

Daric Barton has a torn labrum in his right shoulder. This explains a lot. In 2010 at 5.1 WAR, Barton was far and away the most valuable Athletic. His .273/.393/.405 line with ten home runs in 2010, while still garnering some complaints for a lack of power, looked to many (including myself) like the beginnings of a very productive career. However, when the calendar turned over to 2011, things were far from as rosy as he struggled right of the gate putting together an atrocious .212/.325/.267 slash line worth an awful -0.3 WAR. The A’s finally had enough and on June 21st he was optioned to Triple-A Sacramento while the A’s were in New York to take on the Mets. With the pressures of falling flat on one’s face at the MLB level behind him, Barton failed to take advantage of his time in Sacramento, shrinking even further into a .197/.347/.230 hitter for the River Cats.

That is why a power sapping injury like a torn labrum can help explain Barton’s fast turnaround from good hitter to atrocious one. In a Slate article from 2004 that largely describes a torn labrum being a career ending injury for pitchers it says the follow about the labrum and detecting an injury and subsequently fixing it,

“The labrum is a thin matrix of collagen seated between the head of the humerus (bone of the upper arm) and the glenoid fossa (the shallow depression where the humerus fits). It functions both as a shock absorber, cushioning the blow when the bones in the shoulder collide, and as part of the joint’s connective structure…

…Shoulder injuries tend to present themselves as pain and tenderness with a concurrent loss of speed on the fastball. A torn labrum is no different. But because it’s positioned between two bones, a damaged labrum is far more difficult to detect than other shoulder problems, like a torn rotator cuff. Doctors are only now [in 2004] getting the diagnostic tools to detect labrum tears…

…If an operation is necessary, the surgeon either enters the shoulder with a scalpel or pops in one to three arthroscopes outfitted with cameras and cutting instruments. The doctor then cleans up the tear and reattaches the labrum using sutures, much as they would with a deep cut to the skin. While newer techniques involve specialized devices that standardize the anchors and sutures, shoulder surgery is still far more complex and risky than, say, an elbow reconstruction…

…[in 2003] Dodgers slugger Shawn Green lost a significant amount of power because of a severe labrum tear.”

Looking at Green’s numbers as a reference point, he went from 42 home runs to just 19 between 2002 and 2003 and saw his WAR drop from 5.7 to 2.4 (though part of that was care of worsening defense). While still a good hitter, Green’s power numbers in particular were affected with his SLG falling from .558 to .460. While Barton’s drop off is a bit more dramatic its unknown how long he has been dealing with this problem, it could be perhaps all year and even beyond that. In the case of Green he would be a serviceable MLB ballplayer through the 2007 season, but never again did he come anywhere near the 40+ HR totals he had had before. Here’s hoping Daric gets better soon and can return to being the player of 2010.

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