Jimmy Nelson

Jimmy Nelson injury impact


Jimmy Nelson

(Photo by Reviewing the Brew)

Jimmy Nelson was the Milwaukee Brewers’ second round selection in 2010. After spending five seasons in the minors, Nelson earned a spot in the rotation in 2014. His minor league success did not translate as smoothly as the Brew Crew had hoped, as Nelson started 14 games, winning only two, while sporting a 4.93 ERA and 1.46 WHIP.

Nelson was solid in his first full season with Milwaukee, posting an 11-13 record with a 4.11 ERA. His WAR of 2.0 placed him within the top 60 pitchers of 2015, showing that at 26 years old he was an above average arm at the time.

Nelson regressed in 2016, winning only eight games, while posting a 4.62 ERA and 4.91 xFIP, or expected fielding independent pitching, which according to fangraphs.com “is a statistic that estimates a pitcher’s expected run prevention independent of the performance of their defense”.

His 4.19 xFIP is considered awful on fangraphs.com’s rating scale. His WAR of 0.7 shows that he was barely better than a replacement level player that season.

2017 Resurgence

Jimmy Nelson

In only 175.1 innings, Jimmy Nelson fell one strikeout short of 200. (Photo by The News and Observer)

Nelson has quietly been incredible this season. His WAR of 4.9 ranks fourth in the MLB, only behind Chris Sale, Corey Kluber and Max Scherzer, showing how serious of an impact Nelson was making in Milwaukee. Also, his 3.49 ERA, 10.21 K/9 and 3.14 xFIP place Nelson statistically within the top-10 in each category in the MLB.

In only 175.1 innings, Nelson fell one strikeout short of 200, which was a huge improvement from his former career high of 148, which were thrown in 177.1 innings in 2015.

One major adjustment Nelson has made from season-to-season has been the usage rate of his curveball. In his respectable 2015 campaign, Nelson threw his curveball 21 percent of the time, although in his poor 2016 season, he only used it at a 12 percent clip.

Now in 2017, Nelson is once again is using his curveball 20 percent of the time, which has been key to his success. According to fangraphs.com, his curveball is currently valued at 9.2, where zero represents average value, positive are considered above average and negative are below.

To put this in better perspective, Clayton Kershaw’s curveball has been valued at a total of 63.8 over the course of his career and is currently valued at 6.4.

Nelson is being slept on because of his unproven track record and lack of exposure due to playing in Milwaukee, although statistically he clearly is performing up to par with the elite. If the season was to end today, it is safe to say that Nelson would have been a top-5 NL Cy young candidate.

Impact of the injury

Jimmy Nelson

Jimmy Nelson will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a partially torn labrum and a strained rotator cuff after sliding head-first back into first base. (Photo by Brew Crew Ball)

The 28-year-old will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a partially torn labrum and a strained rotator cuff after sliding head-first back into first base. According to Matt Carlson of The Washington Post, general manager David Stearns said that “he does not know if surgery is needed.”

Boston Red Sox pitcher Steven Wright suffered a similar injury while pinch running at the end of the 2016 season, jamming his shoulder while sliding back into second base. Wright also missed the remainder of his breakout season, although the injury seems to have had a serious impact on his pitching ability moving forward.

In his 24 innings since returning, he has allowed 24 runs on 40 hits. Obviously with Wright being a knuckle baller, the situation is very different, although it seems fair to say that the future is uncertain for Nelson after sustaining this type of injury.

The Brewers, who are sneakily only four games back of the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central and three games back of the Colorado Rockies in the wild card race, are going to seriously feel Nelson’s absence because of how successful he has been, although the rest of the rotation is nothing to scoff at.

The Brewers rank 10th in the MLB in team ERA and 12th in strikeouts and batting average against. Zach Davies is currently leading the team in wins with 16, while Chase Anderson is leading in ERA with 3.06. 27-year-old rookie Brent Suter has emerged seemingly out of nowhere, posting a 3.55 ERA 51 strikeouts in 63.1 innings.

Veterans Matt Garza and Junior Guerra have struggled, both posting ERAs over five, although they have been able to eat innings, pitching a combined 174.2. It is clear that Nelson was not the only quality arm in Milwaukee, although he was their unquestioned ace and will be missed. The anticipated replacement options for Nelson include prospects Brandon Woodruff and Josh Hader.

Woodruff was an 11th round pick in 2014, and has had two very successful seasons at the high-A and double-A levels. He has made four major league starts in 2017, posting a 1-1 record with 1.52 ERA and 7.61 K/9. According to MLB.com, Woodruff ranks 84th among all MLB prospects this season and looks to be the most ready and reliable option for the Brew Crew to go with.

Hader was a 19th round selection, although he has been widely recognized as one of baseball’s top prospects, as in 2016, Hader was ranked 34th on MLB.com’s prospect watch list after posting a 30-31 record with a 3.11 ERA and 10.3 K/9 in 593.1 innings in the minors. In 2017, Hader was called-up to assume a bullpen role, where he has made 28 appearances with zero being starts. He has been successful so far in the majors, so it seems like the Brewers won’t rush Hader into a starter spot even with their current situation.

Featured image by MLB.com


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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Let’s Learn From Donnovan Hill’s Tragic Story

Get your tissues ready; the story of Donnovan Hill is not a pleasant one.  In November of 2011, Donnovan Hill, just a 13 year old playing defense in a Pop Warner Championship, took a vicious blow to the head, resulting in a fractured spine.

Immediately after the impact of the collision, Hill’s body went limp and he was motionless on the field.  Hill was soon rushed to the Hospital.  Upon regaining consciousness, Hill was informed that he was paralyzed from the neck down.  The play, along with other interviews of the Hill family, can be found here:

As you can see, Hill leads with his head and flies in like a heat-seeking missile, a tackling technique he learned from his coaches.  Any decent football coach will discourage this kind of tackling.  Its potential for danger and injury is extravagant.  A player could get hit in their prefrontal cortex, impairing their cognitive ability, or maybe their occipital lobe, damaging their vision.  In Donnovan Hill’s case, however, the hit damaged his neck and spine too.  This leads me to the first takeaway from Donnovan’s story: proper tackling form.

If you’re going to play football, proper tackling form is the single most important thing you need to practice.  It means leading with your shoulders and chest, not your head.  It means keeping your head up, not down.  As the old football saying goes, “hit what you see and see what you hit.”  It means squatting and rolling your hips at the point of attack, not lunging and sending your body forward off the ground.

Donnovan found solace writing poetry and rapping during the next five years of his life, all spent in a wheelchair.  His mother quit her job to become his full-time caretaker.  Life was a daily struggle for the two.

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Odell Beckham Jr. visits Donnovan Hill.

But through the dark times, Donnovan fought and persevered to the best of his ability.  He made it his purpose in life to help the families of fallen players with traumatic brain and spinal injuries cope with their loss.  Donnovan Hill became a symbol and an icon of courage and hope.  Hill’s strength reflects the second concept we can learn: Finding love in the darkest of times.  No matter what we go through, we must always remind ourselves that as long as we have lungs supplying oxygen and a heart pumping blood, we can still work towards a good cause.  I find Donnovan’s mindset to be inspirational.

Donnovan Hill died on May 11th, 2016, from complications to his injury-related surgery.  He was 18 years old.

Image result for donnovan hill football

Something else we can learn, or rather ponder, is that the age to start playing football is now up for question.  Should it be at 13?  During High School (14-17)?  In college (18-22)?  The brain is still developing during all three of these time periods.

How many more paraplegic injuries will it take until something huge changes in football culture?  How many more severe concussions and suicides?  How many more players, whether young adults or retired veterans, will report being unable to function like the rest of us?  Don’t worry Donnovan, we will learn from your story and someday the game will change.  Sometimes it takes a tragedy to solve future tragedies.

What If The NFL Abolished Tackling?

Whether the increasing amount of lawsuits filed against the NFL for traumatic brain injuries or critics of football exposing more of its brutal nature amass more attention, one must begin to wonder if tackling in football has seen its run.

We should first ask ourselves what we love about football and if we can still have those components in a non-tackling league.  Or, if there is no tackling, is there a proper substitute that will still shoot the same adrenaline down our spines, without the body-bashing injuries?

Pain in football is inevitable; ask any football player from any level and they will tell you.  They’ll also say that they always play with pain, but never with injury.  Sure there are several useful precautions one can take when playing football – keep your head up, low man wins, maintain grounded footwork – but the reality is that even technique can’t compensate for that one false step, that one mishap, that lands you on the ground withering in agony.

Just ask former Steeler and Redskins wide receiver, Antwaan Randel El, who played eight years in the NFL.  “I have to come down (the stairs) sideways sometimes,” he said.  “I ask my wife over and over again and she’s like ‘I just told you that.”

And on the inevitable collisions Randel El adds, “There’s no correcting it. There’s no helmet that’s going to correct it. There’s no teaching that’s going to correct it. It just comes down to it’s a physically violent game. Football players are in a car wreck every week.”

The question remains: What if we eliminated tackling from football?  I have wondered from time to time what the sport would be like if this limitation were imposed.  Would football still be fun?  How would the strategy of the game change?  I’ll take a shot at both questions.

Yes, football would still be fun in a non-tackling league.  When I think about what I enjoy most about football, head bashing and getting the wind knocked out of me are pretty low on the list.  Throughout my four years of just High School football I suffered a sprained wrist, sprained ankle, fractured finger and at least one concussion (I say “at least” one because there were several instances in which I was hit in the head hard, but was unable to make the distinction between a concussion and just another big hit).  Those forgotten injury statistics don’t include the couple of times I was hit so hard that I literally saw colors.

Instead, what makes the game fun and exciting is the passing, the receiving, the running, the intercepting, the fumble recovering, the kicking, the returning, the comradery, the celebrating, and most of all, the friendships.  Football is the ultimate team sport; the linemen block for the quarterback, who passes the ball to a receiver, while the defense rushes the passer and communicates coverage and blitz responsibilities.  As with any players in team sports, football players improve their teamwork skills, become more disciplined workers, and establish a brotherly bond with one another.  Perhaps these advantages to playing can still hold true if the game were touch football.

The strategy of offensive and defensive schemes would most likely alter in the passing game.  Assuming there would be no need for pads, receivers would feel fleet-footed and lighter.  Passing patterns would stretch the field, players would be better able to make quicker cuts, and the concern of coming out of the game from exhaustion would abate.  After all, football pads, helmets, and gear can add as much as 15 to 25 pounds to one player’s load.

As far as the running game is concerned, the existence of running plays will depend on blocking.  It should be no shocker that linemen are the ones in the worst physical shape when they’re conditioned to bulk up and gain weight to either block or evade blocks.  I suppose the manner in which linemen block would have to change and become more…gentle?  But remember, ruling a player down is still no easy task in touch football – athletes are shifty!  This is why flag football is a useful alternative to the current state of football – you can still run the ball outside and you’re ruled down when a defender grabs your flag, which is not easy.

My point is that football would still be a unique, creative, enjoyable sport if the tackling aspect were removed.

Despite playing multiple positions as a receiver, return man and quarterback, Randel El also admitted his regret without hesitation.  “If I could go back, I wouldn’t.  I would play baseball. I got drafted by the Cubs in the 14th round, but I didn’t play baseball…Don’t get me wrong, I love the game of football. But, right now, I could still be playing baseball.”

Randel El is also worried about the devastating injuries, and sometimes deaths, associated with High School players. “The kids are getting bigger and faster, so the concussions, the severe spinal cord injuries, are only going to get worse,” he said. “It’s a tough pill to swallow because I love the game of football. But I tell parents, you can have the right helmet, the perfect pads on, and still end up with a paraplegic kid.”  Last year alone fifteen High School players lost their life playing the game they loved.  These young men are being robbed of their futures.

Evan Murray, the 17 year old Quarterback at Warren Hills High, looks onto the field for what would be his last game before passing away from a lacerated spleen.

More evidence looms as time goes by, not necessarily for the end of football, but for a call to change in violent football culture.