Trying to define Daniel Norris Part 2

Last week I wrote about Daniel Norris to some length, focusing on his up and down seasons and, more specifically, on what his leg injuries meant and how it affected his performance and mechanics. At the end of the article it was concluded that his value is going to be reliant based on the severity of his leg injury heading forward, and you should place him in your draft rankings according to how you feel about injuries like the one he sustained. Although it was beyond the scope of that article, I have returned to the subject to dig into his injury, find comparables, and give an exact conclusion into what his future holds.

To get a more precise reading, the injury Norris sustained was inflammation in his left hip labrum, and then, to a lesser extent, a sore right quadriceps. When we hear labrum, we generally think of the shoulder injury pitchers often suffer from, but here Norris had the issue closer to his core. The function of the hip labrum is, as a ring of cartilage, to act as a rubber seal along the ball socket of your hip and thighbone. The most relevant symptom here is stiffness and limited range of motion, which no doubt would have a huge effect on pitching mechanics – we can easily draw the line from an inflamed hip labrum to the sore quads, as his limited motion in his left leg, his back leg as a left handed pitcher, resulted in him coming down harder on his right leg, hence the soreness of the quad, which acts to extend the leg out.

Below is a diagram of the hip joint, for the more visually inclined reader:

There is a lot of wonderful information on surgeries for torn hip labrums, even though Norris’ injury wasn’t quite as severe. The surgery has come a long way, and we’ve seen a decent amount of hitters go through the surgery, namely Alex Rodriguez and Chase Utley, among others, but it’s been much more uncommon for pitchers. The two most notable have been Tim Lincecum and Steve Cishek, and they hold some solutions for what we can forecast for Norris.

Starting with Lincecum, after making every start from mid 2007 through 2013, he finally ended up getting some bullpen duty in 2014 as his performance fell off. 2015 was his last with the Giants, starting only 15 games, as this was the year he sustained his injury. He saw a fastball velocity decrease from 90.4 MPH to 88.7 MPH, and after offseason surgery on his hip it was still just 88.4 MPH in 2016, his last year in the majors.

Steve Cishek avoided surgery thanks to his tear being miniscule, but he still landed himself on the DL in early August, 2016. While in his return he managed a run free September, Cishek lost strikeouts and control, and a little velocity. The velocity didn’t return in 2017, dropping from 92.1 MPH to 90.1 MPH (sinker is used here as that’s his most common pitch, anything PITCHf/x marks as four seam fastball is most likely a recording error). Below is his velocity charted:

The loss of velocity is something that wasn’t immediate for Cishek, but there was a slight drop right at the injury, then a crash the year after. Norris exhibited a slight drop, and this data combined with Lincecum has me worried about where he’s going to be next year.

To find further similarities, compare the release points of all three, and try to estimate each one’s injury date without looking at the x-axis:

Essentially, all of these pitchers have raised their release point at the time of injury. It’s tough to precisely pinpoint the date as the injury is caused by wear and tear instead of a singular traumatic event, but there’s a clear pattern here. It even appears that Cishek’s injury may have returned in late 2017 by this logic, although that’s an adventure for another article.

Now, back to performance. Lincecum was not good in his later years, but he was serviceable with the Giants until his hip injury – then the wheels fell off. He completely lost control (11.5% walk rate), lost strikeouts (16.0%) and he wasn’t even getting the grounders he was used too. Now Cishek had better results, posting a 2.01 ERA last year in his injury+1 season. But his strikeout rate dropped from 29.5% to 23.6%, and his walk rate stayed static, but only because of a huge jump in zone percentage, from 40.7% to 45.5%.

And when comparing Norris to these, he doesn’t look much different. He saw a big drop in strikeouts (23.5% to 18.7%), and increase in walks (7.3% to 9.6%), while overall results declined. He definitely had some bad luck, as mentioned before, but it appears the injury was more of a factor than previously thought.

Using a couple case studies and how well they match Daniel Norris, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where he comes back in 2018 as the stud we thought he might be as a prospect. The hips are just so important for pitchers, and this labram injury doesn’t have a good history. Lincecum is out of the league, and although Cishek is still around, there’s good reason to believe he’s going to fall apart as well (mechanic issues plus downward trending peripherals).

Norris might be a buy-low for some people, but that injury is just too scary for me to think of him as anything but a mid-season waiver pickup once he has shown himself to be worth it. Stay far away.


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James Krueger

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James lives in Tampa, Florida and is often one of the 10,000 people you can see at Rays' home games. He's a huge fan of prospects, loves analyzing swing mechanics, and will eat a "Top 100" list for breakfast. Dynasty leagues are his forte, especially rebuilding teams; building a farm system is the best part.