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Medical Corner: Daniel Murphy and Dustin Pedroia

Dr. Mike Tanner has treated patients with orthopedic injuries for over 10 years as a board-certified specialist and physical therapist. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D., educating physical therapy students and conducting research.


I am not sure why the Nationals are going full Belichick on us, but the reality is that Daniel Murphy is months away from playing. Don’t buy it? Let’s explore.

What’s wrong with this picture? Two players underwent microfracture surgery in late October: Dustin Pedroia on October 25, 2017, and Daniel Murphy on October 20, 2017. The industry seems to accept that Pedroia will be out until July, but many are hopeful that Murphy will be ready by Opening Day? Sorry, Murphy won’t play until June, at the earliest.

First, let’s understand what happened to Murphy and Pedroia. If you owned Murphy last year, you noticed he had quite a few days off toward the end of the season due to a “thigh injury.” The injury turned out to be a chip in the surface of his knee joint, similar to a small pothole in the road. Microfracture surgery repairs the pothole in the otherwise smooth surface of a joint. The operation involves grinding down the perimeter of the “pothole” to encourage bleeding, which in turn heals the surface. Surgical outcomes offer mixed results — 70% of athletes successfully return, but they tend to be slower.

Factors that increase a better outcome are:
1) The younger, the better – Advantage Murphy
2) No previous knee surgery – Advantage Murphy (Pedroia had surgery in 2016 and 2017)
3) The thinner, the better – Advantage Pedroia

As of February 22, Murphy was still fielding grounders on his knees and running on a treadmill with a harness that supports 60% of his weight. His therapy will progress from partial weight-bearing to static full-bearing (swinging a bat), and later dynamic full-bearing (running the bases, fielding, etc.) over the course of the next few months.  Return to sport is on average 6-9 months, and in Murphy’s case, we’ll be much closer to the latter. In rehab terms, he is a long way away from getting back on the field, and when he does return, we can expect an extra day off every week or two to manage the surgically repaired knee.

All of the signs of a late return are in plain sight. Sign a veteran in Howie Kendrick — check. Coach expresses an ambiguous vote of confidence about “being on schedule” — check. The athlete says they want to be 100% prior to returning — check. Translation: Expect a healthy dose of Howie Kendrick/Wilmer Difo at the keystone early this year for the Nats. Murphy should produce when he returns, but his current price (NFBC ADP 70) outweighs his likely production. After all, it’s challenging to accrue counting stats in the trainer’s room.

Estimated Return Date: June 1-15, with frequent time off
Fantasy Projection: ~ 400 at-bats, .300 AVG, 15 HR, 68 RB, 59 R, 0 SB

As for Pedroia, the outlook is not very good. He will turn 35 in August, and the fact that he’s older and had a previous surgery is worrisome. No one is questioning his grit or toughness, but the odds are against him. I expect him to return after the All-Star break and, if the Red Sox manage the problem well, you can expect regular days off to keep the pain/swelling in check. He is unlikely to be fantasy relevant in 12-team mixed leagues or shallower formats.

Pedroia’s remaining $56 million over the next four years will be yet another reason that eight-year, $100+ million contracts are a thing of a past. I can’t imagine why Boston was so reluctant with J.D. Martinez this year …

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