Kennedy and LASIK: The eyes have it. Or do they?

How many times do we have to see golfing great Tiger Woods on television touting laser eye surgery, attributing it to his improvement from a -11 golfer to the machine he is today, before we scratch out own eyes in frustration?

The procedure, often called LASIK, is becoming more and more common across Major League Baseball as well. (This is not to be confused with lasix, which is a diuretic used to control bleeding in the lungs of stressed race horses and is sometimes prescribed to humans, too!)

In what seems to be the biggest hot stove news out of frozen Minnesota this winter – outside of their re-signing of Nick Punto, that is – first baseman Justin Morneau and outfielder Michael Cuddyer each underwent laser eye surgery on both eyes last month, reports the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Early results from both players are predictably positive.

LASIK seems to be rampant in the Great White North, as outfielder Denard Span led the way with laser eye surgery last off-season, preceded by two other Twinkies. Span attributed his better vision as one reason for his breakout performance for Minnesota this year.

Perhaps with the famous “sky” problems for fielders in the Metrodome losing fly balls against the dingy white fabric roof, the Twins players may be hoping for defensive benefits in gaining clearer vision, too.

Yet in reality, the only time we seem to hear about players having these procedures is when it is perceived to have made a difference.

Not all doctors are sold

Several years ago, two university researchers, one from Harvard and the other from UCLA, studied the offensive performance of a dozen Major League hitters who had undergone the procedure.

Color them unimpressed. From their release:

“The study concluded that there was no offensive benefit to undergoing the refractive surgical procedure in these players. In addition, due to the well-established risks of these elective surgical procedures, the authors conclude that players may be best served by waiting until the end of their baseball career before performing the procedure.”

Despite this scientific research to the contrary, baseball players everywhere are tossing away their glasses and contact lenses to undergo the surgery.

Wonder if those are prescription lenses? (AP)
Wonder if those were prescription lenses? (AP/2007)

Closer to home

How does this relate to the Cardinals, you ask?

Being a long-time contact lens wearer myself, I was surprised the first time I saw now-free agent and former Cardinal Aaron Miles out of uniform and in his regular clothes. The infielder sports a pair of black-framed glasses on his personal time, changing to contact lenses only after reporting to work.

I have made it a point during small talk conversation with Miles several times in recent years, at least partially because I was curious why he hadn’t gone under the laser. I readily admitted that if I could be put to sleep and wake up repaired, I might be willing, but until that is a viable option, I’ll pass.

While not ever being specific about his reasons, Miles acknowledged that while he too had considered it, he wasn’t really interested in the procedure.

The most recent time we had this chat was in the Cardinals clubhouse during 2008 spring training. In the next cubicle was second baseman Adam Kennedy, who volunteered he had the surgery last off-season.

Did it matter for AK7?

I thought it might be interesting to look at Kennedy’s 2008 results in a very unscientific study of my own. Following are his recent batting averages/slugging percentages and on-base-percentages along with his career totals.

One might think that early in the 2008 season, results from the surgery would have started to emerge. You can be the judge.

Maybe it’s like an ink spot test, where we all see different things. Nothing particularly noteworthy catches my eye, though.

Kennedy BA OBP SLG
2007 0.219 0.262 0.290
Spring 2008 0.276 0.345 0.300
April 0.314 0.364 0.357
May 0.161 0.224 0.194
June 0.311 0.358 0.426
July 0.280 0.308 0.380
August 0.304 0.306 0.326
September 0.320 0.358 0.580
Season 2008 0.280 0.321 0.372
Career 0.276 0.328 0.389

What might this tell us?

First of all, coming off the horrendous 2007 season he experienced, I can understand why Kennedy might have felt like he needed to try something, anything. Had he repeated that kind of performance in 2008, it could have spelled the end of his second tenure with the Cardinals, one year remaining on his three-year contract or not.

Yet when comparing Kennedy’s 2008 against his entire body of work as a major leaguer, it was pretty darned average. This past season, his batting average was just four points higher than his career mark, but his on-base percentage and slugging were below the norm.

Looking at the glass half-full, perhaps the Cardinals would be delighted to receive career-average production from Kennedy, a disappointment overall during his second stint in St. Louis.

Based on this case study of one, I’ll have to agree with the two university research doctors and stay on the Aaron Miles, non-surgical side of the fence.