Last Wednesday, we had a very interesting discussion on the topic of pitcher health, which also dipped into overall player health. I promised I'd have an article discussing Will Carroll's Team Health Reports (BP Subscription), and just in time for this week's discussion, here it is!
Carroll begins his analysis with a summary of Oakland's health last season; discussing the two years under a new trainer (Stephen Sayles took over for Larry Davis in 2008). He makes sure to point out that even with getting rid of players like Rich Harden and Huston Street (who drag the injury average down), we had "what's left of Eric Chavez" and "a group of young pitchers who recall Harden in both talent and risk".
The following comment made me pause; it's very similar to what I asked about pitcher health:
I've always wondered why the forward-thinking A's braintrust didn't use the cheap path of sports medicine to try and gain on their rivals.
Despite how we might feel watching the A's limp off to the DL year after year, Carroll assures us that the A's haven't lost much more money due to injuries in the last three years than the league average (and most of it was because of Chavez). He does question why--when pitcher depth is so important with a rotation of young starters--the A's settled for the risky Sheets and Duchscherer when they might have added a low-injury-risk innings-eater. Carroll makes the observation we have all pondered; that $10 million is a lot of A's-money, and Sheets is a gamble; albeit a very short-term one.
However, as Carroll aptly states, the A's likely have a Plan B:
The rotation is two things: good and young. Those two spell risk, but a deeper look at the A's roster also offers a possible solution. There are, at the very least, nine valid candidates for the major-league rotation, so a quick call to Sacramento is all it takes to swap someone in or out.
He also adds a caveat to his calculated injury numbers:
The A's should be sharp enough to handle this one, so take that into account in both assessing risk and playing time projections. Also, note that the ratings below do not do this. It expects top starters to stay in the rotation all season long and assesses the risk in accordance.
So, the big question: How does Carroll rate the 2010 Oakland Athletics in team health?
In case you are not familiar with Carroll's work, he uses his system to assess key players for each team with a Red, Yellow, or Green ranking for potential injury risk. And if there's a flaw in the design, it's that the system only allows for five starting pitchers to be evaluated; which doesn't exactly work for the A's and their seven legitimate starting pitching candidates.
As we have all surmised by this point, the A's starting pitchers fall pretty squarely into the "red" category. Obviously Duchscherer faced multiple issues last year, and as Carroll points out, "it's very hard to pinpoint return times" for an off-field issue. Obviously Sheets' injury history is well-known, and Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson both fall into the Verducci Effect, (or the Year After Effect, which found "that pitchers under the age of 25 who have 30-inning increases year over year tend to underperform"). Anderson and Cahill are both red, and the only reason Gio Gonzalez is yellow is because Carroll assumes that he won't get enough innings to be in the risky red category.
Here is the point where I have a question for the fantasy baseball world (and it explains the title of this post). I did a recent interview for a fantasy baseball radio station, I have read my share of articles on the A's 2010 pitching projections and starting pitching rotations, and throughout this off-season I have consistently noticed a glaring omission in all conversations and articles about the A's starting rotation: Dallas Braden isn't considered a shoe-in for a starting pitching role outside the A's circles.
I understand that he got lucky with his numbers last season, I understand he missed the end of the season with a mysterious ailment; I even understand that Trevor Cahill is part of the future for A's pitching (and so he should be). But after Braden's performance in the 2009 season--and barring an injury or a complete meltdown during Spring Training--he WILL be in the rotation. The #5 spot will go to either Cahill or Gonzalez (you all know Gio is my pick, and obviously, I'm not alone on AN after yesterday's fabulous post!). Neither will make the team at the expense of Dallas Braden. Perhaps Carroll's "limited innings" projection for Gio allows for Braden as the other starter, but Braden's injury report was actually the one I was most curious about, and I am disappointed it wasn't included.
Good news on this front; both Bailey and Wuertz are green with no additional comments. I imagine the one real injury concern of the 'pen will be Joey Devine, but other than that, the A's have a good, deep, healthy bullpen that should see a lot of work this season.
I love Carroll's comparison:
LF Rajai Davis: One of few Athletics that lives up to the team's name, Davis actually plays through injuries well and has very good speed. Like Rickey Henderson, Davis is fanatical about stretching.
Davis and Cust are both green, Sweeney is yellow (as expected), and I'm sure everyone can guess Crisp's ranking after his shortened 2009 season.
The A's have historically healthy catchers ("And no one knows why"), Pennington has no issues, Ellis is borderline red, Carroll suggests Fox as a replacement for Barton at first (I hear ya, even if you did give Barton a green light), and Kouzmanoff at third base is green, as well. I'd give Chavez (Carroll's back-up third baseman) a "black" ranking, but they don't have that color, and Carroll doesn't even bother, nor should he. It will take some kind of a miracle to get Chavez out on the field, and even more than that to have him produce.
However, I'd like to point out that unless there is something I haven't yet considered, only Fox OR Chavez will make the 25-man. Someone isn't reading my posts.
So overall, about what we expected, right? The key to the A's season lies almost entirely in the health of the starting pitching rotation; everyone else just needs to stay away from windows, pools, Bobby Crosby, and alarm clocks.