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February 5, 2010

Under The Knife

Team Health Reports 2010

by Will Carroll

Subscribers can download the new THR spreadsheet directly by surfing here or access all of their available BP digital downloads by going here.

It's the eighth year for the Team Health Reports and its newly named PIPP system. As always, the system is designed to give a risk rating, one of three color-coded categories-red, yellow, or green-that correspond to the risk of injury. Of course, "injury" is a broad category, and unlike Sig Megdal's system from years past, I don't try to predict the location of the injury or the severity. Instead, it's binary: either a player hits the DL at some point during the year, or he doesn't. I'm no doctor or athletic trainer, as I often say in UTK, but I'm certainly no database jockey or statistician either. Luckily, I've consulted with all four of those things-some of the best in the world, to be honest-in helping me put these together. It ends up as complex as the plot of Lost, and some days when I'm staring at row after row on a spreadsheet or talking with a scout about a player's off-season workout, I'm just as confused. I am happy that MLB has started to collect injury data on a more granular level, something they haven't done before. That data, I hope, can be used to reduce the number and severity of injuries in baseball. For pitchers alone in 2009, there was more than $250 million wasted, yet no team has put even a million dollars into their budget for research to reduce this.

The system continues to be made of up two things: a baseline risk and then additions or subtractions based on several factors, such as injury history, team injury history, and PECOTA's attrition factor. The baseline risk is an actuarial table, based on 10 years of MLB data and clustered according to age and position. That clustering often creates a bit of an outlier problem, such as with Tim Wakefield or Jamie Moyer. In the "SP 40+" category, one injury could change the baseline from yellow to red, making it very difficult to get individual reads on players. Sadly, it's a flaw I can't get around without introducing subjective factors that would defeat the purpose of having a system.

Like everything, we're hoping to improve the system year by year. While the results from last year were solid in the aggregate, there are lots of misses on the individual level. That's not going to change. One of the apparent flaws of the system is actually its strength. Risk is not certainty and just as any prediction is looking for the least error rather than the most likely, that's what the PIPP system underlying the ratings does. Let's take, for example, a "red" risk with an underlying 50-percent risk of injury, based on the baseline and the factors. That's a literal coinflip.

That player is very risky and if he's a critical player, a team is taking a very binary chance with success. But at the same time, despite his inherent high risk, there's an equal chance at health. Just under half of the riskiest band will be healthy this year, avoiding the DL and putting up numbers that will help their teams win. While that is, by definition, wrong, I'd ask you whether or not you'd like to bet the house on a coinflip or worse. That's what teams-real and fantasy-are doing with red-rated players. For a coin, heads or tails really has no upside, but a player like Ben Sheets might. One of the things that PIPP does not do is take any value into consideration. Ben Sheets at $10 million is the same as Erik Bedard at $1.5 million, as far as the system's concerned. There's obviously a real-world difference.

One of the biggest changes this year is the baseline. The actuarial table underlying the ratings was revised, as it has been each year, but this year, the bands changed significantly. There are more, creating a more individualized approach while introducing some level of sample-size error. Due to the extended actual experience involved in putting the table together and because its real use is to price the insurance teams are required to purchase on all their players, I'm pretty confident in its accuracy. For my purposes, we've seen some changes in how the baseline affects ratings. Catchers are now not automatic yellows, though they are still quite risky. There's some other more subtle changes you'll notice if you've been following along and as I write up each team, I'll comment more on these.

One thing I do want to comment on here is something I've been jokingly referring to as the "suck green." One of the factors that the system takes into account is the projected playing time that any player is expected to have. This is their exposure, for the most part, and for pitchers, it's a huge factor. Some players are projected to play such a low amount of time or are expected to be replaced that they end up green. This doesn't make them good, but their lack of talent leads to a lack of exposure and by proxy, a lack of risk. That same player, if exposed to a full season, would likely be significantly more risky. We see this a lot in catchers or in positions where a player is expected to be replaced at midseason by someone coming up.

For pitchers, the exposure is a huge factor. As we know that pitchers facing innings increases have an increased risk of injury, a pitcher who is going to be asked to go out and make 30 starts after having less than 150 innings the prior season is going to face increased risk. The system doesn't try to predict whether an organization will protect a player by shutting him down, whether they'll trade for some help, or any other possibility. It looks at the projection and says, "If he goes this many innings as projected, he's risky." The A's, with a number of young pitchers facing big increases, look very risky and they are. They also have a "shotgun defense,"a number of pitchers, just a notch down talentwise, that can come in and take spot starts or allow the team to shut guys down if need be. It's a blind spot in the system that I can't figure out how to close without making subjective guesses about what a team might or might not do, so know it's there.

The other key thing we don't know about any pitcher is his joint load. Few teams use motion capture to know this themselves, so I'm telling you now that there's no way I'm going to know. (This is about to change, however.) For years, we've guessed at what good and bad mechanics look like, hoping that we could see. We see "inverted Ws" and "picking up the elbow" and a hundred other folksy things that have no basis in reality. I'm guilty of having done this, but the fact is, every pitcher is different.

With each pitch, they're putting a load of force on different parts of their kinetic chain. It might look beautiful and be too much for the arm to take, or it might be ugly and it holds up because that player has some sort of genetic advantage. I don't know why Francisco Rodriguez has held together, but he has. B.J. Ryan held together for years. Mark Prior didn't, and when you hear people say that they know what Stephen Strasburg or any other pitcher is going to do in the future, know that they're guessing. We're nearing a point-perhaps very near-where we can get this kind of information and when we do, it might be the PitchF/X for the medhead set.

There's one pitcher, however, who comes out as such an outlier that I have to mention it. As I've explained, there's a baseline risk, then several factors that can add or subtract. Zack Greinke, last year's AL Cy Young winner, has such a ridiculously low rating this year that it bears watching. I've seen position players this low, but never a pitcher. The underlying percentage for Greinke is 12 and while Royals fans are screaming "don't jinx it!", I just have a hard time believing that any pitcher could be this low. No, Greinke's off-field issues are not factored in, but in essence, they worked in his favor.

Greinke didn't rack up big workload totals while he was below the injury nexus and now that he's passed it healthy, who knows where he could go. I often wonder if we don't have pitchers out there who could be the kind of four-man rotation workhorse that Bob Feller reminds us he was. I'd start with Greinke if I were tasked to find him. And yes, look above. We have no idea what Greinke's joint loads are and I guarantee you, neither do the Royals. Think about that when the inevitable new contract comes up for him.

The final thing I want to discuss is why I don't change the ratings as spring training progresses. For the past month, I've been working on these rankings and the writeups, putting everything I possibly can into them, knowing that there has to be a line in the sand for information. This year, it's February 1. Things will change, but the ratings won't. For one thing, I'm sure some would accuse me of "cooking the books." Honestly, it's just because I want to put these out there and let them stand, for good or bad. It's risk, not reality, and putting them down once in virtual stone works for this purpose. Injuries will happen, risk factors will change and that's what I talk about every time I write a new Under The Knife.

Fact is, most of you didn't read what I wrote above. You just want the spreadsheet so you can start getting ready for your fantasy drafts. Well, here it is. Those people won't understand the strengths and flaws of the system and will use it blindly and usually wrongly. They'll accuse me of being wrong about an individual player, and I'll nod and say that I'll try to do better next year. Then again, you're a BP subscriber and the vast majority of you are smart. If you did skim down here, I'll advise you to take the time and not only read the explanation and introduction above, but the team reports themselves, where there's far more information than a three-color rating system. All that said, here it is. Let the risk begin.

Related Content:  The Who,  Year Of The Injury

51 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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ahemmer

In reference to "suck green," doesn't the system also fall prey to "suck red," where a player sucked so badly in the prior year that the system thinks they were injured?

Feb 05, 2010 11:10 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

No, it knows the DL. If a player wasn't on the DL, it does one of two things - if he's young, it assumes he didn't establish himself. If he's older, it assumes he's declining and will see less playing time in the future. It's not perfect - the one thing I see it trip on is when a guy goes from a platoon situation to a full time gig. Or Skip Schumacher last season, which was a bit odd.

Feb 05, 2010 11:16 AM
 
ahemmer

I must be thinking of something else. Thank you

Feb 05, 2010 11:21 AM
rating: -1
 
jenstad

Oy, looking at the red covering the the A's staff scares me. Not sure why you didnt list Braden as he is one of their set first 4, but I am guessing he is a red also.

Feb 05, 2010 11:18 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

A's are a very interesting case. but I'll save why for the writeup.

Feb 05, 2010 11:59 AM
 
RedsManRick

I was surprised to see Brandon Phillips as a red (rating...) given that he's 29 and never had a major injury. He's played an average of 150 games a year since staring full time 4 years ago, never less than 141. What risk factors am I missing here?

Feb 05, 2010 11:22 AM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

The broken hand at the end of last year? The various injuries he's played through? The ineffectiveness when he does so? And that he's 29 now and might not be able to play through these things so well in the future.

Feb 05, 2010 12:00 PM
 
Al Skorupa

Max Scherzer as a Green? Kind of surprised by that.

Beyond all the mechanics arguments, etc... he was a young pitcher (24) who jumped from 109 IP to 175 IP. That seems like the sort of thing the THR's hate.... no?

Feb 05, 2010 11:43 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

Lot more on this when ARI comes up, but mostly, it's the fact that the increase came from a SP/RP mix in '08. The system handles that differently and may well be wrong.

Feb 05, 2010 12:02 PM
 
CRP13

You mean DET, I hope?

Feb 05, 2010 12:54 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

Oops, yes. DET.

Feb 05, 2010 13:02 PM
 
ddrezner

Given his backstory, it's really nice to see Jon (not John) Lester earn a green.

Feb 05, 2010 11:52 AM
rating: 1
 
Zabadoey

Thanks for getting these out Will. How would Colby Lewis rate? I think he's going to be a part of the Texas rotation.

Feb 05, 2010 12:04 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

Good question - I dont have his data from Japan and don't have a translation for Japanese injuries.

Feb 05, 2010 12:28 PM
 
CRP13

Are Japanese injuries that much different from American injuries? >:) Sorry, I'm feeling sarcastic today. It's Friday.

Feb 05, 2010 12:55 PM
rating: 0
 
mwball75

I thought I understood how to use the spreadsheet for fantasy. Now I'm nervous. I'll reread the article.

Feb 05, 2010 12:17 PM
rating: 1
 
pbconnection

Will, you caught me skipping to the the conclusion and reading the first sentence of the last paragraph first.

Well played.

Feb 05, 2010 12:22 PM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

I skippped to, mostly I was curious if OWIE would beat out PIPP (which seemed to be created by two people).

Feb 05, 2010 15:36 PM
rating: -1
 
dantroy

Will, any thoughts on Saltalamacchia?

Feb 05, 2010 12:54 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

Not until we see him in spring training.

Feb 05, 2010 13:03 PM
 
Zaxell

The Dodgers rotation is solid red. Is that a THR first?

... a bit surprised to see Mariano Rivera as red. Should I just assume that he's an outlier here (just like everywhere else)?

Feb 05, 2010 13:02 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

I think so - haven't checked. Talked about it over at Dodger Thoughts, which is now part of ESPN LA.

Rivera's almost always red. He has a tendency to tire, take a couple weeks off, and come back and crush people. He hasn't for the last couple years, but the age alone is going to make him red.

Feb 05, 2010 13:04 PM
 
mbk311

Dodgers rotation uh oh.

Feb 05, 2010 13:12 PM
rating: 0
 
NYYanks826

In the past, have you often had teams like this year's Dodgers where their entire projected starting rotation was rated as red?

Feb 05, 2010 13:26 PM
rating: 0
 
archilochusColubris

Question Will: do you ever see the injury likelihoods get much higher than 50%? I was wondering if it might be informative to throw in an extra category (color = black?) for those players that it's silly to expect a full season from (which i'm thinking would consist mostly of the old and frequently disabled pitchers).

Feb 05, 2010 13:29 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

Yes - there was actually a baseline of 80% in one category a couple years back. It was a bit of a quirk - there's not many catchers 35+ after all. I think there's a bit of a diminishing return above 50 percent, where the red is. Once you get to a coinflip, a 70% risk isn't much beyond that. Or take someone like Bedard, who we know will be on the DL this season. That's 100%, but it doesn't really tell us anything new.

Feb 05, 2010 14:17 PM
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

Also, let me make this point that seems obvious. A 99% risk might have a healthy, productive season. Even a 100% risk, like Bedard, could be productive, but because the risk is defined in terms of the DL, we know he'll be on it.

Feb 05, 2010 14:19 PM
 
NYYanks826

Sorry, hadn't updated the comments before reading the article. Didn't realize someone else already asked the same question.

Feb 05, 2010 13:29 PM
rating: 0
 
Ron Peck

I was wondering if the system treats all team DLs as equal. In other words, do some teams have the tendency (and depth) to DL "preemptively," resulting in their players appearing to be higher risks?

Feb 05, 2010 13:30 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

No, I don't adjust for "phantom DL moves." I simply can't know in all cases.

Feb 05, 2010 14:19 PM
 
Doug Thorburn

Thanks for the write-up and explanation, Will.

Any chance that you can expand on the near-future of motion analysis and MLB clubs? It sounds like there is something big on the horizon.

I'm sure there are some non-disclosure issues, but as a general question: are you referring to a revolution in the technology, or greater league-wide acceptance of the data?

In either case, the key difference-maker could very well be the biomechanics model that each team employs in order to filter said data, and whether there is a standard model that is used throughout the league.

Feb 05, 2010 13:40 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

I hope there's something big. Fact is, in the last decade, the usage has gone down rather than up. Research budgets have stayed steady -- at zero.

There's something new coming that I do hope to be able to talk about very, very soon.

Feb 05, 2010 14:21 PM
 
YaoPau

I'm surprised to see Johan Santana as Green. Considering his body type, age, and injury from last season, I figured I'd be cautious about drafting him this season. Why does your system project differently?

Feb 05, 2010 13:56 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

The injury history is pretty clean - bone chips twice. He came back once and the operation itself is about as predictable as anything. Let everyone else worry and steal Santana in your draft.

Feb 05, 2010 14:22 PM
 
dadawg77

Any way for the list to show suck green seperatly from good green? As a White Sox fan, I am thinking Andruw Jones falls into the suck green range.

Feb 05, 2010 13:58 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

He's not so much suck green as he is a DH, where it's either pretty easy to stay healthy, or you're a player that's already pretty broken and DH is the refuge for your bat.

I'm hesitant to do much more with colours. We already have color-blind people that complain about the system as is. Y'all are smart enough to figure out the sucks.

Feb 05, 2010 14:23 PM
 
Peter Benedict

I'm not sure "yellowest team in MLB" is good for the Twins, but it's good to see only two starters in red. I look forward to the team write-up.

Feb 05, 2010 14:12 PM
rating: 0
 
Yatchisin
(487)

Justin Upton and Matt Kemp both yellow? Tell me it's just a youth thing since I'm freezing them both.

Feb 05, 2010 15:55 PM
rating: 0
 
newsense

Will, did you publish an analysis of how the system did in 2009? % of red players on the DL & number of days, etc.? If so, could you link to it?

Feb 06, 2010 08:17 AM
rating: 2
 
SteveR61

Clay Buchholz red? The fingernail injury — or is the system projecting a big innings jump for him?

Feb 06, 2010 08:57 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

Age and innings.

Feb 06, 2010 15:20 PM
 
donaldekelly

I had the question about Buchholz too, I guess it is the innings jump

Thanks for the great addition to our info! This is wonderful even if not perfectly perfect!

Feb 06, 2010 09:28 AM
rating: 0
 
Benjamin Harris

The biggest surprise for me was Francisco Liriano in the green. Didn't see that one coming.

Feb 06, 2010 09:30 AM
rating: 2
 
donaldekelly

Perhaps the system expects another larceny episode? I had never heard of this, but I think he is well past this, now!

"Buchholz gained notoriety for a 2004 arrest after stealing 29 laptops from a middle school"

Feb 06, 2010 09:32 AM
rating: -1
 
Wyomissing
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

This system seems largely rooted in the realm of make-believe.

Feb 06, 2010 13:39 PM
rating: -13
 
rbrianc

The Angels are the greenest! Can't wait till the full report but it a tighter AL West this year, can that be a difference maker & add enough wins to make it four titles in a row?

Feb 06, 2010 13:52 PM
rating: 1
 
Kingctb27

Looks good, but when every young starting pitcher is in red, is it even worth paying attention too?

Feb 07, 2010 00:41 AM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

Are young pitchers suddenly not risky? Yes, it's obvious and yes, it's not tremendously instructive, but if you read the team reports, you'll learn a lot more than just the color.

Feb 07, 2010 10:43 AM
 
Fresh Hops

Does the system know the type of injury that sent the player to the DL in the past? For example, does it know that Connor Jackson was on the DL with an illness as opposed to an injury?

Feb 07, 2010 11:39 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

Yes, but not specifically. More looks for shoulder/elbow for pitchers, legs for speed player, shoulders for power hitter. For things that heal, like bones or illnesses, it's removed after they prove they're back. (Jon Lester is a good example there.)

Feb 07, 2010 12:26 PM
 
Ira

I'm very surprised at how yellow and Red the Rangers whole staff is. I understand a Red for Harden. I understand a Red for Brandon McCarthy. Red for Frank Francisco I understand less. sure he was hurt for a bit last year but he finished the year healthy and is supposedly healthy right now.

Yellow for Feliz, Holland and Hunter makes very little sense to me, other than simply age. Holland actually pitched fewer innings in 2009 than 2008 (142 to 150), as did Feliz (108 to 127). And Hunter's innings increased only slightly (183 to 174). Plus Hunter is a very sturdy guy (6'3", 255) with Holland a bit less and Feliz relatively scrawny.

Yellow for Feldman though? No way. He wasn't hurt at all last year, is beyond the injury nexus, and didn't have an appreciable increase in innings (189 to 164). At 6'5" 210, his body poses no threat, and he doesn't even throw that hard. Sure, I expect some regression in his ERA, but injury? Nostradamus wouldn't predict that.

Feb 08, 2010 09:05 AM
rating: -1
 
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