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February 25, 2010
Team Health Reports
The Summary: The 2008 Dick Martin Award winners didn't repeat, but they've established themselves as one of the most consistent medical staffs around despite little notice from anyone outside Baseball Prospectus. The Bucs had a few more injuries here and there, like traumatic injuries to Ryan Doumit and Jack Wilson, while getting piled on by injury cases like Craig Hansen and Tyler Yates. Where the real issue shows up is in someone who didn't even hit the DL last year: Matt Capps. The staff kept him healthy and relatively productive, only to see him non-tendered at the end of '09. The Pirates haven't used the medical staff for leverage, staying away from some cheap but risky players who could, perhaps, help push Pittsburgh toward .500 again. Then again, Dan Fox wouldn't say for certain at BP's September event at PNC Park, but there's a health component to his MITT system.
The Cost: The Pirates were at it again in 2009, keeping their injury cost low at $4.9 million. The last three years, Pittsburgh has a combined injury cost of just $11.2 million, or about $3 million less than the league average for just 2009. A lot of that has to do with the low salaries of Pirate players, as Pittsburgh has consistently one of the lower payrolls in baseball. In 2009, Doumit, Wilson, and Yates made up nearly half of the Pirates injury cost at $2.4 million. The Pirates spent about $6 million to bring in free agents the likes of Ryan Church, Bobby Crosby (both injury risks), and Octavio Dotel. The Pirates also made the trade for Akinori Iwamura, uncharacteristically assuming his $4.85-million contract. Those additions seemingly take up the $10 million the Pirates saved compared to the rest of the league, making them one of few teams that actually seem to use their advantage.
The Big Risk: The Pirates brought in Dotel for confidence. There's a school of thought that younger pitchers benefit more from an experienced closer. When it works, they lock down the wins, which in turn helps the starters' confidence. On the other side, if the experienced guy blows it, the younger pitcher doesn't take as much heat. The Pirates rotation isn't as young as it once was and may not have the same upside as it did a couple years back, but having someone like Dotel instead of Capps only works if he is healthy. Dotel had Tommy John surgery and a number of pre- and post-surgical arm issues, but he was healthy over the last couple years. Was that the work of Herm Schneider and his White Sox miracle workers or a pattern? Moving from one good medical staff to another is something Dotel probably doesn't even know, but if he's successful, it's because they kept him healthy.
The Comeback: The best medical staff in the world can't help when a player decides he's not going to tell them about a problem. It's a bigger issue that you'd think. Paul Maholm pitched much of last season with a knee issue that likely affected his mechanics and overstressed his pitching arm. It took to nearly the end of the season before Joe Kerrigan and the medical staff sussed out the root problem. Maholm's reticience could have been a lot worse. Things look like they're back in line this season, and a healthy Maholm might not be the ace that pushes the Pirates back to respectability, but he's a lot better than he showed last season.
The Trend: The Pirates may not do much else that gets them noticed, but in the training room at PNC Park, there's a team that's as solid and consistent as any in baseball. Over the last five years, the Pirates have been in the top 10 of teams in almost every injury stat, taking home the trophy in 2008. Part of that is the low accepted risk that the team has, but a bigger part is the work they do that has them ranking highly in prevention, return time, and maintenance. Most teams have one thing they do really well, like the White Sox with rehab. The Pirates do everything well, keeping the talent they do have on the field. In fact, it's safe to say that Brad Henderson might be the best signing Dave Littlefield made during his time as general manager.
C Ryan Doumit: Doumit not only has the dings that a catcher normally gets, but he also has a slow healing reputation. Part of that is a bit inflated by some very conservative handling a couple seasons ago. We'll get a better indication when he starts hitting this spring. If the wrist is healed, look for more doubles.
SS Bobby Crosby: Crosby has always been an "if" player. If healthy, if he hits, and a bunch more ifs. The Pirates can afford to take some "if risk" on Crosby with a cheap hope of upside, but the likelihood that he stays much healthier than he has in the past lies on the medical staff. The Pirates aren't counting heavily on Crosby anyway as he will be used as a utility man with Ronny Cedeno the starter at shortstop.
SP Kevin Hart: This red is almost completely based on an expected workload increase. Hart is a decent enough fifth starter, but he's replaceable, so risk doesn't matter much.
CL Octavio Dotel: See The Big Risk.
1B Jeff Clement: Clement is new to the position and might be best compared to the pre-pickin' machine Scott Hatteburg on defense. He ended last season with a severe oblique strain, but if he's not catching, he's a "low yellow"-meaning he's almost green.
2B Akinori Iwamura: Iwamura's strength might have saved his knee last season. What looked like a devastating ACL injury was able to be put back together more easily because of his secondary stabilizers (and the work of Dr. Koco Eaton.) Iwamura has been healthy otherwise and the knee should be fully healed now.
LF Lastings Milledge: Milledge played through a hand injury last year, but showed flashes of why he's still highly regarded by scouts. Expect a bit more power and perhaps a bit more running from Milledge, who could push 20/20 if he can avoid the minor traumas that have dinged him and his numbers over the past few seasons.
SP Paul Maholm: See The Comeback.
SP Charlie Morton: I saw Charlie Morton just after the deal with the Braves and was immediately impressed. I'm no scout, but I liked what I saw, especially the fastball with good late movement. At 26, a big innings jump isn't as big an issue for him.
3B Andy LaRoche
CF Andrew McCutchen: Wiry and healthy. That's what you want from a center fielder. McCutchen's only knock is that the Florida native doesn't do well in the cold. He's so healthy that he might not even know where the training room is, and he has the kind of body that will keep it that way.
RF Garrett Jones: A dead ringer for Mike Lowell, he's almost much bigger than you'd expect. He's not so much a late bloomer as a Quad-A guy who got a shot and ran with it. Speaking of running, he's not a steals guy, no matter what he did last season.
SP Zach Duke