March 1, 2010
Team Health Reports
The Summary: With everything else looking down in Houston, maybe the medical staff is a bright spot. Umm, maybe? The staff didn't seem to change much, despite a new head athletic trainer in 2009. That's good and bad, as the staff was a bit above average over the last five years, especially in 2005, when the team went to the World Series. The Astros are not unlike the Rockies here without quite the extremes; they go from average to good, rather than terrible to great. Houston's feast-or-famine strategy goes along with a stars-and-scrubs lineup. As it ages, players like Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman profile to have increased risk and more lost time. Bringing in injury prone players like Brandon Lyon, Matt Lindstrom, and Pedro Feliz won't help make their job any easier.
The Cost: Injuries haven't cost Huston a whole lot over the last couple of years. The Astros lost $10.1 million due to injuries last year and have lost just $23.7 million due to injuries over the last three years. Whether it has been luck or a good training staff, the Astros have been able to keep many of their high-paid players off the disabled list over the years. Houston found itself almost $4 million under the league average in dollars lost and spent early in free agency. The Astros went out and spent nearly $25 million in free agency to fill holes at third, the rotation, and the back of the bullpen, bringing in Pedro Feliz, Brett Myers, and Brandon Lyon. Those savings probably could have been spent more wisely if they would have waited a little longer, as the Astros are paying Lyon just $2 million less but for a year longer than what the Tigers eventually settled on with former 'Stros closer Jose Valverde.
The Big Risk: Look, I'm not going to pretend I know why Ed Wade signed Brandon Lyon to a big deal, letting Jose Valverde walk away despite being much the same price. The move stunned almost everyone I know. (Turns out, Richard Justice got a look at the scouting reports. Notice that nowhere in there did the scouts discuss health. It's not their job, but I wonder how Wade answered that part of the equation.) It appears that Lyon won't even close, after signing another risk in Matt Lindstrom. Lyon has always been talented but fragile, and it doesn't appear that much has changed. He came to camp unable to throw after having a cyst in his pitching shoulder drained. While relievers don't really "fall behind" in camp the way a starter can, it's certainly not a good sign. Lyon's fragility doesn't make him unavailable, just less than effective. He tends to pitch through problems, but that only causes more. The cyst is certainly a bad start, but there's not much reason to think it will be the last of his problems. With Matt Lindstrom and others ready to take his closer tag away—or a committee, as Brad Mills has hinted at—the slightest injury could be devastating to his fantasy value.
The Comeback: Hand, hamstring, and Achilles issues held back Carlos Lee, but no more than the fading focus of Cecil Cooper. Lee fought through injuries because Cooper kept sending him out there, even on the heels of a shortened '08 campaign. Brad Mills studied hard in Boston and watched how players can be kept sharper with smartly-planned rest. Lee, more than anyone else on this team, could be helped by rest. Sometimes 140 games is better than 160. While Lee's not getting any younger, expect a much shallower decline, though some of his raw team-context numbers might suggest otherwise.
The Trend: The Astros medical staff has kept things from backsliding as much in their bailiwick as things have around the rest of the team. A runner up for the Dick Martin Award the year the team went to the World Series—and don't think that's a coincidence—they're now pretty average by most measures. A significant amount of that appears to be accepted risk, bringing in players like Carlos Lee and Kaz Matsui, so average isn't bad. There's been some debate in sports medicine circles about the importance of the manager-trainer relationship. Brad Mills has seen what a good one can do in Boston, so perhaps he'll listen a bit more than Cecil Cooper did when this medical staff has notes.
SP Brett Myers: Myers came back from FAIL surgery on his hip, but we didn't get any sort of indication if pitchers came back as easily as position players. That's because Myers injured his shoulder during the rehab. Was it a change in his mechanics as a result of the hip? That's also unknown, which makes him very risky, even with an offseason of rest.
RP Matt Lindstrom: Lindstrom has the arm of a closer, but he also has the elbow of a future James Andrews client. He spent time on the DL last year with a sprained elbow and never came all the way back. Rest should help, but that ligament is weakened.
CL Brandon Lyon: See The Big Risk.
1B Lance Berkman: Berkman had a severe calf strain, but in ways, he reminds me of Jeff Bagwell. Bagwell lost his elite status for a couple years, then came back and played at a pretty high level despite his shoulder issues. I don't see why Berkman can't do the same from a much more predictable issue. It's not like he runs anyway.
2B Kazuo Matsui: Matsui wasn't allowed to play below 100 percent last year, a plan from Cooper. It kept him out there, but exposed every weakness he had. At least he wasn't the butt of bad jokes last year.
3B Pedro Feliz: Feliz is an odd case since, as a mid-30s guy, the injury risk should be sliding. He's relatively healthy, but some odd career patterns might be confusing PIPP a bit.
SS Geoff Blum: Jeff Keppinger is seen by some as the likely starter, but either way, the Astros will have a guy with leg problems at a premium range position. Blum's 36-year-old legs might not hold up as anything more than a utility guy.
LF Carlos Lee: See The Comeback.
SP Roy Oswalt: At 32, Oswalt's kind of a time machine for Tim Lincecum. Similar body, a delivery more similar than you'd think, and both really good pitchers. Oswalt fought through some minor injuries and proved his pitching was more important than his stuff. Now, as he ages, his back acted up and he seemed to get religion. It's worrisome, but if he takes it seriously, he could get a "second wind" and pitch deep into his thirties.
SP Bud Norris: If this were another team, I wouldn't be so worried about Norris. The Astros have several options at the minors—Wes Wright, Shane Loux, Yorman Bazardo—but even with Mills in place, I'm not as confident they won't see Norris as the next Oswalt and ride him towards 200 innings. He's 24 and pitched 175 innings (mostly in the minors), so maybe this isn't as bad as it seems.
RF Hunter Pence
SP Wandy Rodriguez: Don't get all excited. He was one point from being another yellow, and at 31, he's not as young as most think. If he just pitched at home, maybe I'd be more excited, but he has a history of small injuries and long healing times.