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March 1, 2010

Team Health Reports

Houston Astros

by Will Carroll

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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 Facts
Days Lost:
680
Dollars Lost: $10,137,913.04
Injury Cost: $8,212,083.33

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 TrendThe 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.

The Ratings

Red lightSP 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.

Red lightRP 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.

Red lightCL Brandon Lyon: See The Big Risk.

Yellow lightC Humberto Quintero: He's yellow mostly because he's a catcher. He's not red because PIPP doesn't expect him to be good enough to be that risky. 

Yellow light1B 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.

Yellow light2B 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.

Yellow light3B 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.

Yellow lightSS 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.

Yellow lightLF Carlos Lee: See The Comeback.

Yellow lightSP 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. 

Yellow lightSP 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. 

Yellow lightSP Brian Moehler: Scuffy's good for 150 innings of LAIM. That does have value for a team trying to prevent workload or getting it to a strong pen. Ummm...

Green lightCF Michael Bourn

Green lightRF Hunter Pence

Green lightSP 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.


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

BP Comment Quick Links

Pluthero

Just a couple of things, it's been said by the Astros all winter that the starting SS will be Manzella, not Blum or Keppinger. Also, Oswalt's said several times that he will likely retire after his current contract expires.

Mar 01, 2010 06:31 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

I can't find anywhere that agree with you on Manzella.

On Oswalt, we'll see. I can see him quitting and playing with his bulldozer or going all Clemens on us and coming back. I think he'll have the ability to choose.

Mar 01, 2010 07:06 AM
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

I spoke too soon. Our own depth charts have Manzella listed as the probable starter. Eyeballing his factors, he'd likely be green.

Mar 01, 2010 07:08 AM
 
Pluthero

Cool, thanks.

Mar 01, 2010 10:16 AM
rating: 0
 
Travis Leleu

"his back acted up and he seemed to get religion"

Do you mean literally religion, or do you mean he got religious about strengthening his back/core?

Mar 01, 2010 09:58 AM
rating: 1
 
CRP13

The state of the Astros fan base is indicated by the lack of replies on all threads about the team.

Mar 01, 2010 13:29 PM
rating: 2
 
WCE

What's there to say?

If everything breaks perfectly the Astros could, what, get a WC berth?

Bringing in Ed Wade pretty much put my faith in the club in the deep freeze, and Drayton finally abandoning his stupid penny pinching in the minors is nice, but it's going to be a while before I'm excited again.

It's not like this is a "lovable loser" sort of club, it's a team that used to be a top club for player development, and that spent years in contention. What is it now?

Mar 01, 2010 21:29 PM
rating: 1
 
CRP13

I'm sorry, I'm an Astros fan but I'm also a realist. I really don't see how Wade has harmed this club. If you look at the players he traded away, he traded nobody of value. He brought in a couple quality players and a lot of filler free agents because of budget constraints. He's beginning to build the farm system, has been spending over-slot on the draft, and hired one of the most respected scoutmasters (Heck) around. He's not the greatest GM in the world, he may not even be good, but he's certainly not bad. Like you alluded to, the problem is with ownership and budget inflexibility.

But on the flip side, I'd rather have a single owner who annoyingly pulls the purse strings than a congolomerate newspaper or corporation owner that bean counts.

Fact is, Astros are in a down cycle that began from mismanagement before Ed Wade was even hired. It's going to take a while to get headed in the right direction, and in the meantime we're going to continue to see boring moves like Feliz and Lyon. Those moves don't hurt the club, they don't help, and it's not like the long-term future is compromised because of them.

Mar 02, 2010 06:39 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

I'll argue that this isn't a cheap team. They're sitting on a $90m payroll and don't look competitive. You don't remake a team by plugging holes with the likes of Lyon and Feliz. At best, you do that when you have something coming, but aside from noting Bobby Heck's work, there's not really much coming in this system. It's not BARREN as it was a couple years ago, but saying this is a rebuilding club isn't correct. It's stagnant.

Mar 02, 2010 07:06 AM
 
CRP13

I agree completely. But the reasons why it's stagnant aren't as much Wade's fault as grumpy fans want to make it. The non-trade contracts handed out to Lee, Oswalt, and Berkman weren't handed out by Wade. The farm system wasn't ruined by Wade (he traded some guys away, but they all ended up as jokes on their new teams).

I don't like Lyon or Feliz any more than the next guy, but you could argue that he couldn't do very much better with the same money. (okay throw Lyon out of there - that signing made no sense) But where else are you going to get a guy who can be your one year fill-in at 3B for only $4.5 million and not hurt the club? Scott Rolen is making $11 million (plus 2 more years about at that rate), Polanco is making $5 million and is in a long-term deal. Heck, even Russ Branyan has a $5 option on his contract for next year, which is more than Feliz got.

I'm just saying that with the mess that Wade inherited, plus the budget constraints, his options are pretty limited at what he can actually do while still fielding an entire roster of players.

Hypothetical Question: If the Astros were to tear down and rebuild, how would they do that? Maybe they've tried and Oswalt, Berkman, and Lee did not want to move to the teams that actually were willing to give the Astros good return? The Astros have no other pieces that would actually put them on the road to rebuilding, so the slow painful way we're experiencing may have been the only option.

Mar 02, 2010 09:38 AM
rating: 0
 
WCE

I'm an Astros fan too, and I've been pretty much pissed off since the year we didn't sign any draft picks. Bringing in Heck has helped, as has signing players for what going value actually is, rather than pretending that "slot" has an objective meaning.

And that's not on Wade that's on Drayton acting like every business is the grocery supply business and every possible penny must be pinched, no matter what consensus reality of the situation. He's splashed out for guys in positions that are easy to fill (LF, 1B) and not for ones that are hard to find. In my mind, he had a run of "getting it" followed by whatever this is now.

Is it worse to have Drayton or a corporation? You're probably right, the mega-corp is worse. But those aren't the only two options in sports - a bad individual, or a bad company. Look at the Rockets.

What's the thinking behind something like Lyon or Lindstrom? I'm baffled. I'm also at a loss as to how much better than some random AAA type Feliz et al will be. Why have all those seemingly small contracts for filler players? They add up. If they're filler, don't pay them. Spend that money on one ok guy and you'll be better off, I think.

No, they aren't long-term deals, and yes, I see the logic, I just think it's not worth it.

As for the rebuilding, I'm not sure how you do it at this point, other than wait for the deals to Oswalt, Berkman and Lee to run out. Build the farm back - which they are doing.

Honestly there isn't a lot to be done that isn't being done, except I wouldn't even bother with the likes of Feliz or Lyon. Invite the whole world of interesting minor league FAs to camp, or retreads, and see what sticks. I'm not sure which is worse financially, that, or our FA signings.

Mar 02, 2010 13:08 PM
rating: 0
 
CRP13

I have no argument. Personally, I have a little optimism about Feliz for two reasons:
1) He's not long-term (hooray!)
2) The defensive upgrade in both positions on the left side of the infield SHOULD help the pitchers a bit. At least he's not a total zero with the bat, here's hoping his defensive value helps to slightly offset his offensive offense.

Mar 02, 2010 13:49 PM
rating: 0
 
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