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March 4, 2010

Team Health Reports

Milwaukee Brewers

by Jay Jaffe

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Team Health Reports  

The Summary: The Brewers' rise to competitiveness in the NL Central was preceded by their development of a progressive approach to team health under head team physician Dr. William Raasch and head trainer Roger Caplinger. They won the 2005 Dick Martin Award, and they've maintained a strong track record since. When all the cutting-edge work that they do behind the scenes seemed to fall down after losing pitching coach Mike Maddux to the Rangers, they found the answer in bringing in an even more forward-thinking coach in Rick Peterson.

The Brewers illustrate the problem of dealing in absolute days lost versus a more realistic but subjective expectation. Young pitchers like Manny Parra or Yovani Gallardo have higher risk of loss, but the Brewers have consistently done an excellent job with these kinds of players—think of it as the Ben Sheets years being paid forward. The front office has taken on risky players like Mike Cameron, Trevor Hoffman, and now Randy Wolf, almost always with good results, showing that they're doing a great job of integrating scouting with the medical side. It's a wonder they're almost the only team doing it.

The Facts
Days Lost: 564
Dollars Lost: $10,298,850.54
Injury Cost: $13,347,638.89

The Cost: The "Brew Crew" put up another successful season in regards to injuries last year. Milwaukee lost $10.3 million to injuries in 2009 and had a total loss of just $29.8 million over the last three seasons. The biggest hits to their day and dollar counts came from David Riske, who lost the entire year due to elbow woes culminating in Tommy John surgery in June, and Rickie Weeks, who played just 37 games due to a wrist injury; those two combined to miss over 300 days and cost Milwaukee $5.7 million. Even with that, Milwaukee found itself in the black when compared to the rest of the league, losing almost $4 million less than the league average. The front office was busy in the offseason, spending nearly $30 million on Wolf, and bringing in Doug Davis, LaTroy Hawkins, and Gregg Zaun to fill holes. In total, the $47.65 million Milwaukee spent on the free-agent market was no doubt helped by their low injury costs over the last few years.

The Big Risk: Wolf enjoyed something of a career year with the Dodgers in 2009, posting a 3.23 ERA in a career-high 214 1/3 innings. That's roughly 100 more than he'd averaged per year from 2004-08 due to a variety of elbow and shoulder problems, including 2005 Tommy John surgery and 2007 labrum surgery. After finishing last in the NL in rotation ERA (5.37) and SNLVAR (8.0), the Brewers had little choice but to invest in starting pitching, even during a winter where the market was thin. Wolf was the second-best starter available after John Lackey. The Brewers' signing suggests a confidence that they can keep Wolf in working order.

The Comeback: Weeks' season ended prematurely due to a torn tendon sheath in his left wrist, the latest in a litany of injuries to both wrists. From right wrist surgery in 2006 to tendonitis in the same wrist the following year—not to mention a torn ligament in his thumb which required surgery, and couple of other sprains along the way—his injuries have prevented him from playing more than 129 games in a single year, and he's topped 100 just twice in five years. While Craig Counsell, Felipe Lopez, and Casey McGehee actually hit quite well in Weeks' absence last year, the team lacks a fleet top-of-the-order threat when he's not in the lineup, and they can't always count on such similar good fortune in filling in for him.

The Trend: The Brewers rank as one of the best in the business at injury management. They're generally in the top five in every injury stat year after year, though losing a full season of the relatively expensive Riske did knock them back into the middle of the pack in terms of payroll percentage lost to the DL.

The Ratings

Red light 2B Rickie Weeks: See The Comeback.

Yellow light C Gregg Zaun: He's a 39-year-old catcher who's been worked much harder during his mid-to-late 30s than in his 20s; last year was the first since 2004 that he didn't see time on the DL. The fact that predecessor Jason Kendall was able to handle such a heavy workload during his two years (282 starts) acts as a plus here.

Yellow light RF Corey Hart: The five weeks Hart lost to an appendectomy last summer marked his first big-league trip to the DL, so there isn't a whole lot to worry about here. The report that he'll wear goggles or glasses this year is interesting, but what we really want to know is whether he'll wear sunglasses at night.

 Yellow lightSP Yovani Gallardo: The workload is a bit of a concern. The team's top starter threw 185.2 innings last year at age 23, a big jump from the 24 he threw in 2008, when he underwent arthroscopic surgery on one knee during spring training, then required surgery to repair a torn ACL on the other knee just months later.

Yellow light SP Randy Wolf: Even given the history outlined above, he's a very low yellow based upon his past elbow and shoulder injuries.

Yellow light SP Dave Bush: After averaging 194 innings from 2006-08, his ages 26-28 seasons, Bush lost some zip on his fastball last year, got hit hard, and spent two months on the DL due to arm fatigue.

Yellow light CL Trevor Hoffman: That 42-year-old closers are inherently risky isn't exactly news. Only five times has a pitcher reached 30 saves in a season during his 40s. Hoffman owns two of those seasons, with his 37-save age-41 season topping the list.

Green light 1B Prince Fielder: Sure, he's a big boy, but he's a healthy one, having averaged 159 games a year in his four full seasons, with nary a stint on the DL.

Green light 3B Casey McGehee: A pleasant surprise for the Brewers last year, McGehee battled some knee discomfort and underwent surgery to remove bone fragments at the end of the season. Surgeries in general cause the system to question a player's durability, but this is hardly the Brewers' biggest problem.

Green light SS Alcides Escobar

Green light LF Ryan Braun

Green light CF Carlos Gomez

Green light SP Doug Davis

Green light SP Jeff Suppan: Suppan spent four weeks on the DL last year due to an oblique strain, the sixth-longest stint on the club, but the third-most expensive after Riske and Weeks, and that by just about $60,000. All of this makes for a sour reminder of how his four-year, $42-million contract has hindered the team, not only when he's pitched, but when general manager Doug Melvin has shopped for upgrades.

Green light RP LaTroy Hawkins

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

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