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March 26, 2010

Team Health Reports

Baltimore Orioles

by Will Carroll

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Team Health Reports

The Summary: Richie Bancells is one of the deans of the athletic training profession, but over the last decade, the results haven't made it past average. For years, Cal Ripken helped the perception, but since his retirement, it's been more about a continual breakdown of pitchers, young players, and the type of small injuries that sap a team of talent. It happened again last year, though it seemed that the MacPhail regime was going to err on the side of caution with some promising young pitchers. Average isn't bad, but Baltimore is going to need to focus more on prevention if they're going to hope to compete. Losing Adam Jones or Nolan Reimold for a month here and there isn't bad now, but it would kill a playoff run. Odd fact: almost all of the team's significant injuries happened on the left side of their player's body in 2009.

The Facts
Days Lost: 862
Dollars Lost: $6,270,326.09
Injury Cost: $7,533,888.89

The Cost: The Orioles found themselves as one of the luckier teams in 2009, having only lost $6.3 million to injury. Last season was a big positive for Baltimore after seasons of losing $10.6 million and $23.4 million. Baltimore's biggest problem in 2009 was Koji Uehara. The Japanese import hit the disabled list multiple times and cost the Orioles slightly over $3 million due to hamstring and elbow injuries. The Orioles staff believes they'll be able to change things for Uehara in 2010 with a move to the bullpen—an area where Uehara saved 32 games in 2007 while pitching for the Yomiuri Giants in Japan. Baltimore saved close to $8 million on injuries when compared to the rest of the major leagues last season, and Baltimore wasn't shy to spend that during the offseason. The Orioles spent nearly $24 million dollars on free agents Mike Gonzalez, Miguel Tejada, Garrett Atkins, and Mark Hendrickson. Baltimore took some risks in hoping for a rebound season from Atkins and that Gonzalez can remain healthy, but those risks could pay off and provide the Orioles with a decent mix of veterans to add to an already solid young nucleus.

The Big Risk: Every time someone mentions that Joe Mauer probably shouldn't stay behind the plate long-term, I think about Matt Wieters. Now that we're past the Chuck Norris jokes, Wieters can go about being the solid player he's universally expected to be. The problem for any catcher is establishing himself, learning his pitchers, working on his defense, and hitting, which can all be derailed by an unlucky foul tip or a collision at the plate. Wieters is tall and perhaps a bit less athletic than Mauer. That is, he's a bit less freakish, but still freaky. While I don't think the O's need to move him immediately, they do need to start thinking about a longer-term plan, about developing or acquiring a solid backup that will allow him the rest he'll need, and making sure they don't block him with a DH-only style player like David Ortiz.

The Comeback: So let me get this straight: The Braves brought in Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito while sending Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez on their way, in hopes that they would get more consistency. From a health perspective, that's a push at best. Soriano and Gonzalez both had elbow problems while in Atlanta, but both were well on their way to success. As Gonzalez gets further from his Tommy John surgery, he'll gain a bit of control and confidence. He's always had some minor injuries, like the back problem that's bothered him this spring, but it's really more his platoon split that's a long-term issue. Health shouldn't hold him back this season, at least.

The Trend: The Orioles have hovered in the bottom half of the injury rankings as long as I've done them, but it really doesn't tell the story. They're not bad given what they've had to work with, which for the greater part of the last decade has been, well, spare parts. Given that, there's a bit more context to the numbers. There's a slight positive tilt to the trend, and like the Rays and Cubs (another MacPhail operation) before them, the O's would be well served to start focusing on health so that when they're ready to contend again, they'll really be ready.

The Ratings

Red light SP Brian Matusz: The lefty shot through the system, putting up 44 major-league innings last seaosn but showing some fatigue. He pitches smart, but smart can only fight fatigue for so long. Above 150 innings, he's going to have some issues. The O's will be watching closely, so it's more a question of how they'll handle him than if.
Red light SP Chris Tillman: Like Matusz, Tillman set a career high in innings, but he’ll still be taxed by the time we get to August. Handling these two will be Bancells' biggest challenge, but the team would be smart to make that a non-issue and not let either go much beyond 175.
Yellow light C Matt Wieters: See The Big Risk.
Yellow light SS Cesar Izturis: Izturis' '09 was derailed by an appendectomy, but that's one situation we know will not recur. It probably overrates his risk, which is really more about his legs than anything else.
Yellow light LF Nolan Reimold: Reimold finished the year with an Achilles strain, one that's carried forward into the spring. It's going to be an issue and could force him to DH. Even there, it's a real risk and this yellow rating probably undersells it. He'll either play through it or it will pop and his season would be done.
Yellow light CF Adam Jones: Jones' season ended with a nasty ankle sprain which hid a back injury that was concurrent. He gets penalized a bit because it looks like he was slow to heal rather than simply shut down, but Jones strikes me a lot like division rival B.J. Upton from a health standpoint. (As an aside, check out Jones' headshot on his PECOTA card. Who in the media relations department doesn't like him?)
Yellow light SP Brad Bergesen: Bergesen doesn't have the ceiling of Matusz and Tillman, but he's also got the same issue. He's slightly older and as the fifth starter, he isn't expected to put up as many innings. He's just under the red mark, so don't think you're getting more certainty by taking Bergesen.
Yellow light CL Mike Gonzalez: See The Comeback.
Green light 1B Garrett Atkins
Green light 2B Brian Roberts
Green light 3B Miguel Tejada: He's not an automatic 162-gamer any more, but he's still likely to get out there and get things done. The whole "clubhouse leader" thing is a bit overblown—remember, he was a clubhouse distraction during his time in Houston with his Mitchell Report and age issues.
Green light RF Nick Markakis
Green light DH Luke Scott
Green light SP Kevin Millwood: Millwood always performs well in contract years, so some team should sign him to a Wakefield-style deal with a series of vesting options. At 35, his second-half wear down last season is a major red flag, but he still comes out just under the yellow zone.
Green light SP Jeremy Guthrie: If health is a skill, then at least Guthrie has that.
Green light RP Jim Johnson


Related Content:  Nolan Reimold,  Garrett Jones

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