March 26, 2010
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 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.
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.