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March 30, 2010

Team Health Reports

Toronto Blue Jays

by Michael R. Lewis

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Team Health Reports

The Summary: It's the weirdest thing. The Blue Jays can't keep their pitchers healthy at all. It's the young and the old, the traumatic and chronic, the shoulder and elbow, the upper and lower, the left and the right, the majors and the minors; in other words, there's no pattern at all. Yet on the player side, there's nary an injury. It could be just dumb luck or a failing that everyone, including the Jays, is blind to. Dumb luck only lasts so long, and with this being year three of the trend, we can only hope that a new front office might bring new eyes to a problem. Another key will be how the Jays integrate in that long line of returning pitchers. There's no such thing as too much pitching, but figuring out both their roles and their health is a task that could determine if Toronto goes anywhere this year.

The Facts
Days Lost:
Dollars Lost: $5,317,695.11
Injury Cost: $17,784,583.33

The Cost:
Lots of pitching injuries plagued Toronto last season, but it didn't show up in the pocketbook. The Blue Jays were the best in the AL East last season in regards to fewest dollars lost to injury with just $5.3 million. Toronto has also done well over the last three years, having lost only $31.6 million, with its worst season coming in 2007, when they lost $18 million. Toronto will be without the two players that cost the Blue Jays the most with their injuries in 2009: B.J. Ryan and Roy Halladay. Ryan and Halladay were two of nine pitchers to hit the disabled for Toronto; together, they cost the Blue Jays $2.4 million with their injuries. The Blue Jays saved nearly $9 million on injuries compared to the league average and spent just about that much on free-agent acquisitions. Toronto spent $10 million on the likes of Kevin Gregg, Alex Gonzalez, John Buck, John McDonald, and Jose Molina. None are moves that say "Watch out New York and Boston—Toronto's back," but they did fill holes. The Blue Jays are without a true ace after trading Halladay, and they chose not to try and replace him with a free agent. Instead, they will hope that an ace will emerge out of the young group of pitchers, albeit, a very risky group of young pitchers.

The Big Risk: Brandon Morrow was one of the top pitchers in college baseball when the Mariners made him the fifth overall selection in the 2006 draft out of California. He made the jump to the big leagues as a reliever with Seattle in just his second year of professional ball and pitched 60 games for the Mariners out of the bullpen in 2007. Since then, Morrow was at a fork in the road with the Mariners—was he a starter or was he a reliever? He did both for the Mariners the last two seasons, as he served as both a part-time closer and part-time starter with mixed results. He even spent time on the disabled list last year with bicep tendinitis. Maybe Seattle saw something they didn't like before they traded Morrow away for reliever Brandon League and minor-league outfielder Johermyn Chavez. Toronto made the decision from the start that they weren't going to mess around and decided to have Morrow start full time. Even as just a starter, Morrow remains risky. The injury bug has already struck the 25-year-old this spring, as a shoulder problem has forced Morrow to miss some time. Morrow's only started a total of 15 games in the big leagues, and there's a lot of talent in that right arm, but will it be able to hold up? The trick is going to be keeping him healthy while maintaining his innings as he was limited to just 124 2/3 last year.

The Comeback: It's not often that a team will name a player who missed the entire previous season their Opening Day starter, but that's just what the Blue Jays did with Shaun Marcum. Marcum missed all of 2009 with an elbow tear, and he became the default Opening Day starter after the team traded away Halladay. Toronto is hoping for Marcum to get back to his 2008 form when he put up a VORP of 36.9. That was good enough for 38th among all pitchers. Marcum finished 2008 with a 3.39 ERA and an SNLVAR of 4.6, good for 48th among all pitchers. Toronto will be banking on the hope that Marcum can regain the form that made him one of the top 50 pitchers in baseball in 2008. Lots of pitchers have been able to come back strong after Tommy John surgery, and at the age of 28, the Blue Jays are hoping Marcum can be one of them. Still, if Marcum and the Blue Jays want to consider him the teams "ace," the right-hander will have to overcome his previous career high of 159 innings pitched back in 2007. That could be asking a lot from a guy in his first year back from Tommy John surgery. His workload will be watched carefully.

The Trend: Overall, the trend doesn't look to be very positive for the Blue Jays. The odd patter of injured pitchers and healthy players is only subverted by Vernon Wells. It doesn’t appear things will get much better with an offseason of adding players who are coming off of injury-plagued seasons. The injuries to the pitchers could continue, as the Blue Jays don't have a single starting pitcher in the green. The headaches for George Poulis and his staff don't appear to be coming to an end any time soon.

The Ratings

Red light C John Buck: As a full-time starting catcher, Buck is overexposed. He's never been much of a hitter other than having power, and he always seems to develop injuries when counted on for a large workload. However, Toronto likes the way he works with the pitchers.
Red light 3B Edwin Encarnacion: Encarnacion is coming off of off-season wrist surgery, and just last week he was able to get back into a spring game. The wrist problem could still linger, but he's less injury risk than former third baseman Scott Rolen.
Red light SS Alex Gonzalez: For the last several seasons, Gonzalez has been plagued with tons of small injuries from the knee that wound up costing him a whole season last year.
Red light SP Shaun Marcum: See The Comeback.
Red light SP Brett Cecil: The former first-round pick has had all kinds of command issues, and as a young pitcher, his workload going above 150 innings is worrisome.
Red light SP Brandon Morrow: See The Big Risk.
Yellow light 1B Lyle Overbay: Overbay seems to be aging much like another former Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman: Mark Grace
Yellow light 2B Aaron Hill: A Grade II concussion Hill suffered in 2008 keeps him in the yellow, but after his performance last season, he seems to be past it.
Yellow light CF Vernon Wells: Wells' 7-year, $126-million contract was thought to be a good deal for the Blue Jays at the time as they locked up what was thought to be one of the games’ budding young stars. Since then, Wells has been overpaid, always injured, and he has never come back from his wrist injury.
Yellow light RF Travis Snider: Snider has an odd body type that confuses PIPP. He didn't establish himself last season, so it thinks he'll fatigue.
Yellow light SP Ricky Romero: Romero is reliant on his slider and has his own set of control issues that will push his workload. He will need to push 200 innings a year after pitching 178.
Yellow light SP Mark Rzepcynski: Rzepcynski is a low-risk yellow. His biggest concern is the workload.
Green light LF Adam Lind
Green lightDH Randy Ruiz: Ruiz is finally getting chance after spending 9 years in the minors. Questions remain about whether he'll hold up over full season, pushing him to nearly a yellow
Green light CL Jason Frasor

 Green light RP Kevin Gregg  

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