March 11, 2011
Team Injury Projection
Tampa Bay Rays
The Team Injury Projections are here, driven by our brand new injury forecasting system, the Comprehensive Health Index [of] Pitchers [and] Players [with] Evaluative Results—or, more succinctly, CHIPPER. Thanks to work by Colin Wyers and Dan Turkenkopf and a database loaded with injuries dating back to the 2002 season—that's nearly 4,600 players and well over 400,000 days lost to injury—we now have a system that produces injury-risk assessments to three different degrees. CHIPPER projects ratings for players based on their injury history—these ratings measure the probability of a player missing one or more games, 15 or more games, or 30 or more games. CHIPPER will have additional features added to it throughout the spring and early season that will enhance the accuracy of our injury coverage.
These ratings are also available in the Player Forecast Manager (pfm.baseballprospectus.com), where they'll be sortable by league or position—you won’t have to wait for us to finish writing this series in order to see the health ratings for all of the players.
Hitters in approximate Depth Charts order at time of publication
Pitchers in approximate Depth Charts order at time of publication
Summary: You always hear about how the Rays have been able to compete in the American League East due to their player development, their scouting, and a parade of quality moves pulled off by one of the best GMs in the business, Andrew Friedman. The focus on those elements overshadows one other key area—that of health. The Rays had the fewest injuries of any team in the majors in 2010 and finished fourth in total days lost. In a division as tight as the AL East, nearly perfect health is a huge difference maker; just ask the rival Red Sox. The DMPI rank is even skewed somewhat thanks to a lost season from J.P. Howell, who had shoulder labrum surgery, and almost 100 days lost from Brian Shouse’s sprained knee. Considering that the Rays finished first in the American League in WXRL despite those injuries, it's safe to say that neither player was vital to the bullpen's success (although Howell, at least, would have made it even better).
The lineup will undergo the most significant changes this season. Left fielder Carl Crawford took his athleticism and lower injury risk north to Boston and was replaced by the moderately risky Johnny Damon (who is almost a high risk). Manny Ramirez returns to the AL East with a poor track record in terms of health over the past few years. He certainly fits the bill of "high risk/ high reward" for the Rays, but given the cost, he's worth the shot even if he ends up hurt once more. Not everything is negative, though: Reid Brignac is taking over for the departed Jason Bartlett, which will lower the risk at shortstop. CHIPPER isn’t too worried about B.J. Upton’s injury history, which should calm the fears of some Rays fans. As long as he keeps his legs healthy, he'll have value to Tampa Bay.
The pitching staff saw lots of changes, most notably replacing Matt Garza with Jeremy Hellickson and Rafael Soriano with Kyle Farnsworth. Garza wasn't the healthiest hurler out there, but we still haven't seen whether Hellickson can deal with a major-league workload—he has already missed time this spring due to a hamstring injury. As far as health goes for Soriano and Farnsworth, there is little to no difference between the two—putting production aside, they both have injury histories and are considered moderate risks. Almost the entire balance of the bullpen is composed of new faces, but as you can see from the tables above, none of them is considered a serious risks for injury.
Careful investments have allowed the Rays to keep a rotation that remains young, productive, and inexpensive. Rather than spending heavy dollars on older free-agent starters, the Rays have settled in comfortably with their own version of an elder statesman in the 29-year-old James Shields. Tampa Bay is careful with their young starters; the team brings them up when they are ready, which has allowed them to stay relatively healthy and at very limited risk for missing significant time.
The Big Risk: Evan Longoria is one of the top players in the game and would be sorely missed by the Rays were he to succumb to a significant injury. While his personal risk level is only moderate, the effect of any injury would be magnified by the relative fragility of the new acquisitions. While he hasn't gone on the disabled list since 2008 (his first year in the majors), he has suffered several nagging injuries to his lower extremities, including mild strains to both his hamstring and his quadriceps. The multiple smaller strains could end up leading to something bigger, which would put a serious dent in the Rays' playoff hopes for 2011.
Comeback: Back in 2008 and 2009, J.P. Howell was an integral part of the bullpen. The words "torn labrum" are two of the most frightening that a pitcher can hear, as labrum surgery has a lower success rate than Tommy John surgery. Howell underwent a procedure to repair the labrum in his left shoulder on May 19, so he likely won't be completely ready until May 2011 at the earliest. With all of the turnover in the bullpen, a healthy season from Howell could do wonders for the Rays.
Best Health: To the dismay of opposing hitters everywhere, David Price is a minimal health risk for 2011.
Worst Health: Whether it’s from an injury, an exaggerated injury, or simply not wanting to play, Manny Ramirez is a good bet to miss significant time. Joe Maddon has a way with his players, though, so maybe this season will be different.