March 17, 2011
Team Injury Projection
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: From a medical standpoint, the Brewers have been on a roller coaster over the last several years. Last season was a down year from a straight numbers standpoint, but there were no major injuries to the stars on the team. Prince Fielder missed one game, Ryan Braun missed eight, Corey Hart missed nine, Yovani Gallardo was absent for 2-3 starts, and Rickie Weeks decided that 2010 would be the year he stayed healthy. The majority of the days missed were by players who were not going to be major contributors to the team. In a tight division, the Brewers will have to hope for the same kind of health from their most productive players in 2011.
Fielder and Yuniesky Betancourt are both safely in the low-risk category, while Mat Gamel and Weeks lie at the opposite end of the spectrum. Despite his bulk, Fielder has never been on the disabled list. Betancourt has been injured more often, but never very seriously. Weeks has had multiple surgeries on his wrist, hand, and knee; CHIPPER is very skeptical about his chances of staying healthy like he did last year, and we can't argue until he's demonstrated some consistency in avoiding the DL. Gamel has barely lost his rookie eligibility, and already he has suffered a partial tear to his latissimus dorsi and undergone surgery on his foot to remove a small bone near the bottom of his big toe. Despite requiring surgery on his broken little finger this spring, Jonathan Lucroy is considered a fairly low risk and may be ready by Opening Day.
Among the outfielders, Braun seems always to be battling something but never ends up on the DL, which could be construed as either a positive or a negative. His injuries tend not to be severe enough to sit him down for an extended period of time, but they do tend to hang around throughout the year. CHIPPER thinks he’s a moderate risk as a result of these nagging ailments, so expect him to miss some time in dribs and drabs. The same can be said of Hart, whose only significant DL stint to date stemmed from an appendectomy late in 2009 (which isn't likely to happen again). However, Carlos Gomez has hardly been a bastion of health, paying two visits to the DL in 2010 alone.
On the pitching side, newcomer Zack Greinke was considered low-risk because of the lack of major injuries resulting from baseball on his record—next time you have a few hours to kill, Zack, just stick to World of Warcraft like before, okay? His fractured rib will cause him to miss time at the beginning of the year. Milwaukee's other major off-season addition, Shaun Marcum, recovered from Tommy John surgery in 2008 but did experience additional elbow inflammation last year. He’s not quite as elevated a risk as, say, Justin Duchscherer (then again, who is?), but Marcum does come with a fairly extensive warning label. The other pitchers returning from last year, such as Yovani Gallardo, Manny Parra, and John Axford, are all considered low-risk despite some injuries in their past.
The Big Risk: Instincts are often based on some underlying truth, and our instincts are warning us away from Braun. Accumulating 26 entries in the injury database in less than four years' time can't be a good sign. Eventually, something will keep Braun out for a longer period, hampering his team’s chances for success. Chris Dickerson would likely take over in left despite being an even worse injury risk—never mind the massive difference in production between the two.
Comeback: As indicated above, Gamel had a rough 2010, partially tearing his latissimus dorsi and undergoing an operation for a fractured sesamoid later in the year. The latissimus dorsi is a very large, important muscle, but it is used less frequently by position players than it is by pitchers. Therefore, Gamel should experience no ill effects after an offseason of proper training. Removal of the sesamoid provides almost immediate relief, but it does require some physical therapy to retrain foot musculature and balance. A convincing rebound from a lost year would be helpful for both the Brewers—who may need to contemplate a future without Fielder—and for Gamel, whose relevance is teetering closer to the edge the longer he stays out of the majors.
Best Health: Fielder's fitness level would surprise a lot of people. You need to be in good shape to move that amount of mass without hurting yourself.
Worst Health: Edging out Weeks by a nose is Dickerson, who just can’t seem to stay healthy.