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March 21, 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: Joel Zumaya, Magglio Ordonez, Brandon Inge, Carlos Guillen. Those four players made up 60 percent of Detroit’s disabled list transactions in 2010, and 2011 doesn’t look like it will bring much better health for the fragile foursome. Zumaya and Guillen will start the season on the disabled list, which just goes to show that they care about making CHIPPER more accurate, and the Tigers' most significant addition of the offseason has his own history of health issues to add to the team's preexisting problems.
The offense took a major hit with Ordonez, Inge, and Guillen missing time last year. Ordonez had been fairly healthy since 2006, other than a few nagging injuries and a mild strained oblique in 2008. He broke his ankle last summer, though, and he needed surgery to stabilize the fracture. That ended his season, but the Tigers still decided to re-sign him to a one-year deal despite his being one month shy of his 37th birthday. That contract length limits the Tigers’ long-term liability, but it doesn't change Ordonez’s risk for the present.
If the only thing that had caused Guillen to miss time over the last several years had been the microfracture surgery, he would not be as likely to miss significant time in 2011. Unfortunately he also missed time due to shoulder impingement and multiple lower extremity strains. Guillen isn’t quite as old as Ordonez but he’s on the wrong side of 35 and has been anything but a bastion of health—it doesn’t help that middle infielders have a history of breaking down like this as they age. Newcomer Victor Martinez also poses a high risk to miss significant time. He’s an older catcher who has spent long stretches on the DL twice in the past two years. As a result, the Tigers are planning to use him as a DH several times per week, which will help lower his risk for 2011 but does not eliminate it entirely.
At least Inge is a lower-risk player for 2011. We are slightly concerned about his prospects due to surgeries on both of his patellar tendons to address chronic patellar tendinitis after the 2009 season, but his knees held up well in 2010. There is always the chance that those injuries will recur, but relative to some of his teammates, he’s almost the picture of health.
Over the last several years, Justin Verlander has proved that he can stay healthy despite battling arm fatigue on multiple occasions very early in his career, giving the Tigers the enviable combination of an ace who can eat innings while pitching at a high level. Max Scherzer has experienced multiple instances of shoulder inflammation, which is concerning despite the low-risk rating. After surprising plenty of people in 2009, Rick Porcello came back down to earth a bit in 2010, but his decline was not due to his health. He still isn’t quite out of the woods in terms of risk, but he is off to a good start in his effort to escape the injury vortex.
The only thing Brad Penny has proven as of late is that he can miss significant time—he’s done so for three years running. He is an extremely high-risk player as a result of multiple shoulder issues that cropped up in 2008. Jose Valverde is not as risky as some of those above, but he is still in the moderate level, mostly due to his acute compartment syndrome from a muscle strain in 2009. Since then he has done well, although he did end 2010 with multiple bouts of elbow soreness and inflammation. Maybe this time Jim Leyland can take his foot off the pedal after 40 or 50 pitches in Valverde relief appearances to lower the risk of recurrence.
The Big Risk: Losing Miguel Cabrera would be difficult to overcome on a couple of levels. First, while Cabrera does have backups, no one would be able to replace his production (and not just on the Tigers—the list of capable Cabrera replacements league-wide is a short one). The main medical risk right now is not injury-related but rooted in his personal life. His issues are not easy to deal with, as anyone in his situation knows all too well. The Tigers can only hope that he learns how to overcome his weaknesses and refocus his energies on more positive pastimes.
Comeback: Ordonez is now 37 years old and recuperating from surgery. Playing at the major-league level becomes more difficult as players age, and an injury like the one he suffered doesn’t make it any easier. The ankle is healed by now, but it would be better for Ordonez to DH consistently; with Martinez in the fold, it will be difficult for Ordonez to do that. He remains an important piece of Detroit’s offense, and while he won’t be the Magglio of 2007, he should be healthy enough to please Tigers fans.
Best Health: Inge proved that his knees were not a significant problem in 2010, and his broken hand healed well. He should not be a regular denizen of the DL this year, though it’s somewhat sad that a player we consider a moderate risk to land on the DL is the healthiest of Detroit's regulars.
Worst Health: To say that CHIPPER does not like Brad Penny is an understatement (and one we can’t disagree with).