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March 10, 2003

Team Health Reports

Arizona Diamondbacks

by Will Carroll

Projected Lineup

SS Tony Womack
3B Craig Counsell
2B Junior Spivey
LF Luis Gonzalez
1B Lyle Overbay
CF Steve Finley
RF Danny Bautista / David Dellucci
C Chad Moeller / Rod Barajas

Rotation

Randy Johnson
Curt Schilling
Elmer Dessens
John Patterson
Byung-Hyun Kim

Closer

Matt Mantei

The good news is that Tony Womack is healthy!

The better news is that this team is really just two men and that their effectiveness almost completely determines the course of the Diamondbacks season. As much as pitch counts, inning workloads, and almost every other measure of pitcher abuse wants to push Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling to the shelf, they continue to dominate. Given a modicum of support, these two will put up incredible numbers, and there's no reason to believe that either will collapse. The yellow lights are up there to remind you that at some point, all good things come to an end. One or both might have a spectacular flameout and, like the Red Sox in 2001, a team built around pitching can collapse quickly. Schilling had a slight loss in both velocity and effectiveness at the end of 2002. Surprisingly, he admitted he was tired, but blamed it on a weight increase rather than workload. Schilling looked great in Nashville this winter when he met up with UTK. If anything, the fade late last year might force Bob Brenly to back off a bit. Backing off however might not be possible if the D-Backs hope to return to the playoffs.

Randy Johnson's pitching Triple Crown performance was impressive, but what was more impressive was the quick adjustment he made to his delivery. After fighting back spasms early in the season, Johnson made a small adjustment to his windup and cruised from May to September. While he'll celebrate his 40th birthday late this season, Johnson is beginning to look more and more like Nolan Ryan v2.0--just left-handed, taller, and better. There's a lot more likelihood that Johnson will walk away near the top of his game than there is of a major injury. Johnson remains proof that measuring fatigue is far from an exact science.

John Patterson's been a long time coming through the prospect ranks, and he's nearing the point where he should be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. He still gets a yellow light due to his injury history, which includes a significant number of muscle problems to go along with his rebuilt elbow. Patterson is a real breakout candidate, but if he's ridden too hard by Brenly, he's more likely to breakdown--probably not catastrophically, but enough to miss a start or two here and there. The D-Backs have almost no pitching depth, and Patterson's not going to hold up under the type of load that Schilling and Johnson can handle. Anything over 180 innings should cost pitching coach Chuck Kniffin his job.

I don't know what to write about Byung-Hyun Kim. Is he a starter? A closer? A set-up man? What comparables do we have if he is a starter? What we know is he's been very effective in the SUN role despite a lack of organizational confidence. We know that Kim has had past success in the starter's role in the international game. What we don't know is how much--if any--stamina Kim has lost. We don't know if Brenly will keep him in any single role. We're unsure what happens to his mechanics under a starter's workload or, for that matter, what happens to any side-arm pitcher. We know that switching roles and increasing innings is a negative for health. Given all the confusion, I'll drop the cautionary yellow on Kim and guess that he'll get some starts, but end up back in the SUN role when Matt Mantei collapses.

After all, Mantei has never been healthy. OK, never might be a bit strong; I haven't checked his elementary school records. But I'll bet even then he was at the nurse's office all the time. It took Mantei a bit longer than usual to come back from Tommy John surgery, essentially costing him two years. According to reports, he's back up to the mid-90s with his pitches, but doesn't seem to have full control of the curve yet. His mechanics are still brutal, so now that his elbow is healthy, he's likely to hurt his shoulder, tear an intracostal muscle, or be accosted by a crazed Derek Zumsteg.

If defense and power don't matter, Luis Gonzalez is a green light. Even with some concerns about the long-term effects of a Grade III shoulder separation, Gonzalez is a good bet to come back near 100%, but there's enough risk of some drop-off and his age that I have to give him a yellow light. There didn't appear to be any labrum or capsule problems. I'm not worried about him much, but he'll never approach 50 home runs again.

Danny Bautista comes back in 2003 after a torn labrum that took two surgeries to repair. You know things are bad when surgery has to be postponed when the team doctor hurts his back, but this happened to Bautista. The injured shoulder was his left, non-throwing shoulder, so Bautista shouldn't have any defensive problems. Still, this was serious and complicated surgery, so his power may not be all the way back, and early swings look like he lacks some extension. Bautista earns his yellow light, but he keeps much of the upside he was beginning to show in 2002.

It's hard to feel sorry for someone dating Gena Lee Nolin, but David Dellucci deserves some credit for overcoming a serious wrist injury and keeping himself a serviceable fourth outfielder. Because he has such a hard time staying healthy in a starting role, a platoon with Bautista might be the best way to keep him off the List. If spotted correctly, he could be quite productive.

Calling Craig Counsell anything more than an Eckstein-esque overachiever is somewhat laughable, so Bob Melvin's quote that Counsell was the D-Backs' MVP is two full steps beyond the ridiculous. According to Lee Sinins, Counsell was nearly the worst regular on the team last season, saved only by the presence of Tony Womack. Counsell at least has the excuse that he was playing injured to fall back on--he had off-season surgery to fuse his cervical spine. This is very unusual surgery and there's no good timetable or comparable for this. Counsell will likely struggle from time to time, could end up with some shoulder problems, and will likely split time with Matt Williams. The upside for Counsell's 2003 is league average.

Steve Finley is back at the BOB for 2003, and at 38 has to be considered a breakdown candidate. He's three years post-back surgery and was relatively healthy in 2002 with only a mild hamstring strain and an elbow plunk costing him time. He's aged better than I would have expected, and despite the yellow light--triggered by age and history--he's probably going to function this season pretty much like last season. Still, the drop-off will be steep whenever it happens.

So, just to remind you, Tony Womack is healthy. The team might be better off if he wasn't, but really, most of the Diamondbacks' parts are just placeholders. The back of the staff, the pen, and a significant portion of the team is simply replaceable talent that, when playing league average baseball behind Schilling and Johnson, suddenly adds up to a contender. The formula works, and barring breakdowns there's no reason it can't work again in 2003.

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