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July 17, 2003
Under The Knife
AL Mid-Season Health Report
The health of the American League has been, well, average. Teams near the top of their divisions have dealt with injuries more than they've avoided or overcome them. As baseball heads into the second half, teams will watch for signs of fatigue, and the interplay between team medical staffs and the field staff becomes key. A trainer spotting bad mechanics, keeping a player from turning a tweak into a tear, or returning a guy ahead of schedule, can be worth a win or two.
I grade the teams based on a number of factors: overall health compared to both league and team averages, ability to get players back ahead of schedule, lost time to DL, and effect of injuries on team results. These are not terribly scientific and should not be used for wagering. In no instance am I assigning blame; instead, I merely hope to allow comparison and quantify effect. They're not worth arguing over.
Miss Derek Jeter for six weeks? Bernie Williams for six? Nick Johnson for most of the season? Mariano Rivera spends as much time in Tampa as the Bronx? Ten million dollars worth of Jose Contreras burning like a Cuban cigar? Make it hard for Jason Giambi to see? It sounds like too much for any team to overcome, even the dreaded Yankees, and yet there they sit on top of the standings like Don Zimmer on a doughnut. The Yankees don't need depth, but they certainly don't have it. It's impossible to count them out, but this is a team at the end of the current line. Mark Littlefield manages to keep the team as healthy as possible and any winning next year should be directly credited to his rehab work with Brandon Claussen and Jon Lieber. The Yanks have many advantages financially, but no team can buy health. Grade: D
As Theo Epstein remakes the team in the image of Bill James, he shouldn't forget that much of the success of the team is based on the work of Chris Correnti. No other team relies on one player as much as the Red Sox, so keeping Pedro Martinez healthy is paramount. Beyond mere health, the team must strike a balance between usage and protection as well as using its bullpen and rotation to help further that mission. Tim Wakefield is valuable beyond any numbers for this team. The position players have been in great condition and healthy. Grade: B+
The change in staff shouldn't really change much in Toronto, but George Poulis should have his hands full. It will be his duty to keep a four-man rotation healthy, Frank Catalanotto in the lineup, Josh Phelps effective, and help some of the younger players through the inevitable fatigue. Toronto has an interesting mix--healthy key players and interchangeable supporting parts. Grade: B
With David Segui and B.J. Surhoff on the lineup card almost every day and Sidney Ponson and his shredded shoulder as the ace, the team would be expected to be worse off than it actually is. The team didn't lose confidence in its medical staff after the death of Steve Bechler and has been rewarded with decent health. The staff has done it's best work with it's best player, keeping Melvin Mora effective through a nagging hand injury. Grade: B+
On the upside, no one's been shot so far this season. The key players have been healthy, the pitchers haven't been overworked (mostly due to ineffectiveness) and the "ace" of the staff is dealing with mechanical issues. There have been no major injuries and the loss of Jamey Reed hasn't had as much of an impact as I'd imagined. The effects of having Jim Andrews as medical director are paying off, but it's hard to see it on such a bad team. Grade: B
If you'd told me this team was contending at the ASB back in March, I'd have laughed. If you told me they'd overcome injuries to all four of their key players, I'd still be laughing. Instead, it's the Royals laughing all the way to the top of the standings. An inability to prevent injuries may hurt the Royals, but their ability to play through those injuries speaks more to the skills of Tony Pena and the roster construction of Allard Baird and his secret sabermetrician than to the medical staff's prowess. Depth and excellent handling got the pitching staff through injuries to Jeremy Affeldt and Runelvys Hernandez without going too deep into the minor leagues. Again, depth got the team through a season-opening period without Carlos Beltran and that same depth is the only hope to deal with the Mike Sweeney injury. Grade: A-
The Twins lost Eric Milton early in spring training but took both time and money to get past it. Signing Kenny Rogers was a decent and reasonably cost-effective mood, but much to Gary Huckabay's dismay it was only recently that Johan Santana got more than a cameo appearance in the rotation. Minor injuries to Jacque Jones and Torii Hunter haven't derailed things, but there's still half a season left, and both players have yet to produce at the levels that many expected of them. Grade: B
Injuries have been the least of the White Sox worries. The pitching staff has been healthy and used reasonably, the starting nine is healthy and relatively risk-free, but the law of averages is against this team. Very few teams make it through a season without at least one major injury, and those that do tend to run away from the field. Herm Schneider has always been good about rehab and Steve Odgers has taken over the prehab duties, giving the White Sox one of the best medical teams in the AL. It's up to the field staff to make something happen when the team is all present. Grade: A
Cleveland's rebuilding has not been derailed by injury. Losing Omar Vizquel, possibly for the season, hurts in the short-term, but if Brandon Phillips had taken advantage, it could have been for the best long term. A young staff hasn't been horribly overworked and C.C. Sabathia remains a healthy and effective pitcher despite every negative indicator. Keeping the team healthy should be one of the biggest goals for the second half, since they're quickly finding the pieces of the next winning Indians team. Jody Gerut, Coco Crisp, and Milton Bradley are all high-effort players that will dive and run into walls, so Eric Wedge will need to turn down his own intensity++if that's possible--so as not to drive them to breakdown. Grade: B
Wow. The best thing I can find about this team is that they're not hurting themselves while on the way to an abysmal record. Bob Cluck has protected his young staff despite dealing with Brian Kingman numbers. On the field, Bobby Higginson's injury has made him untradeable while not actually harming the on-field product by much. Team health, on the whole, has been a pure neutral. Grade: C-
Teams that count on 40-year-olds seem like they should be more prone to injury problems, but it's not always the case. The only players that can make it to age 40 are already uncommon physical specimens. While Edgar Martinez will never be considered "healthy," he's learned and adjusted. Jamie Moyer isn't going to overthrow either. John Olerud's hamstring has sapped some of his power and mobility. Kazuhiro Sasaki has been dealing with shoulder and gravity problems, but the M's bullpen remains a strength. Grade: B
The A's owe much of their success to a healthy "Big Three." The Big Three owe most of their success to Rick Peterson. Even with an injury to one of Mark Mulder, Barry Zito, or Tim Hudson, there are players in Sacramento ready to contribute or at least place-hold. In the field, the loss of Jermaine Dye for an extended period forces Beane and DePodesta to dig through the laptop looking for a new toy. They usually find one. The questions about the health of Eric Chavez give both concern and hope--concern if the reports are true that he played through a fracture, and hope if that explains his poor performance. Grade: C
Anaheim made it to the World Series in large part because they were very healthy. That health speaks well of the team medical staff, led by Ned Bergert and "Ranger" Rick Smith. Still, the law of averages was an enemy of the Angels. An early season collision injury to Jarrod Washburn was the first sign, and an excellent pen worked through degenerative problems in the hip of Troy Percival. David Eckstein is breaking down, but keeping Tim Salmon and Troy Glaus reasonably healthy shows that the Angels medical staff is still near the top of the game. Grade: A-
The spring training injury to Alex Rodriguez was the worst nightmare for John Hart and Buck Showalter, but A-Rod managed to overcome the cervical problem and stay productive. If only the rest of the team was as good. It's hard to say if the loss of Chan Ho Park to various injuries is much of a loss, but it doesn't help since it forces starts out of unheralded pitchers like Tony Mounce or R.A. Dickey. Losing Doug Glanville isn't much of a negative, forcing the team to get to the future now. Orel Hershiser inspires no confidence in his ability to manage a staff or keep it healthy. Lucky there's not much there to damage. Grade: D