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March 9, 2004
Team Health Reports
Don't get all excited about A.J. Burnett being listed in the rotation. He won't start there, but since the Marlins believe he'll be in the rotation for the better part of the season, it seemed more important to discuss his situation than it was to take another run at Darren Oliver.
While the World Champion Marlins are far from favorites to return to the Fall Classic, it's fair to say that this team is probably better regarded than the team that now wears rings. It's odd that a team can improve on a championship season and yet be picked for third in their own division by most 'experts.'
As they did last year, the Marlins will need two ingredients to brew up another batch of Fish Fever: pitching and luck. Jack McKeon's lucky cigar burned bright through the off-season after beating back Dusty's magic toothpick, but does Ole Jack still have some luck left? Ironically it was some bad luck that turned around the Marlins season; there's a much better and more thorough description in the Marlins chapter of BP2004, so I'll spare myself some typing here.
Beckett's minor elbow problem, though greatly exaggerated at the time, did allow him to stay fresh enough to do yeoman's work in the playoffs. He may just be the guy you don't recognize in baseball's television spots, but Beckett possesses electric stuff when healthy. Beckett is still young and has not faced a full season's workload in his career, so his yellow is well earned. Add in a horrid attrition rate from PECOTA and Beckett borders on a red light. He's precisely the type of pitcher you want on your team when you have a deep rotation.
Last year's sensation, Dontrelle Willis, broke down under a workload he had never faced. As he wore down physically, his glove-side arm weakened and threw off his dynamic balance. Key on his glove as you watch him pitch instead of the high leg and you'll know whether he'll be sensational or one-hit wonder quickly. (For the record, that famous high leg kick is neither deceptive nor gimmick. It contributes strongly to his linear loading, just in case you were wondering.)
In a recent article, Rob Neyer questioned how anyone can make valid predictions about health in the face of rapidly advancing medical science. There is no better case to answer with than that of A.J. Burnett. Burnett is returning to the mound after only 30-something weeks of rehabilitation. This seems miraculous to some, but to those watching closely, changes to the rehabilitation program for Tommy John surgery actually call for returns in this timeframe...or earlier. Much of the credit for these advances once again goes to ASMI, and a team led by Kevin Wilk and Michael Reinhold.
Burnett is already throwing off a mound and could be back in the rotation as early as May. This seemingly uncharted territory is merely the same challenge of correcting previously flawed mechanics and regaining proprioception on an accelerated time frame. It takes a close watch on the cutting edge of medicine to know this, but it's less alchemy and more hard work than most would expect.
Yes, Pavano is the only green light in the rotation. Who would have imagined that Pavano would not only shake off his seemingly endless stretch of early-career injuries, but also get a World Series ring before Pedro Martinez?
Jeff Conine rates his yellow based more on age than anything. He'd probably be more durable if he could play 1B or DH more than he will. Mike Redmond's risk rises if Castro's legal situation forces Redmond to take on a full catching load, but at current projections, he's a fine backup/platoon catcher.
The rest of the team is young, talented, and looks healthy. As always, any player runs the risk of a traumatic injury. While completely subjective, I have a bad feeling about Juan Pierre. As much as the BP Player Forecast Manager loves him, he fits the profile of speedy players that had early peaks, like Luis Polonia and Willie McGee. One bad hamstring strain and Pierre's value, real and fantasy, plummets. He rates a green light, but sometimes you have to play hunches.
The Marlins aren't favorites to repeat, but this has been no repeat of the last fire sale. A little luck and a lot of health can go a long way.