March 22, 2004
Team Health Reports
Los Angeles Dodgers
CL Eric Gagne
Hiring a state-of-the-art General Manager does nothing to change a team's health.
Or does it? Is there any evidence that teams like Oakland, Toronto, and Boston suffer less injuries? Is being medically state-of-the-art different than being front-office smart? It's a good question, and impossible to answer completely. Due to the hidden nature of most of the data, we're left looking at imperfect measures like Days Lost to DL and Dollars Lost to DL. In these, there is simply too much luck and the data is too easily skewed.
When the Dodgers lost Darren Dreifort and Kevin Brown in the same season, they doomed themselves to the bottom of the Dollars Lost charts even if the entire team had been healthy. There's an argument that more progressive management never would have given those contracts to those players, but the Yankees are always at risk with the big-money players they have at, well, every position.
Better measures would help, but in the interim, it appears that there's some connection, but not a complete correlation. Smart management should understand that there are advantages in having the best medical care, but as with players, the best trainers and doctors in the business tend to already have jobs. There's very little movement from team-to-team for head trainers, but there remains a potential for a team to go after the best and with a relatively small investment.
Paul DePodesta inherits a team that shows a lot more colors than Dodger blue. There's a bit too much yellow and red up there, in addition to the well-documented lack of offense to consider the Dodgers a contender. While the team actually doesn't have anyone who would devastate the team with a single injury, the team also doesn't seem to have one player who can explode to carry them. With a number of nagging injuries and typical weardown, this doesn't seem like a team that's built to win yet.
Dodger pitching has long been a strength, with both great arms and a home field advantage contributing. Eric Gagne's historic season was better than his 2002 season, and that 2002 campaign wasn't too shabby. I'm a bit hesitant to leave the yellow light up there since Gagne isn't a typical reliever and he's not far removed from much more extreme workloads. We still don't know enough about how pitchers recover to say with confidence where a pitcher is overused in terms of pitches or in terms of back-to-back usage. Gagne's had a near injury free career, so there's no reason to believe he won't continue to remain effective, if not unstoppable.
Odalis Perez gets his yellow light based on odd workload patterns and his injury history, but again, it's a very low level light. Most of his problems have been minor, like the fingernail problem that ended his season early. I'm not overly concerned and his elbow appears completely healed. I'm more worried about Hideo Nomo. He's got a lot of mileage on that hypermobile shoulder of his and offseason surgery hasn't appeared to bring him back to normal so far. Spring training numbers should always be discounted, but they can tell you who's still hurting.
Kaz Ishii always seems to break down or just get unlucky, but the red light seems a bit harsh. His injury history is unduly affected by taking the ball off his forehead in 2002, but he's also shown a sharp loss in velocity and control in the second half. With the brutal workloads that Japanese pitchers face, it's entirely possible that Ishii is burning out in front of us. With the offseason rest, he comes back, but isn't able to keep himself above the effectiveness threshold between starts.
On the player side, other than Shawn Green's well-known shoulder travails, the news isn't so bad. They have a speedster with hamstring problems (Roberts), a 3B who's tantalized us all and had one of the more bizarre conditions in recent memory (Beltre), a 2B with a plate in his forearm (Cora), and a player at 1B who's simply aging (Ventura). Green's shoulder should get stronger as the season goes on, but his throwing will be most affected in the first half. He should be able to extend his arms more than last year, which should bring back some of his power. He'd be better served at first base right now, but he's adamant about playing right.
The most worrisome yellow light is that of Paul LoDuca. There are numerous reports that he's put on significant weight this offseason--and no, that isn't some sort of innuendo. LoDuca complained several times last year that he needed to add power to get some of his warning track shots out of the park and to not wear down over the course of a season. It sometimes takes a while to adjust to a 'new body' and some muscle gains can lead to a loss of flexibility. Keep your eye on LoDuca in the early going. Spring results are good, but he's not playing a normal load either.
This is enough to keep Stan Johnston and Matt Wilson hopping, but we haven't even mentioned UTK All-Star Darren Dreifort, Wilson Alvarez, or Bubba Trammell. Sometimes, enough yellow lights can be more devastating than one bad red. It's easy to fix one problem, but few teams can keep finding enough fingers to stem the tide of a leaky dam. The Dodgers look to be a team that may be waistdeep by mid-season.