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February 28, 2005

Team Health Reports

Florida Marlins

by Will Carroll

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Hitters

Yellow light C Paul Lo Duca: If there was a way to make him green in the first half and red in the second, that would be more appropriate. LoDuca's injuries tend to be small, catching-specific ones like broken fingers, but it's that 120-game wall he hits every year, along with his age, that downgrade his status.

Yellow light 1B Carlos Delgado: Delgado's knee problems were significant, so they kicked him over the yellow threshold slightly. There's also a slightly increased risk since he can no longer get some rest at DH. He's still a pretty safe bet, though.

Yellow light 2B Luis Castillo: His leg, ankle, and foot injuries are starting to get chronic and the occasional back spasm is also worrisome. Declining speed will diminish his value, especially for those expecting a 40-steal season.

Green light SS Alex Gonzalez

Green light 3B Mike Lowell

Green light LF Miguel Cabrera

Yellow light CF Juan Pierre: I hear more pitchers say they dislike facing Pierre than they do Barry Bonds... Why is Pierre a yellow? Because his whole game is speed, and anything that affects that speed would have huge consequences.

Green light RF Juan Encarnacion

Pitchers

Yellow light SP Josh Beckett: Are the blisters and back problems enough to keep him off the list of elite pitchers? Perhaps they kept him from racking up big innings totals before the age of 24--which can often be a blessing. They may also keep him from ever racking up the totals everyone expected. It could go either way right now.

Red light SP Al Leiter: Pitching with a torn labrum is possible, apparently, if you had the stuff Leiter had. One of the forgotten victims of Dallas Green, his arm didn't survive a 163-pitch game back in '89, later documented brilliantly by Roger Angell. His decline in the latter stages of last season was brutal. (James Click lets me know that that game in '89 was only the fourth-highest pitch total in the league that year. Orel Hershiser had a 169-pitch outing, shortly followed by shoulder surgery. Why did it take baseball so long to get this?)

Red light SP Dontrelle Willis: It's not his mechanics that get him the red; they really aren't that different if you can get past the high leg kick. It's the innings--a ton of them in the last two years--at such a young age. You have to hope this red light is wrong, because baseball needs more Dontrelles.

Yellow light SP A.J. Burnett: Burnett is one of few pitchers to continue having elbow problems after Tommy John surgery. Bone chips are the likely culprit, given his known problem with bone spurs just prior to his surgery. It's a comparable problem to the one John Smoltz had in 2003. If Burnett ever gets a pitching coach he'll listen to, that would help a lot.

Yellow light SP Ismael Valdez: He and Beckett should have a lot to talk about. If Dr. Jazayerli ever opens his MLB Blister Clinic, these two alone could keep him in business.

Yellow light CL Guillermo Mota: Mota doesn't do so well when used in consecutive games, losing some of his strikeout pop and giving up a few more homers. He's never really been an everyday short reliever type, making this a case where high-leverage, multi-inning use could have more than one benefit compared to the typical modern closer role.

--

Did anyone notice that when the Marlins were good in 2003, a lot of that could be attributed to team health and excellent roster construction? They got a bit lucky having Dontrelle Willis fill in for A.J. Burnett and Miguel Cabrera bursting onto the scene when Mike Lowell was hurt. But if luck is the residue of design, let's give some of the credit to Larry Beinfest for constructing the roster and leveraging the farm system to bring depth and flexibility.

It didn't turn out quite so well last season, as the team Plexiglassed itself back to the middle of the division. They were still pretty healthy. This team has only two red lights: a known risk in Al Leiter, and a manageable one in Willis. It also relies on two young pitchers, Burnett and Beckett, who have yet to prove they can handle the roles without breaking down.

Like the Cubs, this team will win or lose depending on their two best pitchers. Like the Cubs, the success of those pitchers will be based more on health, a question mark, than on their stuff, which is unquestionably good. A Marlins team that sees Beckett and Burnett make 50 starts or more will be competitive; less than that will leave the Fish pointing to the new stadium on the horizon.

The only other interesting health note concerns the usage patterns of Paul Lo Duca. The late-season troubles he's had would seem to indicate that LoDuca needs a solid backup and a couple days out of the lineup each week, in hopes of staying fresher longer. Just a quick look at his breakout 2001 season where he was limited to 125 games points to the solution. Unfortunately, the Marlins have yet to see this. That they may start the year with Matt Treanor as Lo Duca's backup shows they're not taking steps to correct the problem.

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