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March 3, 2005

Team Health Reports

Washington Nationals

by Will Carroll

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Hitters

Yellow lightC Brian Schneider: At some point, we're going to have to start looking at catchers differently than other players. The idea of durability in a player that by definition spends his time in an awkward position with fastballs blazing at him, bats swinging inches from his hands, and curves skipping off the dirt and into soft, fleshy areas of the anatomy is just silly. Yellow for one of these guys is a good thing. The truly durable catchers carry a value we're trying to better quantify.

Red light1B Nick Johnson: At this point, every time Jim Bowden picks up the phone, he expects the call to be about some new injury to Nick Johnson. Johnson is proof that "injury prone" is a tag that does sometimes have meaning. Johnson is simply fragile. He's not old, he's not out of shape, yet there's something there that simply cannot hold up to the load that a baseball season puts on the body. I'd guess it's genetic. Johnson doesn't want to be injured, so instead of blaming him for what he can't help, accept him for what he is--a 100-game-limited, line-drive machine. He'd be a perfect platoon partner for a cheap lefty masher.

Yellow light2B Jose Vidro: Vidro earns his yellow with a long history of patellar tendonitis, leading to late season surgery. J.D. Drew came back from similar but more extensive surgery, so the outlook is good for Vidro. Don't use the yellow as a reason to avoid him. (Both tend-i-nitis to tend-o-nitis are correct, FYI.)

Red lightSS Cristian Guzman: Let's see...aging and slowing shortstop with a questionable defensive reputation? Check. Bad back that's resulted in a couple DL stints and hurts his swing? Check. Various shoulder, hamstring, and knee problems? Check. Seventeen million bucks for this? Ugh.

Yellow light3B Vinny Castilla: I'll leave the "Leaving Coors" talk for the performance guys. There should be no difference in Castilla's injury risk from a mile high to D.C. He's old, but reasonably durable.

Green lightLF Brad Wilkerson: Voted "Most Likely to Get Traded for Wily Mo Pena" at this year's Nationals Cotillion.

Green lightCF Endy Chavez

Green lightRF Jose Guillen

Red lightOF Alex Escobar: There's a slew of players coming back from ACL problems this year. A few will end up like Escobar, never quite the same. Escobar has had a series of leg and foot problems since coming back from the knee surgery, all likely cascade injuries. Sports medicine is still a lot of art despite all the science.

Green lightOF Terrmel Sledge: If you want to look at the questionable effects of "steroids," here's your man. At 6'0", 185, Sledge is no bodybuilder, and he blames the positive WADA test on an over-the-counter medication that admittedly was legal at the time (19-norandrosterone and 19-noreicocholanolone, for those who really want to know).

Pitchers

Yellow lightSP Livan Hernandez: This reading's basically broken. Hernandez is a throwback in many ways. The one that counts here is that he pitches like pitchers used to. Christy Mathewson called his book Pitching in a Pinch for a reason. Hernandez coasts along at what he says is 70%, saving his good stuff for the dangerous hitters and the key situations. Not many pitchers have the stuff or the smarts to get away with this, but more should try.

Yellow lightSP Esteban Loaiza: Was 2003 a fluke or merely the only season he's been healthy? The cutter, thrown properly, doesn't create any more force or torque on the elbow than any other pitch. Loaiza gets this yellow on his history, pure and simple.

Yellow lightSP Tomokazu Ohka: Broken bones usually heal, but the system fails to note factors such as it being his pitching arm and a particularly nasty fracture. He should be OK, back to his normal form, but there's a bit more unknown here than the number indicates.

Red lightSP Tony Armas: You can root for Tony Armas because he keeps coming back and when he does, shows the flashes of talent that keeps people hoping he can come back. There's no evidence that suggests he can ever really do it.

Yellow lightSP Zach Day: BP intern David Haller and I met up with Zach Day recently and I hope you'll be able to read about that soon. Suffice it to say he's been working hard this winter. One of his goals is a green light. Not quite yet, Zach, but there's hope.

Green lightCL Chad Cordero

--

When is a new staff not really a new staff? The Nationals have a lot of new assets, including a new head trainer. Long-time trainer Ron McClain retired after the 2004 season, leaving his assistant, Tim Abraham, as the man. Normally, a new staff forces me to ignore the three- and five-year ratings used for these reports, but I wonder sometimes if this should be the case for in-house promotions. Of course, everyone does things differently: just because you worked there last year doesn't mean things will remain the same.

Abraham would do well to have the 25-year run that McClain did--he'd do even better to have the success that his predecessor did. It's hard to follow someone who became an institution in any profession. For baseball trainers, it's been extremely hard. Since Kent Biggerstaff left the Pirates, the injury stats have backtracked. The same is true for the Twins after firing Dick Martin, for the Jays after Tommy Craig, and if you really want to go way back, for the Royals after Mickey Cobb.

Abraham will have his work cut out for him. He'll have a new training room, new surface, and a lot of red and yellow lights on his team. If given a reasonable budget (or a real owner), the former shouldn't be so much a problem; it's unclear how much of a difference the surface change will make. Statistics on turf injuries are mixed, though turf makers have funded many of the positive ones. The anecdotal evidence is brutal, with player after player cursing the turf and managers trying to get their fragile players off it when they were in Montreal. Baseball wisdom isn't always right, though there's often something to it.

Will the Nationals be as bad, health-wise, as the chart above looks? Probably not. As with last year's PECOTA projections, the Expos/Nationals are probably seeing some effects that aren't quite accounted for in a good, but not perfect system. The Nationals medical team, led by Abraham and new team physicians Tom Graham and Tim Kremchek, should have a busy season.

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