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March 24, 2005

Team Health Reports

Oakland Athletics

by Will Carroll

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Hitters

Yellow light C Jason Kendall: Kendall is still a miracle, perhaps more than Moises Alou. He owes his career to Kent Biggerstaff and the Pirates medical team. To come back from that catastrophic ankle injury and hold the same skill set is unprecedented. His yellow is based more on age and position than his injury history.

Green light 1B Scott Hatteberg

Green light 2B Keith Ginter

Yellow light SS Bobby Crosby: Crosby's back spasms contributed to a poor second half. There's no news on how well they resolved, typical of the A's. It's important to note that the spasms started when he played an extra-inning game on Minnesota's turf.

Green light 3B Eric Chavez: Ignore the broken hand. The only nick on Chavez's record is a back problem from the middle of 2004, one that resolved easily. He's my pick for AL MVP.

Green light LF Eric Byrnes

Green light CF Mark Kotsay: He had some knee problems along with his typical back stiffness and still put up 600 at-bats. The problems will all catch up with him at some point, but that point probably isn't this year.

Yellow light RF Nick Swisher: Swisher hid a thumb injury for much of 2004, having surgery for it in the offseason. The injury likely held down his slugging last year and figures to do the same for the first part of 2005.

Yellow light DH Erubiel Durazo: He's just one of those players who can't play dinged up. This trait tends to show itself at the end of the season, and it can really steam teammates. For a guy on a team with Mark Grace, this can be a big negative. Durazo is a known quantity, so take the 500 ABs and enjoy the OBP.

Red light 2B Mark Ellis: Ellis is coming back from a labrum tear; I may be overstating the effect on his game with that red light. He's throwing the ball well so far. There's not much data to work with on these types of injuries, but they do tend to recur.

Pitchers

Green light SP Barry Zito

Green light SP Rich Harden: Harden went from 150 to 190 innings last season and seemed to get stronger doing so. He's been tinkering with his splitter during spring training in hopes of gaining a bit more command. There's no limit to how good Harden can be.

Green light SP Danny Haren : The Cardinals minor-league staff hated trading Haren, even for Mark Mulder. It's hard to tell a GM "told you so" and keep your job. Haren's workload last year should allow him to go up near 190-200 innings without causing significant concern.

Green light SP Joe Blanton

Red light SP Seth Etherton: Etherton pitched well at Triple-A, showing that he's back from his long standing shoulder problems. Whether that's enough to keep him healthy at the major-league level is another question entirely. As a placeholder, he's probably a nice, cheap bet.

Yellow light SP Keiichi Yabu: Yabu comes over from Japan at age 36. His innings totals have been low for the past couple of seasons, which worried me, so I went to the expert, Gary Garland, who tells me that "Yabu injured his hand last year trying to field a batted ball. By mid-season, Hanshin wasn't going anywhere and they started inserting more of their kids. Yabu had elbow problems in 2001 and 2003 and remember that Japanese managers are obsessed with matchups. Yabu's starts got juggled around quite a bit, keeping his innings totals down." Yabu probably won't be more than a 150-inning pitcher, perfect for a swingman but worrisome as a starter.

Yellow light SP Dan Meyer: Everyone loves Meyer, including Guy Hansen, the new pitching coach in Kansas City. Hansen worked with Meyer during his half-season at Richmond and smoothed out his mechanics. The only worry for Meyer is if he's asked to stretch out more, having gone just 120 innings last season. He's efficient enough to deal with 150-180 without problem.

Yellow light CL Octavio Dotel: He suffers from horrendous mechanics, dipping down so that his trail knee almost hits the mound. He came to the A's on the downslide of a great run, something several relievers have done. The A's now have the depth to allow Dotel to go back to the set-up role he excelled in, if need be.

--

The Big Three is dead; Long live the Big Five.

The A's lost two-thirds of their vaunted Big Three, trading them away for a set of prospects that we haven't seen since the Bartolo Colon deals. On paper, this could be a deeper and cheaper set of great pitchers. Still there's always a risk when it comes to pitching prospects. Some don't pan out, some get hurt, and some become Rich Harden.

The pitching staff wasn't as bulletproof as it seemed to be in the Rick Peterson years. Curt Young took a much more hands-off approach to his pitchers, failing to tweak the deliveries of those vaunted Three. As they scatter to the four winds, there are big questions about Mark Mulder's health, whispers about Tim Hudson's workload, and Barry Zito, well, you just don't want to hear the stories.

What they have now is a slightly less risky profile, top to bottom. This chart shows the adjusted risk for the 2004 and 2005 rotations:

It's counterintuitive, but it is possible for a team to have younger pitchers and still reduce their risk profile. The A's may be the team that keeps its injuries closer to the vest than any other, but it's not because they don't get it. They just won't tell anyone how they do things.

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