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February 22, 2006

Team Health Reports

Milwaukee Brewers

by Dave Haller

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Red light C Damian Miller: Miller's consistency over the past few years has been undermined by little nicks and knocks. You can't expect a 36-year-old catcher to be much healthier. Last year's comments could almost be copy-pasted, but he shifts to red now based on age.

Green light 1B Prince Fielder: As Nate Silver recently noted, Fielder's body type places him into uncharted territory when it comes to prospecting. The obvious comparison in terms of health is his father. Weight will always be something Prince must battle, but he's stayed very healthy in the minors.

Green light 2B Rickie Weeks: Weeks had surgery at year's end to mend his torn thumb ligament, a problem he'd been battling for much of the season. The Brewers wisely kept this under wraps, as it was probably affecting his hitting. Ned Yost was recently encouraged after watching Weeks hit in Arizona, and there's no reason the thumb shouldn't be fully healed now.

Yellow light 3B Corey Koskie: Almost orange. Koskie is a virtual lock to miss time in any given season. Last year, it was thumb surgery and a sore groin. On a brighter note, Miller Park will be the first big-league natural surface he's called home, and the Brewers medical staff is first-rate.

Yellow light SS J.J. Hardy: A fully healthy 2005 marked a milestone for Hardy, who had missed more than a year with a torn labrum in his left (non-throwing) shoulder. It was the same injury suffered by Richie Sexson. Hardy's first-half struggles, specifically a lack of power, might have been related to the weakened labrum, but he could also have simply been rusty. He recovered nicely with a second-half surge (.560 OPS before the break, .865 after) that was mostly power-driven.

Yellow light LF Carlos Lee: A guy plays 162 games and registers a yellow? Players like Lee (big, slow sluggers) historically have been prone to back problems. He turns 30 in June, and his healthiest days are almost certainly behind him. For now, he should be safe, but be careful if anything pops up.

Green light CF Brady Clark: David Krynzel's broken collarbone (and the ensuing fiasco) eliminates any spring competition for Clark.

Yellow light RF Geoff Jenkins: Baseball's new poster boy for toughness is somewhat injury prone and remains a risk, but he has a freakish ability to play through pain. It wasn't disclosed until recently that Jenkins gutted out a pelvic fracture for much of 2005. You wouldn't know it from his numbers.

Green light Key Sub Bill Hall

Red light SP Ben Sheets: Had the Brewers been contending down the stretch, there's a good chance he would have been pitching under the watchful eyes of team personnel. Sheets' recurring vestibular neuritis has been an issue for two seasons now. There's not enough literature for the team to know what to expect, but they did confer with specialists in Los Angeles, and team physicians have developed a plan for prevention. Keep in mind that the rare condition is more than just dizziness; it's very real and it sidelined him for over a month last year. Sheets is also recovering from a torn latissimus dorsi muscle, and his own comments haven't been all rosy. Be sure to stay tuned this spring.

Green light SP Doug Davis

Green light SP Chris Capuano: His career was in jeopardy less than four years ago, facing Tommy John surgery. Now he's coming off an 18-win, 35-start season and registers as a green light. He's earned it.

Green light SP Tomo Ohka

Green light SP David Bush

Yellow light CL Derrick Turnbow: Violent deliveries almost always lead to breakdown if they're not corrected. At the same time, the violence is often what makes a "stuff" pitcher so effective in the first place. (See Rodriguez, Francisco.) In those cases, there's not much to be done: you ride out the pitcher as long as possible and pray his elbow doesn't pop.

--

The Dick Martin Award is gaining notoriety around baseball, and the Brewers were the proud winners of the 2005 trophy. As an organization, they're doing a lot of things right. Medical staffs don't always have a say in front office decisions, but Milwaukee strives for good communication and understanding at all levels. Head Trainer Roger Caplinger, Head Team Physician Dr. William Raasch and their staff are welcome to make recommendations to the front office. They also keep in close touch with Brewers players, checking in every two weeks to ensure that conditioning programs are being followed and rehab is progressing. "We don't want surprises…we want to be proactive instead of reactive," Caplinger said. "We didn't have any surprises coming into camp."

One of the overlooked perks of having a great medical staff is the ability to assume a higher level of injury risk when acquiring players. An advanced medical staff will generally know what it can and can't do--obviously, the "cans" will outnumber the "can'ts"--and by extension, have a better sense for what constitutes a good or bad risk. The Brewers traded for Koskie at a reduced rate largely because of health concerns. The medical staff should be able to mitigate those concerns to some degree, which does all kinds of nifty things for Doug Melvin & Company. It gives them a better return on investment, it opens up a whole new faction of players (the injured/injury-prone) to consider when wheeling and dealing, and the good overall health makes Brewers players more attractive to other teams. Koskie isn't a great example, since his upside is limited and the Blue Jays amassed the fewest DL Days in baseball. But the point is to identify players whose market values are depressed by injury risk, assessing whether the player's injury is manageable, and if so, taking advantage.

Much like Roger Clemens in Houston, Sheets has a sink-or-swim effect on his team's chances in the NL Central. He also accounted for most of the Brewers' Dollars Lost to the DL, as compiled by Michael Groopman. Maybe it's not fair to pin a team's hopes on one player--after all, where would Milwaukee have finished without the emergence of Davis, Capuano, and the less-than-$2 million bullpen? And just like Caplinger has stated, there are too many variables to dwell too much on one isolated injury.

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