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February 22, 2006

Team Health Report Review

Evaluating the Results

by Marc Normandin

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How accurate is the Team Health Report system? Any system can be analyzed in retrospect, as odd as that seems for a predictive system. 2005 was a season filled with a variety of fluke and freak injuries, as well as what seemed like an abnormal number of pitchers hit by line drives. This included Matt Clement, who took a shot to the head over the summer, and Roy Halladay, who had his Cy Young caliber season ended by a comebacker as well. Many of the players on the Disabled List made their annual appearances, but there were some who made their first appearance, like Todd Helton, who normally plays through back pain all season. Various players escaped the disabled list, even with serious injuries, due to the roster expansion at the end of the year. Ken Griffey Jr., a perennial red light at this stage of his career, was one of those players who enjoy messing with the accuracy of the Team Health Reports. It's likely that if Griffey had a choice, he would have avoided injury, the red light, and the disabled list altogether.

The system itself is easily explained: red lights signify high risk (50% and above), yellow lights signify moderate risk (between 26 and 49%), and green lights signify low risk (25% and below). Having a light in a particular color does not mean a player will or will not be injured; rather, the light system measures risk of injury, which is not a certain thing. Teams can take steps to preserve one of their red light players, rather than run them into the ground and cause additional injury problems, which would fulfill the risk prophecy presented in the early spring. With that in mind, let's take a look at the data from 2005:

               DL Stint   No DL     Total    % of Total
Red Light        58         55       113        51%
Yellow Light     70        110       180        39%
Green Light      52        144       196        27%
Red Lights

The percentage of accurate red lights dropped from last year by 8%, but there are a few reasons for this. The aforementioned instances with players like Ken Griffey Jr., who were injured late enough to avoid the disabled list altogether, sort of throw a wrench into the entire operation. Jason Giambi was a red light in 2005, but proved himself to be up to the task of playing 139 games. He was a red light because no one knew if he would be able to come back and play at all. No one crashed into Marcus Giles in 2005, which means he was able to stay off of the DL. Teammate John Smoltz was given a red light since no one was entirely sure how his arm was going to hold up after returning to the rotation for the first time in over three years. He survived, and threw 230 regular season innings to boot. Johnny Damon most likely should have gone on the disabled list to recover from his various minor injuries, but with Adam Stern as the fourth outfielder after Gabe Kapler's leg injury, and the Red Sox fighting for a playoff spot, that wasn't really an option. Scott Kazmir was kept under 200 innings in his first full major league season, which most likely kept his awkward mechanics from sending him to the DL. Kudos to Tampa Bay's people on that one. Jay Gibbons, who has chronic hip and back problems, played in 130 games and posted his best offensive season, with an OPS well above the league average and the best season of his career. Joe Mauer's knee held up during the season, and he even stole 13 bases while only getting caught once, good for a 93% success rate.

On the other side, a few of the red light players were guaranteed to hit the DL, since that was where they began the season. Curt Schilling, Lance Berkman, Carlos Guillen (although he made an additional trip to the disabled list later, as did Schilling) Jason Kubel, Rocco Baldelli and a few others all had major injuries or surgeries that needed additional time to recover, and started (or ended, in a few cases) their seasons disabled. This makes up for some of the inaccuracies caused by players avoiding the DL, although it could swing too far in one direction or the other in the future.

A few players made multiple trips to the disabled list for reasons that had nothing to do with their lights. Nomar Garciaparra returned from his wrist and leg troubles, and then proceeded to have a horrific injury where his tendon "literally tore away from the bone," to quote Will Carroll in his Under the Knife article. Mike Cameron started the year on the disabled list, then visited it again after his collision with Carlos Beltran. You know, the one that makes me sort of squeamish even writing about it.

Yellow Lights

Yellow is my favorite, mostly because context needs to be given to this either/or risk category, and this is done via the commentary. For example, Erik Bedard's portion of the Orioles Team Health Report from 2005 cautioned against inevitable injury, with the warning that Will was "more worried than this rating indicates." Bedard spent a good chunk of 2005 on the disabled list, making only 24 starts. Justin Morneau continued to have some of the worst luck in all of baseball, as he began the year recovering from pneumonia, chicken pox, and appendicitis, following that up with a concussion from a pitch to the head. I'm not sure if there is a light for that sort of awful luck, but yellow seems to have worked. No one should ever let Marcus Giles and Justin Morneau share a field, as they both might explode into nothingness from the sheer force of their oppressively horrible luck. Morneau supposedly played injured throughout the season as well, which--in a way--is good news for Twins fans in 2006.

Travis Hafner was another victim of a pitch to the face, but he managed to put up a serious line of .305/.408/.595, getting better after the injury, although the two are not related. I bring this up because another victim of a baseball in 2005 was Matt Clement, and he certainly did not look like the same pitcher after his July comebacker incident. Jeremy Bonderman was able to avoid the disabled list by keeping his innings down, although he--yes, another guy--almost went to the DL after being nailed by a comebacker to the wrist. This proved to be a very repetitive theme from 2005. The most productive of all the yellow-lighters, Albert Pujols, did not have to visit the DL with his plantar fasciitis, and even played in 161 games. Some players just do not seem human, and Pujols is one of them.

Torii Hunter was a yellow light who managed to avoid the disabled list until he lost a fight with the triangle in Fenway. His injury most likely cost the Twins any chance they had of latching on to a playoff spot. The interesting thing is that the comment in the THR for the Twins stated that it was Hunter's diving around and crashing into walls that would be his downfall.

One interesting note to close out the yellow lights: for the most part, catchers were labeled yellow due to their position and age. Interestingly enough, more catchers tagged with a green light visited the DL than those with a yellow. In fact, only one green, John Buck, escaped a trip there.

Green Lights

Green light accuracy improved a great deal, as only 27% of the players listed were forced to the disabled list, whereas in 2004 the figure was 35%. The Rockies alone sent six green lighters to the DL, including Todd Helton who, as mentioned earlier, made his first trip there. Clint Barmes famously ended his early season tear with the help of some deer meat. The Angels also sent six greens to the DL, with neither of their reds going. Good news for the Tigers, as their two green starters, Nate Robertson and Mike Maroth, both escaped without serious injury.

Bobby Abreu and Adam Dunn are two green lights who did not visit the DL, though hey probably could have used the time off. Abreu fought off various minor injuries, which slowed down his second half of the season after a first half that astounded many. Adam Dunn seems to have broken his hand--more than once--in 2005, and managed to remain a serious threat in the lineup. Playing through injuries can certainly damage a player in the future, although in Dunn's case, he did end up with a nifty two- or three-year deal that will make him a very rich Red.

Brian Roberts suffered one of the worst injuries of the season but avoided the DL, mostly owing to the timing of it; September 21st is a late time to hit the DL, even if your elbow seemingly was hit by a truck named Bubba. Seattle's Jeremy Reed was another reportedly injured player who was green lighted, but avoided the DL all season long, even if it cut into his production.

Mark Prior was given a green light at the beginning of the season, then proceeded to visit the disabled list twice, one of the times due to--you guessed it--a pitch coming off of someone's bat.

Final Thoughts

The most serious issues with the system seem to be ones that have already been addressed by the newest incarnation of it. Catchers have received an adjustment in the new version, which as you can see by the fluky trend above, was necessary. The main problem with the accuracy of the system seems to come from fluke injuries; collisions and concussions seemed rampant in 2005, but it's not clear how you can adjust for that.

Let's wish for a 2006 season with a little less freak-injury and a tad more health, shall we?

Marc Normandin writes for Beyond the Box Score. He can be reached here.

Related Content:  The Who,  Disabled List,  Year Of The Injury

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