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March 7, 2006

Team Health Reports

Chicago White Sox

by Thomas Gorman and Will Carroll

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Click here for the White Sox 2006 depth chart.

Yellow
light C A.J. Pierzynski: We've said it before, but catchers get yellows unless we have a good reason to think otherwise. The baseline injury risk for a backstop is high. Though it's not relevant to our THR rank, we have to wonder if AJ's bad history with trainers means he's due for a My Name is Earl-style karmic butt-kicking.

Yellow light 1B Paul Konerko: Konerko has a lower back problem, and though he was healthy last year, we don't like that he'll be a year older. Now that Jim Thome is on the roster, Konerko won't have the luxury of being able to DH with any regularity.

Green light 2B Tadahito Iguchi: His sore ankle isn't enough for a light change.

Yellow light 3B Joe Crede: Crede had back problems and a finger fracture in 2005. The THR system sees that and his un-Ironman-like playing time figures in 2003/2004, and it drops him to a yellow light. We think this is a pretty mellow yellow: Crede isn't a serious injury risk, but he'll have to show more of the guy who was an October star to keep his playing time.

Green light SS Juan Uribe: His sore back last year doesn't bother us yet.

Red light LF Scott Podsednik: Double hernia surgery? Yee-OUCH! THR doesn't like that, it doesn't like the leg problems he's had in recent years, and it especially doesn't like that speed and mobility injuries are hitting a player whose value is inextricably tied to his speed (generating his SBs and and some of his OBP) and mobility (for plus defense). Add that Podzilla is getting older and has the type of skills that don't age well, and this is a pretty obvious red light.

Green light CF Brian Anderson: If this was this Brian Anderson being stuck out there in center field, this light would be redder than Elmo, dropped in a bucket of paint, riding a fire truck, during La Tomatina. Since it's the well-regarded outfield prospect with no injury history, the light is green.

Red light RF Jermaine Dye: Dye does not have a good history. There are the little nagging injuries here and there, that awful leg fracture, and now an off-season surgery to fix a hernia problem. On the other hand, his 2005 was pretty healthy. Maybe that means that he's turned over a new leaf, and that he'll have a couple seasons like his very strong 1999 and 2000 campaigns?

Red light DH Jim Thome: The elbow should be fixed, but a back injury in a power hitter is what scares us. Thome amply justifies our concern with his .207/.360/.352 line in 242 plate appearances last year. He should get some credit in the system for moving to DH, and we should note that other players with non-surgical back problems have had strong results by losing weight and adopting serious exercise programs. Vladimir Guererro and Ivan Rodriguez could point the way for a triumphant return by Thome.

Green lightSP Mark Buehrle: Three straight years with at least 230 IP; five straight years with at least 221 IP. That's about as good as it gets in terms of tipping us off to a pitcher with a clean bill of health.

Green lightSP Freddy Garcia: Five straight years with at least 201 IP. Another easy greenie.

Yellow light SP Javier Vazquez: Beyond his little case of the Whitsons, we think Vazquez's workload in Montreal is to blame for his hideous second-half in NY in 2004. His peripherals improved substantially in 2005, and Arizona's ballpark is largely to blame for that not showing up more substantially in his ERA. Still, considering all that abuse and the fact that he's not getting any younger, we have to flash a yellow light here.

Red light SP Jose Contreras: Yeah, he tossed 204.2 IP in 2005, but he has a history of nagging problems, his walk totals give us reason to worry about his arm's reliability as well as his control, and we were never totally sold on his age. Add in all that inconsistency while he was with the Yankees, and we're not convinced Contreras can repeat his 2005 and stay off of the DL.

Green light SP Jon Garland: He has a long history of fairly good health, but nobody's sure he can repeat that 3.50 ERA.

Red light CL Bobby Jenks: Jenks's 2005 is a great story, but we're not convinced that the sequel will be a winner. This kid was waiver wire bait for a reason: his control in the minor leagues was Nook LaLoosh-bad, he had arm problems, homeboy never saw a hamburger he couldn't disappear, and he had a history of ridiculously immature antics too numerous and disgusting to list. Jenks is out of shape, has a history of severe control problems (on the field and off), and is being asked to step up in crucial game situations under tremendous pressure. It's a recipe for injury, and his hot hot heat doesn't change things.

--

When we looked at this team last year, we really missed the boat. Partly this was because we didn't see the cracks in Minnesota's foundation going as deeply as they did, partly it was because we didn't expect Chicago's defense to be as good as it was, partly it was because we didn't really predict the Chicago pitching to be so strong, but maybe a good part of our miscalculation was that we didn't predict that the 2005 squad would be so healthy. The 2005 Chicago White Sox were close to being one of the very best teams in terms of days lost to the DL, and of the injuries they did have, few were all that severe. Orlando Hernandez's injuries didn't put them into much of a bind because Brandon McCarthy was ready to play. The only situation that truly hurt their Win-Loss record was the loss of Frank Thomas for most of the year, but the White Sox brain trust knew not to expect too much from Big Hurt before the season started (see BP2006 for my essay, "Injury Accounting," which explains how the Win-Loss impact of an injury can be calculated).

So maybe the question to ask about the 2006 White Sox isn't "Can this pitching staff repeat?" or "Will the defense be awesome again?" but is instead something like, "Can these guys again avoid all those little injuries that rough up most teams?" Looking at this Team Health Report the tentative answer has to be "unlikely." The yellow and red warnings on Konerko and Thome are legitimate and if either player is injured next year it would dramatically sabotage this team's offense. Dye is not a good health bet, Podsednik is ailing and, let's be honest, pitchers get hurt.

Now sure, manager Ozzie Guillen and pitching coach Don Cooper are very good about keeping their pitchers away from high stress outings (only one start by a White Sock last year went more than 121 pitches). That may help (especially with Javier Vazquez) but the fact that the White Sox only had one player from their Opening Day starting rotation go down is still a matter of good luck more than anything else. Remember that since the beginning of 2000 only eight teams have gone a whole season with six or fewer starters. The chance of the White Sox repeating this feat is unlikely, even with managed workloads.

We're not saying things will go wrong. Head Athletic Trainer Herm Schneider has a good reputation, and his numbers in terms of keeping his team on the field last year were great. We just see a lot of risk, and we think it's one more way to analyze the team's chances in 2006.

Related Content:  Year Of The Injury,  History

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