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February 23, 2007

Positional Health Reports

Starting Pitchers, Part Two

by Will Carroll

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There's no real need for much of an intro here, but if you really need one, just check out yesterday's. What holds true for the Ones and Twos in major league rotations is true for the Threes, Fours, and Fives. About all that's different for them in many cases is health; there's a lot of guys on this list just as talented as the guys from yesterday. What's often keeping them from making that jump is health, and the reliability that goes with it. The ace needs to be the guy who can be relied to take the ball every single time, to never miss a start, to take the ball on short rest, and to lead the staff by example. By definition, major league pitchers are talented, so don't take being a Five as any slight on their talent. It's just a slot, and often means very, very little.

Normal risk is Green light, elevated risk is Yellow light, and high risk is Red light. For more on the system, please check out the introduction.

Daniel Cabrera Red light: Early on, Cabrera didn't seem to absorb any of the magical pixie dust that Leo Mazzone was supposed to bring along. Mazzone's methods don't seem to have a middle ground; pitchers love them or hate them. I worry that Cabera's resistance is going to make him into one of the non-success stories.

Daisuke Matsuzaka Yellow light: All that matters is whether Matsuzaka can adjust from the six-man rotation to the five-man. No one's expecting him to complete every game, so the workload adjustment should be small. He's had no real elbow or shoulder problems in the last three years, proof that the injury nexus translates well across the Pacific.

Andy Pettitte Red light: Has anyone noticed that during his three-year Texan exile, Petitte was really only healthy for one of those years? He's not the #2 he once was, so the short duration of this contract tells me that the Yankees noticed.

Gustavo Chacin Red light: I still can't hear his name without thinking of the cologne tie-in possibilities: "Shhhhhah-SEEN!" the breathy model whispers. Given his elbow problems over the past couple years, Chacin's more likely going to be scenting "Sssssurge-ery!"

Jon Garland Blue light: As the Sox remake their rotation on the fly, no one seems to be noticing that Garland is the cornerstone of the rebuilding program. Garland may not be the most talented of the bunch, but he is the mostly likely to stay good and reliably take his turn until the more talented young ones are ready to come up and take his title.

Matt Garza Yellow light: For a young pitcher, Garza's not that risky. None of the people I spoke to seem very concerned about his mechanics or effort. His upside might be limited, but thinking that he could end up like the guy just above him on this list isn't without merit.

Brian Bannister Yellow light: Bannister looked to be a breakout candidate by some for the Mets, but a brutal hamstring strain that cost him most of the season. Exiled to KC, he's just another guy with a chance at making the rotation.

Kenny Rogers Yellow light: Rogers has been consistent over the last decade, but at some point time catches up. He's made 30 or more starts every year since 2002, so there's no reason to think he won't do it again--except for maybe going deep into the playoffs.

Brandon McCarthy Yellow light: McCarthy shouldn't have much trouble shifting into the rotation, though his innings will surely jump past the "safe" levels. He threw more than 170 in 2005 without problem, so keeping him in that range (or anything short of 200) should be solid.

Mike Hampton Red light: What hasn't been wrong with Hampton? You could say that it's the worst of cascading injuries--knee, back, elbow--and that there's nothing left to go wrong. That's possible, but find me someone who's had all this, lost the better part of the two years to injury, and come back well.

Oliver Perez Yellow light: The mechanical changes made in just the short time Perez worked with Rick Peterson were unbelieveable. For a guy who seemed content to cash checks in Triple-A to suddenly--and I do mean suddenly--seem like he got it again is either a huge fluke, or proof that Peterson's just that good. We'll see. His rating is a bit off, mostly due to his up and down performance, which the system mistakes for an injury.

Anibal Sanchez Red light: The shoulder problems after the season are definitely concerning. While everyone was focused on the Girardi soap opera, no one noticed that the team's pitching staff really hit a wall in September. I don't do a lot with minor league numbers, so take this with a grain of salt--Sanchez went from 136 innings in Single- and Double-A in 2005 to 200 between Double-A and the majors last year. If there's a positive, it's that he was very efficient in his starts.

Anthony Reyes Green light: If this is how Tom House "ruins" pitchers, I'm sure the Cards would like to have a couple more guys so similarly ruined. Reyes looks to be extremely durable. Keep an eye on his shoulder, though--he has the tendency to let it drop. He not only loses control doing that, he puts more pressure on the joint.

Paul Maholm Yellow light: Another young Pirate lefty, Maholm probably has the worst stuff of the bunch. That's not to say he's not good, but he throws with as much effort as Ian Snell, but without the heat.

Eric Milton Red light: Scene: Milton enters a smoky room. There's a man with a cigar and a laptop sitting at the far end. Milton walks with a limp and stands across the table from him.
"What have you got for me?" Milton asks.
"This isn't going to go well for you," I say.

Livan Hernandez Yellow light: Forget trying to project Livan. He's an anomaly, a throwback "coaster" who pitches to the situation. This yellow is just wrong.

Matt Morris Yellow light: He's kind of a miracle. Despite two of the worst injuries a pitcher can have (both Tommy John and a rotator cuff), he's thrown in the range of 200 innings four of the last five seasons. He pitched the last month of the season with broken ribs, so basically he's Chuck Norris with a changeup.

Rodrigo Lopez Yellow light: You know, I'm not sure the adjustment that I give Colorado pitchers isn't wrong. For the most part, their pitch counts were down, and the Rockies seem to have a handle on developing pitchers to succeed in Coors. That said, Lopez is risky anywhere, and just short of red.

Brad Penny Red light: Penny's almost collapsed the past few season with varying shoulder problems. Now he also has to deal with the post-Alyssa Milano Curse; you saw what happened to Carl Pavano.

Jaret Wright Red light: If a reunion with Mazzone helps, well, add another line on Mazzone's resume. To me, Wright is a reminder of how quickly a can't-miss guy can go bad if he's not handled properly.

Tim Wakefield Yellow light: Admittedly, the system doesn't know he's a knuckleballer, but it does know that a broken rib is a broken rib. Wakefield's very odd problem was the first serious health issue of his career.

Kei Igawa Red light: Igawa not only has to deal with the culture shock, his stuff has been dropping while in Japan. He's gone from being a strikeout leader to an innings eater in the space of a couple years, something that strongly suggests shoulder soreness.

John Thomson Red light: He gets around. Teams must not notice that he's never healthy in the previous stop. Brad Arnsberg is going to have to get him back to a reasonable delivery; he's been horribly messed up since he hurt his finger, resulting in the labrum tear.

Scott Elarton Red light: He's coming back from rotator cuff surgery. If his velocity comes back, he could be mediocre.

Paul Byrd Red light: Byrd pitched the first half like a guy with elbow problems, but he pulled it together in the second half, and the Indians handle pitchers well. This is a low red, but keep very close eye on his control in the spring.

Horacio Ramirez Red light: Last year was lost to a series of injuries, and he's only been healthy two out of the last five years. Ramirez hasn't had control since shortly after his elbow surgery, making me wonder if that's one reason he's so wild.

Kelvim Escobar Yellow light: Escobar had his regular recurrence of bone spurs about a year ahead of schedule. While it's not a big deal for 2007, I wouldn't be surprised to see Escobar have problems towards the end of 2008.

Freddy Garcia Yellow light: Is it more important that he moved to the NL or that he's in a bandbox? I'd guess the former, since US Cellular is pretty homer friendly, and not just if your last name is Harrelson.

Jerome Williams Red light: He's still just 25, but that's really about all I can say positive about Williams at this stage. His conditioning has been abysmal, so maybe that can change for the better.

Josh Johnson Yellow light: Johnson starts the season with the same problem that kept him from qualifying for the ERA title. If it's just a muscular problem, then it shouldn't be back so quickly. If it's more, well, he's young.

Adam Wainwright Yellow light: Like Jonathon Papelbon, Wainwright will be shifting from closer to starter. Both have relative minor league success and durability, but beyond that, there's not much to go on. You can't have two more dissimilar pitchers, and comparing either to John Smoltz isn't apples to apples either. I think the guy with the big curve might have the tougher adjustment.

Wandy Rodriguez Yellow light: Like many of the Astros best young pitchers, Rodriguez hasn't established himself. Without Pettitte and Clemens, the extra slot is going to cause someone to be exposed. I'd bet Rodriguez breaks down if he stays up all season, but not sure he won't be knocked out of the rotation before that happens.

Tom Gorzelanny Yellow light: Scouts universally say he has the best stuff of the bunch of Bucs lefties, yet he's behind all of them on pitchability. His delivery tends to get wild when he gets tired, so watch his fatigue patterns closely.

Kyle Lohse Yellow light: Lohse in Cincinnati sounds pretty bad. He hurts himself when he overthrows, and he's going to get in situations where he might do that. He'd be better off figuring out a sinker.

David Wells Red light: You'll get a couple DL stints for his knee, his back, or who knows what else, but the rest of the year he'll be effective. Sure, that makes him red, but it doesn't make him a bad pitcher.

Doug Davis Yellow light: Is Davis still the 200-inning hurler who's somewhat better than league average that he's been the past couple years, or are all the reasons he ended up in Milwaukee to begin with still hanging around? I think Davis will be an interesting data point for how good pitching coach Mike Maddux is.

Josh Fogg Red light: It's hard to go to Colorado and get healthier. Fogg runs out of gas around the 150-inning mark, and hasn't figured out how efficiency might help. Colorado might help him, in that he's likely to not rack up as many innings, but that doesn't help the Rockies much.

Randy Wolf Yellow light: Wolf is coming off Tommy John, and looked solid in his partial season's work with the Phillies coming down the stretch. He fits the profile of guys who will get it back quickly, and return to his high level. Dodgers fans, get your masks, this was a steal of a deal by Ned Colletti.

Adam Loewen Yellow light: The Canadian doesn't have a lot of mileage on him, and the lack of experience shows. He's probably a year behind where Erik Bedard was at this age, but he projects for a major innings increase at 22. You see why I worry.

Jonathan Papelbon Red light: As with Wainwright, there's really not much to go on. Papelbon had no problems starting while coming up through the minors, but shoulder laxity doesn't mysteriously go away. If he can make it through 10 starts--or even just the spring--without problems, I'll feel a lot better. It's the adjustment that worries me more than the role.

Carl Pavano Red light: I've spent far too many keystrokes on him in the past.

Tomo Ohka Red light: Ohka didn't hit it rich in the crazy free agent market, taking a one-year deal with the Jays and hoping he can prove himself healthy. Cuff tears are tough to come back from, but this one is one of the smarter signings Ricciardi has made in a while. Ohka won't ever be an ace, but he's going to be great value.

Gavin Floyd Yellow light: If Don Cooper turns Gavin Floyd around, he'll be mentioned in the same breath with peers like Mazzone and Duncan. If not, well, the Sox have lots of other options.

Ramon Ortiz Yellow light: Rick Anderson is an unknown gem. He gets as little credit as any pitching coach, yet every player in Minnesota raves about him. In combination with Ron Gardenhire, Anderson's done some of the best work around in developing and handling pitchers. All that said, Ortiz is going to be one heck of a challenge.

Zach Greinke Red light: This one is purely speculative; I treated his personal leave like a broken bone. Let's hope it heals as completely. The risk remains there, so I'm comfortable with the red, since he's very likely to be all or nothing.

Mike Maroth Red light: Maroth had trouble coming back from bone chip removal, and that's a bit surprising since it's among the quickest returns for pitchers; he's red because of the slow recovery. The problem with durable, 200-inning guys is that they're only that until they're not.

Jered Weaver Yellow light: Weaver starts the year fighting off chronic tendonitis in his shoulder. He has a long, slinging motion that not only causes the tendonitis, it provides a lot of his effectiveness. I spoke with a doctor who thinks the real problem is with Weaver's scapula, but he thinks everything is scapula. Then again, he's usually right.

Cole Hamels Red light: Say all you want about his shoulder problems or his chronic back issues. He married the blonde on the left. I say he's red, and he's just pointing at the scoreboard.

Michael O'Connor Yellow light: Yes, he should be an easy red since he'll start the season recovering from elbow surgery, but I don't take the easy way out. He actually projects well, especially if he can stay in one role.

Ricky Nolasco Green light: Nolasco might be the fifth slot starter, or he could be the closer.

Mark Prior Red light: Do we have to start talking about Prior now? He's as healthy as he's been in years, and if his confidence is back, he can dominate with 85% of what he once had. Then again, he could break down again and make me look foolish for touting him.

Kip Wells Red light: That he's pitching at all is testament to how far we've come medically. That he's got Dave Duncan helping now might be much more telling than any rating I give him.

Brandon Backe Red light: Backe's making a quick comeback from Tommy John, but even so, he missed a couple months by trying to avoid it. Backe's a position convert, a group that doesn't have much success avoiding problems, even post-TJ.

Kirk Saarloos Yellow light: He's not the second coming of Bronson Arroyo. He's not even the second coming of Brandon Claussen. He's just another guy at the bottom of the Reds rotation who's got another chance to establish himself if he can stay healthy.

Russ Ortiz Yellow light: Pitchers like Russ Ortiz are like horror movie villains. They just keep showing up, never really dying until the credits roll.

Taylor Buchholz Yellow light: He failed a physical, or he would have been a White Sock. Instead, he's now a Rockie. If you're confused, so is everyone else. The Rox took on a known risk and have installed him in their rotation. When he breaks down, the other guy in the trade, Jason Hirsh, gets his slot.

Chad Billingsley Yellow light: Billingsley lost his command about the time he hurt his oblique. If that's all it is, great, but it profiles like he hurt his elbow. Watch his control in the spring.

NL Green light:

Jason Jennings, Astros
Claudio Vargas, Brewers
Dave Bush, Brewers
Jeff Suppan, Brewers
Ryan Franklin, Cardinals
Ted Lilly, Cubs
Rich Hill, Cubs
Jason Marquis, Cubs
Edgar Gonzalez, Diamondbacks
Noah Lowry, Giants
Scott Olsen, Marlins
John Maine, Mets
Billy Wagner, Mets
Tim Redding, Nationals
Shawn Hill, Nationals
Greg Maddux, Padres
Clay Hensley, Padres
Jon Lieber, Phillies
Jamie Moyer, Phillies
Ryan Madson, Phillies
Jeff Francis, Rockies

AL Green light:

Ervin Santana, Angels
Joe Blanton, Athletics
Esteban Loaiza, Athletics
Brad Halsey, Athletics
Jae Seo, Devil Rays
Edwin Jackson, Devil Rays
Jake Westbrook, Indians
Jeremy Sowers, Indians
Cliff Lee, Indians
Miguel Batista, Mariners
Jeff Weaver, Mariners
Kevin Millwood, Rangers
Edinson Volquez, Rangers
Vicente Padilla, Rangers
Robinson Tejeda, Rangers
Jorge De La Rosa, Royals
Boof Bonser, Twins
Javier Vazquez, White Sox

Related Content:  Back,  The Who,  Gustavo Cabrera,  Shoulder,  Elbow,  Year Of The Injury

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