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February 20, 2007

Positional Health Reports

Shortstops

by Will Carroll

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As I do the calculations to come up with the ratings here--and let me make no secret about the fact that these are very simple operations, not a complex PECOTA-like act of creation--it's the results for shortstops that come out looking the most odd. Three blue ratings (one standard deviation below the positional median) and a lot of greens make it appear as if this is one of the safer positions. In fact, it's one of the riskiest. The baseline is higher here than at third base, for instance, for equivalent ages. The difference comes in the broad ranges of risk; players at shortstop tend to be either very healthy and durable or Xzibit-class busted. It's nearly binary, a one or the other-ness that you don't find at other positions.

I spoke to several knowledgeable baseball people seeking guidance on this--doctors, front office people, and scouts--and no one seemed to have any clue as to the whys of it. Since we don't have much historical data to go on, we're left with theories. Is it a unique mix of shortstop types, or an effect of the post-Ripken power and size explosion? Everything's in play here, as we look at what we know in hopes of not being burned too much by injury while we look for more facts.

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.

Miguel Tejada Blue light: If every visiting shortstop will just take a little bit of the Camden dirt and rub it all over themselves, I'll be able to test a theory on why Orioles shortstops are über-durable. Tejada, like Ripken, may play through injuries more than he should, costing himself some productivity on offense and defense by eschewing rest. All but traded at the All-Star Break, Tejada's now expected to be the cornerstone of an improving O's offense. Can you blame Baltimore? You might as well build a team around someone who'll be there every day.

Derek Jeter Blue light: He's Mr. Everything for the Yankees, the iconic player that they have once a generation. His presence in nearly every major play during the Yankees' run of excellence is a product of his being healthy for nearly every major play. He's never had an injury that "ages" him, and his one period of extended DL time was on a fluke play (Ken Huckaby dropping on his shoulder at third.) Even then, he came back ahead of schedule and with no problems.

Jhonny Peralta Yellow light: He's much bigger in person than you'd expect. Is he like his teammate C.C. Sabathia, a guy who's just big but can carry it, or is he more like, well, you and me, carrying around a bit too much weight for his own good? The mixed bag of defensive ratings suggests things are better than the scouts believe. Like most things, the truth is probably somewhere in between.

Carlos Guillen Red light: Remember when Guillen was almost traded for Omar Vizquel? It was Vizquel that failed the physical. Aside from Guillen's ACL injury, it's interesting to think how that deal might have played out for both sides. Guillen's shift to first base last season suggests that Jim Leyland realizes that Guillen needs help. A move to second is probably not enough, though swapping Guillen and Inge would be an interesting experiment.

Bobby Crosby Red light: Crosby complained loudly about the missed diagnosis that contributed to his problems last season. Make no mistake, the final, correct diagnosis was a tough one, and there's a big difference between a misdiagnosis and a missed diagnosis. Crosby's back problems are likely to linger through the start of the season, but since it was a fracture, it's not as likely to become chronic. Even so, Crosby's not exactly the healthiest player, and any lingering bitterness or loss of communication with the medical staff won't help. I'm going to go out on a limb and say his hamstrings or obliques will plague him this season.

Michael Young Blue light: Look, make fun of the vagaries of scouting all you want. Guys like Michael Young will toss it right back in your face. Young's numbers don't look special, but ask anyone in the game--especially his teammates--and they'll tell you that Young has "it." Part of that "it" is a work ethic that's kept him in shape and healthy during his Rangers tenure.

Jose Reyes Yellow light: The shadow of his past hamstring problems still colors Reyes' health projection. He's starting to get enough distance from it, and he's demonstrating enough skills beyond his speed that he could survive something short of a devastating problem. One very positive sign is that he's not developed related back or knee problems. Staying healthy is the only thing between him and a long string of All-Star and playoff appearances.

Cristian Guzman Red light: Anything I say here is just going to come off as mean. He's had his torn labrum fixed, and there's really no one else challenging him for the starting slot, so if he's not healthy, the alternatives are actually worse.

Hanley Ramirez Yellow light: Players like Ramirez get dinged by the system for being freaks. So fast that a leg injury could derail them, but not reliant on speed for their game, the adjustment the system makes is probably too harsh for Ramirez when it's designed to show how risky Jose Reyes is. Ramirez's comps are amazing, making me wonder whether you'd rather have the left side of the Mets, Marlins, or Yankees' infield over the next five years, assuming that they all stay healthy.

Cesar Izturis Red light: Izturis came to the Cubs on the heels of returning from a Tommy John surgery, only to end the season on the shelf. He's essentially missed two seasons and has a history of hamstring problems, making any advantage from his age largely moot. He'd be better in some kind of platoon, playing behind groundball pitchers.

J.J. Hardy Red light: J.J. Hardy hasn't been healthy in a long time. Whether it was last year's brutal ankle injury--one that could impact both his speed and his range--or his history of Richie Sexson-style shoulder problems, he always seems to break down. He did stay healthy during the latter part of 2005, and showed why he keeps getting chances. Watch his range in spring, though early reports are good.

Khalil Greene Red light: He misses about 30 games a year with what seem to be fluky injuries. At what point do a series of fluke traumas become pattern and not just an isolated event? The injuries have marred his development, and entering his arb years, he'll have less room for poor performance. There's not much behind him, but the Pads could be creative if Greene continues to slide or he comes up lame again this season.

Stephen Drew Green light: Stephen Drew is something of a test case. He's hardly the first brother to come to the major leagues, but he is one of the first that came nearly a decade after his sibling. J.D. Drew has given us a lot to go on in terms of injuries in that time, while Tim burned out much more quickly. There's always been suspicion that genetics is a contributing factor to injury risk, and many will be watching Stephen to see if he makes or breaks the theory.

Omar Vizquel Red light: I was walking through the halls at Bristol (the same one you see in the Eli and Peyton Manning ads from last season) when a guy walked past me wearing a powder-blue suit with wide lapels. I mean, 70's-tux powder blue. Big knot on his tie and actual spats on his shoes. It's the type of sartorial ridiculousness reserved for sublime athletes. Yes, Vizquel may be the baseball version of Michael Irvin, at least as far as being a fashion plate. He's red-lighted because of his age, but as durable as he's been, I don't think it's accurate for him.

Rafael Furcal Green light: He's avoided the shoulder and leg problems that were so worrisome early in his career while building a broader skill set than he had in his early speedster days. Both of those facts help explain the green. He has plenty of speed now to allow for an inevitable decline. He's got a really odd bunch of comps as well, which offer no guidance to me on how well he'll age.

Also Green light:

Julio Lugo
Royce Clayton
Ben Zobrist
Juan Uribe
Jason Bartlett
Yuniesky Betancourt
Orlando Cabrera
Edgar Renteria
Jimmy Rollins
David Eckstein
Adam Everett
Jack Wilson
Alex Gonzalez
Troy Tulowitzki

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