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February 27, 2007

Positional Health Reports

Right Fielders

by Will Carroll

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If left field is where teams hide those dusty oldsters that still have hitting skills, right field might viewed as the opposite. Is the long throw to third really so valuable that you use a prime athletic talent in the outfield? As Nate Silver's recent flowchart showed, it's very rare to see players move from the outfield to anywhere aside from first base on occasion or the bench, but in many cases, these players did once have the kinds of skills to play more valuable defensive positions. Maybe they didn't have the hands to play third, or they play in parks where their speed is needed in a bigger outfield. Whatever the case, right field is among the healthiest positions, almost the opposite of its opposite over in left. That's in large part because of the current crop of players, however--the position itself is no more or no less risky than left, and the two have near identical baselines. But where left field is currently populated by a lot of those who can't, even the guys like that in right seem to have more left in the tank, and even the more injury-prone right fielders like J.D. Drew or Vladimir Guerrero still have something left.

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.

J.D. Drew Red light: We talked a bit about the raw deal he's gotten in comparison to Scott Rolen. Drew's been an easy target since people were throwing batteries at him in Philadelphia. Even I called him injury prone in my intro, but the fact is, he's adjusted well to his limitations. He's got some…unorthodox training methods, but what's unorthodox now might just be normal in a couple years, especially if Drew becomes a Red Sox hero. He's risky, but even after all these years and surgeries, the guy still has moments that make you say wow.

Alex Rios Green light: I'll be honest, I have no idea how or even if he'll be affected by the MRSA he was afflicted with last season. I hope the answer is that he won't be, but given the way he played after returning, there's a lot of concern. Rios is said to look okay down in Dunedin, but watch his early spring. It won't take too much to tell whether he's back to normal.

Delmon Young Green light: Although he won't wind up a starter coming out of camp, I note Delmon here only because he offers a new data point in the interesting study of baseball genetics. There have been tons of brother pairs and even whole branches of family trees in baseball. Does knowing that Dmitri Young stayed pretty healthy until he put on weight and started having hamstring and quad problems tell us anything about Delmon? I don't know yet.

Jermaine Dye Green light: Dye is one of those players I like to point to when people ask me if the injury-prone label can come off. It certainly can when a player doesn't lose his athletic ability, works hard, and has a great rehab team.

Trot Nixon Red light: Trot Nixon has had more things go wrong over the past couple seasons than Richard Nixon did in 1974. Trot can turn it around, especially if he platoons with Casey Blake. If Blake's at first and Nixon's asked to play full time, I don't think he can go much past the 110 or so games he played last year.

Jose Guillen Green light: This might be the worst green on the list. Guillen had offseason shoulder surgery in 2005, much like J.D. Drew, but his struggles never had the chance to come to the fore because he blew out his elbow. That injury probably masked a downturn, one that would have a much more negative impact on his rating. Position players recover well from Tommy John surgery, so ignore that and focus on whether his shoulder is healthy.

Vladimir Guerrero Red light: That he's just red is actually a great story. Ten years ago, a guy who had his type of back problems would likely be sitting on the beach, pointing to the big scar on his back and talking about how he used to have the best arm in the big leagues until that back injury got him. Instead, he's ambling about the Angels outfield and using his back to torque homers out of the yard. He looks so high effort, even constricted when running, which makes me wonder if a move to the DH slot isn't so far off.

Jeff Francoeur Blue light: No one talks about the fact that for all his flaws, he's still athletic and healthy, which gives him the chance to stay on the field and work on those very few things he doesn't do well. Now that Gabe Kapler is retired, Francouer is likely to be the new favorite ballplayer on MySpace.

Shawn Green Red light: The red here is a bit overblown, just barely into red territory thanks to viewing the power decline as an indication of injury that may not be the case. PECOTA sees the same thing, forecasting a high and increasing attrition rate. He might not be hurt, but he's played like it, and I'm not sure which is worse.

Austin Kearns Red light: At least he got the better of the collision with Nick Johnson; that might be the first "lucky" break he's received. Kearns is poised to have a big year batting cleanup and having no questions about where or how much he's going to play. The only question is if he can finally stay healthy enough to live up to his potential.

Jeremy Hermida Yellow light: Hermida's series of leg problems appear to be the result of a relatively normal gait problem. With orthotics this year, the problem shouldn't recur. That said, it's always easier to reinjure something than injure it in the first place. Speed isn't his top skill, but he stopped hitting when hurt, so there's still a result.

Geoff Jenkins Red light: Geoff Jenkins finished out the 2005 season with a broken pelvis. A broken pelvis, people! His power dropped last year, but it wasn't in sync with the theory that he was playing with a concussion after running into big Prince Fielder. The drop was happening before, and the Brewers certainly have their eyes on concussions. Jenkins simply appears to be following a normal aging curve.

Ryan Freel Yellow light: Freel's yellow, but Farney gets a red. His off-field habits haven't pushed into his playing time yet, and he's helped by the theory that he's a full time right fielder. Or maybe centerfielder. He'll have to be as healthy as ever to hit enough to make either label stick.

Andre Ethier Green light: Ethier claims now that he played the second half with a collarbone injury. That wasn't known until after this green was given, but I don't want to go back and change the rating now. The fact that we now know about this one is just proof that there are many more injuries that teams are trying to hide. Sometimes, they're successful.

Also Green light:

Carlos Quentin
Jacque Jones
Brad Hawpe
Corey Hart
Shane Victorino
Xavier Nady
Brian Giles
Randy Winn
Reggie Sanders
Juan Encarnacion
Nick Markakis
Magglio Ordonez
Michael Cuddyer
Bobby Abreu
Milton Bradley
Nelson Cruz
Jason Lane

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