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February 12, 2008

Team Health Reports

San Francisco Giants

by Will Carroll

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The Facts
Head Trainer: Dave Groeschner
Player Days Lost: 377
Dollars Lost, 2007: $2.1 million
Three Year Rank: 8

Dave Groeschner will never say it out loud, but the record is his. Barry Bonds, over much of his Giants career, spent as much time in the training room at AT&T Park as he spent on the field, if not more. When Stan Conte left, Bonds was left in Groeschner's care. Groeschner was a longtime assistant leaving a bad episode with the Cubs behind him. Keeping Bonds both on the field and effective is perhaps the most visible thing Groeschner and his staff achieved, but the overall numbers are pretty astounding. No team had a lower total of days lost to the DL, a far cry from previous years where big injuries inflated the totals of a well-respected staff. The three-year rank is even more impressive, given that they lost nearly a full season from Barry Bonds and lost Jason Schmidt for a significant portion of his last two seasons there.

If a medical staff's goal is to keep the best talent on the field as much as possible, then no team has ever done that quite as well as the Giants in 2007. The problem is that most of the talent wasn't really that good to start off with. Juggling older players like Bonds, Ray Durham, Dave Roberts, and Bengie Molina is pretty tough, but to that, the Giants had the added challenge of a young pitching staff as well. This year, the club will ask its training staff to do just as much, bringing in Aaron Rowand to test their fences while maintaining that mix of very young and very old players. Considering the magnitude of the challenge, last year's 377 days lost is stunningly low. If Groeschner, Dr. Ken Akizuki, and the rest of their crew can even come close to last year's results in terms of keeping their players in action, the team would do well to add their medical staff to their list of long-term deals.

The Big Question
The bloggers from McCovey Chronicles ask: "Is Noah Lowry's declining strikeout rate tied to his health, and can the Giants expect a return to his rookie form if he's healthy?" This question could be asked about a lot of pitchers. "If X is healthy, will he be better in 2008?" Well, of course he would be. In this case, the specific pitcher has a known problem (bone spurs, which have led to fatigue and muscle strain below his elbow) that hasn't been deemed serious enough to fix surgically. It's a conundrum for medical staffs and fans: conservative treatment is almost always the way to go, avoiding surgery until there's simply no other option, while the fan base says "oh, he's been out this long and they knew he was going to need surgery." Except that they didn't know. Lowry's problem is one that may resurface, but the Giants currently believe that the rehab and treatment can keep him effective. A healthy Lowry would be better, no doubt, but we just don't know at this stage whether he can be.

C Bengie Molina Red light: With as many games as he's played at catcher, the odds are that he'll break down. There's an old baseball wives' tale that 1000 games caught is some kind of Line of Doom. This particular Molina has his toes on that line.

1B Dan Ortmeier Green light

2B Ray Durham Red light: We should just accept that he's going to miss a couple weeks a year with some sort of leg injury.

SS Omar Vizquel Red light: Vizquel hasn't aged normally, so pinning him down actuarially is probably not the best way to do it. Still, the speed and range are declining, and the injury that tips him back into his proper age bracket might be just around the corner.

3B Kevin Frandsen Yellow light: Frandsen is stuck at third base by default. This rating is actually for his more natural position at second base, taking away the position change adjustment. I think that if he ends up as the team's real regular at the hot corner, he'll be very, very risky in the first month of the season. And before you ask, Joe Crede would be red.

LF Dave Roberts Red light: See Durham, Ray. The quad injury is much more a matter of concern than the elbow surgery that really cost him at the plate.

CF Aaron Rowand Red light: The walls in AT&T Park are brick. Honestly, I wonder if the chain fence in right is enough to keep a reckless Rowand from bursting through it, through the crowd gazing onto the field, and straight into McCovey Cove. I'd have no idea how to write that up in UTK, and would just have to link to the video.

RF Randy Winn Yellow light: He's at the age where his nicks and bumps will begin to get worse, taking more out of him than he can afford to lose. He's not exceptionally risky until he has a bigger injury, but once that tips him over, you don't want to be around.

SP Matt Cain Red light: I don't like this red, but I can't ignore the system completely, the way you should Cain's W-L record. The parallels to Jeremy Bonderman worry me more than anything I see in his mechanics.

SP Tim Lincecum Yellow light: Lincecum is such an outlier that ratings are folly. His mechanics are fine, aside from that inexplicable back arch in his delivery. Everything else about it has some purpose in that violent yet beautiful motion ... except the arch. I worry that as he ages and fills out, he'll lose some flexibility, changing things just enough. He could adjust, I think, but the smallest problem could derail him. He's a Lamborghini, not a Ferrari.

SP Barry Zito Green light: Say what you will about his 2007. The fact that he stays healthy gives him the chance to come back.

SP Noah Lowry Red light: Lowry's bone chips remain in his arm and remain a big problem; we'll see if leaving them in was the right decision. His early spring work will be watched very closely, since he's a possible bargaining chip in a trade.

SP Kevin Correia Green light

CL Brian Wilson Yellow light: Wilson never really showed the symptoms of his early "triceps strain," but real or not, that result plus some bad luck and an appendectomy limited Wilson to only a late-season cameo. He hasn't proven he can stay healthy or pitch well in the closer role.

RP Tyler Walker Yellow light: He's coming back from Tommy John surgery, but reports had him throwing late last year with the same funky motion. It's part of his deception, but also one of the reasons he's never been healthy. Maybe the rehab strengthened him just enough to survive.

Projected lineups courtesy of SportsBlogs Nation.

Related Content:  Year Of The Injury

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