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February 20, 2008

Team Health Reports

Boston Red Sox

by Will Carroll

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The Facts
Head Trainer: Paul Lessard
Player Days Lost: 500
Dollars Lost, 2007: $15.3 million
Three-Year Rank: 9

Force plate biomechanical analysis. Closed-chain isokinetic baselines. There are a lot of big words and big concepts you'll hear out of the Red Sox training room, but in the end, the system relies on the hands and minds of Paul Lessard and Mike Reinold. Yes, the medical staff is as data-driven and information-based as every other element of operations in the Red Sox organization, but there's as much art as science in modern sports medicine. Machines don't feel the slight differences in strength between innings that the team measures in its starters. Machines aren't spending off-season hours monitoring the progress of their pitchers, re-designing workouts designed to change October outcomes with work in January. While the Sox have often done some things well--they've been on the cutting edge of surgeries for years, and for much of the decade they've had a decided advantage in returning players from injury, something that's continued through this new staff--they now do almost everything well.

Some might call the task of trying to keep a veteran team with this type of makeup Sisyphean, but even if that's so, the Sox medical staff is taking a more existential view. The injury to Curt Schilling is the type of risk-reward scenario with upside that the Sox's medical skills allow for, rather than an indictment of their decision-making process. It's one thing for a team to take on a Mark Prior-type rehab or to bring in a series of cheap but fragile starters, as the Marlins and Nats have done. The Sox are taking a very different tack, which they can afford because of their financial and medical advantages.

The Big Question
The Bloggers from Over The Monster ask: "How will Curt Schilling hold up in 2008 after only being healthy enough to make 24 starts in '07?"

Apparently, not well. This question was asked back in early January, so it remains valid. While the Sox would much rather have had Schilling for the entire season, it was never clear that he was going to be anything more than what he was giving the team at the end of last season. That wasn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it wasn't dominant either. Schilling was in the midst of adjusting his pitch selections and style more than he was making mechanical adjustments. In fact, Schilling doesn't believe mechanical adjustments are even possible for most pitchers. Now Schilling becomes this year's version of Pedro Martinez, where getting Schilling back later is now both a bonus and something of a hedge against overtaxing Lester and Buchholz.

I'm not insulting anyone by calling athletic trainers artisans, but with the integration of advanced concepts, the Red Sox's trainers might be the closest to scientists in all of baseball. They'll continue to push the leading edge when it comes to techniques and tools. Whether they can continue to see improvement in their results will determine whether or not they end up a dynasty.

C Jason Varitek Yellow light: He's older and a catcher, so this is actually a relatively positive rating. Getting his games behind the plate down near 110 would be a big help, but his hasn't been as bad a long-term contract as I initially expected.

1B Kevin Youkilis Yellow light: Bald. Jewish. Great goatee. Easy name for the drunks to yell at Fenway. What's not to like? The wrist injury, which could sap some power, but that's really about it.

2B Dustin Pedroia Yellow light: Pedroia played with a broken wrist, but these types of injuries tend to sap some power the following year. Of course, he had a bit of a power surge during the playoffs, and that was after the wrist was already broken. He likes proving scouts wrong, so maybe he likes making medheads look bad too.

3B Mike Lowell Yellow light: The system just freaks out with Lowell. On one hand, he's never had serious injuries, but on the other, he's aging and has some inconsistent performance in his five-year record. I think the yellow acknowledges more of the uncertainty than the injury risk. (Cancer is not an injury.)

SS Julio Lugo Green light

LF Manny Ramirez Yellow light: The system doesn't know that Manny got religion on workouts this winter, spending time at Athletes Performance Institute in Phoenix. This is a dangerous comparison, but look at Barry Bonds' 1999 and Manny's 2007. I don't think the knee will be a real problem for a couple years, at least.

CF Jacoby Ellsbury Red light: Young speed players are risky. One wrong move sprains an ankle, and one bad acceleration pops a hamstring. The young women of Red Sox Nation may have to hold their collective breath.

RF J.D. Drew Red light: Drew's injury troubles seem directly related to his comfort level. I'd guess he'll feel a bit more comfortable in Boston in his second season, though splitting some time with Coco Crisp or... hey wait, there's not much outfield depth here. Yikes.

DH David Ortiz Yellow light: Ortiz had off-season surgery to clean up his knee. His size and age, combined with the start of leg problems, are likely to slow him down a bit, sapping some of his tremendous power. He's getting risky, but the upside is still tremendous.

SP Josh Beckett Green light

SP Daisuke Matsuzaka Green light: Don't give me that look. He's green.

SP Tim Wakefield Yellow light: Even knuckleballs can't dance around age forever; Wakefield's muscular problems are making it tougher for him to recover. The interesting thing is that he's throwing more fastballs these days. I have no idea what that means.

SP Jon Lester Yellow light: Lester beat cancer, so you think a little yellow light bothers him?

SP Clay Buchholz Red light: No, I won't take the easy red "win" for Curt Schilling, disappointingly sidelined for the first portion of the season. Instead, Buchholz steps into the fifth slot. This red is a little deceptive, in that it assumes that Buchholz will be asked to make 30 starts. The Red Sox have shown they simply won't do that, whether Schilling comes back or not. Buchholz isn't as risky as this would seem.

CL Jonathan Papelbon Yellow light: Papelbon held up better in his second year as closer than he did in his first. There's little reason to think that another year in the role won't help even more, but the shoulder is a fragile thing. He'll be monitored closely again, and the risk that he's shut down as a precaution plays into his getting a yellow.

RP Hideki Okajima Yellow light: A pretty heavy workload for a "rookie" looks bad to the system. If I make his Japanese stats count, then he's still yellow, but just barely, bordering on lemon-lime.

NOTE: The Red Sox and White Sox were accidentally swapped in running order. Since the Team Health Reports are being run in order of finish for the 2007 Dick Martin Award, it's important to point this out.

Lineups courtesy SportsBlogs Nation.

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Premium Article Future Shock: Cardinal... (02/19)
<< Previous Column
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Fantasy Article Team Health Reports: T... (02/21)
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Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Collapse... (02/20)

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