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March 17, 2008

Team Health Reports

Detroit Tigers

by Will Carroll

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The Facts
Head Trainer: Kevin Rand
Player Days Lost: 1,175
Total Dollars Lost: $9.68 million
Three-Year Rank: 22

Finding Detroit rated this low seems kind of an oddball, down here in the land of the non-contenders (health division). Hearing that Kansas City or Washington ended up with a bunch of DL days doesn't surprise many people, but the Tigers? That just doesn't seem possible. Kevin Rand is very well thought of, and their strength and conditioning program is considered one of the most progressive (especially in the minor leagues), but much like the Angels or Cardinals, there's an all-or-nothing quality to the health of the Tigers.

It must be noted that three players--Roman Colon, Tony Giarratano, and Edward Campusano--a group that sounds more like the Three Tenors than three injured Tigers--each accounted for 'max loss' days, which was 184 last season. However, even if those three could or should be taken out, the team took a load of injuries to their pitching staff. Joel Zumaya's might be the best known, but problems with Kenny Rogers in the first half and Jeremy Bonderman in the second could easily be the difference between winning and losing in the AL Central. A repeat performance in the trainer's room needs to be avoided, but the team is struck already with Joel Zumaya's freak shoulder injury and a continuation of Fernando Rodney's struggles with shoulder soreness.

The Tigers' shift to a three-man training staff should help, but more than any other single factor, their hopes this season depend on the health of Jeremy Bonderman. I'm encouraged by the way the staff--field and medical--worked together to keep Justin Verlander from being overworked in his post-playoff season, something I wasn't sure that an old-school guy like Jim Leyland would deal with well. Bonderman has been handled "by the book" up to this point, making many wonder that if he breaks down, is it simply the heavy workload below the injury nexus of 24, or is it just the fates handing down another injury that couldn't be helped? Scouts versus stats might still be a bit of a fight, but the old and new schools of pitching management might have their best pitched battle at Comerica Park this summer.

The Big Question
The bloggers at Bless You Boys ask: "Will playing first base really be easier on Carlos Guillen's knees than shortstop, as the conventional wisdom seems to dictate?"

Beyond the normal quote I'll give about the increased risk of injury in the first month of a player's position switch (which should be happening in spring training, no?), the problem for Guillen isn't so much the moving as it is the starting, stopping, and standing. Those are the things that bother degenerative knee conditions, where the loss of cushioning and normal articulation make being a biped such a challenge. Guillen will still be doing all those things, maybe more, at first base; the standing will be the same, to be sure, but the stopping and starting is a bit harder to judge. I pulled out some old baseball videos I had and tried to figure out if the longer runs that a shortstop makes are any harder on knees, but the way baseball is televised didn't help. Going to one of my doctors did: "The forces are more for a long run, but the start isn't. A first step is a first step. Add in the footwork at the bag, and I'm just not sure there's much gain." So, the answer remains 'maybe.' Edgar Renteria is certainly a more credible defensive presence, making the injury aspects of the shift less important.

C Ivan Rodriguez Yellow light: Already an outlier in terms of evaluating catchers throughout history, Rodriguez continues to be among the most durable in the history of his position at his age. He doesn't look much different at 36 than he did at 20, and not visibly showing the wear and tear of 2,000-plus games caught. It's a bit of a concern that he doesn't have a real backup, but he's always managed a heavy workload well.

1B Carlos Guillen Red light: See today's Big Question.

2B Placido Polanco Green light

SS Edgar Renteria Green light

3B Miguel Cabrera Green light

LF Jacque Jones Yellow light: Jones rates only this slight yellow if he's a full-time player. Since he was last season, that's how the system looks at him, but if he's in a platoon, all of his issues become less prominent and he earns a green, like so many others on this team.

CF Curtis Granderson Green light

RF Magglio Ordonez Green light

DH Gary Sheffield Red light: Sheffield is coming off surgery and again will have a chip on that repaired shoulder, as he's forced to prove himself yet again. He plays well angry, rehabs well, and even pushing 40, he's still got that fast bat. He should be healthy enough to hit his 500th home run this season, but I'm not sure how many more than that he'll get. The interesting thing is that absent that one crazy season, Sheffield and Barry Bonds are so comparable.

SP Justin Verlander Yellow light: How the Tigers handled Verlander last year was brilliant. In what could have been a problematic post-playoff season Verlander was more efficient and his workload was limited where possible. I'm convinced there's something in his college career that would provide the key to why he held up so well, but I'm still trying to figure out how to judge workload increases in the minors.

SP Kenny Rogers Red light: The blood clot shouldn't come back, but at 43, Rogers' elbow obviously has a lot of mileage on it.

SP Jeremy Bonderman Red light: The key to the Tigers' hopes this year, at least for me. If he's healthy and effective, they'll be alright, but after their trades, there's really no depth in the organization. If Bonderman's elbow doesn't hold together, all the precautions the Tigers have taken with him will be shattered by a nevertheless heavy pre-nexus workload.

SP Dontrelle Willis Yellow light: Willis' odd motion has been used as a knock against him, but while the high leg kick isn't "normal," his delivery has never appeared unsound. It's impossible to know, of course, without evidence of what kind of joint loads he creates. To me, the bigger issue is that the effort that leg kick takes and the control necessary to hold together all the moving parts of his delivery not only can get out of whack, but that effort likely leads to his fatigue in the late season. That doesn't mean I'd change it.

SP Nate Robertson Green light

CL Todd Jones Green light

RP Fernando Rodney Yellow light: Rodney is just two percentage points from grading as a red and, given his continued problems during this camp, it appears the shoulder issue probably should have been rated more strongly against him. Rodney without his heat is just another anonymous reliever.

Lineups courtesy SportsBlogs Nation.

Related Content:  Fernando Rodney

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