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March 26, 2008

Team Health Reports

Kansas City Royals

by Will Carroll

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The Facts
Head Trainer: Nick Swartz
Player Days Lost: 1,383
Total Dollars Lost: $16.64 million
Three-Year Rank: 27

This isn't easy. All 30 teams find themselves somewhere on this list not because they have some fundamental flaw, because they're good people or bad people, or because they work more or less hard than anyone else. Every athletic trainer at every level is properly certified or licensed, beyond the very few who are not, but were grandfathered in because they're so good that no one notices. Whether someone comes up with results is the simple result of facts. Someday, five or ten or fifty years from now, I imagine that people will find it quaint that we talked about injuries in the simple terms used here. Days and dollars will be nothing compared to the percentage-based, medically-informed view that will come down the pike. Someday soon, we'll know available/not available numbers, extend injury information to the minor leagues, and see injuries stop being talked about as "just part of the game."

Just as the Royals once won division crowns and a World Series not that long ago, things seemed to be better medically not so long ago. Losing Ewing Kauffman didn't change things; David Glass' ownership isn't to blame here. The facts are just the facts, and for the last three- or five-year period, the Royals have simply been bad in this area. Nick Swartz, the long-time trainer who replaced another long-time trainer, Mickey Cobb, has overseen this slide. It took a number small, perhaps unnoticed steps to help bring the franchise to its knees; it will take many similar small steps going the other direction to build it back up again.

Recognizing that health is something that seemingly any team can decide to make better by making a small organizational commitment and an only slightly larger budgetary commitment makes it even more frustrating that a mid-market team would be on the trailing edge. The facts show that the Royals, among many other problems, still have this one to deal with. "One of these days I'm going to lay this hammer down," Steve Earle sings. Today is not that day.

The Big Question
The bloggers over at Royals Review ask: "The Zack Greinke leave of absence in 2006 and subsequent return remains one of the more unique "injury" stories of the last decade. Are most teams prepared to help players with mental illness, or are some still flat-footed?"

Of all the things I've learned in baseball, one of the most interesting is that teams actually do have programs set up, usually under the auspices of an Employee Assistance Program. Given the investment of time and money in these players, it's surprising that there's not even more of a support system built up. Taking a Dominican teenager or even a kid from a Division I college and sending him to Boise for the summer isn't exactly the easiest opening frame for their life in professional baseball. Certainly, there's more that could be done, but in the end, baseball teams are just businesses-small businesses, at least on the head count. Just as with any company, there are going to be people with problems, both physical and mental, things that happen at home, breaking up with a wife or girlfriend, drugs of the casual and performance-enhancing nature, and the tomfoolery of young men with too much free time and disposable income. Baseball is America, Ernie Harwell once said, and he was right, in both the good and the bad.

C John Buck Yellow light: Einstein proved that everything is relative, but his General Theory of Relativity never specifically mentions catchers. Buck is yellow, but only in that the baseline for the position puts him there to begin with, before any adjustments. In relative terms, he's a pretty good risk, and has the additional benefit of a solid backup.

1B Ross Gload Green light

2B Mark Grudzielanek Red light: Grudz's continued back issues were enough to convince Dayton Moore to get a backup for the guy with the bad back. It's already paying off, with Grudzielanek having had to head back to KC for tests before even making his spring debut.

SS Tony Peńa Jr. Green light

3B Alex Gordon Green light

LF Jose Guillen Red light: For no good reason, I always mix up Guillen and Juan Rivera. Guillen's red is based off his extensive shoulder surgery and the positional and organizational change. There's no adjustment here for his drug suspension.

CF David DeJesus Yellow light: DeJesus' yellow is the result of his playing style. One front office type actually compared him to David Eckstein, in that it seems that DeJesus is at max effort most of the time, needing every dive, every bounce off the wall, and every hard sprint to the bag to just be at this level. He's avoided any major injuries so far, but if one ever occurs, he doesn't seem to be the kind of player to have much in reserve.

RF Mark Teahen Yellow light: Teahen is only yellow by a smidge, largely due to his power outage being interpreted as fatigue by the system. Assuming it was just one of those things-and his spring performance has been solid-I'm not too concerned here.

DH Billy Butler Green light

SP Gil Meche Yellow light: Last season, Meche was finally consistent, the result of a minor mechanical change in how he landed. If that's all it was, the Mariners have to be kicking themselves, and the scout that saw it for Kansas City should get a year's supply of Opus X.

SP Brian Bannister Yellow light: I'm fully expecting him to send me a formula explaining why this rating is incorrect. After his massive hamstring problem a couple seasons back, no formula can convince me that he's not still risky.

SP Zack Greinke Red light: The system spits the bit on Greinke because, just like baseball, it's not well equipped to deal with his off-field issues. Red is a reasonable proxy of his risk, but as much as any player in baseball, I hope this rating is as wrong as possible. His shift from rotation to pen and back makes it a little tough to really measure as well.

SP Jorge de la Rosa Yellow light: Elbow problems push him near red, but the development of Luke Hochevar and some other options, along with de la Rosa's lefty-killing prowess, portend a shift to the bullpen before a starter's workload pushes him over the top.

SP Kyle Davies Red light: Davies' control problems and history of leg injuries is probably enough to open this slot up for Brett Tomko (Yellow light), at least early in the season. There's certainly more upside if Davies can both stay healthy and find the plate for an extended period in Omaha.

CL Joakim Soria Yellow light: Most teams hide their Rule 5 guys, but the Royals used theirs to close games. Soria overthrows a bit, something most newly-converted former position players do. Keeping him in the bullpen helps in a lot of ways, but several scouts think he's still destined to start.

RL Ron Mahay Yellow light: Mahay's not so much a key as he is a nice story. I play in a Diamond Mind league where we started sim'ing with the 1982 season and worked forward. It's an interesting exercise for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was drafting Ron Mahay for the 1995 season, figuring you can always use an extra lefty in a sim; I had no idea that he was an outfielder at the start of his career. Yeah, I lost that season.

Lineups courtesy SportsBlogs Nation.

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Premium Article Doctoring The Numbers:... (03/25)
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