February 16, 2009
Team Health Reports
Head Trainer: Richie Bancells
Trend: Negative. In the years covered by my Injury Database, the Orioles have never had less than 924 days lost. Last year's 1,506 was their highest, mostly due to a range of pitcher injuries. The O's just can't seem to keep their young pitchers healthy; of the days lost, only an even 100 were missed by position players. Though it's easy to say that things should improve, you could have said that for the past few years as well, but instead of getting healthier, the O's have just turned the DL over with new names and new injuries. Breaking that cycle needs to be job one for Richie Bancells and his staff.
The Shape of the Season:
The Big Question: Spencer Fordin, the Orioles beat writer for MLB.com asks: "How do you feel about pitchers who choose to rehabilitate SLAP tears instead of getting surgery? The Orioles have an interesting dichotomy with Troy Patton and Matt Albers-Patton's coming back from surgery, Albers from a strengthening program." Every injury is different, and this is a good case in point. They're similar injuries, but not identical, and they led to two different rehab paths. While Albers may yet be forced down the path to surgery, Patton's more significant tear made it impossible to avoid. It's always better to try non-surgical options if they're available, especially with a pitching shoulder; losing time trying a rehab that fails can be frustrating for everyone concerned. The Orioles have enough pitching depth that they can make these kinds of choices without losing too much, and given the recent headaches that come with Miguel Tejada, I don't think the O's regret the 2007 trade that sent him to Houston for Albers, Patton, Luke Scott, Dennis Sarfate, and Michael Costanzo.
Fantasy Tip: While everyone is figuring out where to draft Matt Wieters, I'm watching Nick Markakis being undervalued. He's fast becoming the unknown superstar. Mock Draft Central has Markakis' average draft position at 33; given his production and his health, Markakis is as sure a thing as you can get outside of Albert Pujols. The situation in the Orioles bullpen bears watching as well. With Chris Ray back and George Sherrill having worn down in the second half last year, many think that a split of the closer duties will happen. While it might work well from a health perspective, both the players and manager Dave Trembley would rather have one or the other lock the job down.
3B Melvin Mora: Mora strained his hamstring about ninety feet from us at last year's Tampa ballpark event, but don't blame me. He's an athletic player who has managed to hold on to his skills despite his advancing age. The slight injuries he's had over the past couple of seasons and last year's more serious hamstring strain, however, are pointing to the future erosion of those skills and of his ability to stay healthy. He might have one more year of gradual decline... or he might not.
C Matt Wieters: As a young catcher facing the kind of workload that he hasn't seen before, red is almost a given. Wieters is an historic outlier, so take this with a grain of salt, and remember that young catchers like Joe Mauer have had small injuries that they've worked through, but that the career effect might end up being more significant than we can predict. Wieters' season should be about making sure he's never fatigued, so Gregg Zaun's health (also red) is more important than most would think.
SP Jeremy Guthrie: About the time that Guthrie was headed for testing, both the 200-inning threshold and his own workload history caught up with him, and he developed impingement in his pitching shoulder. That's not good, but it was very late in the year and he did prove that he can get to the 150-170 IP level. Is he the ace they need him to be? No. Is he going to be able to pitch deep into September without missing starts? Probably not. However, he's not without talent, and if they focus on keeping his counts low, buying him extra rest, or even skipping a start now and then, he can be a productive pitcher. Just because he doesn't fit the classic mold of Jim Palmer doesn't mean that he can't help the Orioles if they're creative enough to help him.
SP Koji Uehara: Comparing him to John Smoltz works on a number of levels. He was once dominant, he was used heavily, was shifted to the pen, and will continue to have periods of dominance. He shifted back to the rotation for Yomiuri last year and appeared to break down quickly, so Uehara's risk isn't just in whether or not he'll collapse, but also that he could be pushed to the pen instead of holding the second slot in their rotation.
SP Matt Albers: Albers arrived in Baltimore as damaged goods; while a torn labrum isn't quite the death sentence it used to be, it's like finding out that your sister is making conjugal visits to an arsonist instead of a murderer. There's some question now about whether Albers will shift back to the bullpen after the acquisition of Hill. It's a smart idea, given that he seemed to deal with the recovery better than he would have if he had been starting. He'll still be red if he's in the pen, but a much lower (better) red. The big factor to remember here is that he never had surgery-in some cases that works, and in others it doesn't. I'm guessing he should keep Craig Morgan on retainer.
SP Rich Hill: There are times when what you know doesn't help you. Hill broke down in the worst way, losing all semblance of control. It wasn't a case of "Steve Blass"-he could throw strikes, but not enough of them, even at the lower levels of the minors. The most interesting aspect was that he still wasn't that hittable across four levels. He had back and shoulder problems, and it's usually elbow injuries that result in control issues, so we have to think that Hill's severe shoulder tilt and arm slot might be contributing-except we normally say that arm slot doesn't matter. What we have is a unique pitcher who has developed a unique problem. It's hard to fix what might not be broken, which makes Hill's reclamation a very risky project for the O's.
CL George Sherrill: Sherrill essentially won the Erik Bedard trade for the Orioles, functioning as a solid closer and a great replacement for Chris Ray. The problem was that he wore down quickly in the second half. Splitting time at closer isn't a very popular arrangement in baseball these days, but trying it would probably help Sherrill, and Ray as well. The more likely sequence is that Sherrill wins the job, eventually wears down, and (if the O's are lucky) Ray will have enough left to close things out.
2B Brian Roberts: The system still sees his gruesome elbow injury, and wonders if it will hold. So far, so good. He's in his 30s now and is still speedy, which makes him risky on one hand and very valuable on the other. Given the position scarcity at second base, it's worth taking a chance here.
LF Felix Pie: It's OK to disagree. People accuse BP of 'groupthink' all the time, but trust me, I've never seen a group less of one mind in my life. I don't even agree with my own system on a lot of players, and Pie is one of them. The system interprets the way that the Cubs yo-yoed him as an indication of stamina or injury issues, and you might even think that if you just glanced at the stat line. Yes, players that haven't done things sometimes break down trying to do them, and yes, Pie has some risk, but I think this yellow is overstating it a bit.
CF Adam Jones: Jones and Ryan Zimmerman don't have much in common aside from both being baseball players, but they did both lose power in seasons where their power was expected to shine. Both are young and both are dealing with injuries that may be more chronic than either would care to admit. Jones' foot will affect not only his value this year, but for several years to come. It's something that you should be watching very closely in Spring Training.
KR Chris Ray: Ray didn't last as the closer, and the idea that he can remain healthy backing up Sherrill is a nice one with no evidence. Given Sherrill's troubles, Ray will likely be in the role at least part time, putting more stress on an arm that didn't hold up last time. Whenever something like this happens, the party line is that the player "learned something," and that he will understand how to handle the role better in the future. There's absolutely no evidence to support this. If he does have one thing going for him, it's that the calendar conspired to give him some extra time to heal up. He's about 18 months post-Tommy John.
SS Cesar Izturis: Izturis does as much damage to his team by staying healthy as some do by being hurt.
RF Nick Markakis
DH Luke Scott
SP Chris Waters: Green, yes, but only because PECOTA doesn't feel that he'll stick around long enough to do much damage. His shift to side-arm late in the year reeked of desperation.