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March 17, 2009

Team Health Reports

Chicago White Sox

by Brad Wochomurka

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CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Team Audit | DT Cards | PECOTA Cards | Depth Chart

Head Trainer: Herm Schneider
Player Days Lost: 418
Total Dollars Lost: $8.3 million
Injury Cost: $9.8 million

Trend: Neutral. Schneider and his staff are one of the best medical teams in the game. Overall, they've had a fantastic run of health for the last three years, highlighted by their winning the Baseball Prospectus' Dick Martin Award in 2006. They've certainly had their hands full in recent seasons with players like Jim Thome and Jose Contreras, as well as with former injury-plagued Sox Joe Crede and Scott Podsednik. What they do well is what we call "maintain"-they keep guys with injury histories on the field. Jermaine Dye has had his career resurrected in Chicago, and, for all his troubles, Thome has averaged more than 140 games a season in his three years with the Sox. Carlos Quentin and Octavio Dotel had healthy, productive seasons despite significant injuries in recent years. (Yes, Quentin broke his wrist near the end of the season, but that's not really preventable. The bigger story is his health and production up to that point.) All of those players will continue to challenge the medical staff, as will Paul Konerko, whose health and skills have diminished so rapidly that there may not be much that Schneider and company can do. Bartolo Colon and Jose Contreras provide another challenge altogether. Hey, no one said being one of the game's best medical staffs was easy.

The Shape of the Season:

graph

The Big Question: Mark Gonzales, who covers the White Sox for the Chicago Tribune asks, "Can the White Sox get a combined 32 starts out of Jose Contreras and Bartolo Colon?"

The two veteran pitchers combined for just 27 big-league starts in '08 (Contreras' were with the White Sox, Colon's with Boston), but both pitchers have at least met, if not exceeded, expectations this spring. Contreras has really done his part thus far by showing up in camp ahead of schedule in his rehab from surgery to repair a torn left Achilles tendon. He now appears set to be a part of the rotation when the regular season starts, after initial projections had him returning anywhere from late April to the All-Star break. Achilles injuries are usually fine after surgery, but Contreras' age (37, more or less) makes it more difficult to evaluate. Is this the beginning of a physical breakdown, or will he be the thirty-start pitcher he had been in the four years prior? Of the two, Contreras is much more likely to approach thirty starts by himself, as Colon has been a wreck since winning the AL Cy Young Award in 2005, destroying his shoulder in the process. He's had to play catch-up with the team's other starters this spring after having bone chips removed from his elbow during the offseason. Colon is at least smart enough to attach himself to a solid training staff (more on that below). The other problem with these two is that lately, even when healthy, they haven't been very good. That makes it hard to imagine a situation in which both pitchers are not only healthy, but also effective. The Sox may be better off if these two basically end up combining for one rotation spot-especially if one of the young pitchers like Jeff Marquez, Clayton Richard, Lance Broadway, or Aaron Poreda can then grab the remaining spot for himself.

Fantasy Tip: There were certainly some great fantasy performers on this club in '08, and the same may hold true for '09. However, I do worry about the number of break-out performances we saw from this group a year ago. Can John Danks and Gavin Floyd do it again? Danks' home-run and walk rates dropped dramatically, and Floyd's BABIP was very low and is likely due for a swing back up. Alexei Ramirez has the challenge of a shift to short, plus his OBP was very weak, he was thrown out often trying to steal, and now the league will have had an offseason to figure out how to adjust to him. I don't expect a dramatic change in his numbers up or down, and overall I still like what he should bring with second-base/shortstop eligibility in most leagues. I will buy into Carlos Quentin's breakout; the wrist could impact his power and bat control early on, so don't panic if he gets off to a slow start. Finally, don't pay for Bobby Jenks. He's often billed as a top-end closer, but those guys should get saves and pile up strikeouts, and he's not one of those guys any more. There are plenty of non-strikeout types that will get you 20-30 saves at half the cost or less. Bottom line, there are some solid assets here, but it's important that you pay the right price, and not much more, to acquire them.

1B Paul Konerko: Red light There were signs of his decline in '07, but he really fell off of a cliff last year, both from an injury and a production standpoint. He was plagued by thumb, oblique, and knee injuries, and he now just looks like an old player rather than a guy with an old player's skills. His body isn't helped any by the fact that he's locked into playing first base because of Thome's presence on the roster.

RF Jermaine Dye: Red light Dye is almost the opposite of Konerko, and I think this rating is a bit overblown. The system looks back at those lost seasons early in his career and worries about a player who's now 35 years old, but Dye has had his healthiest and most productive seasons since coming to the Windy City. There is still risk, especially with his legs, but I feel as good about Dye as I do about any of his teammates in the "red" category.

DH Jim Thome: Red light This is where a medical staff earns its money. We know Thome's back is going to act up at some point, and Schneider and his staff know it too. It's up to them to develop a course of action that minimizes the flare-ups while allowing Thome to play as much as possible. The good news is that they've had a few seasons to figure out what works and what doesn't. The bad news is that we're still talking about a violent-swinging 38-year-old with significant back problems.

SP John Danks: Red light He comes up red because he's still young (24 in April), and his workload jumped by 60 innings in '08. Danks was very efficient in those innings however, thanks in large part to big drops in his walk and home-run rates. To give you an idea of his efficiency, Danks threw just 700 pitches in those extra 60 innings. That's a very manageable 11.5 pitches per inning for 2008. Another healthy year even close to that should drop him into yellow or green territory.

SP Bartolo Colon: Red light Let's give Colon a little credit here. No, not for hitting the gym every day over the offseason or discovering some miracle diet-he still has work to do there-but at least he recognizes his shortcomings, and that it's in his best interests to have a great medical staff around him. Unfortunately, he had that in Boston last season, and he still couldn't stay healthy. Can the White Sox staff do better? They're hoping that another year removed from Colon's serious shoulder issues will give them a chance. As mentioned above, it will be a big boost to the Sox if Colon and Contreras can team up to fill one rotation spot and remain effective for a combined 30-plus starts.

2B Chris Getz: Yellow light Getz seems to be the front runner for the job right now, but Jayson Nix and Brent Lillibridge will also factor into the equation. The broken hand Getz suffered at the end of last year pushes him into the yellow, but it shouldn't be a problem for him this year. He's a high-energy/speed type, so it's worth keeping an eye on his health this season (especially his legs).

3B Josh Fields: Yellow light His recurrent knee issues are a big source of concern, and may have sabotaged his best chance to make a lasting impression last year. Tendonitis kept him from taking over at third base after Joe Crede went down with back problems, and he didn't perform well once he was healthy. The team hopes that the off-season surgery he had on his right knee will be the answer in '09. If not, the former Oklahoma State quarterback will be looking at fourth-and-long when it comes to his major league career.

C A.J. Pierzynski: Yellow light There's no huge risk here other than the normal wear and tear for a 32-year-old at this position. Pierzynski's been one of the more durable catchers in baseball during his tenure with the Sox. You could argue that he's always yellow or worse from a mental standpoint, but he's covered there too, as Ozzie Guillen seems to have a solid understanding of what makes his temperamental backstop tick, and what sets him off.

LF Carlos Quentin: Yellow light I was a little surprised to see Quentin stay below the red line given his history of injuries throughout his young career, but a traumatic injury like a broken wrist is unlikely to recur unless he's very unlucky, so he stays yellow for now. The wrist may impact his power and bat control early on, so a slow start wouldn't be a shock. Quentin's MVP run last year proved that he can deliver on the talent that made him a highly touted prospect in Arizona, and now he just has to prove that he can stay healthy. He's actually responded to surgeries very well in the past (coming back strong from Tommy John surgery, a labrum and rotator cuff operation before last year, and now the wrist), but the fact remains that those are some serious issues for a player that's just 26.

SP Gavin Floyd: Yellow light He carries some risk after topping the 200-inning mark for the first time in his career, but here's a case where it's OK to look at his minor league work. The injury system is always wary of a pitcher who had as big of a jump in innings at the major league level as Floyd did last year. It's often a good predictor of risk for a young pitcher who hasn't spent a great deal of time in the minors or who has been babied in the process. Floyd is now 26, and he has thrown over 150 innings every year since 2004, so I don't think he's as much of a risk as similar or younger pitchers who see significant workload jumps in their first full major league seasons.

SP Jose Contreras: Yellow light See today's Big Question.

CL Bobby Jenks: Yellow light Jenks is something of a mystery. His strikeouts are down significantly, he spent time on the DL with a back injury last year, and the White Sox tried to move him in the offseason. On the other hand, his velocity and movement have remained steady, and there's no indication the back injury had anything to do with his strikeout rate. So are we waiting for something to blow up, or is Jenks just becoming a different pitcher? His history, pitching style, and role make him a risk, but it's hard to tell how significant it is. As I said earlier, I'm looking at other closer options come draft day, because something just doesn't smell right here.

RP Octavio Dotel: Yellow light Welcome back from the land of the red, Octavio. You're still a very dark yellow, but after three years suffering one injury after another, you proved in '08 that you can once again shoulder a heavy workload in a late-innings role.

SS Alexei Ramirez: Green light Ramirez showed that he could be an everyday player in the majors with a healthy debut in '08, but I'd give him a green/yellow as he moves over to short in his second season. Normally, a switch like that would be enough for the injury system to give him at least a yellow, but in this case it seems as if he just popped onto the radar (the system doesn't know much about Cuba at this point). It's worth noting that Ramirez's health tells us nothing about this year's Cuban import, third baseman Dayan Viciedo. The two are very different players, both skill-wise and physically; Viciedo is seven years younger than Ramirez, three inches shorter, and outweighs him by roughly 80 pounds.

CF DeWayne Wise Green light

SP Mark Buehrle Green light

Brad Wochomurka is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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