February 11, 2010
Team Health Reports
The Summary: The Phillies are coming off two straight World Series appearances and seem set up well to go for three, four, or even five with the team they have built. No small part of that is due to the team that's keeping that team together. Scott Sheridan and his staff not only got to go to the World Series, they collected a trophy of their own last year, taking home the Dick Martin Award for Best Medical Staff. I got to present the award to them at their affiliates banquet at the winter meetings in December in Indianapolis, where Sheridan and the rest of the team were humble about their success. They credited their great stats and on-field success to hard work, a focus on prevention and personalized care, and an organizational commitment. The whole gang is back this year, so there's no reason to believe that anything will change from that standpoint. That's more of a big deal than you think, with many former DMA assistants moving on to head up their own staffs. The talent behind the scenes is nearly as impressive as what they have on the field. What you're seeing is a holistic success story, one that very few teams can compete with.
The Cost: The Phillies lost $11.5 million to injuries last season and have lost $41.1 million over the last three years. That is money they could have spent to retain the services of Cliff Lee and formed, with their front three starters, one of the top rotations in the NL, or maybe even the entire league. It's also enough money to upgrade the shaky back end of the bullpen, where money was used on Danys Baez when it could have gone towards a proven commodity like Jose Valverde, or even a guy with a higher upside than Baez, like Fernando Rodney (though Rodney could have added to their injury totals himself). If you want to look at the market for third basemen, the Phillies could have easily brought in Adrian Beltre to fill the void instead of trying to convert Placido Polanco to the position.
The Big Risk: For a team without much risk at all, it's hard to find "the big risk." It would be a cop out to say Jamie Moyer, given his age and the problems of his offseason. The real risk for me is actually one of the greens. While the team could replace almost any player on the team (usually with Jayson Werth, so perhaps the biggest risk is not being able to re-sign him), it couldn't deal with a significant injury to Chase Utley. After coming back in what seemed like record time from his hip surgery, Utley showed no sign of trouble from his first day back. Stories leaked from the clubhouse that just as Utley hid the pain before the surgery, he was keeping the poker face on early in the season, too. Most teams couldn't handle losing their star, so this isn't much of a reach, but Utley's ability to play through injuries makes him even more valuable.
The Comeback: In 2008, Brad Lidge was as good as it gets at his position. In 2009, Brad Lidge was about as bad as it gets, though he wasn't enough of an anchor to drag the team down. Knowing that Lidge was pitching much of the season with pain in his elbow-though there's debate as to exactly when the flexor tendon tore-explains some of it. We also know that pitchers do tend to come back from this type of injury. Lidge had surgery just after the World Series and is expected to be ready for spring training, though he's never really seemed to need it anyway. The Phillies managed Lidge's situation last year by simply letting him pitch through it as much as possible. There's no reason to think that will change, but for now, there's a chance to think that Lidge's results could change for the positive.
The Trend: It's hard being No. 1. There's no place to go but down. While it's unlikely that the Phillies will have the luck necessary to repeat-no team has done it yet with the DMA-it is quite possible for them to be healthy enough to expect a third year of playoff baseball in Philly. The team has been in the top 10 throughout Sheridan's tenure, so while I'd expect them to slide back a little bit, they seem to be competing with the White Sox and Brewers for the five-year ranking winner.
Jamie Moyer: The problem for Moyer isn't so much the groin surgery, but all the problems afterward. The infection is an all-too-common side effect of modern surgery, and is sadly just one of those things. In this case, it's one of those bad things happening to good people. Moyer's age won't help here. He was scheduled to start throwing in early February, so we'll have to watch closely on the day that pitchers and catchers report. The bigger risk here is that the Phillies really don't have a great sixth starter option.
Carlos Ruiz: Ruiz is a catcher, and sometimes the yellow rating is just that simple. He's relatively healthy and has a decent enough backup, which is really all you can hope for the non-Fisk class catchers.
Chase Utley: Utley was great last year, but we don't have any idea how well his hip will hold up. This holds true for any of last year's hip-hip-hooray guys, like Alex Rodriguez. We're probably overstating the risk; none of them have had any problems. Yet.
Raul Ibanez: This is a lot more about the way he declined in the second half, which is now a known. He had surgery to correct the abdominal problems and should be ready for spring training, but is this a singular issue or the start of the inevitable decline? At 37, there's a lot more chance it's the latter. The Phillies are fine with Ben Francisco as the fill-in and would be smart to use Francisco more than they did last season.
Shane Victorino: Players like Victorino don't tend to age that well, mostly because they run into walls and are beating up their bodies with high effort. He could be the exception, like a Jim Edmonds, and the Phillies are paying him like he is. An expected move down in the batting order might help a bit.
J.A. Happ: Happ was good enough to be in consideration for Rookie of the Year, but not to hold on to a rotation slot heading into the playoffs. He's good as both a starter and reliever, but the issues with Moyer and the back-end depth in '10 make Happ a near-lock for the fourth or fifth rotation slot with Joe Blanton. Above 175 innings, I'd get a bit worried, but the Phillies medical staff help keep that worry small.
Brad Lidge: Lidge's struggles match up pretty well with an elbow that was deconstructing. Flexor tendon repair is just slightly less predictable than Tommy John surgery, but closers are slightly less predictable than pure chaos.
Ryan Howard: There's a point, somewhere down the line, where Howard will be a DH. It's not now, but one of the hardest things in baseball is to see things as they are. It's a sport filled with nostalgia and wishcasting. Ruben Amaro Jr.'s biggest challenge as general manger might be in making that call a year early rather than a year late.
Placido Polanco: The move to third base shouldn't hurt Polanco that much. There's some slightly increased risk in the short term, but he's played there before. At 34, the worries with Polanco will be in 2011 and 2012.
Jayson Werth: Werth stays in the green, but note that guys in contract years do tend to push it a little bit, knowing each uptick in their money stats is a big deal. He's still green and a really athletic player, but it's worth knowing.
Roy Halladay: Halladay has exceeded 220 innings for four years running, after a couple flukish injuries hit him back-to-back. One thing we don't know about Halladay is how pitching in the playoffs, in addition to all those innings, might affect him. I know, I'm sure he won't mind finding out. At these prices, I'm not sure the Phillies are worried.
Cole Hamels: Hamels is a very high green, but it speaks well of the medical staff that he had no physical problems along the route from his "playoff hangover."