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March 9, 2010
Team Health Reports
The Summary: The numbers for Detroit look pretty bad, but a deeper look shows that pitchers like Joel Zumaya, Jeremy Bonderman, and Dontrelle Willis provide an anchor no staff could recover from. On the plus side, the Tigers kept Magglio Ordonez healthy through his contract, have Miguel Cabrera healthy despite worries about his waistline, and showed good work keeping Carlos Guillen and Brandon Inge on the field late last season. More positively, they did great work with Rick Porcello and, to a lesser extent, Justin Verlander, which allowed the team to say, "Yeah, we'll take on Max Scherzer," a talented pitcher who's had mechanical questions since coming into the league. This year's Tigers look to be more athletic and to have less injury risk beyond the obvious candidates. That makes it a real make-or-break season for the medical staff.
The Cost: Detroit got hit hard by injuries in 2009, losing $26.9 million; they have lost $52.6 million over the last three years. Nate Robertson, Bonderman, Zumaya, and Willis each made multiple trips to the disabled list last season, combining to cost Detroit $22.2 million. The majority of the rest came from Guillen's trip to the disabled list with shoulder inflammation, which added $4.3 million to the Tigers' dollars lost. Despite losing nearly double the league average, Detroit made some big moves in the offseason, moving players that were getting expensive in Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson. The Tigers then turned around and found the money to sign Johnny Damon to a one-year, $8-million deal and bring in closer Jose Valverde for two years at just $14 million. It makes the trades appear as if they were less about getting rid of Granderson's and Jackson's rising salaries and more about getting the two young guys in Scherzer and Austin Jackson.
The Big Risk: He's barely old enough to drink. Yes, it's kind of cliche to say that about a talented young pitcher, but it might remind us why pitchers like Porcello are such huge risks. Forget the millions of dollars or the loss of talent if he's to go down. Instead, just focus on the fact that for most 20-year-olds, we don't let them drink legally. We don't trust them with rental cars, for Pete's sake. They're simply, literally, not mature. For all the things I disagree with Dr. Mike Marshall on, the one I agree with wholeheartedly is the idea of making sure that the "anatomical age" is known as much as the chronological age. Until Porcello is physically mature, he simply can't take on the kind of pitching load that someone who is mature can. Now, I'll acknowledge that Porcello might be physically mature. The Tigers might know this, but most teams don't. And we only need to look at The Comeback to understand why this is important. The biggest question I have this year is if removing hard pitch counts and allowing him to use all his pitches will help or hurt his efficiency. An efficient 15-16 PPI Porcello would be, well, Roy Halladay. An inefficient one would be just another guy on the slag pile of arms out back of MLB's offices.
The Comeback: What if you did everything right and still couldn't stop something bad from happening? That's the issue with Bonderman and with every young pitcher. The Tigers knew every risk, used everything they had in their arsenal to keep Bonderman healthy, but he still ended up like this. Is that inevitable? Did the Tigers not do something? Can young pitchers just simply not put up innings like that before passing the nexus? No one knows, but the hope is that despite that mystery, that the knowns of orthopaedic surgery can get Bonderman back. The time off should be some help, and there are lots of positives we've seen on his road back. Now, if we could just stop this from happening to the next Bonderman... who may very well be Rick Porcello.
The Trend: The Tigers have been hit by some big injuries, both in terms of dollars and value. For the most part, those don't come down solely on the shoulders of Kevin Rand and his staff, but it does make it hard to tell where they're making a real difference. They're solid with maintenance, as shown with players like Guillen and Ordonez. The strength and conditioning staff is given high marks, both by players and by other people in the industry. The accepted risk makes it difficult to get a true read here, but in enough of a sample size, maybe the lack of any distinguishing characteristics aside from the pure results is the result itself.
2B Scott Sizemore: Sizemore broke his ankle in the fall and had pins put in. He's been working out and running well since January, a normal return time for this kind of injury. As long as it heals normally, there's no reason to think he'll have any issues. The speed/quickness is usually the last to come since it requires confidence. I expect this red is a bit overdone.
3B Brandon Inge: Inge was a physical mess last year, but he fought to stay on the field. Give him credit for that, but he needed extensive surgery on both knees. Expected to be ready at the tail end of spring training, reports are that he's slightly ahead of schedule. Jim Leyland will give him every chance to be the starting third baseman on Opening Day and beyond. Patellar tendinitis tends to linger, so be very careful, even with positive late spring reports.
DH Carlos Guillen: I'm splitting the risk here, projecting Guillen as a 50/50 split at DH and in left field with Damon. While less risky at DH, Guillen's shoulder was hurt most by hitting. If it's all the way back or even close, he could bounce back. At 34 and with a series of chronic injuries, I'm not buying in until I see a lot more of him this spring.
SP Rick Porcello: See The Big Risk.
SP Jeremy Bonderman: See The Comeback.
RP Joel Zumaya: C'mon, you didn't expect false hope here, did you? Zumaya's an interesting case at this stage because the sheer velocity worries some, that we're reaching some sort of human limit where the shoulder can't hold together. There are not more hard throwers today, just more throwers throwing hard. (Yes, it makes sense.) There's always been Ryans and Fellers and Dalkowskis. We just remember the first two more, but there's probably lots more Zumayas out there that didn't even get that far. Remember that kid throwing 85 at the Little League World Series? Him, too.
C Gerald Laird: Laird dealt well with the increased workload, but PIPP doesn't like how his batting suffered. Fatigue shows up in a lot of ways and PIPP is a pessimist by design. A yellow rating on a catcher isn't a bad thing, actually.
SS Adam Everett: Everett tends to have a lot of small injuries. Whether that's why he doesn't hit well is an unknown, but anything above a utility role usually indicates he's going to miss time. He's just shy of a red and has a load of journeymen just behind him that could function as an offense/defense platoon.
RF Magglio Ordonez: For all the risk of his knees, Ordonez has been quite productive during his time in Tiger stripes.
SP Nate Robertson: Robertson's elbow didn't like relieving. Unfortunately, Tigers fans don't like the results of his starts. A healthy Willis could take the fifth slot without much effort, and remember Armando Galarraga? He was good not too long ago.
1B Miguel Cabrera: Before you ask, no.
CF Austin Jackson
LF Johnny Damon: Despite all the minor issues Damon had over his Yankee time, he is nearly as durable as Scott Boras made him out to be as a free agent. He's an exception to the ironman conundrum in some ways. (Players that are very healthy over a long period of time tend to descend quickly once they do get injured.)
SP Justin Verlander
SP Max Scherzer: Much is made of Scherzer's unconventional mechanics. Since we don't know the forces, we have to rely on the results. Those have always been good.
CL Jose Valverde