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March 9, 2010

Team Health Reports

Detroit Tigers

by Will Carroll

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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 Facts
Days Lost: 810
Dollars Lost: $26,909,614.13
Injury Cost: $9,072,083.33

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.

The Ratings

Red light 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.

Red light 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.

Red light 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.

Red light SP Rick Porcello: See The Big Risk.

Red light SP Jeremy Bonderman: See The Comeback.

 

Red light 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.
Yellow light 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.
Yellow light 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.
Yellow light RF Magglio Ordonez: For all the risk of his knees, Ordonez has been quite productive during his time in Tiger stripes.
Yellow light 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.
Green light 1B Miguel Cabrera: Before you ask, no.
Green light CF Austin Jackson
Green light 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.)
Green light SP Justin Verlander
Green light 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.
Green light CL Jose Valverde
Related Content:  Rick Porcello,  Mature,  The Who,  Year Of The Injury

12 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

bobbygrace

Will, may we have a comment on Justin Verlander? Whoever wrote his season synopsis in the BP annual wasn't too sunny about his workload.

Mar 09, 2010 11:03 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

More starts, more pitches. I like that they waited until he passed the nexus to turn up the dial, but we still don't know. PIPP likes players that establish themselves at the 200 inning level, which he's done 3 yrs now.

Mar 09, 2010 11:58 AM
 
dannimal

Reading the THRs this spring got me thinking about pitchers and injuries. Some of the things that came out of it (keeping in mind I'm just a fan. I've got no background in kinesiology or biomechanics or the like):

No two bodies are exactly alike. That alone significantly complicates predicting and even understanding pitchers and mechanics and workloads and injuries. What might look like good mechanics from the outside may be a ticking bomb on the inside, and the opposite is true at times.

How often are two pitches thrown in exactly the same biomechanical way? Even slight differences in arm slot/angle, or how much the torso coiled in the windup, or how the leg/foot land from pitch to pitch make a difference in the stresses on all the parts invovled.

Do we really have any idea why Livan Hernandez's arm hasn't just fallen off at this point, or why Mark Prior's shoulder blew up? Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't he described as having good/repeatable mechanics? Wasn't his use of the towel drill supposed to be an example of this? Why did Joe NAthan's UCL tear when it did?

Very few people learn to pitch the same way. How they learn the mechanics, how they are worked as they grow, how they exercise, even what they eat. I'm guessing, but I have to think that all of those things provide a huge unknown in figuring out even a baseline from which to try to project what a pitcher might be able to handle.

There are some generalities that are known, or at least accepted. Throwing 130 pitches a game is more likely to lead to injury than 100. The Verducci effect. How injuries can cascade. Dusty Baker has a woodchipper he feeds arms and shoulders into. But all of them are just that: generalities.

We're very good at this point in reacting, but we're a long way from being good at being *proactive*. If a pitcher gets injured, we can figure out exactly what happened and how to fix it. We can generally get them through rehab and back on the mound (although often without any assurance that they'll be the same pitcher they were). But we usually have no idea WHY it happened, or how to build a system that will have a good chance of preventing it from happening to others going forward.

So we can look at Mark Prior, or Jeremy Bonderman, or Livan Hernandez, or Justin Verlander, or Rick Porcello and make educated guesses about the future. But at the end of the day, they're just that.

All that said, I think the future is going to be interesting to watch. Eventually, people are going to start figuring this stuff out. We'll start being able to see the stresses being placed on the moving parts, and how those parts react on a pitcher-by-pitcher basis. And having that info, start being able to tailor instruction and training to indivdual pitchers.

Or at least, I hope so.

Mar 09, 2010 11:42 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

You're right, in general, but you're focusing on looking at them. Looking at ANYONE is going to be wrong. I was guilty of this for a long time. Now, I think we have to have force loads before we can speak of it with any confidence.

I also think your point on changing mechanics holds true. Unless we have evidence -- data -- that the pitcher is taking loads above the norms, it's awful tough to tinker with a delivery that's getting good results.

We're getting a LOT closer to the point where we can get these. Don't want to tease, but I'm working on an article about this now.

Mar 09, 2010 12:00 PM
 
L.A.

Speaking of, where is Dontrelle Willis?

Mar 09, 2010 11:55 AM
rating: 0
 
Kampfer

I am no Tiger fan but I guess they won't be impressed with the blank space after Verlander -- although sometimes no news is the best news.

Mar 09, 2010 12:06 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

It's what's to the left that will make them happy.

Mar 09, 2010 12:41 PM
 
amacrae

Bonderman threw the most sliders in the majors at least 2 of not 3 years in a row. And you wonder why he got hurt? This was because nobody could teach him a changeup. Is this because he is dyslexic, stubborn, or the Tigers pitching coaches were bad?

Likewise, if Verlander throws 10% more pitches than any other pitcher in baseball another year, I suggest he will at least become a caution light.

Mar 09, 2010 13:46 PM
rating: 0
 
DetroitDale

Amacrae, that last option is the most likely scenario. In addition to failing to teach him a changeup he was rushed to the majors at 19 and forced to take heavy workloads before he was ready because the team had no talent at the time (his rookie year was the 119 loss '03 campaign where he had to be pulled from his last game to avoid losing 20) The season of his first big injury was the result of him pitching hurt for several games, turning a bad injury from worse to career threatening. The official word is that he didn't say anything, but Detroit Media is notorious for covering for the Tigers, what really happened is he was pressured to go when he wasn't ready because the Tigers needed an ace to take the team on his shoulders and cover up for deficiencies elsewhere. He and Zumaya were both rushed again in last year's 163 game heartbreak, with tragic results. This attitude only recently changed with Verlander's higher pitch count a necessary evil combined with the desire to bring Porcello along slowly, and every other pitcher on the '06 staff being hurt or unreliable. Still, the fact that so many good pitchers are coming through the system now when so few did pre Verlander is more a function of improved scouting than improved coaching.

Scherzer's first two outings were just as disastrous as Bonderman, maybe there was something to that motion causing injury problems. A great pitcher with no problems suddenly having problems is reminiscent of Bonderman and the beginning of his end. I find myself hating the big trade not for the loss of Granderson but the loss of Edwin Jackson.

Inge got a lot of love for playing through two bad knees and got a pass for the second half dive in production for that reason, but the real reason he fell apart and the real reason he'll fall part this year is not the knees but that he will swing at anything closer to the plate than a pickoff move.

Mar 09, 2010 20:31 PM
rating: -1
 
T. Kiefer

Max Scherzer's two bad outings made me wonder if the coaching staff did to him what they did to Dontrelle Willis: They started fiddling with his so-called "wacky" mechanics, in the hope to prevent injury, but instead messed up his head and is sending him on a downward spiral of thinking too much (See also Verlander 2008). But Rick Knapp seems to be better about this than Chuck Hernandez was, so maybe Scherzer is just trying to impress his new team, and consequentially putting too much pressure on himself.

Mar 10, 2010 07:07 AM
rating: 0
 
Andrew Wick Klein

"Before you ask" what?

Mar 10, 2010 07:43 AM
rating: 0
 
jtanker33

I'd guess: "Before you ask if Miggy's overblown drinking episode last season should push him into the yellow or red, the answer is no"

Mar 10, 2010 08:22 AM
rating: 1
 
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