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March 18, 2011
Team Injury Projection
The Team Injury Projections are here, driven by our brand new injury forecasting system, the Comprehensive Health Index [of] Pitchers [and] Players [with] Evaluative Results—or, more succinctly, CHIPPER. Thanks to work by Colin Wyers and Dan Turkenkopf and a database loaded with injuries dating back to the 2002 season—that's nearly 4,600 players and well over 400,000 days lost to injury—we now have a system that produces injury-risk assessments to three different degrees. CHIPPER projects ratings for players based on their injury history—these ratings measure the probability of a player missing one or more games, 15 or more games, or 30 or more games. CHIPPER will have additional features added to it throughout the spring and early season that will enhance the accuracy of our injury coverage.
These ratings are also available in the Player Forecast Manager (pfm.baseballprospectus.com), where they'll be sortable by league or position—you won’t have to wait for us to finish writing this series in order to see the health ratings for all of the players.
Hitters in approximate Depth Charts order at time of publication
Pitchers in approximate Depth Charts order at time of publication
Summary: The Cubs did well in almost all aspects of team health last season—the lone mark against them comes from finishing slightly below average in number of day-to-day and DL transactions. They suffered only four disabled list entries that lasted more than 30 days, one of which was Carlos Silva’s heart surgery, for which we probably can't hold their training staff responsible.
In the infield, Aramis Ramirez, Geovany Soto, and Starlin Castro all return for another year in Wrigley. Ramirez rates as a moderate risk in large part because of a shoulder dislocation in 2009 and a sprained thumb in 2010, both of which resulted in DL trips. Without surgical stabilization, the ligaments in his shoulder are going to remain weaker—the stability of his shoulder is maintained by his muscles, so once the summer hits and fatigue starts setting in, we may see some problems. Geovany Soto is a high risk because of the surgery on his throwing shoulder at the end of last season. Newcomers Jeff Baker and Carlos Pena both seem to be significantly riskier than the players they replaced. The infield alone could keep the medical staff busy throughout the summer.
The outfield projects to be a little more durable as a whole, with all three outfielders qualifying as moderate risks for injury. Alfonso Soriano’s knee surgery at the end of 2009 certainly influenced his rating, as did Tyler Colvin’s frightening encounter with a bat splinter that punctured his chest (though it's safe to assume that Colvin's first run-in with a flying bat shard didn't make him any more likely to experience another). Marlon Byrd hopes that CHIPPER is correct, and that he isn't next in line for a serious injury.
The Cubs' pitching staff includes some new faces. Matt Garza arrived from Tampa Bay via trade along with a low risk factor, but he did develop radial nerve irritation in his arm in 2008. This nerve is not the one commonly associated with ulnar collateral ligament injuries and Tommy John surgery, however. Rejoining the Cubs is Kerry Wood, who has seen more than his share of missed days. Surprisingly, he is only a moderate risk for 2011, despite shoulder, back, and blister problems over the past three seasons.
Silva will attempt to continue to put the heart problems in his past and lower his risk over the course of the season. One pitcher to be leery of is Carlos Zambrano, and not just because of his dugout tirades. Zambrano has at least one known bulging disc in his lower back, on top of a shoulder strain and inflammation that occurred in 2008. Fractured big toes are no joke, but that’s the only injury in the last three years that has caused Ryan Dempster to miss time.
The Cubs have done a very good job over the last several years of bringing players back healthy, but they are starting to age—more so on the offensive side—and replaced some less risky players with higher-risk ones, which could certainly swing things in the other direction.
The Big Risk: Aramis Ramirez has stayed off the disabled list in only two seasons since 2005 (2006 and 2008), and even in those seasons he still missed about 6-7 games each year due to injury. The Cubs can ill afford to lose him because of his production at the plate, but it’s becoming more and more likely with each passing year that they will. With Soriano’s production clearly declining and Carlos Pena possibly at that point as well, Ramirez has to stay healthy in order for the Cubs to contend (which may be difficult even with Ramirez on the field), but as we mentioned before, his shoulder will never be the same as it was prior to the dislocation.
Comeback: Soto’s shoulder just wasn’t the same after he sprained it in early August. The discomfort forced him to undergo surgery in September, causing him to miss the remainder of the season. He should be able to return intact and avoid further shoulder issues in 2011, though. Good defensive catchers don’t wind up to throw the ball when a runner is trying to steal a base. Instead, they bring the ball close to their ear and simply try to get rid of it as fast and straight as they can. Soto’s surgery was on the AC joint and not the main shoulder joint, so he should return to his normal self, since the AC joint isn’t strained as much in this throwing motion unless his arm comes across his body.
Best Health: Koyie Hill doesn’t have much of an injury history, except for that whole finger mishap.
Worst Health: Baker will have to hope that there was something in the thin air of Colorado that kept him from staying consistently healthy; otherwise, we'll be looking at the same old situation on the North Side.