March 21, 2011
Team Injury Projection
St. Louis Cardinals
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: Just one season in the Cardinals' dashboard shows even a hint of green: 2009 was the exception for St. Louis’s health, not the rule, to the point that the organization can’t blame its second-place finish in 2010 on injuries—rather, the Cardinals should take a look at how they got to the point where DL time could be the difference maker. Given the way their winter and spring have gone, we may be writing something similar about them next year.
Brand-new Cardinal Lance Berkman may not provide the production he has in the past, given his injury history over the past two years (he has missed time due to a calf strain, knee surgery, and an ankle sprain, and he has already been limited by elbow inflammation this spring) in addition to his position switch from first base back to the outfield. Roaming in an outfield corner spot will provide him with more opportunities for injury than patrolling first base, a position manned by a guy you may have heard of.
Speaking of Pujols, it’s amazing that he has accomplished so much in his career despite never being fully healthy. He’s considered a moderate risk to miss more than 15 days this year—he always seems to have a handful of things that bother him for at least a few days a season. He's also on the wrong side of 30, and while he may be known as “The Machine,” machines break down all the time. At least Matt Holliday, the team’s other significant slugger, is considered a low risk thanks to his recent history of health.
Things are a little bleaker on the mound. Adam Wainwright was considered low-risk, but we all know how that turned out for the Cards—Wainwright is out for the year thanks to Tommy John surgery. What should be worrisome to Cardinals management is that the pitcher whom they are now relying on the most, Chris Carpenter, is at a very high risk to miss significant time in 2011. Even though he stayed off the disabled list in 2010, he spent most of 2009 on it for an oblique strain, and between his own TJ recovery and additional shoulder issues, 2008 was a disaster. Carpenter is not the only remaining starter on the staff with risk, though. Jake Westbrook stayed out of our database for the most part during the 2010 season (only having to push back one start due to lower back pain) but then had surgery on a torn labrum in his left, non-throwing shoulder shortly after the season. While this doesn't affect his injury projection (at least as far as CHIPPER is concerned), missing most of 2008 and all of 2009 from Tommy John surgery does, and his prospects for 2011 remain uncertain.
Kyle Lohse was unable to stay healthy last year. He underwent surgery for a compartment release in his forearm and missed almost three months of the season, on top of the roughly two months he missed in 2009 thanks to forearm and groin issues. Miguel Batista had back and groin problems in 2008; despite the fact that he has remained generally healthy over the last several years, his age (40) and injury history from 2008 points to his being high-risk. Ryan Franklin has remained healthy for the most part since 2008, but CHIPPER is concerned about his advancing age even if Dave Duncan is not.
On the brighter side, Kyle McClellan and Jaime Garcia are both Tommy John survivors and have proven that they can stay healthy following their surgeries, hence the low risk associated with the pair in 2011. The Cards will need both of them at full strength this year, as they are already a man down and just a few injuries away from significant Batista time.
The Big Risk: Losing Pujols would obviously hurt the offense (though if these contract negotiations don’t work out, fans may want to get used to that Pujols-sized void in the lineup), but at least Berkman could slide to first in Prince Albert's absence. Losing Carpenter would be disastrous for the Cardinals with Wainwright already out for the season. The team has just the one McClellan-caliber pitcher to step in—after that, they'd be forced to settle for rookies or Batista, and either would damage any remaining playoff hopes the Cardinals have.
Comeback: David Freese had a rough 2010. He sprained his right ankle early in the summer and then broke a toe after dropping a weight during rehabilitation. Later in the season, he underwent right ankle surgery to reconstruct a tendon after injuring it further on a rehabilitation assignment in the minors. That wasn’t all, though: Freese also had clean-up surgery on his left ankle in September.
Tendon reconstructions require a long rehabilitation process, since it takes some time to get the feel of a normal ankle back. The most significant concern for his ankle isn’t hitting or throwing: it’s having to stop suddenly in a rundown or accidentally stepping on a base with the outside foot (right) rather than the inside ankle (left) while rounding the bases. He was off to a very promising start before succumbing to injury in 2010 and should bounce back nicely in 2011, assuming his body doesn’t completely betray him once again.
Best Health: Holliday has barely missed time the past two years, making him the best bet to remain on the field in 2011.
Worst Health: Given his history and the position switch, it’s highly unlikely that Berkman won’t miss at least 15 days in 2011.