I popped my head back up from work on my off-season projects when news of the Mark Kotsay for Ramon Hernandez and Terrence Long deal crossed my RSS feed.

  • Beyond the baseball implications, Oakland was taking on a player with back problems and giving up their catcher and…well, losing Long makes some sense. Kotsay had a sub-par 2003 season, deeply underperforming his PECOTA, losing power and looking all the world like his Mike Greenwell comp was dead on.

    There’s hope though, A’s fans, because back injuries aren’t what they used to be. Like almost every other sports injury, a herniated disc is no longer a season-ender or career-threatener. As Ivan Rodriguez and Vladimir Guerrero have proven, an aggressive rehabilitation program and focused trunk strengthening regimen can return a player to an effective state with minimal time lost. The downside is a microdiscectomy, where the bulging portion of the disc is removed. Recovery in-season would be six to eight weeks, so the downside isn’t horrible. For the A’s, Kotsay becomes a calculated risk who upgrades a troubled position.

  • Where’s the risk for the Padres? There’s always worry as a catcher ages, and there’s some discussion of catcher workload among medheads. There’s a scouting rule of thumb that a catcher declines after 1,000 games. A cursory look through the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia debunks that theory. Meanwhile, a breakdown of catchers that have gone a high number of games in a season looks much like pitcher workload. There are some catchers that can catch 130 or more games in a season and show no apparent ill effects, and others that will wilt under that load or less. As with pitchers, the best indication of the ability to sustain a heavy workload is showing that ability previously. Catchers such as Jason Kendall, Ivan Rodriguez, Gary Carter, and Terry Kennedy showed no ill effects after multiple seasons above 140 games caught and suffered surprisingly few catching-related injuries.

    For the Padres–and the Giants, who acquired a similarly worked A.J. Pierzynski–the best approach is to try to keep the workload of their new backstops down a bit, though more to keep them fresh down the stretch than due to any major injury risk. Kendall, several years removed from his gruesome ankle injury, now becomes an attractive option for the A’s if the Pirates are willing to pick up as much of his contract as they indicated in talks with the Padres.

The next big UTK project, besides Saving The Pitcher, is work on verifying the value of the Team Health reports. We’re hard at work collecting data, but early, subjective results are very positive. Using the definition of “significant injury,” the red/yellow/green system is showing great value. A player marked as a red light prior to the season was 89% more likely to have a significant injury during the season, while a green light player was 47% less likely to suffer the same type of injury. The results are preliminary, but I’m sure you can see why I’m excited about the system’s results.

There’s not much else in injury news in the early weeks of the off-season as players rest or rehab after the long grind of the 2003 season. There are sure to be a few more trades and big stories in the weeks leading to the Winter Meetings in New Orleans, which Baseball Prospectus will cover in-depth. As the new Governator says, “I’ll be back” as events warrant.