Team Health Reports

The Summary:
In this year’s Baseball Prospectus 2010-which should be in some folks’ hands about the time you read this, that or real soon now-I wrote a couple thousand words on the team. That makes fitting a summary into just a couple hundred words a tough task. I don’t want to just repeat myself, condensed version, but there’s also not much new to say on the team’s 2009 debacle. So I’ll focus on one thing: the death spiral. It’s a term I tossed out there a couple years ago after realizing that two or three guys plus associated personnel tended to lose their grip on a team when injuries stacked up. It’s not bad management, it’s just simple man-hours. As teams focus more and more on trying to get players back on the field, they lose their ability to do the little preventative things. They work as hard as they can, but there’s only so much that they can do. The easy solution-hire more trainers-isn’t easy midseason (though I’d certainly suggest there are points where a team would want to call up one of its minor-league trainers), and no team seems inclined to expand the regular staff beyond three. Cost can’t be an issue. See that eight digit number down there? The Mets, a team equipped with a big checkbook, should take a long look at this big number and say “I’m going to commit a million dollars a year to injury management.” If that’s prevention, research, or hiring more staff, so be it. It’s time the Mets led on something.

The Facts

Days Lost:

Dollars Lost: $52,152,233.70

Injury Cost: $51,853,888.89

The Cost:
Injuries have cost the Mets a lot over the last few years. New York lost $52.1 million alone last year and has lost $103.1 million over the last three years. Just think of what that $100 million could buy, or even what just $52.1 million could buy. The Mets could fill all their holes with the money they lost on injuries. Just think, Mets fans, of the possible additions of Matt Holliday and John Lackey to fill those left field and starting pitching voids. They could have added both and Bengie Molina. Heck, with that type of change, you could even throw Adam LaRoche‘s name into the hat to play first base and still be around that $52 million mark.

The Big Risk:
The big risk for the Mets isn’t a player, but the whole team. After the beating they took in the media, maybe it’s the team and not the medical staff that’s the issue. In fact, I want to take a long hard look at Jerry Manuel. Manuel’s pressers became a running joke in UTK last year, with “two more weeks” being his normal response to any question about Jose Reyes. Was he misinformed, or was he misinforming? Credit some innate optimism if you’d like, but Manuel’s handling made what was already a bad situation look worse.

The Comeback:
Jose Reyes did this before. That’s the fact I keep coming back to when watching his rehab. He had a recursive set of injuries-a knee tendon and a hamstring strain-that fed off each other. Now that one is fixed (surgically), the other should be able to heal up. Early results are good, with Reyes running well in off-season workouts seen by the press. That’s different than playing baseball, but c’mon, running is running. There are questions about whether Reyes will run as much or be taxed by playing shortstop, opening up the same kind of discussions we had about Derek Jeter a decade ago. I’m curious about whether Reyes can change his game. In the video of his workouts, Reyes looked a bit bigger to me. Some of that might just be that he couldn’t do his normal workouts while his leg healed and subsequently becoming more focused on his upper body, but it might be that he realizes he’s going to have to shift some of his focus from stealing second to getting there with a double.

The Trend:
The Mets’ historically bad year skews any trends downward. The easy thing to say-and what I believe will happen-is that luck will balance. The problem is that for the most part, the players didn’t get any less risky. The ratings you see below make the Mets’ medical staff start out at a decided disadvantage relative to normal. You can imagine that most of their spring training is going to be focused on rehabbing Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes, which could allow some other problem to slip through, and then the death spiral begins.

The Ratings

Red light Henry Blanco:
Even with the knowledge that Blanco’s going to share time at catcher, he’s a red-level risk. The less he plays, the less risky he gets, but it might be the place where signing Bengie Molina would have made sense.

Red light Luis Castillo:
Castillo’s injuries have sapped the value he had. It’s most noticeable in the field, but while bad range at second base is fine if you’re Jeff Kent, it’s not if you’re Castillo. Without any other options and without the ability to deal him last offseason, Castillo’s back. He’s one of those where you’d think an injury might make the team better, but the options behind him are even worse. That’s one of the real indictments of the Mets.

Red light Jose Reyes:
Jose Reyes was a green last year. That rating made sense with the information on hand, but obviously turned out to be wrong. But Reyes had spent four years without hamstring problems after it looked like those problems were going to keep him from ever reaching his potential. Just remember that when you wonder about whether he can come back. Yes, he’s risky, but like last year the risk is probably a bit overstated, just now in the other direction.

Red light Carlos Beltran:
Beltran’s knees will be a focus in spring training and then all season long. Let’s be clear: He did not have microfracture surgery in January. The minor ‘scope was done by Dick Steadman, who invented one microfracture, so the confusion is understandable and that procedure, somewhere down the line, is a distinct possibility. Still, if there’s a small positive to be taken away from this, it’s the Steadman didn’t think Beltran needed it now. There’s a scary comp on Baseball Reference, where Beltran’s most similar by age is Andre Dawson. Then again, Dawson found a way to be productive after his knees went and will limp into Cooperstown; maybe Beltran can do the same.

Red light John Maine:
Maine has had more than just the typical devil and angel on his shoulders. Since coming into the league, he’s had a succession of people that have tried to rebuild his mechanics. Everyone sees something different. There have been good results and bad, but lately, it’s mostly focused on a shoulder that has been problematic since 2008. He avoided surgery, but there’s no guarantee that the nerve impingement won’t pop up… or that his newest version of pitching mechanics won’t put him on the shelf again.

Red light Jonathon Niese:
Niese had an evil non-pitching injury, tearing his hamstring from the bone when he was covering first. Surgery to re-attach it has a good success rate, but he’s behind on his throwing. While he says he’ll be ready for Opening Day, he’s always been a slow starter anyway. Watch for any sign that he’s getting further behind early in camp.

Red light Francisco Rodriguez:
Year in, year out, Rodriguez shows up red and then goes out and does his thing. His mechanics don’t look sustainable, yet he’s seldom been sore, let alone hurt. He’s made some adjustments to his pitching along the way, but there’s still no explanation for why he’s been so good despite so many factors working against him. I hate unknowns.

Yellow light Jason Bay:
Bay’s knees will get nearly as much attention as Beltran’s after it came out that the Sox didn’t re-sign Bay due to concerns about his knees. Bay doesn’t believe there’s a problem. If there is, it’s the Mets who have a really big problem.

Yellow light Jeff Francoeur:
Francoeur is coming off thumb surgery, and that tends to be a binary injury: guys come all the way back, or they don’t. There’s often a bit of a power loss, but Francoeur’s always had prodigious power. He could handle losing a bit. What he can’t handle is losing bat control. He’s a swing-and-miss guy already, but watch early to see if there’s a dip in his contact numbers. Here’s a place where you can learn something from spring training at-bats.

Yellow light Mike Pelfrey:
Pelfrey bounced off 200 innings last year and seemed to really hit a wall. He had the well-covered balk issue at about the same time, so it seems less about fatigue and more about losing it a bit. Things came back together toward the end of the season, though the rest of the team falling apart makes that tougher to see. I actually like Pelfrey more than this rating might make you think. He’s risky, but he’s also a breakout candidate if the Mets can make something of a comeback.

Yellow light Oliver Perez:
He’s consistently inconsistent. Perez at least had a known issue last year. Now that the knee is cleaned up, he can get back to being infuriating for a lot of other reasons.

Green light Daniel Murphy

Green light David Wright:
Just wear the helmet. For every bad clubhouse joke you take, you’re helping save a kid from the same fate you had after taking one off the head. Laughs or legacy, David?

Green light Johan Santana:
Santana is coming back from having some bone chips removed in his pitching elbow. He had this once before, just before he became Johan Santana, the version we all know now. He did have some issues letting the ball go just after coming back. Watch for that, though I’d guess having gone through it before, it’s not going to be an issue.

Green light Pedro Feliciano