The Summary: For years, Oakland fans and Moneyball mavens wondered if the team’s medical staff was holding back the front office. After two years under a new head trainer, the answer is, for the most part, no. Changing the head trainer did not create a decrease in days or dollars lost. Even jettisoning some of the more oft-injured players like Rich Harden and Huston Street left them with a lot of players like what’s left of Eric Chavez, Bobby Crosby, and a group of young pitchers who recall Harden in both talent and risk. The team’s construction hasn’t given the new medical staff any way to distinguish itself as better, and it may take a few more years of data to get a handle on whether the change made was for the better. With the rest of the AL West upgrading the talent, any advantages Oakland can find would be best. I’ve always wondered why the forward-thinking A’s braintrust didn’t use the cheap path of sports medicine to try and gain on their rivals.
Days Lost: 1,154
Dollars Lost: $16,505,153.53
Injury Cost: $15,046,250.00
The Cost: The Athletics lost $16.5 million due to injuries last year, and they’ve lost nearly $54 million due to injuries over the last three years. The majority of that cost has come from the ever-injured Chavez, and Oakland is hoping things will be different this year, as he will move into a utility role. Oakland lost just a few million more than the MLB average, and they still had the money to bring in Coco Crisp and Ben Sheets, both of whom are strong possibilities to see some time on the DL. The rotation is headed by young pitchers Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill, so depth is important, something where an innings-eater could have some value. Instead, the team brought in Sheets and kept Justin Duchscherer, but the money that could have been saved might have gone toward a pitcher with less injury risk.
The Big Risk: The rotation is two things: good and young. Those two spell risk, but a deeper look at the A’s roster also offers a possible solution. There are, at the very least, nine valid candidates for the major-league rotation, so a quick call to Sacramento is all it takes to swap someone in or out. If the medical or field staff decides that one of the pitchers is getting a bit fatigued or that Sheets would benefit from skipping a start, there’s no reason to panic. Teams look to fill out somewhere between 950-1,150 with starters. That can come from four, five, or 10 guys, and it doesn’t really matter. It does matter if a young pitcher facing an innings increase is ridden from 175-210 innings just because tradition says so or because someone’s chasing his 15th win, as we saw a few years back with Tom Gorzelanny. The A’s should be sharp enough to handle this one, so take that into account in both assessing risk and playing time projections. Also, note that the ratings below do not do this. It expects top starters to stay in the rotation all season long and assesses the risk in accordance.
The Comeback: So Sheets not only came back, but he did so with a big paycheck. The Reds signed Aroldis Chapman on potential, and that’s what the A’s saw in Sheets. His workout last month showed that he still had velocity, but we don’t know if he has stamina or that same old Sheets-level injury proneness. Some are suggesting that Sheets was essentially paid for with other people’s (revenue-sharing) money, but $10 million is a big number for the A’s. There’s a number of other ways the team could have spent this and, instead, they chose Sheets. Either their scouts saw something few others did, or they were willing to take one of the biggest gambles of the Billy Beane era.
The Trend: The A’s made a change in their medical staff a couple years ago, shuffling long-time head trainer Larry Davis to a newly-created position while elevating Stephen Sayles to the head slot. Sayles, perhaps best known as one of the few trainers who were former players, is certainly well thought of in the industry. However, unless I pointed out to you that there’s a change, the data wouldn’t show much. The team continues to hover around the 18-22 mark in whatever team ranking you choose. Some of this is the inevitable carryover effect; players like Chavez didn’t go away or magically get healthy because there is a new trainer. There have also been a lot of pitcher injuries, a trend that’s gone up since Rick Peterson left as pitching coach. You might also note that Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, and Mark Mulder are also gone, and only one of them stayed healthy with their new team. In other words, the trend is that the A’s are treading water and burning money on the DL.
CF Coco Crisp: Crisp lost much of last season due to a shoulder injury. Surgery should correct the problem, but many are concerned about the effect on his style of play. Few think of shoulders when they think of defense or running, but they should. This type of surgery has had good results, and I think Crisp should be a reasonable risk.
SP Brett Anderson: Being the son of a long-time coach might have helped Anderson’s baseball savvy, but will it help keep his arm healthy? It’s certainly an interesting question, but not something PIPP takes into account. Some worry about his reliance on the slider, his only real plus pitch, but he’s also reasonably efficient. He’s barely into the red here and below 200 innings, so I’m not too worried.
SP Trevor Cahill: Cahill falls somewhere between Anderson and Gio Gonzlez on the efficiency scale, which tells you why he’s between them on risk. It really all comes down to this. He’ll live and die on the change. The better it is, the fewer pitches he’ll throw and the healthier he’ll be. He had a massive innings jump last year at age 20, and I expect that to be a big issue for him.
SP Justin Duchscherer: Duchscherer’s on- and off-field problems snowballed last year. While his off-field issues don’t factor in here specifically, they do make his on-field problems look a bit worse, as it’s very hard to pinpoint return times. The combination of hip and shoulder problems have many thinking he needs to relieve, but he hasn’t stayed healthy there, either. There’s a small hope that he’ll return to form and a bigger hope that he’ll just eat some innings.
SP Ben Sheets: Sheets’ injury history is well-known, so while the A’s might suggest Chris Carpenter as the best comp, I’ll suggest that Brad Penny is better. Sheets tends to break down in interesting ways, suggesting that his mechanics cause breakdowns throughout the kinetic chain. The Brewers, who know much more about Sheets than anyone, barely sniffed.
2B Mark Ellis: Ellis doesn’t get nearly the tag that Chavez or Crosby have for injuries, but why not? It can’t be that he’s not injured-he is. Maybe it’s that they all tend to be traumatic-shoulder, thumb, and calf-and that he does return from them more or less on target. He’s one point from being red, so if you read this, you’ll have an advantage over the people that just check the matrix or worse, don’t read BP.
RF Ryan Sweeney: Sweeney ended last season dealing with patellar tendonitis, something that can recur. Some are blaming his 2009 numbers on that injury, but since it was mostly the result of a June incident, we can look before and see they weren’t that impressive then. The knee is a small risk, and PIPP‘s not sure he’ll play enough to be risky at all.
SP Gio Gonzalez: Gonzalez has all the risk of the pitchers above-well, maybe not Sheets, but the younger ones-and has the added burden of inefficiency. His plus curve misses bats, but it also misses the zone a lot. Maybe he’ll magically learn location, but until then, he’s probably not going to rack up enough innings to be really risky. Below 175, he’s a solid yellow.
1B Daric Barton: Barton’s chronic leg problems have sapped him of many things, including the potential many saw in him. He usually plays through it, but at some point, it’s not worth playing him at all with options like Jake Fox around.
3B Kevin Kouzmanoff: Kouzmanoff takes the spot of Chavez, who will back him up. The nightmare scenario would be an early-season injury to Kouzmanoff, exposing Chavez to a full-time role. Of all the things Kouzmanoff has turned out to not be since coming into the majors as a highly-touted guy, being injury-prone isn’t one of them.
DH Jack Cust