The Summary: Glenn Fleisig once compared pitching injuries to smoking. No one gets cancer when they first light up, but down the line, there’s a price to be paid. The Angels seemed to be coughing a bit last season, with John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar, Scot Shields, and Ervin Santana pulling up lame at various portions of the season. Unlike the real world, it’s pretty easy to get a ‘lung transplant’ in baseball. The team brought in Scott Kazmir, who’s the definition of talented but inconsistent, but the real challenge is finding arms at the back end. The Angels tried to wait out the free-agent market the way they did last year with Bobby Abreu, but they find themselves at the beginning of spring training with a bunch of “possibility arms” like Trevor Bell, Trevor Reckling, or Anthony Ortega competing. One major issue the Angels have to address is an epidemic of arm injuries to their top pitching prospects while they’re still in the minors.
Days Lost: 873
Dollars Lost: $27,668,858.70
Injury Cost: $21,971,666.67
The Cost: The Angels have lost $55.6 million due to injuries over the last three years, but $27.7 million came from the 2009 season. Los Angeles was nearly double the MLB average of $14 million. Kelvim Escobar and Vladimir Guerrero made up a large part of that injury cost, and both have new residences for this coming season. The Angels lost Chone Figgins to division rival Seattle and Lackey to Boston, not having the money to persuade either to return. Los Angeles went with cheaper players from the free-agent market this offseason, bringing in Hideki Matsui, Joel Pineiro, and Fernando Rodney. Might that extra $13.7 million have made a difference?
The Big Risk: It might surprise you that the big risk isn’t red, but let’s face it, the three reds that the Angels have aren’t going to surprise anyone. At the yellow level, Kazmir could make or break a pitching staff. If he’s on, the way he was a couple years back or even during the Rays pennant winning campaign, he’s a true ace to replace Lackey. If he’s off, he’s an expensive guy who’ll get down on himself and spiral down. Kazmir went back to Rick Peterson last year and saw some changes, if not immediate results. A look at PITCHf/x doesn’t show much of a change at either the point Kazmir went to Peterson or when he was traded. The Angels aren’t known as a progressive team, so it will be interesting to see if they’ll be as open-minded with Kazmir as the Rays were.
The Comeback: As big the gap between risk and reward as Kazmir has, it’s also there for Santana. The biggest sign of trouble was him being pushed to the pen during the postseason. Mike Scioscia saw that Santana was out of gas by September, never getting all the way back from the elbow issues he started the season with. Sure, leading up to that he had a nice enough ERA, but look a little deeper and you can see that Santana was pitching with a bit of desperation, trying to save his season and may have lost his pacing. There’s nothing too damaged with his arm, and a full offseason of rest and rebuilding should allow him to slot into the ace role that the Angels need him to fill. Just remember, he is bouncing off a 2008 season where he had a massive innings increase. While we’re going to have to look at the Verducci Effect more closely, it’s the 2009 campaign of Santana that defines why that risk has been baked into the system.
The Trend: It used to be very simple. The Angels collected and grew talent, then put it out on the field. If Ned Bergert and his staff helped them stay healthy, they won. When they didn’t, they didn’t. This isn’t the same team with the athletic flexibility that they once had. Instead, this is a bit older, a bit less mobile, and even with the most greens in baseball, there’s not as much depth here as the Angels have had in the past. Bergert and Scioscia seem to have an understanding that comes with a long working relationship, while Scioscia doesn’t grind his pitchers too much. There’s something of a trend downwards here, but only slightly so. The Angels used to vacillate from good to great and now it’s more good to average.
DH Hideki Matsui: Matsui’s knees won’t allow him to do the things he did in the past, but his bat is lively enough. He’ll need to have the knees drained, but the medical staff is used to having to maintain its DH. While it’s a different body part, Matsui won’t require much more work than Guerrero did his last couple years.
SP Ervin Santana: See The Comeback.
RP Fernando Rodney: While Brian Fuentes is the very definition of the value of the “closer tag” to a player’s checkbook, Rodney is the other kind. He’s never been considered an elite reliever, but he looks like he should be. When he’s out there, he’s big, intimidating, and has a plus fastball. Downside is, no one is intimidating in the training room. He spends more time there than the mound and probably won’t be healthy enough to steal the closer job.
LF Juan Rivera: Scouts tell me that Rivera is Molina-level slow, and that seems to be the biggest effect of losing a couple years due to injury. He didn’t have any apparent problems staying healthy in the outfield, but I’m a little curious how the Angels will spell him. Guerrero could play the outfield some and they had planned to play him more before his shoulder injury made that impossible. Reggie Willits is the fourth outfielder, but the flexibility that the Angels were built on in the last decade is gone now.
SP Scott Kazmir: See The Big Risk.
C Mike Napoli: Napoli would be a bit riskier if he got a bigger share of the catching split. As it is, it keeps Jeff Mathis and Napoli in the green. I’ve always wondered if this is by design from Scioscia or if he goes “gut” in who to play. It’s working for the Angels, if not fantasy owners.
2B Howie Kendrick: Kendrick is slightly below the crossover to yellow, but his problems haven’t been health-related. The gaps in his record look like injury to the system, but we all know better.
3B Brandon Wood: Wood is green based on a lower workload expectation than he’ll likely get. He’s slightly more risky than this, but he’s been healthy during his 32-year career as a prospect.
SS Erick Aybar
RF Bobby Abreu
CF Torii Hunter: Off-season hernia surgery is no big deal, but last season appears to have taught Hunter that he’s not the diving, wall-crashing kid he once was. That’s good in the long run, and Hunter is the kind of guy you have to hope has a long run.
SP Jered Weaver: Weaver cleared the 200-inning mark last season for the first time, just as he passed the injury nexus. Good handling or just a career year? We’ll see, but the system likes his chances.
SP Joe Saunders
SP Joel Pineiro: The risk here is that moving away from St Louis, Dave Duncan, and the incredible rejuvenating machine they must have somewhere in Busch Stadium that gets guys back after shoulder surgery will be as much a factor as coming off a contract year.
CL Brian Fuentes