The Summary: Stan Conte was profiled in the New York Times in regards to his data-driven approach to sports medicine. I have no doubts that Stan's work will pay off for the Dodgers, but there will have to be a little faith. His methods—and the work of his protege Dave Groeschner—have done wonders for San Francisco during the decade, but there hasn't been a payoff yet in LA. It might be coming quick, as Clayton Kershaw is just the first young stud pitcher to come to the team under this medical regime. With several more coming and an athletic base on the field, Conte's work on predicting injuries could give the team an advantage they haven't had since the Fred Claire administration—one where the Dodgers were at the cutting edge of sports medicine.
Days Lost: 1,054
Dollars Lost: $17,937,304.35
Injury Cost: $9,164,027.78
The Cost: The Dodgers would probably say they were happy to only lose $17.9 million to injuries in 2009. That is because Los Angeles had lost $51.2 million in 2008 and $20.4 million the year before. Things are looking up for the Dodgers, though, as they were finally able to divorce Jason Schmidt after his horrible three-year marriage to LA (yes, pun intended). Schmidt cost the Dodgers $10.6 million by himself in 2009 and combined with Hiroki Kuroda to give the Dodgers' medical staff plenty to do during the season. LA lost about $3 million more than the league average, but even if they would have been below the average, circumstances away from the field probably would have kept them from spending any savings. It's a hard offseason when your prized additions are Jamey Carroll and Reed Johnson.
The Big Risk: Bouncing off the scoreboard while shagging flies might have helped Kershaw in the long run. That missed time for a separated non-throwing shoulder could have put him up near 200 innings. Instead, it puts him in position to make that leap this year. He's still just 22, so he's either special, risky or, more likely, both. Kershaw's biggest focus has to be on efficiency. His innings pitched really doesn't tell the whole story. Add in the walk rate, and he has a number of high-pitch innings. The only thing between him and a shelf full of Cy Youngs is health and Tim Lincecum.
The Comeback: To be a comeback player and rated red is a bit of an oddity. It mostly shows that the Dodgers don't have a lot in the way of upward expectations, but just the hope of hanging on, finding a season where luck breaks their way in one or two spots, and riding Joe Torre's twilight back to the playoffs. While the focus will be on the pitching, keeping Rafael Furcal healthy this season may be the most important key to their season. Many point to a late-season surge meaning good things for Furcal's 2010. I'll settle for him being healthy enough to show whether or not the speed is gone. PECOTA thinks it is, but early reports have him "focused and ready." That's code for "contract year."
The Trend: The Dodgers have done better since bringing Conte over from the Giants, but there's still a lot of room for improvement. With the type of roster they took on, with the remnants of Schmidt and others, it was tough to be anything but terrible by the numbers. The long-term improvements have to be balanced with short-term results, and this pitching staff will offer up a certain challenge. Yes, the pitchers are all rated red, so the danger is not just in the typical "keep your starters healthy" way, but the very real chance that they'll have to go seven or eight deep at some point if they get a couple concurrent injuries. Matt Swartz was kind enough to do the math for me here: "There is a 3.125-percent chance they all get hurt, a 15.625-percent chance that four get hurt, a 31.25-percent chance that three get hurt, a 31.25-percent chance that two get hurt, a 15.625-percent chance that one gets hurt, and 3.125-percent chance that none get hurt. Average is 2.50 injuries, but the distribution of % is what I wrote above." In other words, it's just like coin flips, more or less, unless injuries are interconnected. (Don't look now, Dodgers fans … your first replacement starter could be Russ Ortiz.)
SS Rafael Furcal: See The Comeback.
SP Clayton Kershaw: See The Big Risk.
SP Chad Billingsley: Contrary to online myth, I don't hate Chad Billingsley. I just don't like his chances of being able to do much more than he did last season. He wore down powerfully in the second half and was pushed to the pen in the playoffs. We'll have to see if a normal offseason and full spring training helps get him back to his '08 levels.
SP Hiroki Kuroda: Kuroda had one scary injury that he couldn't help and one that may be related. It's the cervical disc issue that's more problematic. We have to hope Kuroda's head stays out of the way of liners, just like every other pitcher. He's probably maxed out around 175 innings, but he's throwing junk early in camp, so we'll have to see how that helps.
SP Vicente Padilla: Padilla's "transformation" looks like an increase in luck. His K rate went up to unsustainable levels and his BABIP went down at the same time. Maybe he just likes pressure, but then again, anyone can have a good month when you have the right tools. Padilla's always been good enough, but seldom had everything right. For a little while, it lines up, but if you're counting on that to happen for the bulk of 2010, I'll note that hope is not a standard fantasy category.
SP James McDonald: McDonald was pretty solid as a reliever last year, so the innings threshholds that push him into red have a bit of wiggle room. No one seems to be able to make a translation for relief innings to starter innings because we don't have any direct measure of fatigue or recovery. Using the best estimates and past results, McDonald gets worrisome above 150, but if he gets there, he's done his job.
3B Casey Blake: He isn't as versatile as he once was, but at 36, who is? Blake's late-season hamstring problems really aren't that big a deal. Him showing up at Camelback without a beard probably means as much. He's just barely yellow, which speaks as much to the small risk group he's in as anything.
LF Manny Ramirez: Ramirez's knee isn't as big a deal as that 50-game gap in his 2009 season. Players with drug suspensions often have injury issues just after (See: Romero, J.C.). As much as steroids might or might not help, the far greater likelihood of injury cancels whatever gains out in many cases. How many homers would Barry Bonds have if he hadn't missed time to elbow and knee issues?
CF Matt Kemp: What counts more—spending weekends on a yacht with a pop star or spending hours a day in the gym? We'll find out with Kemp. I certainly can't fault him the good life, but I know many will if he ends up deserving this just-barely-yellow rating.
C Russell Martin: At just a point under yellow, his long-term durability might seem to be catching up with him. Then again, he could make it back before Opening Day from this groin strain and make this rating look super-duper.
1B James Loney
2B Ronnie Belliard
RF Andre Ethier
CL Jonathan Broxton