C Jose Molina / Jeff Mathis: A catcher’s base ranking in the THR system is yellow. You get upped to a red light for having a special injury risk. Molina goes red because he is likely to be asked to play a career high in games and defensive innings in 2006. A catcher’s duties are simply too taxing for us not to set off a red light when a 31 year-old backstop goes out there for a new career high in playing time.
Mathis gets the red light because the BP database of player injuries barely has any comps for a player of his age and position; of those comps, half were injured. This could be a sample-size problem.
1B Casey Kotchman: The system sees that Kotchman will be asked for a new high in playing time and gives him a yellow, but we’re not so worried about that, as he’s had bigger workloads in the minors. We might have moved him to green except heading into 2005 Kotchman was considered one of those players who just always manages to get hurt (shoulder strains, back problems, and tons of small traumatic injuries).
2B Adam Kennedy: In September 2004 Kennedy completely tore his ACL and partially tore the MCL. The surgical repair was a success, and he returned to duty in May 2005, but THR still thinks it’s prudent to give a yellow “warning” light.
SS Orlando Cabrera: The elbow debris problem from mid-2005 seems fixed.
LF Garret Anderson: At his age, and with a serious history of back problems, it’s pretty easy to see the potential for a breakdown and give a red light here. This is an incredibly bright red when you add in the fact that the diagnosis of inflammatory arthritis always seemed sort of odd and that Anderson’s production is plummeting (OPS by year–2003: .886, 2004: .789, 2005: .743).
CF Darin Erstad: Erstad had all sorts of injury problems in center field, which is why he moved to first base two years ago. Moving back to CF does not bode well for the 32 year-old, especially not with his back problems.
RF Vladimir Guerrero: The Angels scored all of 754 runs last year, and Nate Silver’s PECOTA projections predict they’ll slip to 720 next year. In that light, the recurrence of Guerrero’s back problems at the end of last season are worrisome. He needed trigger point injections to get through the playoffs, and the Angels can’t really afford a loss of Guererro’s production in 2006.
SP Bartolo Colon: As Will explained he other day, Colon tore the tendon of his lattissiums dorsi away from the bone. It’s not a piece of the anatomy that’s critical to function for most people, but who knows what it means for a Major League pitcher. Keep an eye on him in spring training.
SP John Lackey
SP Ervin Santana: THR just hates it when young pitchers are asked for sizeable increases in playing time.
SP Kelvim Escobar: Escobar is coming off a repeat elbow chip removal procedure. It’s a pretty minor operation as pitching surgeries go, but we don’t like that this problem is recurrent, and we especially don’t like that this time around the chips came back earlier than expected. Does that mean he’ll need another one of these surgeries in a year? Two years?
SP Jeff Weaver
CL Francisco Rodriguez: It’s incredibly hard to predict player injuries, though if you were going to put money on anyone’s elbow blowing up, the safe bet would be on K-Rod. There’s almost nothing mechanically right with his delivery and he showed all sorts of indicators last year with a tender elbow, a forearm strain, and an obvious difficulty throwing his fastball.
SU Scot Shields: Shields took over as closer last year when Rodriguez went down and there’s no reason to think he can’t do it again in 2006.
The Angels have done pretty well for themselves. They picked up Division titles in 2004 and 2005 and, of course, won the World Series in 2002. That’s a strong record of success, especially in a division like the AL West, where the A’s have been a perennial contender and where Seattle, now on hard times, used to be quite competitive.
In 2006 the division is going to be tougher (Oakland and Texas are both on the way up), and it’s hard to see how this Angels team isn’t significantly worse than the ones that started Opening Day the last few seasons. If that’s where the discussion ended, then we would probably say something like, “This is Oakland’s division to lose and Texas is going to make a run at second place.” Unfortunately for Angels fans, the situation is more dire.
All across their 25-man roster there are ticking time bombs of health risk that could absolutely destroy this team’s playoff chances. On the hitting side there are two red lights at catcher, huge injury risks in center field and left with Erstad and Anderson, and an injury risk in Vladimir Guererro that’s frightening not so much because of its likelihood as its potential impact on run-production.
Three fifths of the rotation gets warning lights, including the goofy injury to Colon and the red light on Ervin Santana. If anyone goes down, are the Angels going to ask for regular starts from 36 year-old Hector Carrasco? If that doesn’t work, or someone else breaks down, do they turn to Joe Saunders or Jered Weaver? What happens when (not if) Francisco Rodriguez breaks down? Scot Shields can cover a lot of those high-leverage innings but the bullpen as a whole would get substantially worse. Brendan Donnelly hasn’t looked as strong lately, and Kevin Gregg and Esteban Yan aren’t guys you want to trust in many close games.
It certainly doesn’t help matters that Chone Figgins is already being slotted into a regular job at 3B. His versatility as a super-sub was one of the things that kept the Angels alive through various injuries the last couple of years. Of course, there’s also the loss of bench coach Joe Maddon, who was the strategist of Manager Mike Scioscia’s coaching staff, and was responsible for monitoring player usage.
There’s no way to look at this Team Health Report and not see half a dozen ways the Angels could go off the rails and end up with something like 77 wins. Everything has to go right for this team to be competitive; just a couple nagging injuries and the Angels are toast.