The Facts
Head Trainer: Brad Henderson
Player Days Lost: 395
Dollars Lost, 2007: $3.8 million
Three-Year Ranking: 10

Fourth place seems pretty good when you’ve been looking up as long as the Pirates have. If there’s one thing they seem to do well, it’s managing injuries. Or is it? The team had a very nice 2007 campaign medically, though certainly they dealt with what seems like a lot more injuries than showed up in the Injury Database. Jason Bay played all season on balky knees, Xavier Nady had various problems, Freddy Sanchez started off his defense of his batting title handicapped by a bum knee, and Adam LaRoche never quite seemed comfortable. So is the fourth-place finish in DL Days Lost just a mirage?

The simple answer would be “yes.” In 2005, the Bucs lost 713 days to injuries, and followed that with 842 days lost in 2006. That sure makes that big decline down to 395 days lost last year seem flukish. Since taking over for long-time trainer Kent Biggerstaff, Brad Henderson hasn’t been able to establish any sort of real identity against the backdrop of the team struggling, dealing with a massive influx of young players, and getting little support from above. Keeping Bay on the field despite his struggles was one reason the number of total days lost stayed low, but perhaps the biggest reason for that good overall tally was that, of their four young starters, they were able to keep three of them healthy. Scoring 75 percent may only get you a C in most schools, but for those charged with handling young pitchers, it’s a solid A. That challenge carries over to this year, where mounting innings totals will be a test for Tom Gorzelanny coming off of a criminally heavy usage pattern late in the season, and with Ian Snell also crossing the 200-inning mark for the first time.

The Pirates are starting a new era under new management with a new outlook. For now, they’re saddled with the same old talent. Keeping them healthy maximizes their ability to contribute to the Pirates and their value in trade. If new club president Frank Coonelly is watching closely-and he is-he’ll be looking to see if last season’s performance was a fluke or a trend. The organizations’ initial success in turning this Pirate ship around might depend on the answer.

The Big Question

The bloggers from Bucs Dugout ask “How much of Jason Bay’s 2007 season can be attributed to injuries?” The easy answer is to say that the loss of leg drive hurt his power, speed, and range. What’s not so clear is why. Bay’s injury wasn’t that serious; he had some articular irritation behind his kneecap, or in layman’s terms, he had a rough spot that rubbed when he moved. It was cleaned up, and that should have been that. Instead, the knee stayed inflamed and the tendon became problematic. He didn’t have the expected off-season surgery after the year and now sounds frighteningly like he did at this time last year, saying that he’ll be ready for camp, just not ready to go full-bore. His speed isn’t that good of an indicator, as he also lost some speed in 2006, likely the result of the problem that led to surgery. I think given what we know, he’ll come back some. The biggest change, I hope, is that new skipper John Russell understands that a spot of rest now and again would likely help Bay stay productive. A day off here or there, especially if he struggles with further tendonitis, would be smart. Jim Tracy never grasped that.

C Ronny Paulino Yellow light: A motivation issue doesn’t really show up here, but neither does the team’s plethora of alternative options, except potentially in how that might hold down his workload. That’s one of the few positives on his injury assessment.

1B Adam LaRoche Yellow light: He started the year with a back problem and ended it with a knee problem, and while he avoided surgery on both, he managed to put up one of the weirdest split lines you’ve ever seen. Unpredictability equals risk.

2B Freddy Sanchez Yellow light: Aside from the early-season struggles coming off of a knee sprain, Sanchez produced pretty much as expected. The position change from third to second didn’t hurt him, mostly because he was already hurt and getting days off initially during the transition, which helped him subsequently play a full season. It wasn’t planned, but it’s a good plan.

SS Jack Wilson Yellow light: Yeah, I didn’t expect him to be here either, because Wilson tends to be healthy. He’s on the extreme low end of yellow based mostly on age, but it’s tempered by the chance that he eventually loses his job.

3B Jose Bautista Green light

LF Jason Bay Red light: For more on Bay, see The Big Question.

CF Nate McLouth Green light

RF Xavier Nady Red light: Nady had an odd combo of an injury-plagued year and career numbers. The hamstring injury is worrisome, since he wasn’t rangy to begin with.

SP Ian Snell Green light: He’s just barely green, but he’s delivered some early indications that he can be a consistent 200-inning pitcher.

SP Tom Gorzelanny Red light: He has the best stuff of the young foursome, but given how he was used at the end of the 2007 season, we can only hope he can bounce back. It was one of the single worst abuses of a pitcher I’ve ever seen, and all in pursuit of an utterly meaningless 15th win on a team going nowhere.

SP Paul Maholm Yellow light: Late-season back problems were an indication of the fatigue that’s likely going to hold him at a 180-inning plateau throughout his career. He doesn’t have the stuff or stamina to be an ace, but if he’s monitored and used properly, he can still be valuable.

SP Matt Morris Yellow light: Morris has been injured often enough in his career to be as much a mentor to the trainers as he might be to the young pitchers.

SP Zach Duke Red light: He’s just across the red line. With the new regime in place, Duke wants to get back to the smooth, Glavine-like motion that helped him get up to the majors quickly. We’ll just have to see how much damage was done in two years of abuse to someone who looked like a solid pitcher.

CL Matt Capps Green light: One of the smoothest motions you’ll ever see contributes to his easy control of his stuff.

RP Damaso Marte Yellow light: He was in an off-season car accident and spent much of last season dealing with problems around-but never in-his pitching elbow. He’s a key veteran component in a bullpen that’s being rebuilt, where having Marte available should keep Capps from being overworked.

Lineups courtesy of SportsBlogs Nation. John Perrotto and Brad Wochomurka also contributed to this report.

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