The Facts
Head Trainer: Ken Crenshaw
Player Days Lost: 439
Dollars Lost, 2008: $8.86 million
Three-Year Rank: 4

There’s a clear correlation between team health and team success, but that’s circular logic, and not much can be learned from it. By keeping your best players on the field, there’s more of a chance they’ll be better. If someone ran the numbers, I bet most of the big jumps in teams from year to year came from much improved health. It’s a bit of luck, even a fluke, when done in any given season. Looked at over longer periods, such as the three-year rankings now available, give a bit more insight. Five- or even ten-year rankings might tell us even more, because while players change, medical staffs don’t… at least not quite as much. Heading into his third year in Arizona after three years as Tampa’s head trainer, Ken Crenshaw has shown that he can succeed no matter which coast he’s on.

It’s intriguing to see the big drop in the days lost chart for the D’backs. Crenshaw’s predessor, Paul Lessard (now with the Red Sox), oversaw an aging and oft-injured lineup. The team Crenshaw’s responsible for keeping in working order looks a lot different, but there’s a consistency to the numbers seen for Crenshaw across two teams that there simply isn’t for Lessard. (That said, Lessard’s numbers look a lot better despite being on another aging team in Boston.) Because of the relative stability of medical staffs, it’s not often that we get to compare athletic trainers in different situations. For Crenshaw, it’s merely confirmation of his reputation as one of the best in the business.

So how are the Diamondbacks using this resource? By optimizing what Crenshaw does best, combining the types of players that respond well to his aggressive preventative techniques, unique ideas on conditioning, and giving him just enough physical challenges to keep him busy, but seldom overworked. The Diamondbacks under Josh Byrnes have excelled in many areas, but one that often goes unnoticed is the difference that team health has made in rebuilding a winning franchise.

The Big Question
The bloggers from Arizona Snakepit ask: “Randy Johnson‘s back flared up last year, ending his season in June and necessitating further surgery. What is the prognosis for his return this year, and can we expect more than ten starts from him?”

Johnson is obviously a significant wild card in the D’backs hopes, even now that they can slot him behind two ace-level starters in this year’s rotation. Given his recovery from back surgery last year–or lack thereof–is there anything different we can expect this year? I think so. The earlier microdiscectomy was a minimally invasive procedure designed to make his return possible. The second, more invasive procedure was more designed to fix the root problem in his back. We saw that, even with the pain and weakness, Johnson was still effective. There’s always a risk that his back will simply not respond, and that the pain will force him to walk off the mound for the last time. Seeing Johnson throwing long-toss this offseason looks good, and given the information we have and Johnson’s competitive fire, I think we’ll see something more like the Big Unit of old on the mound in 2008.

C Chris Snyder Green light: Splitting time with Miguel Montero (Green light) keeps them both healthy; both would become low yellows with increased playing time.

1B Conor Jackson Green light: He’s had some minor injuries, but seems to be adjusting to first base well enough. If Jackson splits some time with Chad Tracy (img src=/news/images/thr_red.jpg width=69 height=23 alt=”Red light” />), who’s coming off microfracture surgery to his knee, he becomes an even better risk.

2B Orlando Hudson Red light: Hudson should come back from the thumb injury that ended his season, though he should see some early-season loss of power; nevertheless, Brandon Webb should be very happy. Hudson’s red borders on orange, but the rating’s due to the location of the ligament tear: it was high, near the wrist, and those injuries have a tendency to recur and linger.

3B Mark Reynolds Green light

SS Stephen Drew Green light: Drew’s genetics are an interesting test case, because so far he’s shown none of the problems his brothers faced.

LF Eric Byrnes Yellow light: Byrnes held up better in left than he ever did in center. Is that a matter of evolution, or a fluke? The combination of his playing style and age doesn’t bode well for a healthy future, but he seems conscious of the problem, and has seemingly dialed the dives back. His improved speed on the bases came as result of his being kept healthy, not vice versa.

CF Chris B. Young Green light

RF Justin Upton Yellow light: He’s so young that the system doesn’t really have enough of a base to make an accurate read. If there’s only two 19-year-old center fielders, one injury makes for a high actuarial base; yellow’s probably a bit high for his actual risk.

SP Brandon Webb Green light

SP Dan Haren Green light

SP Randy Johnson Red light: Just because I’m positive on his chances of comeback (see above) doesn’t mean that he’s not risky. I think he’ll probably need some extra days off, maybe even a stint on the DL at some point during the season. What I’m watching for is the return of his fastball: if he’s back in the mid-90’s, his back is fine.

SP Doug Davis Yellow light: One unsourced report last year was “Doug Davis was in a bar and said his arm was cashed.” If that’s cashed, then the Diamondbacks would gladly take another year of it. Davis is a consistent innings-eater who not long ago was a free-talent pickup. He’s a reminder of why the waiver wire always bears watching.

SP Micah Owings Yellow light: He could be facing an innings increase this season, especially if Johnson doesn’t hold up. The more interesting play might be Bob Melvin‘s musing that he could use Owings as a backup at first base; the system has no way to deal with that, or even any increased use as a pinch-hitter.

CL Brandon Lyon Red light: Lyon was healthy enough last year that the team traded away Jose Valverde, who was healthy enough for once to show his true talent. Lyon could be the same, or he could get hurt, just as he usually has. There’s probably not much middle ground.

RL Tony Pena Yellow light: He has the stuff, including a high-90s riding fastball, but he’s never had the consistency. He’s also got a history of elbow problems, which makes him the latest so afflicted in a long line of Arizona closers going back to Matt Mantei.

Lineups courtesy SportsBlogs Nation.

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