The Facts
Head Athletic Trainer: Jeff Porter
Player Days Lost: 1,018
Dollars Lost: $22.19 million
Three-Year Rank: 28

There’s no counter at the top of today’s THR, but we’ve moved to the second half of Health Reports. Since we’re doing them in order of their finish for last year’s Dick Martin Award, it’s telling in some small way if your team has yet to run. For a team like the Braves, just barely over that invisible line, there’s not too much to worry about. Their stats have been held back significantly over the past couple of seasons by the construction of the roster in general, and by the presence of Mike Hampton specifically. It’s not often that a single player can do as much damage to a team’s injury stats the way that Hampton has to the Braves’. It also makes it tougher to judge the job they’re doing. While Jeff Porter, their longtime athletic trainer, has been doing things the same way for a long time, as head trainer for the past half-decade, but also as Dave Pursley’s assistant for nearly 20 years previously. The results haven’t been quite as steady.

In fact, it seems as if the Braves are one of the teams that fluctuates greatly year over year. Their reliance on luck is a bit more than one would hope for, but the totals look worse than the general perception-28th out of 30 over the last three seasons. They have a higher than normal injury rate among their pitchers, largely due to the type of bullpen arms they’ve brought in, and also a rash of Tommy John surgeries from a few years back that included John Smoltz. The depth that the team had allowed them to push through those injuries and put together 15 years of divisional dominance, but that’s not there now. Porter and his team are now going to have to keep that depth from being tested too much.

That will be a challenge, because they’ll be dealing with a team that’s far from stable. The top talent-Jones, Smoltz, and Hampton-are already likely to require a lot of the training staff’s attention to maintain their level, so adding in players like Mark Kotsay and an aging Tom Glavine doesn’t help the trainers’ workload. Injuries are nearly inevitable within this collection of fragile talent, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. By minimizing the damage, by keeping the injuries from stacking, and through a program of maintenance, even a middling stat-based finish for the medical staff might help the Braves stay close in a competitive NL East.

The Big Question
The bloggers from Talking Chop ask, “With a lot of potential for injuries affecting this team, how much production will we get from Mark Kotsay (coming off of back surgery), Mike Hampton (coming off of all sorts of arm surgeries), and Mike Gonzalez (coming back from TJ surgery)? How they come back from injury could decide the fate of the 2008 Braves.”

That’s a very mixed bag. Kotsay is coming off of what should be a minor, corrective back surgery, Gonzalez is coming back from what might be the most predictable surgery in baseball, and Hampton… is Hampton. I’ve wondered if Hampton was younger whether or not he could pull off a Rick Ankiel-style switch to hitting full-time. As it is, he’s looked good thus far this spring, but every pitch is an unpredictable event for Hampton at this stage in his career.

C Brian McCann Yellow light: The Braves have always used their catchers a little differently than most. Whether it was Greg Maddux‘s caddy, or now, they’ve always liked having a very lightly-used backup, even when they had quality like Jarrod Saltalamacchia available. Javy Lopez, the sequel, isn’t likely to take on much of the workload.

1B Mark Teixeira Yellow light: Weighting a player’s most recent injuries makes sense, but Big Tex had never really had problems until last year, so the weighting overemphasizes that one minor problem. He didn’t have any trouble with the quad after the trade, so this very low yellow, bordering on green, doesn’t concern me in the least, especially as he heads into his Balt … I mean, contract year.

2B Kelly Johnson Yellow light: Just as Teixeira is hurt a bit by weighting, Johnson’s helped by it. He came back from his elbow woes to be a solid second baseman. This is a more solid yellow, but I don’t see any reason to change the expectation from what we saw last season.

3B Chipper Jones Red light: Jones’ numbers are skewed by his refusal to go on the DL and the Braves’ refusal to make him. His legs are shot, and even a move to first at this stage isn’t going to help much as he heads into the stage of his career where health will determine if he’s a Hall of Famer or not.

SS Yunel Escobar Green light

LF Matt Diaz Green light

CF Mark Kotsay Red light: The back surgery he had last season was supposed to clear things up. The early indications were that it wasn’t quite the all-clear it was purported to be. With a new staff, the adjustment to his maintenance could be a bigger problem than Frank Wren expects.

RF Jeff Francoeur Green light

SP John Smoltz Red light: There’s a bit of a sample-size issue here. There simply aren’t many pitchers in this age bracket, so when a few get hurt, it makes it very tough to keep the system’s actuarial base in a reasonable range. It’s important to note that Smoltz is doing something similar to what Curt Schilling was doing over the course of last season and this past offseason, transitioning from power pitcher to finesse. This can be very hard to do and often involves some mechanical changes, so he’s even more risky in the first month or so of the season.

SP Tim Hudson Yellow light: Hudson stayed healthy again last season, but he’s always been the type to have small things throw him off rather than one big thing. Speaking of big things, that’s what his salary is now. He’s likely to be available at the deadline if he’s healthy.

SP Tom Glavine Yellow light: This one’s strictly a matter of age and Glavine’s lowered thresholds. He’s not a workhorse anymore, and he doesn’t get the outside corner like he used to, but he still improves the Braves’ once-vaunted rotation. Glavine’s seldom touted as one of the better mechanical pitchers because he’s not; it’s his athleticism that has kept him healthy, and also his ability to adjust quickly. A PECOTA attrition rate approaching 50 percent does not bode well for him.

SP Mike Hampton Red light: I could probably write 1000 words on Hampton, but for me the most interesting part of his story isn’t his late-career injuries, but how his athleticism failed to prevent them. It’s hard to call him an exception, but he is exceptional in so many ways that using normal reasoning fails. Hampton’s both a medical mess and medical marvel, but the idea that he suddenly gets healthy and earns out the tail end of that contract is not likely.

SP Chuck James Red light: James is coming off of a small rotator cuff “fray,” which is different than a tear. It’s still not good, and will likely have him start the year on the DL. Jair Jurrjens will be the likely fill-in for James initially, and then he’ll wait around for Mike Hampton to implode. James is an interesting test case for the Verducci Rule’s minor league conundrum.

CL Rafael Soriano Red light: Soriano’s return from Tommy John surgery was perfect, which has to make Mike Gonzalez feel a little bet better. While Soriano remains at the low (almost yellow) end of very risky, his control coming back so quickly is a positive indicator that the system doesn’t consider.

RP Peter Moylan Yellow light: He’s the Aussie version of Pat Neshek. The motion is a little smoother, and even though the system doesn’t know he’s a sidearmer, he’s risky due more to the back spasms that have plagued him since he started dropping down. Yes, that sidewinding is relatively new to him, and no, I have no idea what to do with that.

Lineups courtesy SportsBlogs Nation.

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