C Koyie Hill: Catchers need ankles. It’s one of the job requirements. They use them a lot, what with all the squatting and throwing. Pins in your ankle don’t help. Hill isn’t that young at 26 and hasn’t really been tested under the strain of regular duty, so let’s up his risk just a little bit more than most “rookies.”
1B Chad Tracy
2B Craig Counsell: A variety of minor ailments and the relentless passing of time make Counsell a yellow, if a dim one. The slightest injury to the middle infield opens up better combinations, so watch for Pipping possibilities.
3B Troy Glaus: His shoulder problems are well known. However, Glaus came back strong with the bat last year. If his arm ends up weak, they’ll simply shift him to first, minimizing the risk. There’s some recurrence risk, but this was a tear, not a dislocation. The structure itself wasn’t compromised and he’s playing long toss now. If you liked what you saw at the end of 2004, you’ll like Glaus in ’05.
LF Luis Gonzalez: Gonzalez is coming back from Tommy John surgery. Shock waves ran through the clubhouse after he agreed to stay in-house for his surgery, coming out in a cast–the repercussions are still filtering out. Add that his production isn’t aging particularly well and you get a player likely to find that statistical cliff soon.
RF Shawn Green: The shoulder remains a problem, and it’s never going to stop being a problem until Green hangs up his spikes. He adjusted well throughout last season, learning what he can and can’t do, adjusting the mechanics of his throwing and swing to maximize what he has. That’s smart baseball.
Scott Hairston: His brother may be better known to date, but Scott’s also trying to find a position, and brings a bigger bat to wherever he ends up. Complaints over his work ethic have pushed him out of the infield, but attitude isn’t usually a medical condition, unless a teammate breaks your jaw.
SP Russ Ortiz: Remember Mark Davis? Call his Cy Young a fluke if you must, but it sits on the mantle just the same. His latest task is to somehow teach a staff of nibblers to take big bites without giving up the long ball. Ortiz is likely to have problems if he gets inefficient in this park, racking up nasty pitch counts and setting himself up for dangerous situations. Ortiz predicted recently that the D-Backs would win 100 games, prompting a BP staffer to quip, “Does he know they signed Russ Ortiz?”
SP Brandon Webb
SP Shawn Estes: Good for 160 mediocre innings a year, not the 200 he put up last season. Being left-handed has its advantages in life.
SP Oscar Villarreal: He’s better suited to a set-up role, but here he is. Nerve transposition surgery is no small deal, so watch him closely early in spring training. He’s already had bone spurs in his elbow, so this is just a case of hold on and see what you get before he breaks.
CL Jose Valverde: If he came back from labrum surgery better, he’d be in Oakland now. He didn’t, he isn’t, and it says a lot that he’s still considered the favorite for the closer slot. The alternative is Greg Aquino, who’s healthier but doesn’t have the whiffable stuff that Bob Melvin wants in his pen.
The green lights on Vazquez and Webb might surprise some people. Just take a look at Vazquez’s “down season” and you’ll see some pretty good peripheral stats that don’t show much in the way of downturn from previous levels. He’s durable and well past the time where the abuse heaped on him should have shown up. I don’t think he’s going to last long in baseball, probably out in three or four years, but it will be a slow fade. Webb, on the other hand, is youngish, has racked up plenty of innings, but not in a very stressful manner. No one’s noted odd patterns with the pronating sinkerballers, but his performance will still be worth noting.
Regarding the team as a whole, the Diamondbacks lost last season because the talent they had could not make up for the injuries they suffered. Any team with a dearth of talent, or one so concentrated in a few players, can’t take the massive amount of injuries that the Snakes suffered in 2004. The D-Backs put up more than 1,800 days lost to the DL. That’s the equivalent of 10 players lost for the season. That’s 1,100 days more than average and well above the 29th-worst team. The flukish season is big enough to throw off the team’s three- and five-year averages as well, so there’s little to tell from the basic injury statistics that we have.
Do teams that have injury spikes tend to normalize the next season? The answer appears to be no. Turnover in players, changes in team makeup, and the simple luck-of-the-draw nature of traumatic injuries reset themselves year after year. What holds them up in the back third is losing pitchers to extended surgical vacations or players having chronic conditions.
The first BP Pizza Feed and Book Signing in Las Vegas will happen Thursday, March 3. We’re finalizing location but need to take RSVPs to get the right-sized room. Joe Sheehan and Will Carroll, along with ESPN 720 personalities and special guests, will be on hand to talk baseball, sign books, and have some fun. It’s Vegas, baby! Sign up now by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject: VEGAS FEED.