1B Jeff Bagwell: Sure, his shoulder is shot. He can’t throw and he’s changing his familiar batting stance to try and find the power that has been fading. At first, he’s unlikely to tax his shoulder more than he has in the past. He’s more likely to retire than he is to spend a long stint on the DL.
SS Adam Everett: Everett’s wrist injury cost him the last third of the season. It’s not the type of injury that recurs, but it can take a while for power to return. It won’t affect anything else he does well–running, fielding–so he’s still valuable without the power.
LF Jason Lane: Lane has some chronic groin problems. Add in a growing reputation for being a player that is both never quite 100 percent and who won’t play at less than 100 percent and it explains why he always seems to find himself on the bench.
CF Craig Biggio: Changing positions is usually a negative for short-term injury prospects, so what do we do with Biggio? A move to left didn’t bother him, and he’s made a number of other moves during his career. He’s aged well and defied the “dirtbag curse” of the hustling, diving player who tends to spend time coming back from nagging injuries. Biggio this season shouldn’t be much different than Biggio last season. I’m just not sure if that’s a compliment.
RF Lance Berkman: I love the easy ones. Berkman is coming back from an ACL torn in a November flag football game. Scheduled to return in May, he’s telling everyone that he’s ahead of schedule. The repair is an operation that normally puts players out for a year, so my guess is that the tear wasn’t complete. It also might be that new techniques are changing the normal recovery time. Once back, it shouldn’t affect his game, but his center-field days are probably over.
2B Chris Burke
CF Willy Taveras: Described as “Ichiro fast,” Taveras could push Biggio to second base or an outfield corner if he makes the club. How Taveras plays in the spring, and how fast Berkman is able to come back will determine how this plays out, but it won’t really affect the injury outlook for any of the players involved.
SP Roger Clemens: Freak.
SP Roy Oswalt: Oswalt looks really good when healthy…and pretty darn good when he’s not. He’ll fight through injuries, sacrificing his body to help his team. At some point, that’s going to catch up with him. Pitchers of this type burn brightly, but seldom for very long.
SP Andy Pettitte: I don’t like this red. Pettitte has a history of reasonably good returns, and he has a very good comp in Jason Schmidt. Assuming the flexor tendon problem is all that was wrong–and there have long been other rumors about the condition of his arm–I feel pretty confident that Pettitte won’t become the worst signing of a pitcher in Texas state history.
SP Brandon Backe: Research–admittedly from a small set of data–shows that players converted to pitching from other positions at the professional level have a very high risk of injury. Backe has a number of issues beyond this, like poor mechanics and a rapidly changing workload.
SP Pete Munro
CL Brad Lidge: His mechanics kept him from remaining a starter, but he’s certainly found his place in the pen. It’s a low-level yellow, just noting the workload he put in over the last couple months of 2004 simply can’t be sustained. Phil Garner should consider this more than fantasy owners.
Age is a funny thing. Despite a persistent focus on certain ages as markers in evaluating players, Nate Silver has shown on a number of occasions that it’s not so simple as looking at a number. There are many factors other than a birthdate that go into projecting a player’s performance. The same applies for projecting injuries. There are certain broad generalizations we can make about certain ages, but when we bring this down, we find that averages seldom describe individuals well. They certainly miss the extremes.
The Astros are a team full of extremes. Roger Clemens might be well into his forties, but the latest Cy Young Award on his mantle certainly shows that his skills haven’t diminished. His green light shines in defiance of his age. Roy Oswalt made a credible case for the same award, but his workload and injury history make him a red-light player, despite being 15 years younger. This team, especially the pitching staff, doesn’t match up with conventional thinking.
Research shows that older pitchers aren’t injured significantly more than younger pitchers, but they do tend to take longer to heal. The reverse is true for younger pitchers, who come up with more numerous injuries but heal quickly. Making it tougher, there’s a line around age 34 where the “survivor effect” starts kicking in.
All in all, this is a team that’s pretty healthy. Give a lot of credit to Dave LaBossiere and his medical staff; they’ve consistently been in the top third of baseball when it comes to preventing injuries and returning their athletes on schedule. If they deliver Berkman when they say they will, and keep this pitching staff together, they’ll deserve a lot of the credit for a winning team.