The Facts
Head Trainer: Lonnie Soloff (two years with the team)
Player Days Lost, 2007: 324
Dollars Lost, 2007: $4.3 million
Three-Year Ranking: 1

It should come as no real surprise that the Indians not only walked away with the Dick Martin Award last year, but that they parlayed that into on-field success. It’s not exactly rocket science to state that keeping your best players on the field will lead to more wins. That more teams don’t understand this is beyond my comprehension. The Indians take a measured approach to everything, and that’s how they approach their medical staff as well. Lonnie Soloff and his team are among the best in the business, building a steady all-phases machine that doesn’t seem to have a weak spot in how it handles rehab, prevention, or incidence.

Without looking too closely, it’s easy for some to point to the relative youth of the team, but I’m looking elsewhere. This is an athletic team, personified by Grady Sizemore. Sizemore was a high school quarterback, and is one of those guys who could have succeeded in a couple of sports, but his skills bode well for his health. He’s a loose, graceful athlete who never seems to be working too hard, isn’t overmuscled, isn’t carrying excess weight, and has a history of health and hard work. I don’t mean to heap the praise on Sizemore here; he’s just the easiest example to cite. When you look around the team, you see more and more of this type of player. What about C.C. Sabathia, you say? Yes, he’s not svelte, and most wouldn’t describe him as graceful, though don’t be fooled by the size-Sabathia is built powerfully, not flabbily. His legs are as big as you’ll see on a human being, his hips are wide, and he’s both quick and flexible. The weight could be a problem down the line as it takes its toll on his knees and back, but that would only be if he slacks on conditioning, something we saw with David Wells in the later stages of his career.

The Big Question
The guys at Let’s Go Tribe ask, “My impression is that the Indians are super-cautious with pitchers, thinking in particular of how quickly and completely Jake Westbrook and Adam Miller got shut down last season. Your impression?” The Indians aren’t so much cautious as they are smart. Westbrook is a great test case for this, in that his oblique strain was the sort of injury that has caused other teams nightmares. Westbrook was shut down quickly after they determined the extent of the injury, and then he wasn’t rushed back, something a team with less depth or without forward thinking might do. The results are pretty clear-Westbrook came back and contributed. The team seems to understand that in baseball there’s seldom that ‘fierce urgency of now,’ to borrow a phrase. With the depth that the team has, they can afford to lose not one but two starters, and still not panic. It’s the holistic approach that marks the Indians under Mark Shapiro that is more notable here than any single medical tendency.

While the data isn’t there yet for me to make anything more than a general conclusion, the preference for some teams to draft athletes may have an impact on a team’s overall health. Add in a solid, understandable conditioning program, the Indians’ outstanding player development program, and a medical staff that is a key part of the team’s success, and the only surprise is that they have only one DMA on their shelf.

C Victor Martinez Yellow light: Remember all my talk about athleticism? It might not seem that Martinez fits that description, but remember, he started off as a shortstop and has the interesting talent of being able to throw with both hands. Taking the beating that every regular catcher endures takes some toll on him, he’s not fast, and is trending towards ‘old player skills’. He’s not much more risky than any other regular catcher, but he’s also the one Indian hardest to replace.

1B Ryan Garko Green light

2B Asdrubal Cabrera Yellow light: Named for a Carthaginian general (in case you’d been wondering), he’s a slick middle infielder. However, he’s also not a natural second baseman, so I’m giving him a partial position change penalty, which makes him a slight yellow. He’s also had some minor hamstring problems, especially when he’s pushing himself on the basepaths.

3B Casey Blake Green light

SS Jhonny Peralta Yellow light: Peralta has always been penalized a bit for his size; players that are bigger than average tend to be either more muscular and therefore subject to more musculotendinous injuries, or fatter and subject to more injuries that fat guys get. Peralta’s neither, really, and the system doesn’t know how to pronounce sui generis.

LF David Dellucci Yellow light: Dellucci spent much of last season dealing with a torn hamstring tendon and the surgery to remove it; it worked for Edgar Martinez. Even as part of a platoon with Jason Michaels (who gets a Green light ), Delluci will need to run occasionally. We’ll see if he comes back to his previous level after the surgery.

CF Grady Sizemore Green light

RF Franklin Gutierrez Green light

DH Travis Hafner Green light

SP C.C. Sabathia Yellow light: Sabathia is heading into a contract year, and has already had to carry a big workload on his arm. That said, he’s as unrisky as pitchers come from a mechanical standpoint. There’s some concern that the post-season innings may have an impact, but 200 innings is almost a gimme for the big man.

SP Fausto Carmona Red light: What Sabathia shrugs off, Carmona might, but the unknown involves risks. Carmona has never had to come back from a 200-inning workload before, and there’s almost always a price to pay for that. I’d expect Carmona to have something happen like did with Westbrook last year at midseason-a minor injury that causes him to miss a month, but that he comes back from strong and actually winds up getting saved from another big jump in IP by the time off.

SP Jake Westbrook Yellow light: Westbrook’s oblique isn’t a big concern, but the system doesn’t like the trend line; throwing 200 innings, once repeated, is usually a true indication of both talent and health, but once off it, few don’t have some trouble getting back to it. However, Westbrook’s easy throwing motion should give him a good shot.

SP Paul Byrd Red light: It’s age more than any pituitary condition that pushes this to red. Byrd’s arm is coming out of the Tommy John surgery “honeymoon,” and for anybody pitching at the age of 36, there’s always some concern. He’s more likely to be pushed aside than anyone else in the rotation, and an injury makes for a tidy way of that happening.

SP Cliff Lee Red light: Lee never got on track after starting the season on the DL with an abdominal strain. In addition to getting hurt, he was additionally unlucky on the mound and has some competition, which might make him the type to overextend himself, so beware. The Indians have plenty of options past him (like Aaron Laffey, Green light), but Eric Wedge has said that it’s Lee’s job to lose.

CL Joe Borowski Yellow light: He’s another year older and gets the saves by making hitters hit his pitch. It works, but the slightest problem could cause more of the nightmare outings that made Eric Wedge go so gray last season.

RP Rafael Betancourt Green light

Projected lineups appear courtesy of SportsBlogs Nation.

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