Each year at Baseball Prospectus, we take a look back at the season and give out awards to honor those who have excelled. Some, like the Internet Baseball Awards, help to give analysis-based recognition to the best seasons for pitchers, players, and managers. They’re easy to understand, and add a bit more hardware that Albert Pujols has to find a place for on his mantle. For athletic trainers, there’s hardly any notice given to their work, and even less recognition of excellence. In 2003, we established the Dick Martin Award for Best Medical Staff, named after the long-time Twins trainer that helped set the standards that today’s athletic trainers and doctors aspire to.
In 2008, we’re proud to announce that the Dick Martin Award goes to the Pittsburgh Pirates, led by head athletic trainer Brad Henderson. Henderson’s staff not only had an excellent 2008 campaign, but their three-year results and trends are the best in the game. In 2008, the Pirates faced the challenge of keeping a young team and a hard-worked pitching staff healthy enough to remain competitive. With only 385 days lost to the DL and only six percent of the payroll, the Pirates more than met the challenge. Most impressive might be the health of the pitching staff, highlighted by only 24 days lost by starters. Ian Snell, after missing just 16 days in late June, came back and stayed healthy throughout the rest of the season.
Henderson and his assistant, Mike Sandoval, also did well in keeping Jason Bay on the field after the previous year’s knee problems. His health and production made him a valuable trade commodity, allowing GM Neal Huntington the flexibility to participate in a deal to replenish the Pirates’ minor league system. Keeping Ryan Doumit healthy at catcher was also no small task, and almost all of the Pirates’ main contributors met or exceeded their projected playing time, a real testament to the work of Henderson and his staff in preparing their players, maintaining their health, rehabbing them quickly and effectively, and returning them to the field.
While the Pirates’ record doesn’t reflect the results in the training room, we’ve often found that winning this award can be a leading indicator of future success-previous winners Tampa Bay and Milwaukee won the award at the start of an upswing in their franchises’ fortunes. The Pirates will face challenges over the next few seasons to replicate those results. Reducing injuries is actually the easy part, the product of hard work and an organizational focus. Keeping them down is the result of the same hard work and a little bit of luck. One Tommy John, a lingering hamstring strain, or a broken finger on a HBP can throw off a year’s numbers for any training staff. Add in that to succeed, a team often needs to take on more risk, something that can lead to more wins, but that can also result in superficially worse injury numbers for a team like Tampa Bay. I’m quite sure however, that Andrew Friedman and Ron Porterfield will take a pennant over a Dick Martin Award.
Also meriting mention for their excellence are Herm Schneider and his staff with the Chicago White Sox, Dave Labossiere and his team on the Houston Astros, and Roger Caplinger’s crew with the Milwaukee Brewers. All of us at Baseball Prospectus congratulate Brad Henderson and the Pittsburgh Pirates, but also every athletic trainer, therapist, and doctor at all levels of professional baseball. They are truly the unsung heroes of the game.