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Will Carroll is best known as the resident injury expert at Baseball Prospectus, where he authors the popular Under The Knife column. He is also the co-host of BP Radio and the author of two books- Saving the Pitcher and The Juice: The Real Story of Baseball’s Drug Problems.
Recently, Will unveiled his annual Positional Health Reports that break down players into bands of normal risk (green), elevated risk (yellow), and high risk (red). For a more detailed explanation of his methodology, you can check out his introduction. ITW was able to catch up with Will and discuss some Orioles baseball.
ITW: You gave Miguel Tejada a blue rating, indicating that he is pretty much in a league of his own health-wise. Can you pinpoint what elements of his build, style of play, etc. make him such an anomaly?
Will: He was actually one standard deviation above the positional threshold. They require me to do something mathematical at BP (laughs).
As far as pinpointing why; no, I can’t. That’s what these ratings are all about. I had a conversation with Sig Mejdal, who works for the St. Louis Cardinals. For the last couple of Bill James Handbook’s, he’s done ratings that are similar in results to mine, but it goes through a different system of calculations. One year, his was better than mine. One year, mine was better than his. And so this year is the rubber death match. He gave me a lot of great idea and one of his was “What do we do about these freaks? How do we address these guys who are significantly healthier than everyone else and how do we find them?”
So what I tried to do was find the guys who were just busting the system up. Instead of just lumping them in with the green [ratings], I wanted to give them special mention. I also backdated through five years of data and looked for guys who stood out then; and, the funny thing is, it is a lot of the same guys. So is there predictability to this? If you are a blue player, do you stay a blue player? Can we look at it and say that blue players have this quality and that quality and so do these guys coming up? I don’t have any conclusions from it right now, but it is one of those things where I hope we can learn something in the future.
ITW: Just for amusement’s sake, if you had to handicap Tejada’s chances of catching Cal Ripken’s games played streak, what would his odds be?
Will: I don’t know… there is a [decimal] point and some zeroes and a one. One in a million, maybe. The fact is that Ripken’s record was so out there… We all thought that Gehrig’s record was unbeatable, so who knows when Ripken’s will be challenged?
ITW: Erik Bedard earns a green rating despite missing 49 games in 2005 with a knee injury and being a Tommy John survivor. Is it that those injuries are far enough in the past that it is fair to discount them to a degree?
Will: Yes. That’s exactly what it was. He made some mechanical changes that I factored in. Working with [Leo] Mazzone factored in, because Mazzone has fewer injuries than most. Being with the Orioles helps, because Orioles come back from injuries quicker than most. There are a lot of factors that go in there. He wasn’t a big green, but, especially with the age adjustment (he went from one grouping to another), that really helped him.
I don’t think he made green by very much. He was one of those that, as I’m going through and the system is making its calculations, definitely surprised me. But I go back and I check the data and he turns up green again. Bedard is one of the players that, I could make infinite shades of green and he wouldn’t look as great, but I wanted to keep this as a quick and easy tool. He is a talented player and I guess I don’t see him as a significant injury risk. Could he get hurt? Absolutely, but pitching is a dangerous activity for anybody.
ITW: You wrote the following about Daniel Cabrera: “Early on, Cabrera didn’t seem to absorb any of the magical pixie dust that Leo Mazzone was supposed to bring along. Mazzone’s methods don’t seem to have a middle ground; pitchers love them or hate them. I worry that Cabrera’s resistance is going to make him into one of the non-success stories.” Can you explain this a bit further?
Will: Mazzone, for all the credit he gets, no one really knocks him for the failures he’s had. Unlike Dave Duncan, who I think the world of and who I think is just as good as Mazzone, if not better. There is no specific type that Mazzone works with better than others, at least that we can see. Maybe it’s a certain personality type, who knows?
Cabrera is a guy I watched a lot of tape of, because everybody asks me about Mazzone and the effect he might have. I don’t think we’re going to see any, at least right off the bat. Mazzone’s changes in Atlanta were so systemic, that I don’t think he has that level of control [in Baltimore], even with all that money they’re paying him and even with his good friend Sam [Perlozzo] as the manager. I just don’t see the major changes all the way down to the minor leagues. You see that in New York, and Oakland, and a couple of other places, where there is an organizational philosophy that a pitcher has to buy into right away. And, like I said, I watched a lot of tape of Cabrera and I just didn’t see the changes one would expect. I worry that he is like Steve Avery, a great talent that just didn’t click with Mazzone for whatever reason.
ITW: Do you think any of that could be attributed to the World Baseball Classic interrupting Cabrera’s first spring training with Mazzone?
Will: It certainly could have an effect, but baseball has a lot more control over its players than they admit. You always hear that someone is playing winter ball when the team doesn’t want them to, but it really is a year-round game now. Everyone has a conditioning program. There are phones in the Dominican Republic and they talk to [Cabrera] all the time, so I really don’t think that was as big of a deal as people let on. The World Baseball Classic was one of those singular events and baseball players are creatures of habit, so there were already going to be changes for Cabrera going into camp. I can’t say how much it affected his relationship with Mazzone, but you have to figure the two met before that.
ITW: 2005 first round pick Brandon Snyder suffered a torn left (non-throwing) labrum in 2006. After surgery to repair his shoulder, Snyder was back to full activities in spring training and is now playing first base and DH’ing for the low-A Delmarva Shorebirds. The Orioles claim that he will be moved back to catcher in 2008. First, what, if any, complications should fans expect of Snyder this season? And second, what are the chances his shoulder is in good enough shape to move back behind the plate in 2008?
Will: First off, I don’t follow the minor leagues that closely. So, I don’t know much about Snyder other than he is very well thought of and is a catcher. But, when you look at a torn labrum for a hitter, it isn’t nearly as significant as it is for a pitcher. That it is his non-throwing shoulder makes the difference even more exaggerated. There have been a number of guys that have had complete labrum tears- Carlos Quentin is going through one right now, J.J. Hardy went through a few years ago. I don’t know how complete Snyder’s was, but I would think that, at least initially, he might have problems with power because he won’t get the full extension in that shoulder. In a year, you shouldn’t see any effect at all.
ITW: Thanks, Will. Any upcoming projects that fans should keep an eye out for?
Will: Obviously, at Baseball Prospectus, we are doing a ton of things. Under The Knife is a near daily column where we’re taking a look at every possible angle for injuries and figuring out how we can help the game of baseball. Also, at MLB.com, we did a breakdown of Daisuke Matsuzaka’s mechanics and there will be two more similar pieces there. We take a look at what good mechanics are and what bad mechanics are. A lot of times when people talk about mechanics, they really don’t know what they are talking about, so we are trying to make that as user-friendly as possible.
Michael Hollman is the Senior Writer for Inside The Warehouse and can be reached via email at Publisher@InsideTheWarehouse.com