San Francisco Giants Team Health Report: 2013 Injury Risk for Every Starter

Will CarrollSports Injuries Lead WriterMarch 4, 2013

San Francisco Giants Team Health Report: 2013 Injury Risk for Every Starter

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    Will Carroll has produced an annual Team Health Report for each MLB team for 12 years. The report gives risk ratings for every player in the expected starting lineup and starting rotation, plus two relievers. A proprietary formula sets a baseline according to a player's age and position. It is adjusted by 12 factors, including injury history, team history and expected workload.

    This risk rating is classified into three tiers—red (high risk), yellow (medium risk) and green (lower risk). It should be used as a guideline and is about probability, not prediction. To learn more about how the Team Health Reports are devised, click on this article

    2012 RANK: 18th best of 30 in DL days and dollars lost

    Biggest Injury: Brian Wilson, $5.75 million lost value

    Head Athletic Trainer: Dave Groeschner

    This is the twelfth edition of the Team Health Reports (or a version—we did Position Health Reports one year, but it didn't work as well.) I have never seen something like this before.

    There have been teams that didn't have red players. There have been teams with lots of greens. There has never, ever been a team that had every single listed pitcher as a green. Some of them significantly under the yellow threshold. All five starters, both relievers, all green. 

    It's not just the pitchers. Even with a catcher only a couple years removed from a career-threatening ankle injury and an injury-prone Panda at third, there's not a red to be found. This is simply a low-risk team. If health was a credit rating, the Giants would be getting the good loans.

    All this is a huge credit to Dave Groeschner and his staff. Once unfairly pushed out of the same job with the Cubs, Groeschner has been able to keep the work Stan Conte did in San Francisco going, even with complete roster turnover, losing staff, and fighting through some devastating injuries. It's kept Groeschner from collecting a Martin-Monahan Award, but he's collected some other nice prizes.

    Even last year, the team was saddled with season-long injuries to players like Brian Wilson and Eric Surkamp, plus long term injuries to Pablo Sandoval and Shane Loux. Aubrey Huff's absence also counts against the medical staff, though it really shouldn't. It kept the final injury stats near the median, though that doesn't tell you how this team got healthy at the right time.

    Low-risk doesn't mean this team is going to waltz through the season. Brian Wilson wasn't that risky last season but he lost all of it when his elbow popped. The same could happen to any of them and there's one pitcher I'm keeping a special eye on due to workload. 

    Still, two rings in three years is pretty special. Building a low-risk, high-talent team like this gives them a chance to go three for four if the Dodgers' big spending ways don't come together quickly.

    Click ahead for the Giants. Here are links to all the teams' reports.

     

    Will Carroll is the Lead Writer for Sports Medicine at Bleacher Report. He has written about sports injuries and related topics for 12 years. His column is called "the industry standard" by Hall of Famer Peter Gammons.  

C Buster Posey (YELLOW)

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    Which image comes to mind first when you think of Buster Posey: the two times he's celebrated winning a World Series in his career or that one day when he writhed in pain, his ankle broken and career in question? 

    Posey will never erase that painful image, but the Giants sure minimized it, both by winning and by creatively using Posey at 1B quite a bit. The Giants did what we've been begging the Twins to try with their own version of Joe Mauer. It's worked so far, and there's no reason to think that it won't again.

    The key with Posey is his athleticism. He was a SS at Florida State until he was switched in his sophomore year. His fundamentals are poor, but his quick hands and feet make up for it in most situations. It does raise the question of whether Posey could be shifted to 3B or even 2B, Biggio-style, down the line.

    Posey is a yellow risk this year mostly on position, but the more he's at 1B—or anywhere besides behind the plate more than half the time—the better his risk rating.

1B Brandon Belt (GREEN)

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    Part of Brandon Belt's green is that he's been relatively healthy during his yo-yo MLB career. Part of it is that Buster Posey's shift to 1B will push Belt to the bench as much as half the season. He'd still be green if he shifts to the OF for some of those games, so there's really no worries here.

2B Marco Scutaro (YELLOW)

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    The 2B slot has been an issue for the Giants—or at least their injury stats—for much of the last decade. Freddy Sanchez is gone, but the surprise impact of Marco Scutaro sticks at 2B. Then again, Scutaro is 37 and signing him for three years is...well, it's very Brian Sabean.

    There's no serious risk here besides the age and position, but finding a better 2B that could transition Scutaro to a bench player has to be a top priority. Joe Panik might be that guy, but he was at A-ball last season.

SS Brandon Crawford (YELLOW)

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    Maybe Brandon Crawford can stick as a full-time SS, but The System isn't so sure. He's just never done it, and The System much prefers the known to the unknown.

    There's no major risk here aside from playing at a level that he's just never done before. A glove can carry a bat, but fatigue makes both drop even more. That's the major risk with Crawford, who is the closest to a red risk level on the entire team. It would help if there was a better backup available—or just a better SS.  

3B Pablo Sandoval (YELLOW)

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    Injury history would seem to work against Pablo Sandoval, but anatomy helps. He's had the hamate bone in both wrists removed over the past few seasons, meaning he has no more hamates to remove.

    Sandoval saw a drop in his power numbers after those surgeries, which is to be expected. Those numbers should trend up slightly this season, assuming everything else stays healthy.

    The weight issue seems to be overblown for Sandoval. It's not like he just got big, and there's no evidence that it's affected his play. He'd be better off in the long-term if he could drop some weight, but The System isn't going to worry about that until he shows some knee or back issues.

LF Gregor Blanco (YELLOW)

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    The System just doesn't believe Gregor Blanco is more than a fourth OF. He could end up overexposed in the starting role that the Giants are forced into with him. Andres Torres will take some of these at-bats, or maybe Brandon Belt, but getting Blanco anywhere above 300 at-bats makes him riskier. Not risky, just riskier, which is one of those easy definitions that people don't seem to grasp.

    More chances to get hurt, combined with a workload that's never been seen, is rolling the dice with bad luck and fatigue. Yeah, that's why he's yellow. 

CF Angel Pagan (GREEN)

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    Signing a speedy slap hitter like Angel Pagan is the kind of mistake that Brian Sabean didn't make after the first World Series win, which is one of the many reasons the Giants got the second one. Pagan at $10 million a season might not seem that bad, especially considering his injury risk, but speed is becoming a more plentiful asset in 2013. Compare what Juan Pierre got and did, and you'll see why signing this kind of player to a long-term deal is far from ideal.

    The issue here is that Sabean felt he had to do this. Pagan may be a relatively low injury risk, but he's also still Angel Pagan. He's one bad hamstring pull away from being a real problem, and now an expensive one, even if The System doesn't believe that's likely.

RF Hunter Pence (GREEN)

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    There was a picture of Hunter Pence and Domonic Brown going around Twitter. Both of them are shirtless at some gym and the dudes are just jacked. Forget all the steroid jokes that are probably in your head and consider the dichotomous images here. On one hand, we have a ripped musclehead in a South Florida gym. On the other, it's Hunter Pence, a skinny-looking goofy guy who has consistently been at the 20-25 HR level. 

    So, which is it? To his health, it doesn't matter. The System isn't scouring Google Images looking to see whether Pence is buffed out or country strong. He's consistent. He is aging a bit and moving to a tough park for homers, so consider that. 

SP Matt Cain (GREEN)

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    I got into a discussion with a major league pitching coach—OK, it was Mike Maddux—a couple years ago about the perfect pitcher's body. I argued that it didn't exist, but he said he'd rather have a guy with strong legs and a thicker frame, along the lines of Roger Clemens or Curt Schilling. He also mentioned Matt Cain, a rookie that had jumped to the 190-inning mark.

    Like most things in pitching, take Maddux's word over mine. Cain is a flat-out stud who's put up 200-inning seasons ever since without an issue. He's shown no "playoff hangover," despite the extra workload, and has the rare combination of dominating stuff and an easy motion. 

    Cain is green and as close to a sure thing as you will find in pitching today.

SP Madison Bumgarner (GREEN)

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    While Madison Bumgarner profiles as a green risk, The System is more than a bit worried about his workload. He's entering his age-23 season with two 200-inning seasons under his belt and a high likelihood of another one. There's not a lot of pitchers who have had that workload at that age and come out without problems down the line. 

    Carlos Zambrano is the forgotten victim of those early-2000s Cubs teams. It was easy to see how the workload broke Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, but Zambrano kept eating up innings...until he didn't. There's always a cost. Dr. Glenn Fleisig compares pitching workload to smoking in that even if you smoke a pack a day as a youngster, the likelihood is you won't get cancer...yet.

    Of course, the one counterexample we have for this is Matt Cain, which does bode well for Bumgarner. But that assumes that there's a plan and that Cain isn't unique. I don't like that assumption, especially given their very different styles. Bumgarner gets the green rating, and I hope I'm wrong, but I am worried about him over the longer term.

SP3 Tim Lincecum (GREEN)

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    For all the talk about last year's cliff-dive stats that Tim Lincecum put up, there was never any injury that anyone could point to. Lincecum's mechanics stayed more or less the same, though it does appear that my worry about his back and that big arch are coming to pass.

    The word from the winter was that Lincecum was putting on weight, as much as 20 pounds, according to some sources. He's tried this before without much effect, and the Giants actually want much less, about five pounds. Lincecum reported at 170, according to Giants sources, which would be an eight-pound gain. 

    Lincecum did look good as a postseason reliever, leading some to think that the Giants would try him as some kind of super-reliever, a Mike Marshall type. He's too valuable as a starter to not at least try, and he could be switched to that role without much issue, as the playoffs showed.

    I'm less keyed on his mechanics, or even his velocity, as I am his ability to adjust. Lincecum struggled for the first time in his career last year and couldn't make the adjustments. I think we'll know quickly what version of Lincecum we'll get this year. His health won't be what holds him back.

SP Ryan Vogelsong (GREEN)

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    Ryan Vogelsong was a good story in 2011. In 2012, he was just a good pitcher. Add in that he's cheap and pitches extremely well in AT&T Park, and you have a perfect fit. That he's pitching in the World Baseball Classic should be no issue for him or for the Giants.

SP5 Barry Zito (GREEN)

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    I can make an argument for Barry Zito as an undervalued asset, one that has taken the ball every fifth day over much of his maligned contract and allowed the Giants to be reasonable in the development of three ace-level young pitchers in Cain, Lincecum and Bumgarner.

    I could also argue that Zito's value now is in stepping aside and giving more starts to those same arms. Zito has shown he can relieve, so with the Giants' assets and Zito as a swingman, no team is better suited to switch to a four-man rotation. 

    I could argue both, but it doesn't matter because the Giants don't consider either. Zito's likely to be very much like he was last season—good but a bit fragile—and every fifth day, people will remind him of how much money he made. 

    Watch his fastball, as the velocity has dipped to Jamie Moyer-like levels and doesn't have much more room to go. If it does, the Giants will have to hope Eric Surkamp is ready at the All Star break after recovering from Tommy John.

RP Santiago Casilla (GREEN)

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    One of my favorite stories of last season was when Roberto Hernandez—someone we all knew as Fausto Carmona back when he was a solid young sinkerballer—returned to the Indians locker room.

    His birth certificate had been found to be fake. He was someone else and three years older.

    In baseball, no one batted an eye. Instead, they had three birthday cakes ready for Hernandez when he got off suspension, had a good laugh and moved on.

    Santiago Casilla used to be known as Jairo Garcia. He was healthy then too, and if Sergio Romo pulls a Brian Wilson this year, then Casilla should be ready to do what Romo did last year. 

CL Sergio Romo (GREEN)

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    Sergio Romo stepped right in when Brian Wilson went down. Call that a well-constructed bullpen if you want, or maybe evidence that the modern closer isn't as valuable as most think. Maybe it was just the beard. 

    Romo is a good, strong young pitcher without significant injury risk, but he does have odd, if repeatable, mechanics. He can get over-reliant on his breaking pitches, though it's usually in answer to a particular batter rather than his own stuff.