Atlanta Braves Team Health Report: 2013 Injury Risk for Every Starter

Will Carroll@injuryexpertSports Injuries Lead WriterMarch 4, 2013

Atlanta Braves 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: 12th out of 30 teams in DL days and dollars lost

    Five-Year Rank: Brandon Beachy, $7.2 million lost value

    Head Athletic Trainer: Jeff Porter

    The Atlanta Braves head in to the 2013 season a vastly different team than the one we saw last year. In fact, this is a generational change the likes of which we haven't seen since...well, even Tommy Lasorda didn't have a signature player the way that Bobby Cox did with Chipper Jones. Jones is gone now, and these new Braves are defined by brothers.

    The Uptons—Bossman Jr. and Justin—came via free agency and trade, respectively. Both bring what must be a genetic proclivity for shoulder problems and the disdain of baseball scouts who think they play "too easy." That same style of play has kept them mostly healthy and figures to make them age pretty well. Neither has slowed down, neither dives, neither steals all the bases they could, but they do end up playing in most of the games.

    The rest of the team is relatively healthy. Jeff Porter kept the team moving despite the aches and creaks of Chipper Jones and the preseason death of his wife, which would have broken lesser men. He'll face some challenges working Brian McCann back into playing shape and getting a couple of guys back into the rotation from Tommy John, but the team does have a manageable risk profile.

    There's more talent here than last year, but the Nationals might be even more talented than they were in 2012. Cox is gone, Chipper is gone and any dynastic notion that went with those two is gone as well. It's up to a new generation now.

    Unless, that is, that my hunch that there's a bit of Brett Favre in Chipper Jones holds true. The trade of Martin Prado leaves something of a hole at third base, and there's no way someone like Chris Johnson is going to hold back Chipper if he decides that he wants back in.

    Click ahead for the Braves. 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 Brian McCann (RED)

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    Brian McCann could be the big third bat the Braves need to go with the Uptons, but he won't be that at the start of the season. McCann is coming off significant shoulder surgery and might not be ready for Opening Day.

    If he is, he'll have serious throwing deficits, so either his pitchers will have to become much better at holding runners or teams will run wild—especially the Marlins, who seem purpose-built to attack McCann. Gerald Laird was brought in to be the solid backup, but at least at the start, he may end up with the bulk of the time. He'll also be the defensive side of what should amount to a platoon.

    If McCann can get the shoulder back to acceptable defensively, his bat should be stronger this season. The shoulder really altered McCann's swing, turning him into much more of a guess hitter to counter the bat speed loss. 

    Aside from that, McCann has been pretty durable and now has the best backup he's had in his time in the bigs. Finding the right value will be tough, but there's upside underneath the red rating.

1B Freddie Freeman (GREEN)

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    Freddie Freeman is a gangly guy who looks like he should be playing small forward on a college hoops team as much on an MLB team. His swing looks long and slow, until you see him make consistent contact, roping line drive after line drive. Even when he's good, he doesn't look that good and he looks different enough that it's tough to stave off the cognitive dissonance.

    Freeman's good, consistent and, most of all, healthy. He's going to be a fixture at first base for the Braves for as long as they want him. 

2B Dan Uggla (GREEN)

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    The most important part of a batter's body isn't his arms or legs, but his eyes. Dan Uggla's been healthy, but his eyes seem to have lost the ability to track the ball and consistently put it in play over the last couple of years. Yes, the Braves have checked and they're fine as far as that goes, which makes you wonder how much longer the Braves will give him 500 at-bats. 

    The Braves brought in Ramiro Pena as an infield backup. He won't push Uggla, but maybe Tyler Pastornicky will hit just enough to make himself an option there. Uggla will have at least the first half to show the Braves he can still hit. 

SS Andrelton Simmons (RED)

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    Simmons established himself as a credible MLB shortstop last year after Tyler Pastornicky did his best to convince the Braves brass he wasn't. Another of the good young crop of players from Curacao, Simmons jumped to Atlanta after only 44 games at Double-A. The jump recalled Rafael Furcal to Braves fans, but he's not Furcal in anything besides position.

    Simmons missed time with a broken finger and showed some signs of fatigue by the end of the year as well. Fredi Gonzalez will need to spot him out, either with Ramiro Pena or with Pastornicky, if he gets a second shot. Simmons is going to be good, not great, but he's going to have to establish himself as healthy before he can be even that.

3B Chris Johnson (YELLOW)

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    Chipper Jones is risky but...wait, he's not here any more. Jones became Mr. Braves over the last two decades, and I'm still not convinced he's gone for good. His influence on the team extended to the training room, where his attempts to play through injuries often led by example in both good and bad ways.

    Chris Johnson gets to try to follow a legend, always a tough gig. He has a bit of pop, but he's a max-effort player who tends to get himself worn down or pulled down by nagging injuries. The Braves should be used to that kind of thing, but Johnson doesn't have the long leash that Chipper had. 

    Johnson gets the job by default, just as he did in Houston and Arizona. He's good enough to play and there's no one else around that can do it better, though Juan Francisco will compete for playing time. The hope is that Johnson's healthy enough to show that the power spike he had in Arizona wasn't just park effects.

LF Justin Upton (GREEN)

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    Day-to-day injuries remain the biggest problem of The System. Because there is no single accurate source of day-to-day injuries consistent enough to use across an historical analysis, it simply has to be thrown out. The fact that we know Justin Upton struggled through a thumb injury last season, pushed into the lineup by Kirk Gibson day after day, just isn't here.

    The green rating is probably a bit low. Between the thumb and the chronic (perhaps genetic) shoulder issue, Upton has been derailed in three of his five major league seasons by injuries in one form or another. Thing is, he's productive in those seasons, pushing an 800 OPS. When healthy, he's an MVP candidate entering his peak. 

    Justin is a bit riskier than this green might indicate, but his history shows that even his downside is above most other player's upside.

CF B.J. Upton (GREEN)

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    B.J. Upton came up just shy of a 30/30 season and yet received little fanfare. He's played in the World Series and put up solid numbers over a six-plus year tenure in Tampa, but he's not put in the upper tier of stars that even his brother is. 

    Part of that is that he's so talented. He glides when he runs, which makes many think he's going slow. He's not. He doesn't have to work hard in the outfield because of the amazing reads he gets. You won't see him dive, because he's already there. Sure, he might not run out every grounder, but on 99 percent of those, he would have been out anyway. That's an unwritten rule that needs to be unerased from the book. 

    Upton's biggest issue is a shoulder injury that was corrected by surgery. Despite that limiting his swing, he's been productive and present for 140-plus games and it appears that he's finding his stroke over the last few years. There may still be a 40-homer season in Upton, and he should be healthy enough for us to find out.

RF Jason Heyward (YELLOW)

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    Andre Dawson told me that his favorite player to watch is Jason Heyward. Keep in mind that Dawson works for the Marlins, so naming the Braves outfielder is something of a shock. Then again, Heyward does play and even look similar to "The Hawk." 

    The difference, we hope, is that Heyward's knees and back won't be shot by the Montreal turf. Atlanta has good grass and a better medical staff. Perhaps Heyward is a distant Upton cousin, because he too has a chronic shoulder condition. It limited him a lot in 2011, but he dealt with it better last season. He might not be the power threat that Giancarlo Stanton is, but he's not too far behind. Again, he's Dawson-like there.

    The low yellow is a bit surprising to me, given his production and the one physical issue. Part of the problem is his age. Young players that establish themselves at this level tend to either go on to Hall of Fame careers or flame out quickly. Add in a size-speed combo that is very unusual for MLB and I think The System got this one a bit wrong.

SP Tim Hudson (YELLOW)

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    Hudson may be 37 and a year removed from back surgery, but he showed no issues last year. Why then are so many down on Hudson this season? In what may be his last season, Hudson actually is the type who can adjust and pitch rather than rely on physicality. Few realize just how small he is, which makes his longevity even more surprising. 

    Hudson is not going to dominate. He's barely touching 90 much these days, but he's the very definition of crafty. His location and ability to use the umpire against the batter is downright Glavine-esque. In every category but strikeouts, Hudson should be a solid one that will take the ball every fifth day for a contender.

SP Kris Medlen (YELLOW)

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    Kris Medlen has gone from midseason fill-in to No. 2 starter in a hurry. He has that kind of stuff, but the question is whether he has that kind of stamina. Medlen wasn't really a reliever as much as a guy who couldn't win a spot in the rotation, so his days in the pen don't tell us much. 

    What is telling is that Medlen is a converted position player who, like so many of those, needed Tommy John surgery. With that in his past, he has a couple of years where the new ligament should hold on despite the arm not being attuned to pitching. How important is that? It depends on the doctor or pitching guru you speak with. (Google "humeral retroversion" if you really want to geek out on it.) 

    Medlen should be solid this year, but watch his velocity numbers closely. Any dip toward midseason, on average or peak, should be a warning sign. 

SP Mike Minor (YELLOW)

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    Minor's first full major league season wasn't bad, but it wasn't good either. If there's any positive, it's that he adjusted and showed better command in the second half. He did show some fatigue late and some sign of dead arm early, which isn't uncommon for someone establishing himself in a rotation. The System would like to see Minor over the 190-inning mark this season, or it could be that he's more the type that needs to be at the back of a rotation, occasionally skipped or spotted out in order to keep the arm fresh enough.

    Minor does still have upside. He's young, throws a good mix of pitches and has no history of injuries. He also doesn't have enough velocity to get away with losing any of it to injury or fatigue. The Cole Hamels comparisons aren't coming true, but he could be a very useful rotation guy if the Braves can handle him properly.

SP Paul Maholm (GREEN)

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    The Cubs tried to trade Ryan Dempster to the Braves for top prospect Randall Delgado. Maholm was the consolation prize after Dempster blocked the deal, but the Braves may have come out better. Delgado was used to get Justin Upton, and Maholm turned into a solid lefty starter for them. 

    There's not much to Maholm's game. Even in Triple-A Maholm just used his good-not-great stuff to make hitters hit his pitch, not theirs. The improved outfield defense provided by the Uptons should help as well. Maholm has always been hit hard enough to make his BABIP look high. 

    Another season of league-average lefty-ness is what Maholm has to offer, which is a valuable property. Kept in the 180-200 inning range, he could put up 15 wins, offering some upside to this low-risk lefty. 

SP Julio Teheran (YELLOW)

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    Teheran isn't the pitching phenom he was two years ago, but he is still the same pitcher. Prospect mavens love their lists, but there's a hard step from being a prospect to being a consistent major league pitcher. Teheran has never been consistent enough to lock himself in. With J.R. Graham and Sean Gilmartin now on his heels, Teheran may have missed his chance. 

    Teheran has a tendency to overthrow and to fatigue over the course of a season, but he also has a devastating changeup. Without a real breaking ball, he could end up in the pen and some of the innings-drop that projection engines see for Teheran is that risk, along with his up-and-down statline. The mechanics aren't perfect and with the stuff, the pen might be a better place for him. 

    Remember as well that Brandon Beachy is on his way back from Tommy John surgery, so Teheran's shot at the rotation starts with a ticking clock. 

RP Jonny Venters (YELLOW)

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    Venters has been worked like Joe Torre was the manager. The Braves bullpen has been good under Fredi Gonzalez, but not deep. Venters is one of two guys he trusts, it seems, and he keeps giving him the ball late in games because the role says that he can't yet give it to Craig Kimbrel. Venters appeared to buckle under the load—over 200 innings in the last three seasons—and this is a big worry heading into this season.

    Gonzalez has to find someone—anyone—to share the late-game load or Venters is going to find himself in the same place he did last year, or worse. The shoulder and elbow troubles that were caught early last year could be a sign of things to come unless he gets some help out there.

CL Craig Kimbrel (GREEN)

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    A closer is nothing like death or taxes. There's nothing inevitable about them and there's often nothing consistent. Closers tend to be a bit crazy. They have wacky mechanics that somehow spit out good stuff. They can't last in the rotation, don't have a secondary pitch or there's some other damaged goods in their package. 

    None of that is true about Craig Kimbrel. He's devastating, putting up a K/9 that looks like an error. No one and I mean no one puts up 17 strikeouts per nine unless they're Nuke LaLoosh and come with the walks. Kimbrel is a favorite topic of debate with scouts, who like talking about whether Kimbrel could move to the rotation. No one wants to do it, but they wonder if his four-seam/spike curve arsenal could adjust. Most think he could by adding some sort of off-speed pitch, but we're not likely to find out.

    Kimbrel has been healthy all the way back to high school, but there aren't many pitchers with his stuff or who take this role so young. There's a lot of things that could go bad, but baseball fans should hope that we get to see just how good Kimbrel can be over a long, healthy career.