Washington Nationals Team Health Report: 2013 Injury Risk for Every Starter

Will Carroll@injuryexpertSports Injuries Lead WriterMarch 4, 2013

Washington Nationals Team Health Report: 2013 Injury Risk for Every Starter

0 of 15

    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: 24th of 30 teams in DL days and dollars lost

    Biggest Injury: Ian Desmond, $4.2 million value lost

    Head Athletic Trainer: Lee Kuntz

    There are enough plotlines on this team to fill up Season 2 of House of Cards. Can Bryce Harper take another step forward in his second year? Will losing Mike Morse upset the lineup? Will Stephen Strasburg's shutdown mean that he's healthy this season? How does the bullpen come together? Will Doug Stamper finally quit swallowing his conscience and work against Underwood? (Scratch that last one. It gets confusing.)

    The answers to all of those questions and more won't be found here, but somewhere on the way during 2013. The Nationals took the long view, one that may have cost them a shot at the 2012 World Series, but one that could give them many more. The old "flags fly forever" routine only works if you don't buy into the "success window" theory that Mike Rizzo is clearly reading from. 

    If innings increases aren't the be-all that many of us—myself included—thought they were, and if there's no evidence that Stephen Strasburg is any more or less likely to stay healthy, it's not just that the Nats missed a chance. It's that they burned a chance and Rizzo knows it's him and him alone who's to blame. 

    What the Nationals are, at least from a health standpoint, is the new Yankees.

    The Yankees have taken on tons of risk for years, banking on a deep pool of talent and the ability to use their checkbook to back up anything that went wrong. The Lerners could do this and have to some degree, but if the Nats can go on a run of playoff appearances, I think it will become more clear.

    The Nats have never been good at injury stats. They were regularly on the bottom and a "leap" to 24 is actually a major improvement over where they've been. Winning at that level is what the Yankees did for years, and I'll admit that I didn't recognize this until now, largely because the Yankees started doing it after they began winning. The Nats just didn't have a couple good years of health in between to set it apart.

    Then again, maybe last year was bad and the Nats have room to make up. If Lee Kuntz gets this squad even to the mid-teens, they'll run away with the division.

    Click ahead for the Nationals. 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 Kurt Suzuki (YELLOW)

1 of 15

    Kurt Suzuki's biggest skill is health. He's not a great hitter or a particularly strong defensive catcher, but he's out there day after day, the way most catchers simply can't be. He's Jason Kendall without the peak. He won't be expected to do too much other than stay healthy this season in something of a platoon with Wilson Ramos. The only skill Ramos lacks is health; so, as he comes back from his latest knee surgery, Suzuki will get the bulk of the early season work.

    By the time the end of the season rolls around, the hope is that Suzuki becomes the perfect backup catcher, a role he could fill for the next decade. 

2B Danny Espinosa (RED)

2 of 15

    Danny Espinosa is going to try to play through a torn labrum. It's possible, but tough. He'll have to hope that he doesn't happen to do one of the things that will aggravate it. He'll need to figure out how to manage the pain in an environment that is starting to get hostile to the use of painkillers like Toradol. It's possible, as Ryan Zimmerman showed last season, but Espinosa isn't Zimmerman. He's got less of a margin of error, if less of a throw to make. 

    Watch for any sign that Espinosa's shoulder is limiting him at the plate, not in the field. The Nats will adjust for his throws, but can't handle if he loses anything off his hitting line. Steve Lombardozzi will the get first shot behind him, but the Nats could also get very aggressive, shifting Ryan Zimmerman over if Anthony Rendon is ready at second base. 

1B Adam LaRoche (YELLOW)

3 of 15

    The hope is that Adam LaRoche can do what he did last year after shoulder surgery while Ryan Zimmerman does what LaRoche did last year after his own shoulder surgery. Having both of them hitting for power would give them the ability to run away and hide in the NL East. LaRoche should be healthy, but shoulder injuries have a way of lingering, and LaRoche has a history with them. Surgery should have changed all that, but The System has to be shown.

    Complicating things are his oft-slow starts. The Nats aren't so committed to LaRoche that they're giving him a long leash. 

SS Ian Desmond (GREEN)

4 of 15

    Ian Desmond is the one part of the infield that the medical staff doesn't have to worry much about. His health allowed him to show a power surge, though few of the peripherals indicate that he's likely to hold on to it. He's good enough at everything else that coming back to his more normal career levels won't be a big issue. Desmond's consistency and health are enough of a plus.

3B Ryan Zimmerman (RED)

5 of 15

    Zimmerman fought through a shoulder injury all of last year (and likely before), though the shots he took allowed him to stay productive. The hope is that the shoulder surgery he had will free up his swing without the damage and that he can get back to even higher levels. 

    I'm not so sure and worry about the extent of the surgery. It was far more than what Adam LaRoche had, and with shoulders, more is definitely not better. Watch for any sign that his power is down early in the season or that he's having any difficulties with his throws. The sprain didn't bother his defense last season, but there are options if it becomes a problem, like the discussion the Nats had about shifting him to second base when it looked like Danny Espinosa might be unavailable. 

LF Bryce Harper (GREEN)

6 of 15

    If you're here looking for the hole in Bryce Harper's game, this isn't where you're going to find it. For all the discussions of his attitude, his hair and who knows what other superfluous arrogance people want to ascribe to a kid that was baseball's version of LeBron James, his work ethic is seldom discussed.

    Harper is a dirtbag in the strictest baseball sense. He'd rather be in the batting cage than the bar, in the weight room rather than a nightclub, and watching tape rather than watching the world. Harper's got a bit too much personality to be Derek Jeter, but there's another player he constantly gets compared to inside the game: Pete Rose.

    That comp seems odd. Rose didn't have Harper's power or physical gifts. Rose was a slap hitter par excellence, but not much more. (I've actually seen people make valid cases for Rose not being a Hall of Famer even if he was eligible.) No, the comparison comes from both his all-out hustle and from his ability to get under the skin of people.

    There's another question that baseball players will answer, but quietly, and they usually look around. If asked who they wished they could be, which talent they wish they had, it's almost universally Harper—and many more are in favor of Harper over Mike Trout. 

    Harper could be better than all the great young hitters in the game. He could be Mickey Mantle. He could be Albert Pujols. He could be healthy enough to be better.

CF Denard Span (YELLOW)

7 of 15

    Denard Span should fit right in with the Nats. Like several others, Span has a shoulder problem that cost him a month. That's the worry here, not the concussion that cost him almost half of 2011. Shoulder problems tend to shorten swings and reducing power, which isn't what the Nats brought him in for. 

    If healthy, Span's a definite upgrade, but shifting to a new park and a new medical staff isn't a positive for him here. If there's any player who Lee Kuntz should be spending a lot of extra time with in the spring to make sure they have a maintenance routine down, it's Span.

    The System sees Span as a bigger risk than I do, but getting the type of player Span is for the type of pitcher they gave up for him (the type they can't seem to keep healthy) is a smart play. 

RF Jayson Werth (RED)

8 of 15

    If Span is risky but worth it, Werth is even more of that. His wrist injury and subsequent surgery took almost all of his power, and if it's not back, the Nats have a real issue. Most players come back from this kind of injury, so the fact that Werth didn't show much power by September is very worrisome. Talk that the wrist won't be at full strength for 18 months is true in a medical sense, but from a baseball sense, it's not. 

    The wrist isn't Werth's only issue. He's had some lingering hamstring strains and has adjusted to that by reducing his hard runs and dives. It's a smart play, but it could lead to more frustration if he's not making up for what looks like a power loss. Werth and the medical staff are in a tough position. By doing the smart things to keep him healthy, it's likely to look like he's doing less as his numbers drop. The best case there is that his teammates pick him up, and the worst case is that he looks like a drag on a team that should be running away with its division.

SP Stephen Strasburg (RED)

9 of 15

    Strasburg's shutdown may have been the tipping point for the pitch count era, but which way?

    If Strasburg breaks down in the next few years, the storyline will go that if nothing could save this guy, then we might as well go back to the hard work that baseball had in the '80s and before. If he does stay healthy for the next three years, we'll see a lot of lowered limits, especially for younger pitchers and even more so for those with elbow issues.

    The downside is that Strasburg is in the "Tommy John honeymoon," the four-to-six year period where pitchers almost never re-sprain the reconstructed elbow. It meshes with the physiological process of ligamentization, where the transplanted tendon becomes a ligament.

    Strasburg is therefore likely to be healthy, but it has nothing to do with the innings limit.

    Strasburg broke down despite the Nats' best efforts the first time around, and unless the Nats figure out why, it may not happen to Strasburg, but it will to the next young pitcher. Actually, the next one after that, since it already happened with last year's No. 1 pick Lucas Giolito, who had his Tommy John surgery just a handful of games into his pro career.

    The immediate worry with Strasburg isn't the elbow, but the shoulder. If his mechanics are still applying too much force to the system, the next weak link in the kinetic chain will break. That's usually the shoulder, though the prevalence of rotator cuff work like Dr. Frank Jobe's "thrower's 10" seems to be leading some of those issues to the back of the shoulder and down into the lats. 

SP Gio Gonzalez (GREEN)

10 of 15

    Forget the "pink cream." What helped Gonzalez last season was being able to get the fastball over. His improved control made his devastating curve a real weapon, missing bats up and down the order. He was a bit better than his peripherals, but the health was expected.

    He made all his starts (save for one at the end of the season where he was skipped to set up the playoff rotation) and came within shouting distance of his last two seasons. There's no reason to think that Gonzalez will have any changes this year from that level. Distractions off the field and a change to his spring routine will be overstated, but at the end, Gonzalez will have another 200 innings of solid pitching on his resume. 

SP Jordan Zimmermann (GREEN)

11 of 15

    The upside case for Stephen Strasburg is built on last year's positive results for Jordan Zimmerman. Zimmermann was limited after coming back from Tommy John surgery, just as Strasburg was done. It wasn't as dramatic, since Zimmerman isn't nearly the story that Strasburg was or the pitcher either. It worked, but it's like saying that you knew the lottery numbers after you picked them. 

    Zimmermann showed that he could come back, put up quality innings and recover. That's the common pattern for guys a year out from Tommy John surgery. The command was back in full and there's no reason to think that Zimmermann will have any more real problems inside the honeymoon period, at least with the elbow.

SP Dan Haren (RED)

12 of 15

    This is a real challenge for the Nats medical staff. Haren has a known back/hip issue, but was brought in because when he's healthy, he's still really good. He only missed a couple starts for the Angels last season, but they controlled his workload when he was out there anyway. 

    The real issue is that he seems to have lost his put-away fastball to the injury and is trying to morph into something of a control pitcher. The Nats are facilitating that and seem OK with the plan to pitch to contact, even if he's still in the mid-80s. 

    This just isn't the kind of situation that the Nats succeed with, but doing so could indicate they've turned a corner. If he can't make at least 25 starts, it's not only a bad sign for the med staff, it's a bad thing all around. The Nats' top three pitching prospects are all in various stages of recovery from surgery and none are particularly close to helping. 

SP Ross Detwiler (YELLOW)

13 of 15

    Ross Detwiler isn't that good of a pitcher, but he got smarter last year. At some point, he turned around and saw the great defense behind him and decided to use it. His riding fastball induces a lot of grounders and he should be able to continue that this season. 

    He's a very low yellow, with most of the worry being that he still hasn't really established himself as a starter. The System doesn't see that the Nats don't have any other real options behind Detwiler and that absent a serious injury, he's locked in as the five. 

RP Drew Storen (YELLOW)

14 of 15

    Storen's confidence isn't going to be crushed by one bad outing, even if it was in the playoffs at the most key time in his young career. He'll be fine, but the Nats? Well, they went out and signed Rafael Soriano out from under the Yankees and handed him the closer job.

    It was a surprising signing for Mike Rizzo, especially given the other needs he had. Certainly, he had the money to do any or all of them, but he wasn't able to do much about the pitching depth because of what was available.

    Storen has been a starter in the past, so there was some reaction to the signing that the team could be thinking of shifting him back to the rotation. That's not the case. Storen will go back to the setup role and should have no issues at all. It hurts his fantasy value, but the shift is potentially huge for manager Davey Johnson, who knows how to make matchups with the best of them.

    Storen's comeback from elbow surgery shouldn't be an issue despite the deliberate pace that the Nats took with him. While it did take longer than the "normal" schedule, he was never behind the schedule given to him. The System gives him the yellow on one main factor—his slider. Scouts around the league noted that he seemed very reluctant to use his plus slider when he came back. It could be he didn't have the feel or that he just didn't have confidence in the pitch.

    Once you see that pitch back, so's Storen. 

CL Rafael Soriano (YELLOW)

15 of 15

    Something of a surprise signing, Soriano has had five healthy seasons since his complicated recovery from Tommy John surgery. Yes, that puts him back in the danger zone, out of the "honeymoon" period. That's not something that throws up a major red flag; in fact, I haven't been able to work it into the algorithm that The System uses to adjust the risk ratings. It's merely an interesting note.

    Soriano is a very low yellow, with only his age, workload and sometimes wonky mechanics working against him. There's no reason to think he can't put up the same kind of numbers as last year, especially shifting to the NL.


    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.