The bloody sock has become an apt symbol for the Red Sox.
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: 29th best of 30 teams in DL days and dollars lost
Biggest Injury: David Ortiz, $7 million lost value
Head Athletic Trainer: Richard Jameyson
The easy version of the story is that the Red Sox were a mismanaged mess last season due to a dysfunctional clubhouse and a manager who didn't just know which buttons to push, but seemed to delight in pushing the wrong ones. Valentine seemed to be like a kid in the elevator, the annoying one that pushes every button, and whose mother thinks it's cute.
But what if the easy version isn't entirely true?
What if there's more to the story, levels and nuances and the kind of things that happen when an entire organization becomes rudderless. It's more complex than "Bobby stinks" or "Theo's gone." Bringing back John Farrell was a nice move, or at least a nice idea, but there are signs that the easy version of the story isn't the whole story.
Curt Schilling intimated that he had been offered PEDs by the medical staff, a charge that MLB had investigated years ago and found "baseless." His explanation? That he didn't want to throw someone under the bus back then. Then he tossed another grenade by making Toradol sound like a major problem inside the clubhouse.
Schilling is quickly turning into the ex-player version of Skip Bayless.
The Red Sox should have big advantages, but maybe Bill James didn't find them "aesthetically pleasing," as he explained on MLB Network. He still seems to like platoons of all sorts, putting together what looks like a Strat-O-Matic offense and a matchup bullpen. James' influence has been seen in the makeup of the team, with many suggestions streaming out of the ever-leaky front office that James might have more influence now than ever on certain issues.
The big weakness right now is the medical side. Injuries stack up like cord wood inside the training room, pitchers break down from overwork, and there's no evidence that the progressive approaches to pitching development have made any inroads despite some previous indications that money was being spent on both research and technology. If they lose their rehab advantage, there's not going to be much left to lift them off their penultimate ranking.
The easy version of the 2013 season is that Bobby V is back on TV, a new medical staff will change things, and the team is all happy, happy, happy. Don't buy that any more than you buy the easy version of last year.
Some people like it simple, but those people usually don't have it right.
Click ahead for the Red Sox. Here are links to all the teams' health reports.
|AL East||Baltimore||Boston||New York||Tampa Bay||Toronto|
|AL Central||Chicago||Cleveland||Detroit||Kansas City||Minnesota|
Miami ||New York||Philadelphia||Washington|
|NL Central||Chicago||Cincinnati||Milwaukee||Pittsburgh||St. Louis|
|NL West||Arizona||Colorado||L.A.||San Diego||S.F.|
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.
Saltalamacchia isn't the star that the Braves, Rangers and Red Sox once expected him to be. What he is now is a very useful catcher with some limitations. He's got power and better than average durability, but everything else is average at best. He's likely to end up in a platoon given his problems with lefties and the sudden surge of platoons in Boston.
Yes, this is the influence of Bill James, and while it does function as a built-in brake on overworking a catcher, strict platoons are a weakness of The System. Rather, it's a weakness of The System's creator in figuring out how to account for them. Platoons look odd, and while playing half-time is safe, it can look like inconsistency as it's digging through projections and stat lines.
The Red Sox could shift any of four guys into the catcher role, assuming they use Mike Napoli as an emergency catcher. No matter how it works out, none will have much value aside from being healthy.
How's his hip look here?
Napoli is a high yellow, but given all the hoopla around his hip condition, most will be surprised to see him not in the red or being stretchered out somewhere. Avascular necrosis in the hip isn't good in any way, but Napoli isn't seeing any progression at all on the injury and has been playing with this for at least a while. The worst case is that it fails and he needs a hip replacement, which will happen at some point, but that's not any more likely today than it was last season.
Napoli is not expected to do any catching, though spotting in his usage, especially later in the season, wouldn't tax the hip too much. The question is whether the Sox will make an early decision that Napoli is healthy enough or whether they'll look to a less risky first baseman for the future. At that stage, if it's the latter, the team can do pretty much whatever it wants if it helps them win.
Dustin Pedroia would probably rather just forget 2012, but the shadows of it lie across his next season and perhaps his career. A thumb and finger injury hurt Pedroia's ability at the plate, but his grinder personality kept him on the field when maybe he shouldn't have been. Surgery to correct the issues should work, but we'll see if he has the same bat control and same whip early in spring training.
Pedroia isn't a max-effort guy like David Eckstein, but he likes to think he is. He likes to be dirty, likes to dive and would probably punch himself in the nose to look bloody if he thought it might help. He'll do whatever he can to win without much consideration for the long term. Those kinds of players are fun to watch, especially paired with the talent Pedroia has, but they don't tend to age well.
Pedroia is hard-working and is one of the guys who regularly does his offseason workouts at Mark Verstegen's world-class facility in Arizona, so maybe that will balance out the stylistic concerns. The injury history over the last couple years suggests otherwise. He's a yellow this year, but the trend is decidedly negative.
Comparisons are dangerous. In almost every example last year, people would compare Stephen Drew to Buster Posey. While they both had ankle injuries, the injuries and their functional demands weren't the same. Drew took longer to come back from his more serious injury, but showed that he could stick at shortstop for now.
Drew had to get comfortable, and a midseason trade didn't help, but his September showed the bat was back. There's still some concern about his ability to stick at short without hurting the pitchers, but there's a great chance for a platoon with the all-glove Jose Iglesias. This is one situation where Boston's Strat-O-Matic roster works for a player.
As Bobby Valentine and his faction of the front office pushed Kevin Youkilis out the door, they were at least ready with Will Middlebrooks. His hot start made some bitter Sawx diehards a tad less hawt under the collah, but a broken wrist derailed what looked to be a nice rookie campaign.
Wrist injuries do linger, but things look positive for Middlebrooks, who has had plenty of time to heal from a very simple fracture. Watch to see that he's retained his power in spring training. Middlebrooks has never played more than 100 games in a season, so even at the minor league level, there are questions about his ability to stay healthy and productive over a full campaign.
(Quick Update: Middlebrooks is already having trouble with the wrist early in spring games. This is a huge negative for him and the Sox. Rumors are that the Sox may consider bringing in a backup like Scott Rolen.)
Oddly, he's one of few Sox players without a platoon partner. Then again, Xander Bogaerts will work some at third base during the World Baseball Classic, which could give the Sox front office ideas about trying their own Manny Machado move.
Jonny Gomes mashes lefties and is the player most MLB players would least like to face in a brawl. The Red Sox lineup seems to favor him being a platoon guy, though there's noise that John Farrell will try him out as the full-timer. Gomes has heard this before and must protest that he can do it regularly.
A platoon keeps him off the field, where he's terrible with the glove and runs poorly. He'll only end up hurting himself if he's out there even half a season, though he seems comfortable with his limitations and doesn't try to do too much as a compensation. At anything under 80 games in the field, Gomes is a solid green who can be a nice part of a good team.
In a perfect world, Mike Carp would be a great player and would be battling with Mike Trout for the MVP, but instead, he's fighting for the platoon spot with Daniel Nava.
This time it was a shoulder injury, not a rib injury. The cause? The same kind of diving play that Jacoby Ellsbury can make, but maybe shouldn't. Ellsbury now has had two of his last three seasons waylaid by injury, though in both cases it was traumatic and he has a full, productive season between them. The System has him as a high yellow, but it's easy to make a case either way.
Ellsbury is going to have to make it through a season healthy again to maximize his value on the open market. Ellsbury's clashes with the team physicians shouldn't be an issue given the changes there, but the whispers are that Ellsbury is the medical equivalent of uncoachable.
That's surprising, given that Scott Boras closely monitors these kinds of situations and will want to make sure that any negatives that might come up in negotiations are dealt with. I'd expect the real risk of Ellsbury this year is slightly lower than this rating.
For a high-effort, high-motor guy like Shane Victorino, he's been very durable over his career. There's no reason to think that won't continue, though there is an odd drop in power and an uptick in speed. That's the reverse of the normal aging pattern, even for a guy who plays like Victorino. The power drop is even more inexplicable and I'll be watching that closely, though park effects could complicate that.
Victorino also deserves credit for accepting his ADHD and stepping up to do some ads to help kids with the problem get acceptance. ADHD is a real medical issue and the lack of discussion about it in MLB leads to suspicion about the waivers in the league. Believe me, if you spend any time in locker rooms, you'll realize that ADHD is probably underdiagnosed around the league.
Ortiz is just barely a green and the Achilles remains a concern. His season was cut short last year, though the team's struggles had a lot to do with it. He showed that he could play with it, but the Sox decided it wasn't worth the risk of it popping given what Ryan Howard went through last season. The recurrence risk is high in that if it does rupture, Ortiz is done, likely for his career, but there's not a high probability of that event happening.
Ortiz understands the issue and his limitations, plus the Red Sox now have other options at DH. That makes it more possible to rest Ortiz from time to time, leaving him as a bench bat and even a sub-in at first base, though that will be very occasional if at all.
Ortiz can still hit, and while the green seems odd, he's a pretty good risk to take.
Jon Lester wasn't hurt last year, he was just bad. That's hard for fans to accept, but while injury is often the easy answer for a drop off, it's not always the right one. Lester's peripherals receded again in 2012, with his strikeouts, K rate and velocity down for another season.
The hope for Lester is that John Farrell comes in and magically fixes everyone. Farrell's not the pitching coach and he's not a wizard either. His job is different, though I'm sure he'll have opinions on the pitching, especially for the pitchers he worked with previously. The issue here is that Juan Nieves, who is the pitching coach, is something of a blank slate.
Nieves had a short career due to an arm injury, but he did throw a no-hitter, which gives him some instant locker room cred. He's worked with Don Cooper for a couple years—the bullpen coach is essentially the assistant pitching coach in most organizations—so we'll see if some of those results rubbed off. Lester may well be the best test of that.
Ryan Dempster is a decade off the dumpster. His arm was shot and not many in baseball thought he could come back, let alone come back well. The new elbow that Tim Kremchek built for him has stood up and is well past the Tommy John honeymoon, but that's not the major worry.
Dempster missed several starts with a shoulder injury and then more for personal reasons. The System doesn't know two key things here and rates the risk pretty highly for an aging pitcher. First, Dempster was the victim of both regression to the mean and park effects, which in combination make it look like Dempster really hit a wall in the second half while losing velocity.
Second, it doesn't know how closely the Red Sox do physicals. The team would have dug in on the shoulder, almost literally, and the fact that they signed him to a multi-year deal is a positive that The System doesn't factor in.
The yellow rating still holds as there are signs like the velocity and age that are definitely troublesome.
Another in a series of "Please rescue me, John Farrell" collectibles, Clay Buchholz actually had a nice comeback season. His 2011 back injury was tough, but the return shows the rehab advantage that the Red Sox have held for the last five seasons. He tested the 190-inning mark for the first time in his career, which gives him not only a good rating but continued upside.
There is a ding already this spring as he showed up and quickly strained a hamstring. While it's not reflected in this rating, hamstring strains for players with a history of back problems is a major red flag. The two tend to go together and indicate a lack of flexibility in that area. Keep your eye on both as Buchholz goes through the rest of the spring.
Felix Doubront had a nice season and was probably the most consistent of any starter for the Sox last year. His indifference to the clubhouse perhaps helped. He did hit the wall in a big way at about the 130-inning mark and showed major issues as he limped to 160 on the season.
He showed up at camp out of shape and with a sore arm. His conditioning and work ethic have long been questioned by the organization and this is a bad start for a guy who needs to continue proving himself to hold the back-end rotation job down.
There's no clear competition for the starting role, so the Sox have to hope that Doubront doesn't fall too far back and that they can find someone by the end of the season to bump him, perhaps Rubby De La Rosa.
John Lackey is coming off Tommy John surgery and is more than a year out, due to the timing. He's at full strength now and will get lots of early looks in spring training, though all reports since the surgery have been positive. The rehab tends to be very predictable, and once Lackey shows he has his command back, we can put that on the back burner.
The bigger question is whether John Lackey is any good when he is healthy.
He hasn't put up a solid season since 2007, when he almost won the Cy Young. His velocity and dominance has dropped regularly, despite the big long-term deal the Sox gave him. Watch to see if Lackey is getting good velocity—anywhere north of 90 mph would be nice—and that he's missing bats. If he's there, he could end up a late-round sleeper who could get 10-12 wins and decent strikeout numbers.
Remember the old bullpen by committee? The Boston press shredded the Sox for trying that, and since then, they've had Jonathan Papelbon to lock down the role. Last year, they dealt for Andrew Bailey and his injuries kept him from doing the same.
Now, Bailey should be back from his thumb injury and ready to be the ... wait, not the closer? Ah, could it be that Bill James is quietly trying to resurrect the concept of putting the best reliever in the key situations of the seventh and eighth innings? Getting Joel Hanrahan to act as cover is a nice move if that's what they're doing, and there's every indication that it's the plan.
One intriguing thing to watch for is that Bailey's velocity was up last year. The simple answer is that he was very well rested, but let's see if it was something more. Even without the saves, Bailey could end up really being the ace of the Sox bullpen.
Joel Hanrahan likes to take the ball. Even before he was a closer, he was one of those guys who didn't seem bothered by workload. He's up, he's down, but he's always pitching it seems. That durability allowed him to have chances, and when they came, he'd take the ball and throw his mid-90's heat.
Hanrahan has been held back from more recognition and more numbers by the quality of teams he's been on. Boston might not be any better than last year's Pirates in that regard. He's healthy, but there may not be that many saves on this team and there's the chance they're spread around a bit.