Kansas City Royals Team Health Report: 2013 Injury Risk for Every Starter

Will CarrollSports Injuries Lead WriterMarch 4, 2013

Kansas City Royals 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: 20th best of 30 teams in DL days and dollars lost

    Biggest Injury: Joakim Soria, $7.7 million lost value

    Head Athletic Trainer: Nick Kenney

    "But they won the award last year!" 

    That's how the conversation about the Kansas City Royals started with a front office type, also in the American League. I'd run down the injury rankings, and at 20, he jumped in. He wanted to know where most winning teams go the year following. A big drop, he thought, would be indicative that the award went to a team with one good year, perhaps a fluke. Less of a drop would indicate some sort of general excellence. 

    The results were exactly what you'd expect—he was right to some extent, but I also think there's two additional factors.

    First, as he pointed out, is injury carryover. Some injuries aren't discrete events; if a pitcher injures his elbow in June 2011 and doesn't come back in 2012, the days carryover and a team starts with demerits against it based on something it cannot change. Teams that rank highly don't have much carryover, for obvious reasons. Tommy John surgery and serious shoulder surgery are the two biggest issues here, due to the sheer length of the recovery. Get one of those and it's tough to stay at the top of the rankings. Get two, and you're headed well down the list.

    The second factor is the one that I think applies more directly to the Royals, and that is that a team's situation changes how it deals with injuries. Teams have to respond to injuries in context. Getting a star player back quickly is always the priority, but at the end of the season as the division leader slips further into the distance, teams often shut players down.

    Would the Royals have taken the longer-term view with someone like Salvador Perez, repairing his knee instead of removing the meniscus, if they were genuine contenders? Remember, Perez's knee injury happened early in camp, so the Royals would have had to be self-aware while not admitting it to the fanbase. Doing the right thing for Perez as a person happens to be the right thing for the team as their interests line up now, but in a situation like an expiring contract, would it be as easy?

    This sort of context can't be found inside the injury stats and might not even be found in the medical files locked in every training room. However, I believe that sometimes these decisions begin to show up if you dig in deep enough, and in the larger context, it's more proof that a day lost is not always just a day lost. There's more at work here than a simple counting stat can capture, but it's what we have now.

    Click ahead for the Tigers. 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 Salvador Perez (YELLOW)

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    The Royals took the long-term view with Salvador Perez last season. Instead of yanking his damaged meniscus out, they had their physicians repair it. That meant the difference between missing a couple weeks and a couple months. It also likely means that Perez will be healthy over the next couple of years.

    As a young catcher, Perez is inherently risky before we get to the leg injuries. He came back well and showed no change in his game on either side of the plate. I have a hard time with Perez because there's always another hand in a discussion about him. He's a mid-pack catcher with lots of upside and time to get there.

1B Eric Hosmer (YELLOW)

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    Not much went right for Eric Hosmer last year. It was a big step back, and he appeared to fatigue midseason. By September, he was wiped out and ended up injuring his shoulder. The lack of power, especially at the end of the season, was very concerning. Hosmer needs to show that he still has that skill and that it's nothing more than a nasty sophomore slump.

    Look for any sign that the power is back this spring. The System is most concerned with the drop-off, but there's no real way to gauge full-season stamina by April. If the power is showing, assume the stamina will improve as well.

2B Chris Getz (YELLOW)

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    Chris Getz hasn't stayed healthy or productive over the past couple of seasons, but he's still stayed ahead of Johnny Giavotella. Perhaps Giavotella's development was hindered by the Royals' inability to commit to a young player, but then again, look at the rest of the roster. Getz is once again the more likely starter, even as a platoon guy, but even in that role, he tends to wear down.

    Getz missed the last six weeks of the season after a fractured thumb required surgery. He should be fine by now and any grip issues should be resolved as well. His bat control is needed since he doesn't have much pop, so if there's issues with swings and misses in camp, Getz's health status will be moot since he'll be on the bus to Omaha or worse.

SS Alcides Escobar (GREEN)

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    In the end, the Brewers traded Alcides Escobar for Jean Segura. I know it's more complex than that, but it'd be an intriguing trade. Escobar has established himself as a top-notch defender, a good enough hitter with some speed and health to go with it.

    Escobar has had some minor injuries, like the shoulder soreness he had at the end of 2012, but most of these seem to be "wear down" injuries that are a function of his durability rather than the more worrisome fatigue-based problems that some others see. It's a fine line, but inside the game, it's clear to people that watch Escobar that his athleticism keeps him durable.

3B Mike Moustakas (GREEN)

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    Mike Moustakas did what you want a young player to do when everything around him is going bad. He just did his thing. Like most of the team, he wore down at the end of the season, but it's not terribly concerning in the long term. 

    There's lots of room for improvement with Moustakas but by showing he can make it a full season with only minor issues healthwise, he'll have the chance to make those improvements. The downside is that this team looks to be a carbon copy of last year's, which could put more pressure on Moustakas in his second year.

LF Alex Gordon (GREEN)

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    Alex Gordon was one of the bright spots on the Royals, holding on to most of the gains he found in 2011. Gordon hits better in the leadoff spot and just generally seems more comfortable there, something it took Ned Yost far too long to figure out. 

    Gordon has been durable, but the drop in power is a bit worrisome. Again, it could be some of the weardown that the entire team seemed to experience, or it could be something else. The doubles stayed, so the signs are mostly positive there. Gordon is durable enough to have plenty of chances to figure it out, earning him the green rating.

CF Lorenzo Cain (YELLOW)

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    Lorenzo Cain hasn't been healthy enough to really establish himself in center field, and for a speed player, the kind of hamstring that cost him better than half the season can be devastating. The key is, of course, whether the leg holds up in the longer term and if the speed is still there. Cain has enough of that to lose a step and still be effective.

    We'll know quickly if there's any issues with him in the field or on the bases, though it's tough to read steals in spring play. Everyone is still working on things and teams tend to be pretty conservative with someone like Cain. They have drills where things can be more controlled to test him, so the beat writers will likely be the better sources for where he is on that than any exhibition games.

RF Jeff Francoeur (GREEN)

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    Mr. Intangible himself, Jeff Francoeur, was good enough that the Royals thought they could trade their best hitting prospect for some pitching. It's that simple if you cut away the deal that sent Wil Myers to the Rays for James Shields and Wade Davis. There were other pieces, but it was basically that Dayton Moore and his staff thought the gain on the pitching side was bigger than the gain from Myers over Francoeur this year, plus five more years (at least) of control. 

    Aside from that, Francoeur's healthy and likely to do exactly what he did last season, if that's what you're into.

DH Billy Butler (GREEN)

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    DId you know there's an award for the Outstanding Designated Hitter? It's good that they named it after Edgar Martinez and that Billy Butler won it last year.

    Butler is good and one of few true designated hitters out there. His defense is brutal and without the position, he'd either be in left field somewhere making his pitchers miserable or in Scranton putting up huge numbers while people wondered why he wasn't in the bigs. Around the league, the DH slot looks pretty anemic despite the constant presence of hitters like Butler around the minors. 

    Butler has played in 158 or more games the last four years, and my bet is that he'll do it a fifth. Butler has a lot of skills with the bat, but he's also got the health to let him use those skills for a long time. Butler isn't so far off from being a legit contender for a Triple Crown, though that's not something he's ever likely to put together.

SP James Shields (GREEN)

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    James Shields is an ace. Most think he's a really good No. 2 or a great No. 3, but that the Royals have to push him to the front of the rotation. They think that he's efficient, consistent and durable, but not an ace.

    They're wrong. Shields has become a dominating strikeout pitcher over the past couple of seasons, adding downward movement to his fastball that gets either strikeouts or groundouts. His transformation added to his efficiency makes him a Roy Halladay clone, and it's really an apt comparison. In addition, Shields saves pens and disguises a thin one by not exposing the type of pitchers that come out in the fifth or sixth. 

    Shields' superficial numbers might not be great, especially wins, but he's an ace that should be mentioned higher than he is now. Being a Royal ace won't help that battle.

SP Jeremy Guthrie (YELLOW)

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    Jeremy Guthrie had identical velocity in Kansas City and on Planet Coors, but the results were night and day. For KC, Guthrie turned into a legitimate starter and maybe its best last season as pitcher after pitcher rolled over for the Royals. The difference may well have been as simple as changing where he stood on the mound. Pitching coach Dave Eiland shifted him, and the results speak for themselves.

    If Guthrie maintains the control to go with his stuff, he'll stick around those same kind of numbers and should test 200 innings again. The drop below the 190-inning mark is more the result of a couple missed starts and relief appearances than a real change in his durability. It's a low yellow and worthy of noting, especially paired with his age. 

SP Ervin Santana (RED)

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    The Angels shed risk, dealing away Ervin Santana and letting Dan Haren walk. That it was that way and not the other way around surprised a lot of people, especially considering how awful Santana was last season. There's lots of discussion about his velocity loss, his lack of control and his home run rate, and there's simply no positives to be found here. It does fit the pattern of an elbow injury, putting him in the red tier.

    Santana has had minor problems in the past with the elbow, so watch early in camp to see whether Santana can locate his pitches any better than last year. He'll likely pitch the first couple of innings of spring games and will see lots of regulars in those at-bats, so it's easier to get a read on something like this in spring.

    If there's anything like the walks or homers he had last year, the Royals are going to regret this trade quickly.

SP Wade Davis (YELLOW)

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    There was another pitcher in the Rays-Royals deal, and like James Shields, Wade Davis is a bit underrated. The risk here is that he's shifting back from a one-year shift to the bullpen, where he was very successful. Davis is one of the best five, so putting him in the rotation isn't as big a deal, nor was pulling him out of it. More teams should be strong enough to put their best pitchers, regardless of who they are or where they are, in the positions where they can help. 

    Davis shouldn't have any trouble with the adjustment back as long as the Royals aren't ridiculous about his workload. It will be interesting to see if he keeps some of the velocity spike and K rate that he gained in the pen. There's usually some that has to be given back for the stamina, but I liked what I saw of Davis, and it seemed as much about development as role last season.

SP Bruce Chen (YELLOW)

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    "Bruce Chen is who you go to when you don't have anyone else," is how one scout described Chen's role around the league. He's settled in for the Royals and should have a leg up over former No. 1 pick Luke Hochevar. Hochevar could end up in the pen with fellow former phenom Aaron Crow. 

    At 36 years old, Chen is simply a crafty lefty at this point, keeping hitters off-balance and eating up innings while people try to figure out why he's out there. As above, Chen is something of a litmus test. Even with a trade for three rotation pitchers, the Royals still don't have anyone in the organization ready to push Chen out of the way. For a team built on scouting, that's damning.

RP Aaron Crow (YELLOW)

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    Aaron Crow actually turned into a good reliever right at the point where the Royals were thinking about shifting him back to the rotation. Is that a good career move or bad? That remains to be seen, but he can feature a mid-90s fastball and a wicked slider, but no change. (Crow reportedly has one, but doesn't use it while relieving. There were questions among the people I spoke with as to whether it was a change or a sinker, but the key is the speed.) 

    Crow hasn't shown any issues with workload during his time in the pen and seems to have the stuff to close if needed. Right now, it's a surprise that Crow isn't getting a chance to unseat Bruce Chen. It will be tougher if he's needed midseason due to injuries or ineffectiveness.

CL Greg Holland (YELLOW)

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    Greg Holland is reliant on his slider. The plus there is that it's a plus-plus slider, perhaps the best in the game. More than one player I spoke with described the pitch with nothing more than a groan and an expletive. It's that good. 

    Do pitchers that rely on a slider hurt themselves more? The research is mixed on the concept of pitch cost, but Holland's never had any issues. He's not that young, but he seems resilient. His only major injury on file is a rib stress fracture last season, but he came back from that with no real issues. There's no reason to think he won't be as good, though any closer is going to be risky.