Toronto Blue Jays Team Health Report: 2013 Injury Risk for Every Starter

Will Carroll@injuryexpertSports Injuries Lead WriterMarch 4, 2013

Toronto Blue Jays 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: 25th-best of 30 teams in DL days and dollars lost

    Biggest Injury: Blue Jays: Jose Bautista, $7.4 million lost value

    Head Athletic Trainer: George Poulis

    George Poulis has been the head athletic trainer for the Toronto Blue Jays for a decade now, so it's well past the point where any old regime can be blamed for the team's odd results. The front office under Alex Anthopoulus has also been in control long enough to give it full credit or blame for what's happening.

    The increased expectations created by the offseason makeover of this team will put a lot more notice and a lot more pressure on both.

    Simply put, the Jays can't seem to keep pitchers healthy. They are good—very good—at keeping position players healthy and have gone whole years with nary a single non-traumatic injury to players. But over the past decade and more, the team hasn't been able to keep pitchers healthy.

    It's not one thing, one body part or even one level. The Jays break down in new and interesting ways. They hurt elbows, shoulders, hips, backs and legs. They do it at every level of the organization. It's old and young, left and right, anyone that happens to throw a ball off a mound. 

    And they don't seem to have any answers.

    Alex Anthopoulos knows there's an issue, but answers are much harder to come by. The Blue Jays have added to their risk, bringing in risky pitchers like Josh Johnson and R.A. Dickey, as well as players like Jose Reyes. Whether they can keep those players, and their other players, on the field is likely to again decide the level of success of this team. 

    And if they don't, there may not be more answers, but there may well be some new people asking the questions.

    Click ahead for the Blue Jays. 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 J.P. Arencibia (YELLOW)

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    A broken hand is just one of the many bad things that can happen to a catcher. Missed time with that injury derailed J.P. Arencibia last season, but that's the kind of traumatic injury that is part of the game. Short of a new kind of protective device, those will continue to be part of the game. 

    Outside that, Arencibia was healthy and has been for much of his career. He doesn't have any chronic issues and, with the trade of Travis d'Arnaud, has a stronger hold on the position over the next couple years.

    The R.A. Dickey trade also helps Arencibia. He won't be catching the knuckler, saving his psyche and giving him a defined day off. 

1B Edwin Encarnacion (YELLOW)

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    Edwin Encarnacion is lovingly known as "E5." Now that he's at first base, it's less accurate, but better for everyone. He has long been a favorite of Cory Schwartz, MLB's director of stats (yes, that's a real job) and resident fantasy guru. The power surge Encarnacion showed last year finally gave Cory and the Jays the thing they'd hoped for.

    Is it real?

    It was definitely Jose Bautista-like in almost every respect. The genesis is less clear: There's no Cito Gaston tinkering. Bautista's power has stayed, so maybe Encarnacion just took on the mystical powers while Bautista wasn't using it. 

    Encarnacion has been relatively healthy over his career, but as he moves into his 30s, the Rogers Centre turf is going to work against him, and the power surge makes him profile like a much less athletic guy who's adjusting to some other issue. I'm not sure that's correct, but The System has a tendency to see these sorts of risks better than we can. It's not rooting for or against and isn't blinded by the fact that he's a good story.

2B Emilio Bonifacio (YELLOW)

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    Emilio Bonifacio won some fantasy leagues with his torrid start, even though he missed much of the season with thumb and knee issues. It's the latter that has him so risky, combined with the new home park's turf and an uncertain positional role. 

    As a utility guy, Bonifacio is more risky the more he plays second base. But at best, he'll share that with Maicer Izturis. In center, he'll share it with Colby Rasmus. If Bonifacio ends up playing a little bit of everywhere, that's not a bad thing, but it's an unpredictable thing.

    The knee problem was minor, and he shouldn't have issues with his speed due to the sprain, but expecting the same pace as last year is tough. Traumatic injuries aren't predictable, but they do seem to happen again and again to players, eroding their skills and giving other players opportunities.

SS Jose Reyes (YELLOW)

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    Jose Reyes and his hamstrings moving to a turf field seems like it would be a bad thing. And in the long term, it is. Thing is, turf tends to wear players down. While it looks like grass, it tends to either be springy or like thin carpet over cement. Both tax the legs and back in different ways.

    But Reyes isn't going to suddenly feel plastic under his toes and break—or, at least, he isn't any more likely to do so than he was in New York or Miami. 

    He has chronically bad hamstrings, and only a great deal of work and therapy has kept him this productive this long. If he can stay health for 135 games or more, he'll put up huge numbers in this lineup. If he doesn't, that huge lineup gets ordinary pretty quick.

    Yes, the Jays hinge on the health of a couple players, with Reyes perhaps being the biggest. 

3B Brett Lawrie (YELLOW)

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    Brett Lawrie's second season was derailed by small injuries, though some will chicken-and-egg the numbers and the injuries. The real worry here is that these are the kind of injuries that turf will give a player and that the injuries seemed to move up the kinetic chain. Those kind of patterns show the medical staff was chasing symptoms rather than correcting the real problem.

    Lawrie will have to avoid those kinds of problems if he's going to come back as a player. Any sort of injury that could go chronic, especially to the knees or lower back, has to be considered a major red flag in his third full season. He's a nice bounce-back candidate, but there's enough risk there to make one take pause. Then again, this is exactly the kind of situation that the Jays have handled well under George Poulis, so I like this yellow rating.

LF Melky Cabrera (GREEN)

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    Once The System was told that Melky Cabrera's missed time was a suspension and not an injury, he went right back down into the low green level he's earned with a healthy career. The steroid suspension is problematic, but Cabrera's reputation and wallet are feeling the real damage. Physically, there's no reason to believe that he'll be much different as a player. 

    The idea that testosterone would be solely responsible for his surge is unscientific, but the idea that his durability is the result of testosterone is downright stupid. Cabrera has been durable for a long time, and he didn't just suddenly fail a test. The Biogenesis notebooks give us timelines and the positive test gives us a definitive result. 

    The end result there is that Cabrera was durable before he cheated, and it's likely that he will be after. If so, the Jays made a nice gamble on his cheap two-year deal. 

CF Colby Rasmus (GREEN)

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    Colby Rasmus tried to fight his decline and his reputation as uncoachable with a batting stance change midseason. It worked, but stopped once pitchers got a look at film and learned where the hole in his swing had moved. He couldn't make another adjustment and ended up looking lost again in the second half.

    Rasmus is durable and has shown no issues with the turf. He's healthy enough to get more chances, but with Emilio Bonifacio giving options to John Gibbons, Rasmus might be running short on chances.

RF Jose Bautista (YELLOW)

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    Power hitters and wrist injuries go together poorly. Like Superman and Kryptonite, guys like Jose Bautista can look very ordinary, as any sort of wrist injuries retards the whip in their swing and throws off both the timing and the mechanics that allow them to hit the ball a long way.

    One study, as yet unpublished, used video to try to prove that wrist injuries sapped power by making it "softer" as the ball struck the bat. The wrists gave more even as the arms and bats moved forward. It's compelling as a theory, though the methodology needs work.

    Bautista should be better after surgery, and if he shows early signs of power, he's a good gamble to get at least the bulk of his slugging back. He didn't lose much off his walk rate, and if he hits the ball hard again, the BABIP is likely to follow the homers. He's a nice bounce-back gamble if you can get enough positive indicators out of Dunedin.

DH Adam Lind (YELLOW)

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    With all the changes around him, Adam Lind holds on to his DH slot for now, despite a lack of production and some injury issues. Lind's back issues seem to have reached the chronic stage and may be the reason his power has never developed. 

    The Jays could go to a more speedy DH like Anthony Gose if Lind falters, adding to a pressure lineup. They'd rather that Lind get healthy and show power, but there's a lot of reasons to think that won't happen.

SP R.A. Dickey (YELLOW)

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    Knucklers may last forever, but they're not without risk. R.A. Dickey is not a normal knuckler, let alone a normal pitcher. He doesn't have a UCL, famously discovered after he was drafted. His body has adjusted, first to pitching at all and now to a kind of power knuckler that lives in the low 80s. 

    Dickey has three seasons over 200 innings with this pitch, but there's not much to go on to determine how much longer he can go on. Dickey isn't Tim Wakefield and shouldn't be comped just because most people don't understand the differences. Unknowns are risky and Dickey is, though he's a manageable risk that should take some of the pressure off the Jays' medical staff.

SP Josh Johnson (RED)

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    This doesn't look good.

    Josh Johnson was traded to a team with problems keeping pitchers healthy. He's a year out from Tommy John surgery, but lost velocity steadily in his first full year back and trotted out a new curve to combat the loss of effectiveness. His mechanics fell apart at times, seemingly exacerbated by the curve, and lost some strikeouts along the way.

    Johnson might be the linchpin of the pitching staff and a turning point for the medical staff. If they can keep him healthy and productive, Blue Jays have the depth to compete with any team, AL East or otherwise. If not, he'll just add to the list of injured pitchers that the Jays seem to keep stacked like cordwood in the depths of the Rogers Centre. 

SP Mark Buehrle (GREEN)

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    Putting Mark Buehrle in the mix with the rest of the Jays pitchers is brilliant. Buehrle isn't an ace anymore, but there's no signs that he's any less durable. He's gone 12 seasons with 200 innings or more, and there's no evidence that that will change. He's also got no remarkable injury history and shouldn't be intimidated or even affected by the shift to the AL East. 

    Moreover, having one less risky pitcher that needs very little maintenance helps with the time management of the medical staff. The less it has to do with one of five means more time to focus on the other four. That's smart, though it's not clear if that was the intention the Jays had when the deal went down. Sometimes, luck is not the residue of design, but just luck. 

SP Brandon Morrow (RED)

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    Health is really the only skill that Brandon Morrow doesn't have in his toolbox. Of course, without it, the rest don't matter.

    Morrow's breakout season was derailed by a significant oblique strain. He's still got ace potential, but only if your definition of ace doesn't include putting up 200 innings.

    Expecting Morrow to get to 175 innings, let alone 200, is beyond the normal probabilities. There's the potential that he gets a little lucky, holds everything together and puts up a Cy Young level season, but it always seems that he's held back by one thing or another. The drop in velocity for a third straight season is probably the most worrisome long-term red flag. 

SP Ricky Romero (RED)

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    It took one season for Ricky Romero to go from team ace to the No. 5 guy. It's almost all attributable to health and shows how quickly things can fall apart for even a seemingly durable pitcher.

    Romero had elbow surgery, plus PRP treatments on both knees in hopes of avoiding surgery on those. The tendonitis continues to be a problem in the spring and will require continual maintenance. The next step would be scoping the knees, which would cost him a chunk of the season.

    If that happens, the Jays have no depth behind him, with Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison recovering from Tommy John surgery and Dustin McGowan unlikely to ever make it back from his shoulder injuries. The pitching injuries that have plagued the Jays have a long-term cost and at a time where the rest of the team could come together enough to win. 

    The Jays are now operating without a pitching safety net, all with a risky staff that could sure use one. A scout told me after looking at this report that "the Jays' fifth starter isn't on the roster right now." That could come at a very high cost if true. 

RP Steve Delabar (YELLOW)

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    Trevor Bauer and Dylan Bundy are better known—and just plain better—than Steve Delabar, but his success with a long-toss program is a better story. Bauer and Bundy have the kind of arms that could succeed with any kind of workout, but Delabar came back from injuries and time out of the game. 

    He's a nice arm, one of many that the Jays have collected in hopes of putting together enough arms to make up the 'pen. Like everything, their 'pen has been defined by injuries and made up largely of pitchers who have failed in that role, like Brett Cecil and Brad Lincoln. Delabar's power stuff could be closer stuff if Casey Janssen falters and Sergio Santos doesn't make it back. 

CL Casey Janssen (RED)

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    Casey Janssen was a nice fill-in closer after Sergio Santos was pushed aside by shoulder surgery. Janssen doesn't have the stuff that Santos does, but what he has isn't bad and was certainly adequate for the job. The downside is that Janssen has a shoulder issue of his own, cleaned up by minor surgery just after the season ended. 

    Janssen has found his spot in the 'pen, but worries about how his arm will respond to the workload were amped by the shoulder problems. If he can stay healthy enough, he can have the same kind of season he did last year. But without a full season in the role to base anything off of, he's a very high risk.