The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Health of the Marlins, with insight from Will Carroll

While Spring Training is still young, the Marlins have already encountered a handful of injuries. That's par for the course at this time of year, but tidbits like this one from Tuesday's Miami Herald aren't very encouraging:

Carlos Delgado, who was expected to make his Grapefruit League debut in Monday night's game with the Dodgers, sat out his seventh consecutive game with a sore left elbow. He hasn't played since going 0 for 2 against the University of Miami.

Catcher Paul Lo Duca, scratched from Sunday's game with a sore right wrist, also missed both ends of Monday's split-squad doubleheader but said he's feeling better and could be back soon. Neither will make the trip for today's game against the Dodgers at Vero Beach.
The latest news is that Delagdo may suit up for the Marlins today or tomorrow and LoDuca is expected back by this weekend. Neither injury is serious (both are classified as “day-to-day”), but it still makes you stop and think.

Expectations are incredibly high for this team. For the first time since 1997 (probably – you could argue for last year I suppose), the Marlins are widely expected to contend for the division title and a post-season run.

Much of the optimism comes from the strength of the Marlins starting lineup (as well as the potential of the starting rotation). The everyday lineup is strong and likely one of the best (if not the best – although the Cardinals will more than likely continue to hold that title this year) in the National League.

However, the same superlatives cannot be bandied about for the Marlins bench. Should the Marlins current set of injuries affect the team during the regular season, the likes of LoDuca, Delgado, and Pierre (who missed yesterday’s game with a minor leg injury) would be replaced by Matt Treanor, Damian Easley, and Chris Aguila. That’s a considerably less imposing threesome, but it’s the reality of the Marlins bench.

Thus, the nicks and bruises that are common throughout Spring Training loom a little larger for the Marlins than they would in say, Yankees camp – where an injured player can more often than be replaced by a highly paid reserve or someone acquired via a trade. The Marlins do not have the depth or the financial resources to afford that luxury.

However, they do enter the 2005 campaign with a significant amount of injury worries:

Amongst the position players, there are concerns about a number of players: Carlos Delgado (knee problems last year), Luis Castillo (hip issues), Paul LoDuca (history of wearing down, no legitimate backup), Jeff Conine (two offseason shoulder surgeries), Juan Pierre (ok – it’s just a minor ding and he’s been very durable over his career), and Juan Encarnacion (who apparently was injured last season - so maybe we can expect some upside to his performance in 2005).

On the mound, concerns abound as well: A.J. Burnett (Tommy John surgery two years ago), Al Leiter (labrum issues), Dontrelle Willis (funky mechanics and concerns of overuse), Josh Beckett (seemingly chronic blister issues) and Todd Jones (if he starts up again with his homophobe routine, it could get ugly for him in South Florida).

With all of that said, how injuries exactly will affect this year's Marlins remains to be seen.

However, the cutting edge work being done by Will Carroll at Baseball Prospectus gives us some keen insight into where the Marlins risks are going into the 2005 season (If you aren't already a subscriber, I'd encourage you to consider signing up. Will’s articles are worth the price of the subscription alone, plus you’ll also get oodles of other content that you just can’t find anywhere else -and there’s no spam email, no advertising on the site, etc. All around it’s just a great deal – a nominal charge and unmatched baseball coverage year-round).

In his Marlins’ Team Health Report (THR), Will Carroll sheds some light on the realities of these injuries (you'll need to be a subscriber to read it). In some cases, the THR helps to lessen the worry (Delgado, Encarnacion), while in other cases Will’s article raises some cause for alarm in a player you might not have been as worried about before (Willis, Leiter).

As a follow-up to Will’s story, we were fortunate enough to be able to ask Will some questions about the Marlins. Here’s our “e-discussion”:

Mike: You articulated the Marlins catching situation very well. Having LoDuca is a great luxury for the club, but it's those last 30 – 50 games that are troublesome. Obviously developing prospects in the long run would be a great solution, but that won't help this year. What should the team do to rest LoDuca and to get production when he's not in the lineup? It seems like many of the relatively inexpensive, veteran options were over-priced this winter (i.e. Damian Miller) – at least for the Marlins budget.

Will Carroll: They don't need a Miller, they need a Todd Pratt or even a credible guy like Greg Myers who can play 30-50 games and see if LoDuca can keep from fading. Backup catchers don't need to be that good, just a solid league average with some secondary skills.

Mike: In your report, you referenced Luis Castillo's near-chronic leg, ankle, and foot injuries. From time to time a hip condition is mentioned in regards to Castillo, but it didn't come up in your report. Does Castillo have some sort of a hip condition, and if so, could that be contributing to his other lower-body issues?

Will: Castillo had a acetabular labrum tear. That's in the hip, but yes, it's a labrum just like in the shoulder. It's not nearly as serious and yes, I think it does have a lot to do with his injuries. I'm no expert on gait, but enough people tell me his are a cascade problem that I believe it.

Mike: Between blisters and over-working younger pitchers (Burnett in the past, Willis more recently), the Marlins have had their share of issues with talented pitchers. The blister issue - while difficult to solve - seems curable. The over-use issue seems to be quantifiable and controllable. Do you think the Marlins are taking any proactive steps to prevent over-working Willis (and their other young arms) this season? How does the Marlins development program compare with other clubs?

Will: I'm not aware of any. Settling on a pitching coach would be a start. Beckett and Burnett haven't listened to any yet - the stories are alternately funny and horrendous. Most teams don't have a real pitching philosophy, so I can't ding the Fish too much for that.

Development? Not sure. They seem to be ok, but there's a difference between player development and acquisition. Do the Marlins get credit for Beckett, who came fully formed? For Willis, who they got in a trade? It's a question that hasn't been answered well to day.

(For those of you who have lost track, the Marlins enter the 2005 season with their third pitching coach since the 2003 season. Mark Wiley is the new pitching coach. For the early portion of the 2003 season, Brad Arnsberg filled that same role, only to later be replaced by Wayne Rosenthal. Rosenthal was with the team for the 2003 World Series run and the 2004 campaign. Aside from debating the role Arnsberg played in contributing to injuries and the overwork of some of the Marlins youngsters, his dismissal also drew considerable attention. Details never really came out, but Larry Beinfest's closing quote on how Arnsberg handled his dismissal was pretty telling: "He was abusive and clearly unprofessional,'' Beinfest said. "I would say he was bordering on violent.'')

Mike: The mental aspect of the game seems to be one that plagues potential stars such as Beckett and Willis. Dontrelle has been the more vocal of the two in talking about the work he has done off the field to control his emotions and improve his focus on the field.

Last year, when injured, stories began to surface about Beckett's willingness to listen to team doctors and trainers and rumors began to circulate that Beckett's determination could inhibit his ability to reach his potential. Do you think that teams are warming to the idea of using psychology and mental preparation to handle situations like these? I believe that some teams - like the Mets - have employed team psychologists in the past, but it doesn't seem that this aspect of the game is often utilized.

Will: Several teams use psychologists and other similar aids. I think it can't hurt, when it fits with a teams philosophy and again, I can't tell you what the Marlins philosophy is.

Mike: Jack McKeon isn't afraid to use his bullpen - or to get relievers loose frequently. In the long run, do you think that the Marlins – or those pitchers - are more likely than normal to suffer consequences for Jack's bullpen usage?

Will: “Dry hump" is the term pitching coaches use for getting a guy up but not brining him into the game. McKeon might be the champ at this. We're not sure how it affects things, but I know there are a couple teams monitoring it closely, so we could know more soon.

A big thank you goes out to Will Carroll who was kind enough to respond (and respond quickly). I can only imagine that Will is deluged by hacks like me around this time of year (if not all year).

You can read more of Will’s work at Baseball Prospectus or on his own blog.


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