Red flags on Dodger starting pitching health

Each year, Baseball Prospectus’ Will Carroll takes a look at the health of each team heading into the season. It’s not his personal opinion, but rather the results of a computerized system that, in a nutshell, is fed data and then comes to conclusions based on historical comparisons.

“The system I use (PIPP) uses an actuarial baseline,” Carroll says, “taking into account the actual injury risk of a player of a given age group (i.e., 24-26, 27-29, etc) and position. It then adds or subtracts based on several other factors, such as team injury history, player injury history, PECOTA attrition and several others. It then categorizes that risk into one of three bands, signified by a color – red, yellow, or green, like a stoplight.”

As a prelude to those Team Health Reports, the site is releasing a spreadsheet today that shows how the key players for each team fare: a green light, a yellow light and a red light. Here’s a snapshot of the Dodgers:

Green: Russell Martin, James Loney, Rafael Belliard, Andre Ethier, Jonathan Broxton, George Sherrill

Yellow: Casey Blake, Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp

Red: Rafael Furcal, Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, Vicente Padilla, James McDonald

Carroll offered to talk about the rationale behind the Dodger results. His answers are in italics:

1) Well, let’s take it from the top.  Five Dodger starting pitchers, five bright red flares. Not even a yellow to spare? What are the reasons for each?  (And yes, perhaps we should bring the elephant in the room that is your history with Chad Billingsley out in the open.)

I know. I checked and double checked, but yes, all of them are in the red. Some more than others. I doubt anyone will quibble with Kuroda or Kershaw as risks. Kuroda’s a litle inflated in that he was out for something that’s unpredictable and then going out again makes it look worse than I think it really was. Kershaw is young, threw a lot of innings (not outrageous, but an increase) and is expected to have another increase this year. Risky, yes. Red, yes, but my god, the upside. McDonald is a case where if he’s the five starter on Day 1 and stays there all year, his innings increase will be insane. I doubt the Dodgers would ignore this, but I can’t project that forward.

As for Billingsley – who I don’t hate – he wore down in the latter stages of the season. He was pretty solid, but if I tell you that Dan Haren has a similar pattern, would it bother you? Risk is not reality, but the fact is that every single one of the Dodgers starters as we speak now is a demonstrable risk. All goes well, no worries and the Dodgers run away with the division. One thing goes bad? Meh, most teams can survive. Two or three … not so much, especially if they have to start rushing some of their good young arms.

2) Rafael Furcal’s a pretty easy red for a layman to understand, though he did look better at season’s end.  Is he just in a position where his back could flare up at any time?

That’s it. It’s an injury that sits there like one of those old WWII bombs they dig up now and again. Probably won’t go off, but it might. It’s a known injury and the Dodgers did very well with maintaining him last year.

3) Why does Matt Kemp not get a clean bill?

It’s goofy. It sees a big slugger and then a stat line that looks like a speed guy. The system sees Juan Pierre muscling up or a slugger who’s overrunning and comes up with risk. It’s mostly that it doesn’t know what to do with a guy like this. It’s not a huge risk, but add in that he’s been being a star all winter while Andre Ethier has been working out all winter in Arizona and that’s a concern.

4) Jonathan Broxton had some toe issues last year, and he’s obviously a big guy. Tell us why we shouldn’t be too worried.

Credit the medical staff and the pitching staff. They never let the toe affect his shoulder. If his mechanics change, that guy throws so hard that all sorts of bad things could happen in there. They shut him down, so the velocity measures and some other objective measures of consistent mechanics give some clarity on that. The toe should be healed now and those don’t tend to recur.

5) Any insight into how much Manny Ramirez needs to be rested?

No, not really. An intriguing thought is that this off-season is different in that he wasn’t juicing like we have to assume he was last year. (Well, at least I hope he wasn’t!) I have no idea how that will affect him or how he handled his off-season. Manny was another guy who was often at API, but I don’t know what he did this year. He’s not a young guy, he’s not a particularly mobile guy, and there’s no DH slot to use, so I’d say once a week, maybe make use of some schedule quirks to buy him an extra day here or there. His bat will tell Torre when he needs to rest.

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