Author, blogger, and Baseball Prospectus medical expert Will Carroll co-wrote the Seattle Mariners 2006 Team Health Report (which you can find here) with Thomas Gorman, and the piece went up this afternoon. If you're a BP subscriber, you should go check it out. If you're not (or even if you are), then hopefully I can satiate your hunger for new material with the following quick Q&A, in which Carroll graciously agreed to participate.
LL: I'm guessing that the first thing everyone did when they saw the new THR was scroll down to Felix, so let's get the inevitable questions out of the way. In your opinion, on a scale from 1-10 (where 1=indestructable and 10=likely to die), where do you rank Felix's risk of suffering a major injury within the next few seasons?
WC: All I can speak to is risk and as you well know, his mechanics are suspect. I worry that he'll blow up and that the M's (and their fans) will say "Look! All that babying didn't work!" and give up. I'd guess he's a six. Look, if he's Dwight Gooden -- great for two or three years and then turns into a pumpkin, is that a success or failure?
LL: What is it about his head snapping that you find so troubling?
WC: It's a symptom that points to greater flaws. There is no "one true motion" and he's certainly effective. It's the head that shows that he's not on balance and that, to me, is a key. If I say "his core looks soft, he's striding a bit short, and he seems to land gloveside," you'll know what I'm talking about but that's about it. If I say "watch his head", most any fan can say "Oh wow, I see that." Compare Felix's delivery to someone like Jamie Moyer or Greg Maddux or even Bart Colon (who Felix reminds me of quite a bit) -- you won't see that head snap.
LL: Staying on the pitching side, Jamie Moyer registered a green light a year ago, then went on to have a healthy, effective season. So why the yellow light all of a sudden? I can't imagine that the system's sample size of comparables is much smaller than it was last March.
WC: No, but it changes year to year and there were some underlying improvements to the system. Here's the problem with outliers like Moyer -- how many pitchers over 40 are there? Ten?
Continued... There are ten pitchers last season, exactly. (Nice guess, Will.) John Franco, Clemens, Fassero, Moyer, Mulholland, Wells, Johnson, Brown, Roberto Hernandez, and Kenny Rogers.
Clemens, Wells, Johnson, Hernandez, and Brown all had significant problems over the last three years, while Franco and Fassero are out of the game. (Or did Fassero sign somewhere?) Without taking those into account, you're looking at a 50% base risk. If one of those five didn't get hurt, you're looking at 40%, or a yellow base instead of red. Moyer's done everything else right, so he knocks some points off the base, but it's such a small group that it's tough.
I use five year averages now, instead of three, hoping to get rid of this to the extent that the sample is bigger. It's still small.
LL: Many of us spent the season waiting for Eddie Guardado's left arm to fall off and run away, never to be seen again. He managed to survive, though, and with a healthy knee now supplying more energy to his delivery, is the rotator cuff issue a thing of the past?
WC: It shows how holistic a pitching delivery is. When one thing breaks down, if that's not taken care of quickly, something else is bound to break. Cuff issues never go away, but they can be survived.
LL: Given his extreme overrotation and fairly violent delivery, should we expect Joel Pineiro's shoulder issue to be a recurring problem?
WC: Simple answer: yes. It's very hard for any pitcher to change their delivery significantly without losing effectiveness or even at all. The one case where I remember someone completely remaking their delivery was Roy Halladay and he had to go back to A-ball to do that. We have a lot of throwers these days, not a lot of pitchers.
LL: Jeremy Reed registered a green light despite being plagued by a wrist injury he suffered after running into the wall. His balls-to-the-wall style of play in center field seems conducive to further aches and pains, as well. With that in mind, does Reed strike you as a guy who might benefit offensively from a position switch on defense?
WC: Here's the funny thing about CF ... it's easier. I mentioned a couple years ago that JD Drew wanted to play center in spite of his knee problems, actually because of them. It hurt him to stop, not to run. There's more wall to deal with in the corners -- a CF only has that one big back wall. If you've got a guy like Reed -- or Snelling -- that has a hard time with this, how much would it cost to thicken the padding or make the warning track a little deeper? Snelling probably needs to have airbags installed!
LL: Now another year removed from Tommy-John surgery, what kind of progress should we be looking for from Jesse Foppert?
WC: TJ is a known quantity. It's got a return to activity period that's been significantly reduced, a return to function period that's been significantly reduced, and a return to level period that's been significantly reduced. Once you get outside those, it's on you, not the surgeon.
LL: Last question: considering his terrific conditioning habits and defensive grace in right field, is there any lesser injury risk in baseball than Ichiro?
WC: You'd think no, but the answer's not that simple. He's a hamstring strain from being slightly slower, a groin strain from losing a step. His hitting ability, as amazing as it is, and his defensive ability, is largely based on his speed. Having seen him hit for power seemingly at will, I think he could adjust, but don't think any player is risk free.