Q&A: Will Carroll (Part I)

In Part I of this series, ITW sits down with Baseball Prospectus' injury guru Will Carroll to get some straight answers about his approach to developing young pitchers and whether or not Ramon Hernandez's injury is anything to worry about.

Will Carroll is best known as the resident injury expert at Baseball Prospectus, where he authors the popular Under The Knife column. He is also the co-host of BP Radio and the author of two books- Saving the Pitcher and The Juice: The Real Story of Baseball's Drug Problems.

Recently, Will unveiled his annual Positional Health Reports that break down players into bands of normal risk (green), elevated risk (yellow), and high risk (red). For a more detailed explanation of his methodology, you can check out his introduction. ITW was able to catch up with Will and discuss some Orioles baseball.

ITW: Saving The Pitcher is based upon the programs of Tom House, who some believe is not given enough attention by Major League Baseball…

Will: Well, it's based partially on the programs of Tom House. I certainly don't want to take any credit away from anybody. While I think Tom's programs are among the best out there, he's actually changed programs since I wrote the book based on things he's learned through his biomechanical analysis. I want to make sure I give Tom the credit, but I don't want to put any blame on him either. There are a lot of people we looked at; I mean, what I wanted to do was take the best pitching research that was out there, whether it was from Tom, whether it was from the work of Mike Marshall, whether it was from Rick Peterson, or other people that I talked to in the process of the book. The person I had in my head when I was writing it was a high school pitcher and his coach and parents. They may understand the game of baseball, but they don't really know what they're getting into. I wanted to be the translator from someone like Tom or Mike to them. I didn't want it to be an end-all be-all resource, just something they could build on with their own information.

ITW: The book was published in 2004. In the three years since, have you seen any major inroads of the among major league teams becoming more accepting of the philosophies in the book?

Will: Of mine? No… Good Lord, no. They would be incompetent if they were. I'm just a writer. I've done a lot of research and I like to think that I am getting some good research out there, but I think the basis was there before me. I think the work of Keith Woolner and Rany Jazayerli on Pitcher Abuse Points, the work of Tom House… It's just this creeping acceptance of pitch counts that makes sense and, now, as we're starting to move beyond pitch counts, into what are the logical pitching developments, like how do we best transition someone from a drafted high school pitcher into the minor leagues? In most cases, even the most advanced scouting directors have to pause a second before they answer that question. They don't necessarily have a program in place, a rule that says what they do when this or that happens. I think we're getting away from an age where we have to explain pitch counts to using pitch counts to help develop pitchers.

ITW: So, for example, Baltimore's top pitching prospect, Brandon Erbe, was held on a strict 5-inning limit last season and, at the end of the season, even held to a 3-inning limit. Do you see this as a sound strategy?

Will: Everything is individual. What works for one person/team isn't going to work for another person/team. I don't want to imply that we have one answer for everybody. What I think is happening is a logical development program where you say 'This is what you have to do to get to the next step', because I don't think everyone will get to that next step the same way. If you tell one guy you need 90% first-pitch strikes and you get some extra pitches or tell another guy to limit his flyballs, it's all a way of getting him to the next step. As far as Erbe working on a strict innings-limit, I think it was a way of working in a sort of tandem system, which is something I am in favor at the lower levels. Did it keep him safe? Great. Did it hold back his development? We'll see. But, I'd always err on the side of safety.

ITW: Aside from 2004, Ramon Hernandez has been a remarkably durable catcher. After turning thirty years old, is his recent oblique strain an ominous sign of things to come for a player in the second year of a four year contract?

Will: No, he's never had a history of it. With an oblique strain, until they become recurrent, it's a traumatic injury. It's not a fluke thing, but we will likely look back on it and think it was something that happened, but you move on. You start worrying when a guy turns thirty. That's one of the reasons we didn't like the signing of Jason Varitek and why you don't see a 34 year old catcher get a four year deal often.

Hernandez has been healthy for so long, that even when you see a decline in his health, you start from that really high level that Hernandez was at and you've got a longer slope to go down.

ITW: Is an oblique strain something that is more common to the beginning of a season, when players are working their way into playing shape?

Will: No, we really haven't seen any pattern to it. I have seven years of data for hitters and it is really one of those flukey things, at least in the timing of it. There doesn't look like there is any pattern to the data, whether it is cold or hot or whatever. There just isn't any pattern to it and it is one of those things that we see far too often, unfortunately.

Michael Hollman is the Senior Writer for Inside The Warehouse and can be reached via email at Publisher@InsideTheWarehouse.com

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