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: Even at 34 years old, Jay Payton got a green light in your positional health report. Is his hamstring injury something that could pose a long-term problem?
Will: I think it is something that is going to be a long-term problem. Older players don't get hurt more often, but it takes them longer to get healed, as opposed to younger players who get hurt more often but heal up quicker. It's also the type of injury you tend to see. You tend o see overuse-type injuries in older players. Especially with a guy that relies so much on speed, like Payton does, you start to worry. He came up green because he's been healthy the past three years, he didn't show any patterns. It's an inexact system and I don't know if this is one of those injuries that comes out f the blue and bites you, like some of them will. I think we have to look at it as to whether the team is doing everything they can, like if something happened in an off-season workout or if there is something missing in the stretching routine, or whether his diet changed. There are so many things that we don't know that factor into injuries that it is tough to make anything more than a broad generalization.
ITW: Melvin Mora is in his age 35 season and has suffered ankle, hamstring, and back injuries of varying degrees over the past two seasons. Yet, he earns a green rating in your positional health report. What are the odds he is a healthy player through the end of his contract in 2009?
Will: Well, relatively healthy is a pretty broad range. He plays younger than his age. When that green came up, I remember that I just stared at it and thought "did I run this right?" I expected him to be a mid-level yellow and he was actually exactly one percent beneath the threshold. Whether that one is one that comes back to bite me or whether that one is the system being smarter than me, as it normally is, remains to be seen. I think he plays younger and I think he has played through injuries. I think playing through injuries is an ability that is more important than people put credence in right now. He's also a quick healer. While he has had a lot of injuries, as you've noted, he has always come back quicker than expected. Then again, that could be something that I over-weighted this year, because it is something that I changed between this year and last.
ITW: Understandably, Brian Roberts earns a red rating in your positional health report. Exactly how unprecedented was his recovery from his unsightly elbow injury in 2005?
Will: I hope when he signed his contract, his first thought was that he just made his family comfortable for life. And I hope his second thought was that he owes a lot of this to Tim Kremchek. After seeing that injury, after hearing all the damage inside, I'm still amazed that his elbow is connected, let alone that he is playing baseball at the level he is. They did Tommy John surgery, not because he needed it, but because that was the strongest structure they could find to make sure his elbow stayed attached. Just think about that for a second. It is stunning that he was able to come back. It is a miracle of modern medicine, a testament to his hard work and rehab. It shows just how far we've come.
ITW: You mention that Roberts "has athleticism, but doesn't show it in his history". What do you mean by that and how does it affect his rating?
Will: He's had a number of injuries. Obviously, that arm thing throws things off. We have a rating for athletic ability. I hate to say it is subjective, but it really is. We talk to people who can see it in these players and it factors in and figuring out who had the ability was a big part of it. [Roberts] has had a lot of injuries and he has been able to come back quicker. Actually, the Orioles, as a whole, are able to come back quicker, which I think as much a testament to their medical staff as it is to their players. You don't see the athleticism in his history because of his injuries- the knee problem, that arm problem. It doesn't really show up that it's benefited him is what I was trying to say with that.
ITW: Speaking of the training staff, Richie Bancells has been with the team for a long time. Can you give us an idea of his reputation among the training community?
Will: Yeah, he's been there a long time and that counts for something. Loyalty is not a big deal in the game of baseball anymore… and probably shouldn't be. If you're not qualified, you'll be out of there. There are a lot of people, not only in your own organization, but in other organizations that are qualified. We've seen more and more that teams are willing to hire away an assistant trainer from a good program and try to steal a little thunder from another team. Richie has been there a long time.
I do think the one thing that has been a knock against Richie, which I don't think was his fault, was the whole [Steve] Bechler incident. I think that probably cast a shadow over the medical staff there, but it really shouldn't.
Michael Hollman is the Senior Writer for Inside The Warehouse and can be reached via email at Publisher@InsideTheWarehouse.com