TigsTown Q&A: BP's Will Carroll

Will Carroll is a writer for Baseball Prospectus, where he specializes in health evaluations and injury analysis. TigsTown's Managing Editor Mark Anderson spoke with Will about his work and his thoughts, specifically about the Tigers organization and their players.

TigsTown: Let's start off by giving our readers a little background. How do you sum up what you do at Baseball Prospectus, and where else can they find your work?

Will Carroll: I'm a reporter that follows the course of injuries throughout the season. I try to not only help fans understand what's going on with injuries, but to apply a broader context that shows just how important health is to the fortunes of a team. That can include a lot of things. Tigers fans will remember the outcry when the team was about to sign Magglio Ordonez. Thorough analysis and some creative contract provisions have made that a brilliant signing. I also catch a lot of rumors in my calls, so I do a bit of that. I do baseball exclusively for Baseball Prospectus. I do football for Rotowire and Sports Illustrated and basketball....TBA, though I haven't announced much about that project yet. I also contribute to a number of other sites and books. I'll spare you the radio and TV stuff.

TigsTown: How did you get so involved in this aspect of the game? Was it always something you were interested in?

WC: I have a background in sports medicine and frankly, I just couldn't find the information I wanted. It's an odd little niche. I can remember being excited when my original newsletter was going to 100 people. I really thought that was about the upper bounds of the interest. I was really, really wrong.

TigsTown: As organizations continue to refine their views on protecting players from injury and work like yours becomes more mainstream; are we on the verge of an analytical explosion akin to what we saw in the late-90s with performance analysis?

WC: No. I wish I could say that teams took this seriously, but I think maybe five or ten really are making an effort. There's very little analysis. To give you an idea, no team has more than three Athletic Trainers and only a couple make more than the MLB minimum for a player. A complete medical budget for the season is often less than a million dollars.

TigsTown: Each year, Baseball Prospectus gives out the Dick Martin Award to the organization deemed as having the best medical staff. Historically, how have the Tigers fared in your analysis of medical staffs?

WC: Middle of the pack, but that's NOT a bad thing. I wish I had a good measure of "expectation" to actual results. One of the things I've wanted to do for a while is do more than just look back at the preseason health reports as a "pass/fail" but instead see how teams over- or under-performed. The Tigers got killed this year in days and dollars due to Gary Sheffield, but is that the fault of the Tigers staff? I don't think so, but we have to put it in there. I'm more interested in prevention of injuries and return from injuries than actual injuries when I'm trying to assess a staff.

TigsTown: Has the Tigers willingness to sign players with extensive injury histories – guys like Carlos Guillen, Magglio Ordonez, etc. – played a significant role in how their medical staff is viewed?

WC: Yes. As above, it's the crude nature of my stats that doesn't allow us to factor that in. Subjectively, I'd say that the Tigers staff is better than average.

TigsTown: One thing the Tigers have done quite well the last few years is keep young pitchers healthy at the big league level. In your view, what has been the most important factor in their ability to keep players like Justin Verlander, Joel Zumaya, and until the end of this season, Jeremy Bonderman healthy?

WC: Pitching is like smoking -- you don't see the damage until much later. Is Verlander seeing effects of his college workload? I don't know. Bonderman has a high workload at a young age, so was it more a high breaking point than anything the Tigers did? I don't know and I think the bigger problem is that neither do the Tigers (or any team, to be fair.) Zumaya is an odd case. The finger problem isn't something we can "blame" on anyone. It just happened and until we wait about five years, it's impossible to give any context to it.

TigsTown: Speaking of Bonderman, I've seen some discussion in your recent writing that indicates the Tigers did just about everything right with him since calling him up in 2003. In addition, I've also seen mention that teams may be better off adopting a ‘use them while you have them' theory, rather than trying to protect them until they pass through the critical injury phase of their development. How seriously are you considering such a theory?

WC: Very seriously. I'm not saying, as some have thought, that we should abandon pitch counts and such, but we should be moving beyond this to a logical development program that teaches us what a pitcher can actually do. When a pitcher is ready, how do we know? How many pitches are we wasting, games losing, because a guy's in the minors for no good reason? Jair Jurrjens isn't a guy that anyone thought should have been up, but he proved quickly that he belonged. We need a system that tells us (and no, that's not a scouting thing).

TigsTown: About a year ago, I went through a very simple analysis of the promotion patterns of young pitchers for Dave Dombrowski-led teams, in comparison to the rest of the league. In the end, it appeared that Dombrowski-led teams promoted pitchers selected in the top five rounds about 20% faster than the league average. Any chance you think he recognized the inherent risk with pitchers and pushed them up the ladder quickly in order to get quality innings out of them before something went wrong?

WC: I saw that and no, I think it's a sample size issue. I don't think Porcello is going to be rushed.

TigsTown: Touching on another Tiger pitcher, we've shared some dialogue in the past about the workload patterns of Justin Verlander. I know you've begun looking at new ways to incorporate college workloads into the model for how pitchers should be used early in their careers; any progress you can report on this front?

WC: Not yet. It's a big problem getting good data. Guys like Boyd Nation have made something like this possible, but there's still a lot of issues in trying to put something valid together. And I'm lazy -- I'll put off the hard stuff when there's so much easy stuff out there.

TigsTown: Moving on to a bit more controversial topic, there has been increased noise about performance enhancing drugs recently with the anticipated release of the Mitchell Investigation Report, and the announcement of Paul Byrd having used hGH. I know there are expected to many more names released, just how big is this issue going to end up being in your mind?

WC: Huge. I don't want to say anything more about this, hopefully ever. The Mitchell report should be able to stand on its own.

TigsTown: So many of the now banned PEDs were used by players to improve their recovery and rehab time. Have we, or are we in jeopardy of seeing a spike in injuries or a lengthening of rehab times due to the banning of such substances?

WC: Possibly, but we'll see it at the lower levels. It's the Juan Salas' and Rafael Betancourt's that would be affected by this kind of change.

TigsTown: We are quite a ways from the debut of your spring Team Health Reports at Baseball Prospectus, but for those of us that missed the playoffs, it's never too early to start looking to next season; any early thoughts on the health of the Tigers heading into 2008?

WC: Ha, way too early. Bonderman is the big worry, as well as the bullpen (Zumaya, Rodney, Jones) since few relievers stay effective for three years running. Sheffield is definitely a problem and you start to worry a bit about Ivan Rodriguez given his age, but he's clearly a freak. Guillen to first will be interesting; I'm not sure that's going to work out.

TigsTown: Starting to wrap things up here, what do you see as the next major leap forward in your field?

WC: Wow, you know, I'm not sure. I think the more data that we collect the better. I have five years of data now, more for pitchers, and we're starting to find meaningful patterns. I'd love for teams to do more on logical pitcher development. Oh, actually I've seen a very good injury predictor for pitchers, but I'd bet there's few teams that could pull off using it. The team that does is going to have a huge, huge advantage.

TigsTown: Last, but certainly not least, how about a World Series prediction?

WC: Red Sox in six.

TigsTown would like to thank Will for taking the time to share his thoughts with us, and we look forward to more great things from his work at Baseball Prospectus.

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