TigsTown: Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with us again. The last time we did this (TigsTown Q&A: Will Carroll 2007), it was nearly two years ago, and we discussed how Major League teams were utilizing work and analysis like yours. You didn't seem to think it was being taken too seriously at that time. Has that changed at all in your mind?
Will Carroll: No. For what would be an insanely low cost, they could at least attempt to solve a billion dollar problem. Look, major league teams trust their care to a medical system that's often treated like sponsorship dollars, that overworks two, maybe three guys who make less than a Rule 5 pick does - and that's for the whole staff, plus tape. It's probably gone backwards a bit. If you want to get really scared, consider that the million dollar prospect that goes to Single-A is probably being treated by a guy who's making just over minimum wage despite a master's degree, who has no help, a part-time doctor, and a Training Room that looks like something from 1970.
TT: There are a lot of perceptions out there about how teams handle injuries to their players, and one of those perceptions with the Tigers of late has been that they don't handle them all that well. Fans will cite players coming back too early, improper initial diagnosis, and other factors. How do you view the job the Tigers have done handling some of their aging and injured players the last two years?
WC: I think the key there is aging. Much of the problem has been in players that simply break down, like Carlos Guillen. That he's back at all is something that the Tigers should be crowing about, but the days lost go on Kevin Rand's tab. That's not really fair. Others are more long term, like Bonderman, where things from years past catch up and cost the team. Then there are random ones, like Willis or even Inge's knee. A lot of work is done on maintenance - keeping a guy in there and productive and that slides underneath the radar because there's no good way to track it. The DL is imperfect, but it's consistent. I think the Tigers are consistently average while having what seems like a bit more risk on the roster than average.
TT: In some recent articles – primarily your Under the Knife column – and in our previous piece, you've made mention that the Tigers handled Jeremy Bonderman nearly flawlessly early on, and he still got hurt. What can we take away from what we've seen with Bonderman?
WC: Age, or more accurately physical maturity, might be even more important than we realized. If a guy who is handled properly breaks down, is that because he was asked to do something "normal" at too young an age, or that there was something else? We don't know. I think the theory has to be to overprotect a valuable asset, so while I don't fault the Tigers for not doing something that no one else is doing, I do need to point out that no one has any idea of why pitchers get hurt, how far pitchers can go, and worse, they don't seem too interested in trying to find out. The Ilitch family is among the best owners in the game, but here's a question - how much research have they done on this issue? Compare that to how much money they've burned on the DL and you'll find yourself asking "why?"
TT: Given that, what do you think about the handling of Rick Porcello thus far? What major concerns do you have?
WC: The concern is that, like Kershaw last season, there's a balance between protecting a player and winning. On one extreme, there's Jaret Wright, who got the Indians pretty darn close to a World Series ring. Going back to Bonderman, he came up in a situation where it didn't matter. Bench him and the team's still going to stink. Bench Porcello and you're going to a starter who was 7 or 8 on the depth chart in a year where one game might be the difference between October baseball and October golf.
TT: Two pitchers that have gone in drastically different directions for the Tigers this year; Edwin Jackson and Armando Galarraga. Behind the statistical indicators that may suggest what they're doing differently, what have you seen or heard in your digging?
WC: Galarraga exploded on the league last year, but no one had a good explanation. This year, opposite. Adjustment or maybe it was just a fluke last season. It's interesting since we can look at guys like Edinson Volquez and John Danks, who made some quick leaps when they left Texas and then pulled back some. Not sure why that's the case. Jackson's always had the talent, but somehow got more control this year. People forget how much he was rushed and how young he still is. This is why the Tigers brought in Rick Knapp - to help develop young pitchers the way he did in the Minnesota organization.
TT: Joel Zumaya is a hot-button topic among Tiger fans. You recently mentioned that there was some noise that moving him back to the rotation might help. I'm skeptical of this given the shoulder and back trouble he experienced as a starter in the minor leagues. What do you think we can expect from him going forward?
WC: It was just me thinking out loud. I'm not sure anything can keep him healthy. My thought really was that it's clear that he can't stay healthy doing what he's doing, which is throwing really, really hard. Could he stay healthy throwing at 95? 90? Could he be effective at those velocities? You often see a velocity drop for a guy going to the rotation (like Chamberlain) because he's pacing himself. I think Zumaya's going to be tantalizing until he gives up, when he'll become something of a footnote. I think his upside now might be Mitch Williams.
TT: Some of your newer work has included expanding your research into other sports. Have you seen any meaningful trends from your other research that may have helped shed light on something that had stumped you on the baseball front?
WC: No, but I think that it makes me think laterally.
TT: I loved the piece with Dr. X2 a while back. How often do you touch base with guys of this nature, and how rapidly is your knowledge base about the future of performance-enhancing drugs changing?
WC: Too much. Honestly, I wish I'd never gotten involved in the steroid field. It's one of those things that keeps popping up and the stories just keep getting worse and the pontificating by some people even more self-righteous. The PED field is tracking the general course of pharmaceuticals. We'll shift to stem cells, genetics, and who knows what in the next ten years.
TT: Personally, I'm of the belief that the game will never be ‘completely' clean again, there's just too much incentive to use the new ‘undetectable' drugs. Care to give a prediction about the direction of PEDs in baseball?
WC: It was never completely clean. Pud Galvin was drinking blended bull testicles in the 1890's. The idea of a level playing field is a joke, but one that's embedded in the American myth. These guys are already the winners of the genetic lottery. I say it's easier to understand athletes when you stop thinking of them as human, but some other species that just has the same parts.
TT: Just as I did last time, I'd like to get your thoughts on the next big leap in your field. What's next in injury analysis, prevention, and correction?
WC: I don't think there is one. I don't mean to sound down on things, but baseball moves at a glacial pace. ESPN is introducing OPS to the masses how many years after it was put together? I think twenty years from now when a kid who grew up reading UTK is an Assistant GM, maybe he'll call and see if we can do something.
TT: Final question, do the Tigers have what it takes to get to the post-season, and if so, how far do you think they can go?
WC: Yeah, I do. This is a solid team with some star level talent, a management team that's solid, and good resources. The AL Central was always going to be tight, so it's something small -- an injury, a trade, a guy playing a bit above his true talent level, a rookie making an impact -- that makes a one-game difference, plus or minus. The Tigers have as good a shot as any and once you get to the playoffs, anything can happen.
TigsTown would like to thank Will for taking the time to chat with us. You can read more from him at BaseballProspectus.com.