Inside SI's 2011 Chicago Cubs Team Health Report

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For the past nine years, Will Carroll has written a series of preview articles for each team in MLB called his Team Health Reports. The reports label each team's likely starters as either a "green light," "yellow light," or "red light" player based on his injury risk. And these aren't just arbitrary assignments -- Carroll's been refining his data-driven System (should be capitalized, as you'll soon find out) for nearly a decade.
This year, Carroll recruited a good friend of mine to help him write up reports for a few select teams. Dan Wade and I went to school together on Chicago's South Side (although I should clarify, there's really nothing at all tough about the University of Chicago). Dan's a huge Twins fan, the man definitely knows his baseball, and he wrote this year's Cubs report. Last night, he and I talked about his work with the Cubs' injury report, and I think his insights are pretty outstanding.
Then hit the jump.

AJ Walsh: So how did you get involved with Carroll's column?

Dan Wade: He and I were working on another project, and since I had done some research for him before, he asked if I wanted to help out with the Team Health Reports. It was a no-brainer for me, I've long admired Will's work, so the chance to help out was great.

AJ: And so when Carroll says, "Do a THR," how do you get started? What's the process for diving in?

Dan: His system--The System (gotta be capped)--had ranks for players already, so I had all the players and their red, yellow, or green rating.

AJ: And what's that based on? Games missed?
 
Dan: That's part of it. Age is a big part as well, especially for pitchers or players like Starlin Castro, who are going to see a big jump in their expected contribution without a long track record of durability.
 
AJ: Wait, I should be worried about Castro's health?
 
Dan: Maybe. He's a yellow, so he isn't super high risk, but if you're Mike Quade, how many times are you going to put Bobby Scales in there over Castro without mitigating circumstances? Five? If the Cubs are playing well, Castro is a big part of it. They'll want him to play 140 games at least, which is just a massive increase.

AJ: Even over his minor league numbers? Does that matter?
 
Dan: It does. The innings in the majors are just more intense, especially for a guy like Castro who hasn't even spent a full year at AAA. Going from 120 in the minors to 150 in the majors is a jump; what Castro's going to do is even bigger.
 
AJ: Well, damn it.
 
Dan: Now that doesn't mean he's going to burn out and hit .105 in September. But it's worth watching and it might behoove Quade to rest him every so often, e.g. if he has three or four days of 0-for-4s, maybe give him a day off to both clear his head and to keep him healthy.
 
AJ: That reminds me of how Colvin tanked in August of last year. Might that be a similar case?

Dan: Fatigue could definitely play a roll in that, and probably did. But for young players who don't have a defined injury--bats in chests notwithstanding--it's a tangled web. The individual effects of physical fatigue, mental fatigue, improved scouting reports for opposing pitchers, and for Colvin, a lack of one position in the field all play into that.
 
AJ: Another guy I'd ask about is the Fuk. He's yellow on your chart; any way of knowing whether he gets worn out by 162 games of American ball?

Dan: Everyone gets worn out by 162 games of American ball. As an analyst, I get worn out by 162 games of American ball. It's a slog no matter what. Fukudome is no spring chicken, and missed more time last year than he did in either of the previous two seasons, so that plays into his yellow.

AJ: But maybe he sat because he sucked, and because Colvin was good, rather than because he was hurt? Hard to distinguish that I guess.

Dan: True, and that's something that came up with Soto, too. But even so, whether he missed time because he was hurt or terrible or some combination of the two, he's still unlikely to give the Cubs the 140-150 games again.
 
AJ: True. OK, I'm looking over the full list again... and now hold the phone, Soriano's not red? Or he just didn't make the cut? Perhaps some editorial preferences came into play on whether or not to include him.
 
Dan: Yeah, ultimately, it's a story with which Cubs fans are intimately familiarly. He's aging and he's had injury issues in the past. He's a player that relies pretty heavily on his legs, both in the field and in his swing, and legs tend to wear down.
 
AJ: But it's safe to say he's red.

Dan: Oh yeah. For the record, other red players that didn't make our final report are Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Pena (plantar fasciitis last year), and Blake DeWitt.

AJ: Good lord!

Dan: Yeah, my view of the Cubs' chances this year was not helped by this article. 
The Cubs are hurt by two big things. Firstly, with so many high-risk guys, the training staff can't spend as much time on preventive care for other players, so not only are they fighting against serious risks like Soriano, it has a feedback effect to guys with lower risk like Castro or Soto. Will calls it a "death spiral," and I'm inclined to agree.
The second thing are just those big injuries and a lack of depth. Other than the outfield, where there are four solid options, the Cubs don't have a farm system stocked to the gills with help, or a bench that can spell the starters without a big drop in talent. That means guys like Castro, Colvin, and Wells, who may need to have their innings monitored will be asked to go as often and as hard as they can. And that isn't a knock on Quade or Hendry, but it is the reality if the Cubs think they can make a run this year.

AJ: Right. Well hey, that was fun, if not completely demoralizing. Anything you wanna plug?
 
Dan: Just throw me a Twitter link. (HERE IT IS!)

Big, big thanks to Dan for taking the time to chat it up. Hope y'all enjoyed a little extra perspective from behind the scenes on what's really a very insightful research piece.

Comments

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  • Lets see how the Fail Whale handles his first ST start. I really wouldn't mind seeing him torched so that Wells and Cashner take the back of the rotation.

  • In reply to sep484:

    Looks like he handled it pretty poorly. 6 runs, 2 Hrs, and he apparently went to the Carlos Zambrano school of handling adversity.

  • That would really suck if Castro always sucked at shortstop.

  • What a remarkable all around effort that first inning was. 6 runs on 2 HR, 1 BB and 3 errors.

  • Great read...even if it made me worry a bit about the season.

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