2011 Marlins Season Preview: The injury front


Fellow Baseball Prospectus colleagues Cory Dawkins and Marc Normandin have recently unveiled their Team Injury Projections over at Baseball Prospectus, and they are well worth a look if you are interested in the medical side of baseball injury (subscription required, but worth it). Of course, I was excited to see what was written about the possible injuries that the new-look 2011 Marlins could suffer, and luckily Corey and Marc released their injury projections for the Fish last week.

The Marlins have a few injury risks scattered across the team, and given the club’s lack of depth at most of its positions, it will be interesting to see how the health of the Fish affects the teams odds of winning. Here are some of the names that are among the most interesting in terms of health.

Josh Johnson

CHIPPER, the cleverly-named backtracked acronym for Baseball Prospectus’s new injury projection system based on Corey Dawkins’s excellent baseball injury database (you can access information from it here), has labeled Josh Johnson at a medium risk to miss one to 15 days this season due to injury. The reasons for this potential risk are obvious; Johnson is two years removed from an extended stint in the DL recovering from Tommy John surgery, and he also spent the tail end of both 2009 and 2010 hurt, though he only missed time in 2010. Johnson missed the final month of 2010 with shoulder and hip problems, and while it has been established that he is healthy this season, CHIPPER still suspects that there is a decent chance Johnson will miss up to three starts next season.

I agree with this assessment. Despite the fact that Johnson did not miss a start in 2009, his numbers suggest that he did tire at season’s end while he struggled with minor aches and sores. Still, it wasn’t as if his velocity was falling either:

Johnson’s velocity remained top notch at the tail end of 2009 despite the injury problems. And while I suspect that Johnson will miss a few starts this season de to aches and pains, I suspect the fantasy baseball scare surrounding Johnson and his health is likely a bit overblown. He should be fine entering the season, but it helps that the Marlins can afford to have him pitch fewer innings if he needs to thanks to supposedly improved bullpen.

Anibal Sanchez

Sanchez is the biggest risk in terms of injury in the starting staff, as he has been plagued by a plethora of maladies in his short career. Despite being 27 years old and breaking into the league in 2006 at age 22, Sanchez has pitched just 477 innings in his career and over 150 innings only once, in this past season. CHIPPER nails Sanchez at a medium risk to miss between one and 30 days to injury, which would translate to a decent shot at missing up to six starts. I predicted Sanchez would throw 155 innings this season, and Baseball Prospectus’s Depth Charts for the Marlins (to which I contributed heavily this season) has that translating to 25 starts. I myself figured that would convert to 27 starts, but either way the Marlins are facing a good chance that Sanchez will miss playing time. As a moderate risk to end up making only 25 starts, perhaps the Fans and their 180 IP projection are going to be more accurate, but I have a feeling as if the team will be disappointed in Sanchez’s health output by the end of the 2011 season.

Hanley Ramirez

Here’s what Corey and Marc had to say about Ramirez and his chances for injury.

"Ramirez’s injury history is likely to scare people away—according to CHIPPER, it should. He underwent surgery on his left, non-throwing shoulder in 2007, and while he rebounded nicely in 2008, his home run totals have decreased in each of the last few seasons. Since the beginning of 2009, he hasn’t gone onto the disabled list but has make it into our database with day-to-day ailments 14 times in the regular season alone. At what point will one of these day-to-day injuries turn into something more serious, costing Ramirez even more time? CHIPPER thinks it could happen as soon as 2011."

Corey and Marc bring up very good points. Ramirez has not gone on the DL in his career but has missed a combined 39 days due to various aches and pains over the past three seasons. CHIPPER thinks the risk of injury for Ramirez is very high this season; he is rated at high risk for missing up to 30 days due to injury in 2011 and at medium risk to miss greater than 30 days with a serious injury.

The encouraging thing about Ramirez’s injury history (if a history of injury can ever be that encouraging) is that it does not seem to focus on any one location of his body. He’s run through the gamut of tweaks and tightnesses, from shoulder tightness due to awkward swings to knee contusions due to diving for grounders. Since the injuries are widespread, you get the sense that no one part of Ramirez is getting progressively worn down.

The problem is that Ramirez’s conditioning is trending towards a heavier weight this season. Ramirez is supposedly up to 240 pounds and is still playing a demanding defensive position that requires a lot of motion and flexibility. I suspect that with increased weight to bear, he’ll be even more susceptible to groin strains and hamstring pulls, and perhaps one of those will indeed finally take him out for an extended period of time. And as Corey and Marc mention in the article, the Marlins have no depth behind their middle infield and will depend on Ramirez to stay healthy in order to compete.

Omar Infante

I was unaware of Infante’s various injury problems in 2008 and 2009, so it came as a surprise to me when BP’s injury projections had Infante as a high risk player to miss up to 30 days this upcoming season. He has missed 157 days in the past three seasons due to injury, though 130 of those days came from one injury in particular. In 2008, Infante suffered a fractured fifth metacarpal due to a hit by pitch and was out for 130 days. This sounds like an encouraging sign, as the clear cause of injury should be avoidable; I don’t suspect Infante will get hit all that often on his hand with pitches again. At the same time, last season was the first year since his early Detroit years in which he has had to handle a workload close to a full season’s worth, so it will be interesting to see how his body manages based on his prior injury history.

Chris Coghlan

A couple of weeks back, I asked Corey about Coghlan’s knee and his recovery from the torn meniscus he suffered last season, and this is what he told me:

"Recovery for a partial meniscectomy where they shave out the damaged portion is roughly 4-6 weeks although certainly there are some cases of it being less and more. If the meniscus is actually repaired with stitches then it is usually at least around 3 months to let the area heal in.Last I heard about Coghlan’s timeline was that he was cleared to begin jogging in November so he should be back at full speed by now and nothing is coming out of camp to dispute that."

That is great news to hear given that Coghlan will be taking on a new role as the team’s center fielder. Having said that, Coghlan is slated at high risk to miss up to 30 days, though I projected him for a full season’s worth of time at center field. I would not be surprised if he did miss that time, but unlike in the case of the infield, the Marlins do have some names to turn to in case of injury. In particular, Scott Cousins should be given an opportunity to work on his game in the majors since he is 26 years old and thus too old to get much out of playing at Triple-A. The team has an insurance policy in case of injury to Coghlan, so any risks are a little less impactful than an injury to Infante would be.