Strange Brew

I’m not an injury analyst, nor do I play one on TV. But five years of reading Will Carroll, a winter spent writing about the Brewers for Baseball Prospectus 2008, and a night at a Holiday Inn afforded me the chance to pinch-hit for my colleague as he stepped aside on the Brewers Team Health Report due to consulting interests (I’ll be doing the same for the Rangers in a couple of weeks).

The Brewers have become one of the best teams in the league in terms of managing injuries (they won the 2005 Dick Martin Award for best team health system), but as a small-market team, their margin for error is slim. While their rotation is eight deep at the outset of spring training, youngsters Yovani Gallardo, Manny Parra and Carlos Villanueva as well as nominal ace Ben Sheets all turn up as red lights under BP’s system, which uses an actuarial base to determine the likelihood of injury. A red player has at least a 45 percent chance at serving some time on the DL this year, though the system doesn’t distinguish between a torn rotator cuff and a blister. In other words, the Brewers will need some of that depth, a point underscored by Gallardo’s early-spring misadventures:

No sooner was I set to tie a bow around this THR and send it to our editors than the news broke that Gallardo would undergo arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his left knee, something which will knock him out of action for a month. While this is a minor surgical procedure, the real danger is if his return compromises his mechanics, along the lines of Kerry Wood in 2006. Assuming Gallardo’s not rushed back and doesn’t encounter any mechanical hiccups, the injury may actually help by moderating his workload. Prior to the knee problem, Gallardo already turned up red; between Nashville and Milwaukee, he threw 188 combined innings last year, the highest total among 21-year-olds in organized baseball this side of Felix Hernandez. Intuitively, the Rule of 30 would suggest he’s got headroom to maintain or slightly increase his workload without excessive risk, but the hitch is that the Rule of 30 is based on major league innings, not a combination of major and minor league innings. Even using the Davenport Translations or a similar adjustment, those minor league frames just don’t bear the same predictable relationship to risk as the major league ones, all of which means that the risks increase for Gallardo beyond 140 big-league innings — a cap that suddenly doesn’t look too far out of line when you factor in some extended training and minor-league rehab.

Elsewhere, the team’s young infielders, particularly Rickie Weeks, carry some risks as well. But while it certainly looks as though the Brewers are carrying a lot of red lights — more than any other team in the NL Central — a peek at the THR spreadsheet available to BP subscribers shows them in relatively good shape among the NL Central contenders. The spreadsheet lists the projected starting lineup, five-deep rotation, closer and top setup man for each team. Taking yellow as a default equal to zero, green as +1 and red as -1, the Brewers net out at zero (as many greens as reds), while the Reds come in at +2, the Cardinals and Cubs both as -2 by this crude analysis. Still, the bottom line is that winning always takes some luck in the health department, and the Brewers will be no exception.

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