• Baseball Prospectus' writer Will Carroll's "Team Health Reports: Washington Nationals" was published Monday, and it starts with Mr. Carroll calling the Nats, "...kind of the Evil Spock of consistency to Toronto's comparative randomness when it comes to injuries," and goes on to look at the true cost of games lost to injuries, the players on the Nationals who are the biggest risks this season and those we should expect to see rebound from past struggles in 2010. As he was last season, Mr. Carroll was once again willing to answer a few questions I had as Spring Training approaches...
Federal Baseball (FB): Stephen Strasburg missed two big starts in the AFL due to injuries, with the second injury, a patellar subluxation (dislocation)* of the left knee cap, ending his Fall. Should Washington Nationals fans worry that a leg injury will force Strasburg to change his delivery/mechanics leading to more issues?
Will Carroll: "Let's be clear - a sublux and a disloc are two entirely different things. It's the difference between a fender bender and totalling the car. I think the worry is that the injury, at the time, might change his mechanics and put more stress somewhere else. We know minute changes do often have consequences. I think by holding Strasburg out at the time and spending the off-season addressing the problem with physical therapy should be enough. Known problems can be addressed and maintained. It's something to watch, but you can bet the Nats and SBC are watching it closely."
FB: In the Nationals Team Health Report, you cite Washington's Strength and Conditioning Coach John Philbin as an example of the kind of person involved with a team that will, "...often have (a) bigger impact than anyone realizes." For those Nats fans not familiar with Mr. Philbin's resume can you explain a little why you think he might have such an impact on the 2010 Nationals?
Will Carroll: "In looking at the history of the team during their time in DC, it's the lack of health that's just stunning. There hasn't been a lot of talent there, but what has been hasn't been on the field. Some of this is player selection (Austin Kearns) and some is bad luck. Still, it's clear that a focus on prevention, which starts with a solid off-season S&C program, should be where the Nats are headed. I don't know Mr. Philbin, but those I've spoken with have spoken of him in very good terms and there's some sign of that in last year's numbers. What I hear most is that because he was an elite level athlete (Olympic bobsledder), he understands the athlete's mindset."
FB: When I asked about Elijah Dukes last March you said you saw Dukes as, "a fourth OF, maybe a DH and if he could be pushed to that role, he's likely to be more productive." Did you see anything out of Dukes last year to change your opinion? It looks like the Nationals are expecting Dukes to play everyday in right this season, is Dukes' physique detrimental to his ability to stay healthy? There aren't too many players his size roaming the outfield...
Will Carroll: "This probably goes more to the question above. Have the Nats prepared him to do this and then we ask, do we have a reasonably expectation of him doing this successfully? I think his size is an issue, but then again, there's a kid named Jason Heyward that the Nats will be seeing a lot who is a similar size. Adam Dunn is huge, but relatively healthy. I don't think it's any one thing. What we know is that Dukes hasn't done it before. If they're expecting him to do it now, is it just hoping he can or have they changed something?"
Will Carroll: "I think he will, but there's a real question about the timing. If Flores comes back fine in March, great. They have a good time share and a trade chip at the deadline. If not, they have a guy who's relatively cheap and relatively productive. The Nats have to hope that Flores is like Jorge Posada, who had a similar shoulder injury. I think the stress fracture isn't that much of an issue longer-term."
Will Carroll: "That's a real unknown. We know that starting and relieving aren't the same. We know recovery isn't the same. We even know that a guy won't pitch the same way in the differing roles. What we don't know -- and what the team doesn't know either -- is how and why. They're guessing. This guy feels good or that guy feels comfortable. Do we know how quickly he recovers from fatigue? How close to muscle failure is he after a start? What joint loads is he showing and how does that change as he fatigues? The Nats just spent 20 million bucks on Strasburg and they have the same level of knowledge about his joint loads as you or I do (none) because they haven't sent him to get checked. The Nats aren't alone here, but for a team that started at a disadvantage and may never be able to outspend the Phils and Mets, they'd better find an advantage somewhere - and fast."
Thanks, Mr. Carroll. (ed. note - "You will of course need a subscription to read the entire Nats' Team Health Report at Baseball Prospectus, but it's one membership/subscription that's definitely worth it.")