Tuesday Rockpile: A diatribe against the injury forecast

By now, you may have noticed that Purple Row has finally sacked RockiesMagicNumber and Poseidon's Fist. Quiet your cheers. I wasn't talking about the actual people, just the names. In place of these epically awesome usernames, you get the real (boring) given names of the writers. If only my name were Sequoia Stonecypher, but it's not. Anyway, there's no reason as a writer here to hide behind a pseudonym, and this time when I bump into Thomas Harding in Tucson, I don't want to introduce myself as if I am a pokemon character. I imagine other writers will be following suit with dropping the curtain soon.

You could still call me PF if it's easier (woohoo, confuse the n00bs), or I suppose ATF could be in order. "Fish" was my high school nickname, though that might get messy in game threads against the Marlins. You can figure it out.

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"The Rockies got incredibly lucky with injuries. That won't happen again."

Have you read that this offseason as a reason for pessimism toward our team? Probably so. I probably even wrote it. There are a few things wrong with this statement.

Most injuries cannot be forecast. We worry about the Verducci Effect and violent deliveries in pitchers, only to see Ubaldo Jimenez and Tim Lincecum come back stronger in 2009 after a laborious 2008. We worry that Todd Helton's back surgery would end his career, but he came back as strong as he's been in a half decade. No one could have told you that last year the Mets would have been devastated by injuries while the Rockies were virtually clean. It's what makes the season more fun and unpredictable. On a macroscopic scale, the degree a team gets hit with injuries is largely random. (Bear with me if you are screaming "old Mets"). So we got lucky last year and it couldn't happen again, right?

Flip a penny. Suppose you get tails eight times in a row. Flip it again. You're "due" for a heads, right? But somewhere, you know it's still a penny, and there's a 50-50 shot on getting that ninth tail in a row. Previous history makes no difference to this probability, contrary to what you'll hear in broadcasts when Ichiro is 0-4 or when a 65% free throw shooter is 10-of-10. The Rockies largely have the same probability of getting hammered by injuries or immune to them as any other team, regardless of 2009. Any other conclusion is based on superstition.

Now, of course labrums and hamstrings are far more complicated than copper coins. There are individual cases that may lean a team one way or another. Los Angeles hoping for valuable starts from Jason Schmidt in 2009 was a bad recipe. Repeated histories of injuries to certain players (i.e. Carlos Beltran) make a roster vulnerable.

The Rockies have a few candidates with applicable injury histories: Jeff Francis, Manny Corpas, Aaron Cook, Todd Helton, and to lesser degrees, Huston Street and Troy Tulowitzki. Helton's surgery seems to have cured him, but Dan O'Dowd still took the caution to bring back Jason Giambi. Jeff Francis is by all accounts ready to rock. Aaron Cook is a bit of a concern, as he has gotten hurt and limited to 166 IP in 2 of the last 3 seasons. However, O'Dowd brought in Tim Redding to join a slew of reasonable depth options for the fifth spot in Greg Smith, Franklin Morales, Jhoulys Chacin and Esmil Rogers. All five of those would fit in a rotation fifth or higher elsewhere. Manny Corpas' role has been reduced from Opening Day last season, and O'Dowd is pursuing Kevin Gregg as insurance.

Are we seeing a theme here? A team can best sustain injuries if there is depth in place. The Rockies are an exceptionally deep team - all five projected bench players have been full-time starters in recent years - and O'Dowd spent time buffering up other potential problem areas. There will be no Jonathan Herrera, Cory Sullivan or even Willy Taveras time at Coors Field this year. Couple that with the overall youth and elasticity of the squad and you have a team ready to take on injuries. Granted, we would have significant issues if Ubaldo Jimenez or Troy Tulowitzki goes down, but that's no different than any other team. Who is Chase Utley's backup? Do you know?

The last possible implication of the above hypothesis is that the Rockies "lucked" their way into 92 wins in 2009 as the infirmary gathered dust. This is undeniably true. Sort of. They would have won less if CarGo was hurt longer late in the season. That rather popular mantra of luck, and an easy one to adopt, suggests the team had a talent level of closer to 85 wins if they had average health. This may not be true. It's similar to saying the Rockies need Jeff Francis to replace all of Jason Marquis' wins by himself. We know that isn't true. Much as Jason Hammel and Aaron Cook can easily step up to shoulder some of the loss of Marquis, other factors can improve from 2009 to shoulder the likely loss of overall health in 2010. How about a quicker start in April and May instead of immense clubhouse fission from Clint Hurdle?

A couple links to follow....

Troy E. Renck initially speculated that the Marlins were offering Kevin Gregg their closer position, leaving it unlikely that Gregg would choose the Rockies' middle reliever/setup offer. However, recent reports out of Florida suggest the Fish are looking at Gregg for the set-up role and the Leo Nunez will be the team's closer in 2010. This means Gregg may lean more towards a contender that doesn't have a recent loathing for him. As stated above, he may be a good insurance policy, even if he starts in the bullpen in April.

Buster Olney tweets that Yorvit Torrealba has a one-year offer from the Padres in hand. It looks like he won't sniff the money the Rockies offered him, now will he play for a team whose fans celebrate him more. This is Exhibit 1B (Johnny Damon being 1A) to why playing hardball can get you burned.

Dodger beat man Dylan Hernandez also tweeted yesterday that OF Reed Johnson has signed a one-year deal with the Dodgers. Although this is worthy of a yawn, I'll note three things. 1 - Reed Johnson wouldn't have a prayer of making the Rockies squad without injuries. 2 - That move fills the 40-man roster for the Dodgers, so don't expect them to make much more noise before the season. 3 - Unless Doug Mientkiewicz makes the team, the Dodgers' bench will be entirely right-handed.

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