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Will Carroll on the Phillies' 2006 Health Outlook

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Since starting his "Under the Knife" column five years ago, Baseball Prospectus writer Will Carroll has emerged as the leading lay authority on analysis of baseball injuries. In addition to UtK, his work with Baseball Prospectus Radio, and frequent appearances on the ESPN networks and other broadcast outlets, Carroll is the author of two books, Saving the Pitcher (2004), and The Juice (2005).

He also writes BP's Team Health Reports, an annual, eagerly awaited handicapping of each big-league team's health outlook for the upcoming season. The revamped THRs started rolling out on BP earlier this month, with the Phillies report appearing last week. Carroll generously agreed to take TGP's questions on the Phils' THR and related issues.

The Good Phight: As you note in the THR, Bobby Abreu has been both healthy and productive over eight years with the Phils. But you give him a red light, citing age, nagging injuries and other factors. Is there a good comparison/previous case for star players who suddenly run into injury problems? Also, given all the variables at play here, what's the difference between a red and a yellow for Bobby?

Will Carroll: Honestly, here's the deal -- players that play a lot of games go one of two ways: they wear down slowly or they're the type that never seems to wear down. Abreu had the nagging injuries that indicate that he might wear down and when that happens, it's usually a quick DL stint.

What people forget is that the threshhold for a red light is "likely to spend time on the DL", not "likely to look like he was caught in a thresher." Bobby was a "low" red light - just above the threshold - but hey, red's red. As with everyone -- and especially someone I have on my fantasy team -- I hope I'm wrong.

TGP: On the Thome trade, do you think Big Jim's back problems will lead the White Sox to regret the move over the next three years?

WC: It's a risky move and very bold for the Sox. Back problems usually scare the heck out of people, forcing them to take charge of the situation. We saw that with Ivan Rodriguez and Vladimir Guerrero. If you see a quick recurrence -- think Mike Sweeney -- then it's here to stay. Thome at that price is a nice gamble.

TGP: Some have said that Ryan Madson's unconventional motion makes him an injury risk given the greater strain of starting in the majors. Do you see the surgeon's table in Madson's future?

WC: I honestly don't see anything so horribly wrong with Madson. He's been used in relief, which is an Earl Weaver thing, and as long as they don't try to jump his innings up to 200 right off the bat, I think he'll be fine.

TGP: Randy Wolf is coming off Tommy John surgery and is expected back sometime in July. As a pitcher who relies on location rather than raw power, is he more at risk for reinjury? Overall, how do you see Wolf performing (if at all) in 2006?

WC: Control's the last thing to come, so control pitchers always have a harder time. I've heard reports that Wolf is "stronger", so maybe he left some velocity behind in that long-fading elbow. I like his chances of coming back and contributing, but not being any sort of anchor for a playoff run.

TGP: At various times over the last few years, you've written about the medical staffs of different teams--their strengths, weaknesses and distinguishing traits. Without giving away secrets or blowing up sources, what can you tell us about the Phils' trainers and doctors?

WC: Jeff Cooper has a World Series ring. Think about this. 1980. Phillies. He's been there since 1976 and is such a fixture that it's hard to think of the Phils without his big mustache. That consistency is a big part of the staff. They do a lot of things well and have it down to a well-oiled machine. If only the rest of the organization was that consistent!

TGP: Thinking about Cole Hamels, is there any other young pitcher we can point to who missed so much time, but then came back to dominate? Or is he likely to wash out of the sport within a few years as the injuries mount?

WC: His PECOTA is insane. Barry Zito? Moe Drabowsky? Juan Pizzaro? Who knows. If he's healthy, he's good, but health is a skill he hasn't shown. When I called him a left-handed Mark Prior I didn't mean great young pitcher with frustrating frequency in UTK.