2012 Injury Outlook - Pitchers

The dreaded "inverted tilde!" Latos has to stay healthy for the Reds to reach expectations this year. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

In case you forgot the objective of the exercise, we're looking at what to expect for Reds players as far as injuries are concerned. At least to what little extent we can hone our expectations on that matter. This article concerns the pitchers.

Pitchers succumb to injuries. It's unavoidable and largely unpredictable. And bad news has already struck for the Reds on this front. The team's closer was lost for all of 2012 without throwing a single pitch for the Reds. Bill Bray battled a groin injury in Spring Training, but is hopefully just about recovered for now. Chapman wasn't able to do all of the offseason condition that was expected because of soreness, though he seems fine now as well. If a team has ever made it through Spring Training without any pitcher injuries to speak of, they had the baseball equivalent of winning the lottery. So in the aggregate, the Reds really are not coming out of Spring Training in a bad situation with the pitchers.

Rotation

Mat Latos has pitched a full workload each of the last two years. At this moment he is day-to-day with a minor calf issue, which hopefully turns out to be nothing at all. These are the kinds of things that happen in Spring Training but aren't a big deal. 210 innings or so is what he should be aiming for, but the Reds have to get 190.

Johnny Cueto started 30+ games from his first year in the Bigs 2008 up through 2010. Last year he just missed grabbing the ERA title by a few innings, suffering shoulder inflammation to begin the year and a sore lat muscle at the end. He has an entirely revamped pitching motion now as well, but guessing about injury repercussions from that would be just speculation on my part. The Reds need 190 IP from Cueto, and he's a reasonable bet to get in that neighborhood.

Mike Leake hasn't had any injury problems to speak of. He's not a max effort pitcher, clean mechanics, good athlete. So the injury outlook (apart from being a pitcher and all) is good. Along with Latos and Cueto, he could give about 190 IP this year.

Homer Bailey has a number of questions, and health might be the biggest. He threw a full season's worth of innings in 2009, and that's it. His fastball has steadily lost velocity over the years, and you have to believe injuries are a part of that. And Homer's injuries have been shoulder injuries, which is the worst thing you can hear as a pitcher. However, he does have the frame to stand up to a full-time workload and the velocity isn't bad despite the dropoffs. So there is reason for hope, but with an injury history as checkered as Bailey's, I would not count on more than 160 IP.

Historically, durability was the one thing you could count on from Bronson Arroyo. Put him in your rotation and he would give you 200 innings like clockwork. Durability may have been his one real asset. At any rate, the outlook changed a little after last year. He still gave his mandatory 200 innings (or close enough), but he had to battle through mono all season to do it and the results were historically bad. Arroyo is also past his prime physically, though his mechanics are smooth and he just has a rubber arm, simply. The biggest question about Arroyo is probably not how many innings he is capable of pitching in 2012, but how many we will want him to pitch. If he doesn't find some of that lost velocity and/or is pitching like a continuation of last year after 6 weeks or so, it might not be his health that limits his innings. Count on 180 IP if he is pitching well enough to hold on to his rotation spot.

Aroldis Chapman is difficult to assess for injuries just like it's difficult to assess how he might perform as a starter. It's also difficult to assess what his role will be with the Reds this year. He does have some injury concerns. A sore arm this offseason, a dead arm period down the stretch last season, throwing harder than any other human in history, and the fact that he has never really been exposed to a full MLB workload as a starter (if the Reds go that route), and hasn't gotten through a full reliever's seasonal workload without negative effects either. All things considered, he is not a very safe bet to stay healthy. In the bullpen, he should be able to give 60 innings probably. In the rotation, I think he would have to be capped around 110-120 at the most. He threw 108 innings in 2010, but really started to struggle after his first seven or eight starts in AAA.

Jeff Francis missed all of 2009 and a chunk of 2010 after shoulder surgery. Rumor is that he pitched through the injury for much of 2008 which is why that year sucked so bad. Pitchers with reconstructed shoulders aren't great bets to stay healthy, though Francis did pitch a full season last year. Although with a fastball that's slightly faster than the high school average, and scary low K rates that go with it, his performance is also a question. If Francis were to find himself in the rotation, I would not expect him to be able to provide more than 160 innings.

Bullpen

Everyone in the Reds bullpen looks like a moderate injury risk to me. Sean Marshall is perhaps the exception, since his one injury I could find was in 2007 for a sore shoulder and he wasn't put on the DL. That may have been a case of the Cubs wanting to give him more minor league time without coming out and saying so directly. Nick Masset's red flag is that he has been worked heavily over the past 4 seasons, with steadily declining effectiveness over the last 3. Jose Arredondo had TJ surgery in 2010. Logan Ondrusek was put on the DL with forearm pain down the stretch last year. Bill Bray had a groin strain in Spring Training, and had injuries in 2009 and 2010. He's never had a heavy workload either, though he may not be expected to if he'll be used only as a LOOGY. Jordan Smith missed time in 2009, then was converted to a reliever and has been pretty durable since. Clay Zavada missed virtually all of 2010 (3 IP) because of Tommy John surgery. Ron Mahay is ancient.

Bullpen pitchers suffer perhaps more wear and tear than starters do because they can't stick to a strict throwing routine, and they often warm up (even repeatedly in the same game) without pitching in the game, which people tend to ignore, but that is still wear on their arms. And they are under pressure to warm up as quickly as possible, rather than warm up naturally and take the time needed until they're ready, as a starter does. Finally, their arms often don't get the 4 day rejuvenation period that starters do to heal damaged muscles and ligaments that result from pitching. At least they don't throw as many pitches, but they do typically throw at higher effort. I think bullpen pitchers are at higher injury risk than starters, but I haven't seen hard evidence of it.

Overall

Maybe it's my Reds-fan bias, but to me the Reds don't look like a risky team for injury concerns. All of the key players are durable and in their primes. Scott Rolen is a major risk, but a return to '09-'10 form isn't required for the Reds offense or defense to still be really solid. He certainly improves the team when healthy. For the pitching, Homer Bailey looks like the only big risk; while I admit that I have reservations about Cueto's durability, they aren't too serious. Of guys who don't have major red flags, Cueto and BP are the ones who feel risky to me. Losing Phillips would be an enormous blow to the Reds chances, so I certainly hope I'm worried about nothing there. As a contrast, the Cardinals look like a team whose fortunes will very much turn on their injury luck. Carpenter, Wainwright, Beltran, Freese, Furcal, and maybe Berkman and Allen Craig all have their health questions right now or are rather big risks, and that's a huge chunk of the team's core. So I would say the reds are in a good position with the roster.

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