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The Attrition War - From a Reds Perspective

(This post is in direct response to this over at U.S.S. Mariner.  It heavily references that entry, and quotes from it.)

The Reds never really seem to get it together with the pitching staff.  Really, when's the last time the Reds pitching was decent?  '99?  There are two reasons for this deficiency, one that the Reds have control over, and one that the Reds do not.

Reason #1 is the fact that free agent pitching is expensive.  The Reds have positioned themselves as a small market team, and historically have looked in the bargain bin when it's come time to look for pitching in free agency.  The bargain bin is a tough place to find a good deal, and the Reds have struggled due to not being able to sign good free agent pitchers.

Reason #2 is the fact that Reds pitching prospects get hurt.  Alot.  Often even.

This post, found at U.S.S. Mariner, details the Reds woes (which they apparently share with Seattle):

The Mariners suffer more serious arm injuries than other major league teams. This is indisputable. From Ryan Anderson's multiple shoulder issues to Jorge Campillo's one-inning debut-and-shutdown ("Hello!" "Goodbye!") we've seen the Mariner system decimated in recent years. This is not a perception issue that's a result of being too close to the problem.

For this work, I looked at every team's pitching prospects, as ranked by Baseball America, from 1995-2004, and attempted to find which prospects had serious arm or shoulder injuries requiring surgery that cost them a year of playing time. You can read the methodology notes, or go to the index page for links to all the team pages.

In absolute terms, the Mariners tied with the Reds with nine serious injuries. As a percentage of prospects, they were tied with the Brewers for second place with 32%. The average team was at 20%. Standard deviation was 2.4 (8%).

U.S.S. Mariner asks a few questions about the injury problems Seattle (and Cincinnati have faced), and all of these answers would apply to Cincinnati as well (just replace the word "Seattle" with the word "Cincinnati" every time you see it):

Is a pitcher in the Mariner system significantly more likely to be injured than a pitcher in a good system, like the A's ?

Yes. In a sample of 50 pitchers from both organizations, all nine to be injured would be Mariners. That's not really fair, though, to compare the best to one of the worst. So:

Is a pitcher in the Mariner system significantly more likely to be injured than any pitcher?

Yes. In the sample, the Mariner pitchers were injured significantly more than their peers.


Could this be luck?

Yes. An entirely random distribution of pitching injuries across teams, if the chance of an injury for any prospect is about 20%, would turn out a distribution about like this. It's perhaps a little suspicious, but you would expect that there would be teams on the high end as well as the low.

Is it likely that this is entirely luck?

No. While a random distribution produces something like what we see, that requires you make the assumption that the rate of injuries is 20% and constant. That no team engages in behavior that increases the risk or decreases the risk, or that none of those behaviors raises or lowers pitcher injury rates. Further, I find the explanation that someone has to be unlucky unsatisfying, but I'll get into that in more detail later.

U.S.S. goes on to note that Seattle attributes their failure with pitching prospects to "bad luck", a sentiment the Reds don't seem to share.  One small thing I will give Dan O'Brien credit for is that he recognizes that the Reds have a problem with pitching prospects staying healthy.  The tandem system probably isn't the solution, but I do appreciate the fact that he's trying.

Here is a list of the 25 players U.S.S. Mariner used in compiling it's Reds list, along with their injuries:

Ricardo Aramboles, 4/2002, 7/2003
Labrum surgery in APril 2003.

Bobby Basham, 2/2003
Labrum surgery in May 2004. Pitching in the minors.

Rob Bell, 1/1999
Debuted in 2000. Traded to the Rangers in June 2001 for Ruben Mateo (and Edwin Encarnacion).

Buddy Carlyle, 8/1998
Traded to the Padres in April 1998 for Marc Kroon.

Brandon Claussen, 3/2004
Pitching in the majors.

Jim Crowell, 2/1998
Debuted in 1997. Rotator cuff surgery in late 1998, date unclear. Released by the Reds in July 2000.

Phil Dumatrait, 6/2004
Elbow ligament replacement surgery in April 2004.

Chad Fox, 10/1996
Traded to the Braves in January 1996 for Mike Kelly.

Chris Gruler, 1/2003, 9/2004
Rotator cuff surgery April 2004. Rotator cuff surgery in May 2005.

Josh Hall, 9/2003
Rotator cuff surgery September 2003. Shoulder surgery in July 2004 to remove scar tissue (did not miss a year). Unknown major shoulder surgery in 1999.

Ty Howington, 4/2000, 6/2001, 2/2002, 6/2003, 10/2004
Labrum surgery in May 2004. Shoulder surgery to "loosen" shoulder April 2005

Kevin Jarvis, 4/1995
Claimed off waivers by the Tigers in May 1997 (then the Twins, a week later, then the Tigers a month after that, then released by the Tigers that off-season to sign with the Reds again).

Curt Lyons, 4/1997
Traded to the Cubs in March 1997 for Ozzie Timmons.

Pedro Minaya, 9/1999
Unknown. Injury seems likely. Last sighted pitching in the Indies in 2003.

Dustin Moseley, 7/2001, 5/2002, 5/2003, 4/2004
Traded to the Angels in December 2004 for Ramon Ortiz.

C.J. Nitkowski, 3/1995
Traded to the Tigers in July 1995 as part of the Davis Wells dea.

Tyler Pelland, 8/2004
Pitching in the minors.

John Riedling, 9/2001
Reds did not offer him a contract in the 2004 off-season. Signed with the Marlins.

Chris Reitsma, 10/2001
Traded to the Braves in March 2004 as part of the Jung Bong deal.

Jacobo Sequea, 10/1999
Traded to Baltimore in 1999, transaction unknown.

Scott Sullivan, 5/1995, 8/1997
Traded to the White Sox in August 2003 for a PTBNL.

Brett Tomko, 5/1996, 1/1997
Traded to the Mariners in February 2000 as part of the Ken Griffey, Jr deal.

Ryan Wagner, 1/2004
Starting to have shoulder problems.

Scott Williamson, 3/1999
ELbow ligament replacement surgery in April 2001. Traded to the Red Sox in July 2003.

Scott Winchester, 5/1998
Rotator cuff surgery in August 1999. Appears to have been given his release in late 2001.

It's worth noting that Dustin Moseley is now having health issues with the Anaheim organization, although he hasn't yet met U.S.S.'s criteria of missing an entire year due to injury.  

It's also worth mentioning that the Reds had 25 pitchers ranked on their BA Top 10 prospects lists from 1995-2004.  The average for all major league teams was 28.7, so the Reds came in under, but not too far under.

Looking at that list I see a ton of fringe prospects (Jacobo Sequea??)  as well, so the Reds have clearly compounded their injury problem by drafting poorly to begin with.

While it certainly feels like the Reds have done a better job drafting this year, it might be wise to remember that this is a problem that has been years in the making and that drafting well is only one half of the equation.  Whatever the Reds have been doing for the past decade when it comes to keeping their pitchers healthy hasn't worked, tandem system included.  Dan O'Brien needs to hire people who understand what it takes to keep pitchers healthy.

I'd personally throw a bunch of money at Rick Peterson, but he's probably happy with the Mets.  And he's probably a bit too "new wave" for the Reds as well, what with his fancy schmancy video and high tech computer systems and so forth.  But it's clear the Reds need to find the next Rick Peterson, because it might be the only thing that could save the organization at this point.