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You Don't Have To Put On The Red Light - UPDATED
2006-02-23 14:00
by Cliff Corcoran
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

When I first plunked down the cash for a Baseball Prospectus Premium Account a few years ago, my primary motivation was being able to read Will Carroll's Team Health Reports. For those unfamiliar with Will's THR's, every spring he goes team by team through the major leagues, assigning green, yellow, or red lights to each team's starting line-up, starting rotation, and closer indicating their likelihood of injury in the coming season (see his introduction to this year's THR's here). His 2006 THR for the Yankees (co-authored by Michael Groopman) went up on Tuesday and contains more than a few surprises, as well as more than a comfortable number of red lights.

Among the surprises are a yellow light for Robinson Cano ("a young player at a risky position") and a green light for Johnny Damon (who, despite his habit of crashing into everything and everyone in center field, has never spent a day on the DL in the majors--knock knock). Even more surprising were the colors assigned to Shawn Chacon and Chien-Ming Wang. If I were to tell you that one of those pitchers earned a red light and the other a green, you'd naturally assume it was Wang who got the red due to his history of shoulder woes. Not so. Chacon is the man most likely to sell his body to the night. The reason is his history of low workloads. Dating back to 2000, his age-22 season and his last full year in the minors, here are Chacon's annual innings pitched:

2000: 173 2/3
2001: 160
2002: 140
2003: 140
2004: 63 1/3
2005: 164 1/3

Those 173 2/3 innings in double-A at age 22 remain his career high (those 63 1/3 innings in 2004 were the result of the Rockies ill-fated decision to make him their closer that season).

With all five members of the 2005 opening day rotation as well as Wang having missed at least one start due to injury last year, the Yankees are likely hoping Chacon will be able to take the ball every fifth day this season. That means racking up around 200 innings, assuming he's reasonably effective (33 starts * 6 IP/start = 198 IP). That's a minimum 20 percent increase over what was already his second highest career IP total.

All of which should inspire increased pesismism over Chacon's prospects for the coming year. Still, despite his miserable 1.33 K/BB ratio in pinstripes last year (an alarming lack of improvement over his career 1.32 mark despite his having finally escaped Denver's thin air), his fluky good .240 opponent's average on balls in play (league average hovers around .300 and Chacon is all but guaranteed to regress toward the mean), his history of wearing down late in the season (last year being a startling exception), and the fact that I was convinced he was the suck even after the Yankees picked him up last year, I can't seem to get that down on Chacon. I really was impressed by what I saw from him at the end of last year, from the drop on his curve to his strong showing in his first career postseason start. What's more, there are established sabermatricians who think Chacon just might be above average. Certainly, Chacon remains one of the biggest X-Factors on a rotation full of question marks.

As for Chien-Ming Wang's green light, I've dropped Will an email asking him to shed some light. I hope to add his response to this post later today.

UPDATE: Will reports that his system does not include data on minor league injuries, creating what he himself describes as "a huge hole in the system," through which Wang slipped twice by avoiding surgery, making his late-season DL stay look like nothing more than a tired arm. Will is hesitant to override his system, but, and this is me speaking now, for all intents and purposes, Wang should be at least a yellow.

Comments
2006-02-23 12:17:40
1.   Marcus
This list has some strange entries for sure. Re: Cano. Are "young players" (of the position variety) really more susceptible to injury? I would have thought the opposite. Or maybe the "risky position" is the more important phrase there.

I'm assuming Mussina and Pavano are reds?

I am not much of a stat head at all (although it interests me more and more lately), but how would pitching in Denver affect Chacon's K/BB ratio? Aren't Ks and BBs independent of the effects of Coors Field?

2006-02-23 12:25:33
2.   Sliced Bread
There's an Irish neighorhood in Syracuse, NY called Tipperary Hill which boasts the only traffic light in the country where the green is on top, and the red is on the bottom.

I don't know if Mr. Carroll is applying a Syracuse Irishman's logic to his health report, but he certainly seems to have flipped his Wang-Chacon lights.

I'll chose to be optimistically color-blind to any Yankee red lights in his report, and continue to pray that the bullpen doesn't get 'lit up' like a Christmas tree.

2006-02-23 12:26:16
3.   Cliff Corcoran
That's a common misconception, Marcus, that the thin air in Coors only effects the flight of the ball off the bat. It also effects the flight of the ball to the plate. Chacon's best pitch is his curve, but in the thin air, curves don't curve nearly as much. You'd think at sea level, with the proper drop on his hook, which he clearly had with the Yanks last year, he'd be able to make more batters miss.
2006-02-23 12:27:58
4.   Cliff Corcoran
Note to the color blind: stay away from Tipperary Hill, NY.
2006-02-23 12:35:17
5.   Vishal
those innings pitched totals belie the fact that chacon throws about 200 pitches per 6 innings. i wouldn't say his workloads have been all that light, except for 2004 when he was a closer.
2006-02-23 12:37:54
6.   Vishal
[4] tipperary hill is in syracuse.
2006-02-23 12:44:12
7.   Cliff Corcoran
And Syracuse is in NY 6, what's your point?

As for Chacon's pitches per inning. You would consider Mike Mussina, who has walked just 2.04 men per nine innings over his career, an efficient pitcher, yes? Well Moose's career pitches per inning are 3.76. Chacon's are 3.80. That's a difference of eight piches over 200 innings. Not a meaningful difference.

2006-02-23 12:52:18
8.   bp1
7

3.76 pitches per inning? Or per batter?

2006-02-23 12:57:17
9.   Vishal
oh, i didn't have one. i live in syracuse, that's all. :)

i wasn't trying to be argumentative, and in fact i didn't look anything up before i made my hyperbolic claim. but it seemed like every time i saw him as a rockie, he was regularly having 45-pitch innings and 140 pitch outings. that's probably just a small sample size though. i did remember admiring his fortitude, if not his talent.

2006-02-23 12:57:37
10.   vockins
I was a little disappointed that the green lights didn't get an explanation.

So many reds in there. Yikes.

2006-02-23 13:00:04
11.   Sliced Bread
Cliff,

As you pointed out, Chacon seemed to find another gear down the stretch last season, culminating in his strong postseason start v the Angels.
While he hasn't made a Mariano Rivera'esqe reinvention breakthrough, is it possible that Chacon's becoming a different pitcher than the one his projections are based on?

I'm no expert, but Chacon's delivery makes him look like a durable pitcher to me.

Also, how accurate have Carroll's health reports been in the past?

2006-02-23 13:00:06
12.   Cliff Corcoran
Sigh, I rushed that one.

15.4 P/IP for Moose
16.9 P/IP for Chacon

A difference of 300 pitches over 200 innings, or (rounding to a rough mid-point of 16 P/IP) 18.75 "hidden innings" pitched by Chacon.

My bad, and apologies to Vishal.

So Chacon's 164 1/3 IP in '05 were actually more like 173 2/3 using our 16 P/IP standard. 200 innings would still be a 15 percent increase. Not insignificant.

2006-02-23 13:05:51
13.   Bob Timmermann
The song actually goes "You don't have to put out the red light..."

Carry on.

2006-02-23 13:08:25
14.   Cliff Corcoran
11 A curveballer getting out of Colorado should almost automatically turn into a different pitcher, though as the above posts points out, his peripheral stats don't show that happening, despite radical improvements in his results.

Also, Will is constantly tweaking his system to increase accuracy. The THRs, if I can speak for him, are like any other projection system, there's a scientific method there, but it takes time to work out the kinks. With that in mind, each year should be more acurated than the last, but ultimately it's still trying to predict the future, which is never going to reach 100 percent accuracy.

2006-02-23 13:14:40
15.   Cliff Corcoran
13 Fixed.
2006-02-23 14:04:37
16.   Count Zero
13 15

Actually, it's...

You don't have to put on the red light.

The idea being that a prostitute uses a red light to indicate she's open for business in Amsterdam. Thus... "I love you and will take care of you, so don't turn on the light any more -- you're retired." :-D

2006-02-23 14:09:35
17.   Cliff Corcoran
I thought so, but he could also mean "put out" like you put out a sign, put out the red light for people to see it. A quick web search reveals both versions. Still at work, I can't check the recording (though I'm sure all Sting says in his faux Jamacian/sounds Austrian english accent is "you don haf to poot ah tha red liiiii").
2006-02-23 14:13:20
18.   Bob Timmermann
Well, I know it's definitely "put" and not "turn". Your prepositions may vary.
2006-02-23 14:18:26
19.   Cliff Corcoran
Agreed. Tell me once, need not tell me again "turn"'s the wrong way.
2006-02-23 14:26:47
20.   Shaun P
Marc Normandin evaulated how the THR system did last year, but its a BP premium piece (sorry, non-subscribers):

http://tinyurl.com/l92hf

To perhaps over-simplify Marc's conclusions - or just re-state what Cliff said - the system is getting better with each passing year.

Marcus, Moose and Pavano are both reds.

FYI, here are the '03-'05 THR breakdowns for the Yanks:

2003:
1 red (Mo)
4 yellow (Bernie, Nick Johnson, Pettitte, Wells)
11 (!) green (DJ, Soriano, Giambi, 'Zilla, Posada, Ventura, Mondesi, Zeile, Moose, Clemens, Weaver)

(article available to anyone at http://tinyurl.com/z8yzj)

2004:
3 reds (Giambi, Bernie, Brown)
8 yellows (Lofton, DJ, Sheff, Posada, Vazquez, Contreras, Leiber, Mo)
4 greens (A-Rod, Enrique Wilson, 'Zilla, Moose)

2005:
5 reds (Tino, Giambi, Bernie, Brown, Wright)
6 yellows (Posada, Womack, Sheff, Unit, Moose, Mo)
4 greens (DJ, A-Rod, 'Zilla, and Pavano)

(article available to anyone at http://tinyurl.com/jfs2w)

I know the system has changed, so I'm curious as to how the '06 system would make these past 3 years look. Maybe its just coincidence, but I couldn't help noticing that the last time the Yanks had very few injury risks (2003) is also the last time they made it to the Serious (2003).

2006-02-23 14:30:09
21.   Shaun P
'06 totals:

8 red
3 yellow
3 green

*with Wang listed as yellow, not green

Again, perhaps pure co-inky-dink, but this is the 3rd consecutive year that the Yanks have 11 guys at either yellow or red. Not a good trend, methinks.

2006-02-23 14:31:07
22.   Cliff Corcoran
Giambi going from green in 03 to red in 04 certainly makes the system look good. At the same time, Pavano being green in 05 is a bit embarassing. That said, can't get 'em all right. Good stuff Shaun.
2006-02-23 14:37:30
23.   tom yf
I have mixed feelings about those team health reports. I like Will Carroll and his work, but it seems to me that those colors don't mean much. Fine, Cano is young and plays a demanding position...but that warrants a RED light?! If that's the case, Carl Pavano's light should have a wavelength too long to be detectable to the human eye. Also, sometimes players get a red or yellow light without any notable health issues. Regarding Russ Ortiz: "High walk rates trigger a THR alert for possible elbow problems, but Ortiz has always had control problems. Ortiz probably isn't hurt, he's just bad." Carlos Lee gets a yellow and he played all 162 games last year.

I don't know, I like the reporting aspect, I guess the color coding is just strange to me.

2006-02-23 14:39:40
24.   Bob Timmermann
I think Cliff is getting ready to tell me "Don't comment. Don't comment. Don't comment on that headline again."
2006-02-23 15:06:47
25.   42YrOldRookie
The name looked familiar. But it was the rock songs for headlines that sealed the deal. Cliff, did you write for a certain weekly college rag?
2006-02-23 15:47:52
26.   markp
Anyone that endorses Pecota immediately loses all credibility with me.
This list looks like a lot of opinion and conjecture given an aura of actual analysis that it simply doesn't have.
The Cano remark alone is silly enough, especially when compared to the 2B "analysis" of the Texas Rangers: 2 green inclduing a "young 2B" and D'Angelo Jimenez. I'm a D'Angelo fan, but there's no way Cano gets a yellow if Jimenez gets a green
2006-02-23 16:39:54
27.   singledd
Its fairly easy to say:
This guys getting old and he's not thin...
This guy has been injured before....
This guy does not work out much...

Are these projections based on more then these 3 items? As Cano is very young, yet still 'high risk', why isn't every 2nd baseman yellow/red?. Isn't SS just as demanding? Aren't pitchers (an even 3rd basemen) more likely to get hit with balls?
I'm not sure why 2nd basemen are high risk... other then guys sliding in to them.

Could they have 'insider' info?

2006-02-23 16:59:32
28.   BklynBomber
A quick OT post: While everyone is getting amped about the upcoming campaign, Newsday has a little trivia quiz on the 2005 season, found here:

http://tinyurl.com/k9msh

(in the bottom right sidebar)

According to the main article, The Unit sounds like he's ready to go — grazing Damon and giving Jetes a few brushbacks in BP.

Six more weeks 'till they count. I can't wait!

2006-02-23 18:01:07
29.   Cliff Corcoran
25 You've finally tracked me down. So now that you know I'm me, who are you? Drop a line to my email, which is linked on the sidebar.
2006-02-23 22:28:16
30.   rilkefan
The NYT says:
[...] the pitcher who made the best impression [at an early spring training bp] was starter Phil Hughes, a 19-year-old right-hander who went 9-1 at two minor league stops last season. "I haven't seen a young arm like that since Mariano, I would say," Jorge Posada said referring to Mariano Rivera.

Woo-hoo.

2006-02-24 06:20:05
31.   wsporter
Rilke, great news on Hughes as he walks along the sun drenched roads of Tampa. Would have loved to see the look on A-Rods face. "Who the hell is this guy" ala Butch Casady and the Sundance Kid.

BBA downplayed Hughes's fastball and employed that as their reason for devaluing him as a prospect league wide. If his fastball really is a 95 - 96 mph gasser with movement I wonder what new reason they'll make up to relegate him to the middle of the pack.

2006-02-27 10:40:30
32.   Knuckles
Not to beat the dead horse on Cano's injury risk. How is Rickie Weeks at Green when he's coming off of surgert for a torn thumb ligament? I know that this stuff isn't an exact science but Carroll should at least display some consistency.

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