By Will Carroll
February 29, 2012
This Nationals medical staff is downright Shakespearean. We could praise them or we could bury them. The stats and anecdotal evidence are both bad. There's the fact that they've never ranked out of the bottom five over the last five years. There's the run of pitcher injuries to young, talented pitchers. There's the reliance on players like Adam LaRoche, who give the team no real expectation of a full season. Then again, there hasn't been a lot of talent on this team. The medical staff has been saddled with players that no one else has been able to keep healthy either. Blaming them for exploding elbows isn't really fair either, since players like Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann do just that with alarming regularity on other teams. Take away the Tommy Johns and the team isn't bad, but it's not good either -- and we can't just wave a magic wand to make elbow injuries go away. With talent coming on board, the team's going to have to make a huge leap in health if they want to make any strides up the standings. The problem is that the team gives as much thought to their medical staff as they do to plumbers, listing both on their extensive front office list with equal prominence. This year is make-or-break for the medical staff, since injury stats tend to be forward indicators of success.

Health Keys: Keeping young pitchers returning from injury on the mound. Reducing nagging injuries.

(HEAD TRAINER: Lee Kuntz; FIVE YEAR RANK: 30; 2011 RANK: 28)
For explanation of these ratings, click here
RF Jayson Werth
Werth plays hard and gets a lot of minor injuries. He'd do well with some rest or backing off a bit. The latter's unlikely to happen, so the medical staff needs to work on minimizing the effect of those nagging injuries by showing him a seat occasionally.

SP Gio Gonzalez
The Nats paid a lot for Gonzalez, but if he can absorb 200 innings again, he'll be worth it. If he's an above average pitcher as well, Mike Rizzo gets points. Gonzalez's risk level makes this deal make sense.

SP Edwin Jackson
Everyone loves Edwin Jackson until they have him. A one-year deal with the Nats means Jackson will be on pace to put up another 200-inning season, keeping pressure off the young guys and maybe a trade to a contender in July.

SP John Lannan
Lannan isn't a horse, but he's a serviceable P5 that can absorb innings and keep a team in the game. He's a bit more than a placeholder, but is more likely to stay healthy than some of the other options the Nats have here and the prospects aren't nearly ready to push Lannan aside this season.

Also Green:
2B Danny Espinosa
SS Ian Desmond

CL Drew Storen
3B Ryan Zimmerman
Zimmerman has had one healthy season. He's talented, but he's tight. He tends to strain muscles, miss a couple weeks, and then struggle a bit as he comes back. That indicates he's coming back too quickly. The worst was last year, when he strained an abdominal muscle, had a major setback and needed surgery. He came back, but every stat was affected. He ended the year with a hamstring strain. Expecting 140 games is a reach.

LF Mike Morse
When Morse became a nice story of overnight success at age 28, everyone ignored that he's one of few two-time steroid positives. He's been clean for years, but what's the difference between Morse and the Hall of Fame caliber players that haven't even tested positive? In a world that can speculate wildly about Jose Bautista, why does Morse get a pass on his past? He's also got a pretty extensive minor league injury history, which gives him a solid yellow.

CF Bryce Harper
I know, CF is pushing it a bit and he may not be an Opening Day starter in the OF, but would you really rather know about Roger Bernardina? Harper is an ubertalent, twice the youngest player in the Arizona Fall League. He's never been challenged at any level and no one's really sure if the majors will. He had a minor hamstring strain last season, one the Nats treated very conservatively. He'll be taxed by the sheer length of the baseball season and is a bit riskier the earlier he comes up. He's still the most talented player on the Nats' 40-man right now and it's not really close.

RP Tyler Clippard
Clippard has put up huge innings totals for a reliever, especially considering he works short stints. His shift to the pen helped his stuff and his reverse splits due to a riding change will make him a Strat-O-Matic stud.
C Wilson Ramos
Ramos' resume keeps him red. He's young and hasn't caught a lot in the major leagues. Given the amount of punishment guys take back there, it's no wonder The System leans to pessimism with catchers. I have no way of factoring in something like a kidnapping, but I'm just thankful he's safe and can be rated at all. He's best as a 100-120 game catcher, which means Jesus Flores' health is key to Ramos' season.

1B Adam LaRoche
"Batter's shoulder" was a major topic of discussion at this year's ASMI Conference. LaRoche had surgery after trying to battle through this and should be ready for the start of the season. Downside is there's usually a loss of power, and LaRoche is a notoriously slow starter anyway. Chris Marrero will be back to take this position by mid-season with Mark DeRosa likely to see some time here early.

SP Stephen Strasburg
Surprised he's red? You shouldn't be. He's coming off Tommy John surgery and as a power pitcher, the worry is that there will be a new weak link in the kinetic chain. The worst possible outcome would be any kind of shoulder injury. Even tightness or "dead arm" would be reason to think that he'll never live up to the potential. There's no such thing as a sure thing when it comes to young pitchers. The best case scenario is that he pushes up to around 150 innings and looks as good as he did at the end of last season. Of course, that would mean he's going to be really expensive for the Nats as he enters his arb years. He did lose some velocity last year if you look at the average, going against the myth that pitchers come back throwing harder. Strasburg's elbow popped in one traumatic event rather than insidiously weakening, which is actually a positive.

SP Jordan Zimmermann
I said last year that Zimmermann shouldn't be allowed to go much over the 150-inning mark in his first season back. I'm not going to fault them much for going to 161 since they managed him well, keeping his pitches low early and never pressuring him to really "lead the staff." He's shown that the stuff is back and with a reasonable increase in innings -- he could push 190 safely -- he could be the real P2 they need.

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