Injuries happen. No matter how good the preventive care a medical staff gives is, no matter how vigilant the team is in monitoring player workloads, all it takes is one play at the plate or late slide into second base. Suddenly, the care plan has to go from preventive to palliative and then rehabilitative, all the while the clock is running on the DL days that every team tries to avoid. The fact that the White Sox, led by Herm Schneider have remained the gold standard by which training staffs are judged for so many years stands as a truly remarkable achievement. They've had their share of major injuries -- Jake Peavy's detached lat in 2010 or Tony Pena's elbow tendinitis that accounted for nearly a third of the team's total days lost in 2011 -- but in the last decade they haven't had the glut of injuries that knocks a good team out of contention. The front office may not intentionally present the med staff with a team full of problem cases, but knowing that even chronic injuries can be managed by this top-line team has to give Kenny Williams and Rick Hahn a greater sense of freedom with respect to player acquisition.
Health Keys: In addition to keeping their aging core healthy, the White Sox must keep young pitchers Chris Sale, Addison Reed and Philip Humber on the mound for the team to have any chance of knocking off the Tigers.
(HEAD TRAINER: Herm Schneider; FIVE YEAR RANK: 1; 2011 RANK: 2)
For explanation of these ratings, click here
SS Alexei Ramirez|
3B Brent Morel
CF Alex Rios
DH Adam Dunn
C A.J. Pierzynski |
For the most part, catching is a young man's game, with players like Pierzynski and Pudge Rodriguez far more the exception than the norm. Pierzynski had avoided the DL for his entire White Sox career until a bruised left hand put him on the shelf last year. Still, Tyler Flowers is probably the bigger threat to Pierzynski's playing time than injury.
1B Paul Konerko
The absolute model of consistency, Konerko has not played fewer than 120 games in a season since 1999. The biggest potential issue with Konerko at this point is his age; 2012 will be his age-36 season, and while first base isn't the most taxing position on the field, another year's worth of stretches and scoops will begin to take their toll on his back, which has been an area of concern in the past. The risk here is more general than related to a specific limb, but it's only going to go up as the years go by.
2B Gordon Beckham
The Sox are dealing with a rather unfortunate correlation with respect to their second baseman of choice: As Beckham's total number of games played increases, his production decreases. While it is an intrinsically good thing that Beckham played a career-high 150 games last year, if he can't reverse the trend in 2012, Beckham may start losing playing time whether he's injured or not.
LF Alejandro De Aza
De Aza has never had a plate appearance before the month of July, but he hasn't just made a career out of September call-ups either. He has parts of four seasons in the majors, not one of which lasted for more than 54 games, and he's heading into his age-28 season. The System sees his up and down career as risk, and with good reason, but he should have as clear a shot at consistent playing time as he's ever had in his career.
SP John Danks
Given that the Sox have just handed Danks a new contract, they are certainly hoping that his ranking rises no higher than this yellow. He had a green rating last year, so this is a change for him because he did not reach the 30-start barrier for the first time since 2007. If he has his typical healthy season in 2012, he should go back to green, but the System sees the potential that this is the beginning of a decline and that's where this risk comes from.
SP Philip Humber
Prior to 2011, Humber had pitched in 26 professional games, including just two starts. In 2011, Humber made 28 appearances, 26 of them were starts, and threw a surprisingly high 163 innings for the Sox. He hit the disabled list after taking a line drive to the face in August, but this ranking is all about his sudden and unexpected workload. Age works in his favor here, as at age 29, his arm is fully developed and less susceptible to the fatigue injuries that cause concern for younger pitchers.
RP Jesse Crain
Getting Crain down to just a yellow risk is another feather in the cap of Schneider and his staff, as Crain isn't that far removed from two seasons worth of shoulder injuries. That area will always be the source of concern for Crain, but he's been healthy for the last two seasons and unless he takes a liner off his arm, there's no reason to believe he'll have trouble under Schneider's watchful eye.
CL Matt Thornton
Thornton is one of the many Tommy John success stories floating around baseball right now, though his was so long ago, he isn't one of the commonly cited cases. Last year was rough for Thornton in a lot of ways, but he remained healthy through and will get another shot at the closing job this season. If he stumbles, either in health or performance, Addison Reed is likely to be the one to pick up the slack.
RF Dayan Viciedo |
Viciedo might not be the heftiest gentleman in the major leagues, but the word svelte has probably seldom been applied to him. His weight is a risk factor on its own, but he has battled a few leg injuries in the past and the Sox won't be able to hide him as a DH if he has a small knock. On many teams, a guy with Viciedo's power and ... mobility would be a solid DH candidate, but with Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko and even Pierzynski, Viciedo will have to wait his turn for a de facto day off. If the Sox want his bat in the lineup, they'll have to make do with his legs in the field.
SP Jake Peavy
Prior to 2008, Peavy had never been placed on the disabled list, but since the '08 season started, Peavy has hit the DL six times. He has gone from making an average of 26.5 starts per year with the Padres to just 12.7 with the White Sox. While the strained right groin he suffered last season shouldn't present any issues, the detached lat that ended his 2010 season is still something of a mystery. Yes, he came back and pitched again in May of 2011, but with a rather unprecedented injury as far as pitchers are concerned, there are still questions as to how it will affect him going forward.
SP Chris Sale
Any time a reliever moves into the rotation there is an increased risk of fatigue-related injuries from the increased workload, even if he was a starter earlier in their career. Sale brings the additional risk of never really having been a long-term starter. The highest number of innings he has pitched in a season is 103; he hasn't thrown 200 innings as a starter total, college numbers included. The White Sox won't knowingly push Sale beyond his means, but they may find the point at which he begins to struggle earlier than they expect.
Dan Wade is a research assistant for Will Carroll and writes regularly at Fangraphs.