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Could Rick Porcello be the next Bonderman? A look at the Tigers' health risks

Now, if we could just stop this from happening to the next (Jeremy) Bonderman... who may very well be Rick Porcello.

Baseball Prospectus recently posted Will Carroll's Team Health Report for the Tigers. And while much of that is proprietary information behind a firewall, I do want to talk a bit about it.

Upon first reading a quote like that, your gut reaction is probably to dispute it. After all, who could predict Bonderman would require a rib removed among other repairs during thoracic outlet surgery almost two years ago? From 2004-2007, he averaged 190 innings per season. And why should we spend a lot of time worrying about Porcello, who threw his slider just 5 percent of the time and curve ball about 8 percent. Both pitches were said to be limited by the Tigers specifically to cut Porcello's risk possibility.

Here (from the freely available portion) is what Carroll writes about Porcello, in a category titled "The Big Risk":

He's barely old enough to drink. Yes, it's kind of cliche to say that about a talented young pitcher, but it might remind us why pitchers like Porcello are such huge risks.


For all the things I disagree with Dr. Mike Marshall on, the one I agree with wholeheartedly is the idea of making sure that the "anatomical age" is known as much as the chronological age. Until Porcello is physically mature, he simply can't take on the kind of pitching load that someone who is mature can. Now, I'll acknowledge that Porcello might be physically mature. The Tigers might know this, but most teams don't.

At age 20 and in the majors, Porcello threw 170-2/3 innings -- 45 more than he did as a 19-year-old who largely overmatched his Advanced-A opposition. And for those reasons, Porcello ranked among the Tigers' biggest risks, along with a few other players recovering from injuries whose names you can probably predict.

But what does this mean for the Tigers in 2010? If you want to stick with the Bonderman comparison, he threw 162 innings at the same age. Of course, Bonderman remained healthy at age 21, throwing 184 innings, and didn't hit his first major injury until age 24.

That led Carroll to write:

What if you did everything right and still couldn't stop something bad from happening? That's the issue with Bonderman and with every young pitcher. The Tigers knew every risk, used everything they had in their arsenal to keep Bonderman healthy, but he still ended up like this. Is that inevitable?

No one knows, Carroll concluded. Thus, Porcello is an injury risk. He's not an injury guarantee, so don't read that into what Carroll, Tom Verducci, I or anyone else writes. Basically, it's like setting insurance rates. If you smoke or spend time around smokers, you're more likely to have health problems. Will you have a specific problem? It's near impossible to say. Will you probably experience some problem? Probably. Will you definitely? No.

Porcello's career thus far aligns him in the riskiest of categories: the young pitcher who threw a lot of innings. How will it turn out?

Nobody knows.

Like anything else in life, it's hard to predict something exactly. You can predict within a range of outcomes. And right now, that range of outcomes tends toward an injury of some sort.

On the other hand, slightly older players portraying less risk are Max Scherzer and (predictably) Justin Verlander. The latter is no surprise. He has clean mechanics and consistently puts up near-or-above 200-innings a season since maturing. Scherzer is a surprise due to his mechanics but has prior results on his side as much as anything, Carroll writes.

Since we don't know the forces (of his mechanics), we have to rely on the results. Those have always been good.

At this point, the big difference between Scherzer and Porcello is age. Scherzer is 25 and he's been healthy. The Diamondbacks may have viewed him as an injury risk, but he's been fine so far and he's past the age of greatest risk.

But again, there's no certainty.

Like the rest of the results in the sport, health is a random result operating inside a more predictable parameter.