Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Conte Swings, But May Still Be Whiffing

In the latest issue of ESPN the Magazine (Roger Federer cover, May 3 2010), Page 2 has a little piece on Stan Conte, the Dodgers' trainer, on how he has worked with two UCLA statisticians to "try and quantify reasons for injuries and the likelihood that the players will get hurt." Basically, Conte is using statistics, medical studies, and biostatistics to make his assessment (no link).

Conte says the old way of predicting injuries "was like flipping a coin." He now evaluates 60 or so players a year for the Dodgers, and he says his risk assessment is accurate 70-80% of the time. The Dodgers hope Conte can prevent them from signing or re-signing a high-risk player, which is almost as valuable as landing a marquee name. In the accountants' eyes, anyway.

Well, if this offseason is any indication, Conte's analysis is indeed a pretty helpful tool to help defray risk--by avoiding it altogether, given we didn't sign any major players all winter. But what about the fact that Manny Ramirez, Jeff Weaver, Vicente Padilla, and Rafael Furcal are all on the disabled list and we're only in our first month?

Well, let's look at at former Dodger Jason Schmidt, who (like Conte) came over to the Dodgers from the Giants during the same winter of 2006-2007. Schmidt signed a three-year, $46M deal that saw him end his Dodger career with a 3-6 record having appeared in 10 total games over three years. Surely Conte, who was with Schmidt during his five and a half years in San Francisco, would have put Schmidt through his filter of basic questions (which ESPN the Magazine printed in a sidebar), right? Let's find out:

  • 1. The pitcher is older than 25. (Yes, Schmidt was 33 upon signing with the Dodgers.)
  • 2. He's been in the majors five to seven years. (Actually, it had been 12 years, but who's counting?)
  • 3. He's had no DL trips in the past year. (Schmidt appeared in 32 games and pitched 213.1 innings, his third-highest IP in a season.)
  • 4. He's had fewer than 30 days of DL time during the previous three seasons. (Can't tell from b-r.com, but that looks like it was probably true.)
  • 5. He's had no shoulder or elbow injuries, or surgeries. (On this one I'm not so sure; declines in Schmidt's velocity were well-known in 2006, his last Giant season, so the threat of injury (told or hidden) was definitely there.)
  • 6. He's pitched 200 or more innings each of the previous three seasons. (Schmidt was sub-200 IP in 2005.)
  • 7. He's started 30 or more games each of the previous three seasons. (Again, Schmidt was sub-30 starts in 2005.)
  • 8. His conditioning meets club standards. (Hard to tell as I have no idea if the Dodgers had club standards at all. We bit on Andruw Jones, for pete's sake. And the Giants have Bengie Molina and Pablo Sandoval, not exactly adonises.)
  • 9. His biometrics meet club criteria. These include the measurements of his shoulder and hip rotations, among others. (N/A)
  • 10. His intangibles, such as mental makeup and/or personality profile, are acceptable. (Again, tough to measure from the outside; Schmidt seems like a straight-up guy who worked hard in his Dodgers comeback effort, which was ultimately in vain.)
  • 11. His Variability Index is low. This is an indicator of good pitching mechanics. (N/A)

At best, Schmidt was a 50-50 candidate coming into the Dodgers in 2006, having failed some of Conte's own screens. Hindsight, of course, is 20-20--and Conte (in a separate NYT article last year) indicated that Conte admitted he may have missed some of the signs with Schmidt:

Conte’s injury analysis has evolved. He said it was more sophisticated and, he hopes, more accurate. Three years ago, he advised the Dodgers that signing pitcher Jason Schmidt to a three-year, $47 million contract was not a high risk. Since then, Schmidt has had two shoulder operations. He has pitched in only six games.

“Everyone asked me two, three times a day, ‘If you had to do it all over again, how would you analyze Schmidt?’ ” Conte said. “I didn’t have all the answers with Jason Schmidt, which has pushed me to get better knowledge.”

It's not clear if the list of questions was used back when the NYT article was printed, so they may indeed be new filters. But as Dodger fans, should we be worried that Conte's filters might not be accurate enough? From my perspective, I don't care how many filters Conte uses, as long as the guys stay on the field and off the DL. And with only one month of play in the books this year, this year's parade of injuries makes me think Conte still has a lot of work to do.

Earlier: Stan Conte Must Still Work For The Giants (7/08)