Trout, Harper, Machado and staying healthy

June, 13, 2013
6/13/13
12:45
PM ET
From Buster Olney's blog yesterday, discussing Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado:
NL executive: "I'd have Machado at No. 1 because he is more graceful, with flowing athletic skills -- poised and athletic easy-action skills are able to make adjustments as required for longevity, like Jeter and early A-Rod, and like Chipper Jones' graceful swing.

"Trout and Harper are both physical strength guys who have linebacker mentality. They may go through injuries and also may struggle later (5-7 years from now) like Kirk Gibson, Bo Jackson. Gibson played as a regular from age 26-32 and then his decline started. Bo had a football injury. Grady Sizemore is similar to a Harper. The mentality to be overly physical hurts players, and outfielders have more wear and tear physically."
[+] EnlargeManny Machado
Joy R. Absalon/USA TODAY SportsWill Manny Machado end up with a longer career than Mike Trout or Bryce Harper thanks to "flowing athletic skills"?
There's a lot to digest with that quote, but you can't deny that it's an interesting quote, and the exec makes his viewpoint sound pretty believable. Kirk Gibson did get hurt a lot. Grady Sizemore did break down. Bo Jackson's football injury is obviously irrelevant to Trout, Harper and Machado, but in the four seasons he played before hurting his hip, he never played more than 135 games.

So maybe there's something there. Seems to make some sense.

But once you start looking closer, does it add up? The exec is suggesting Machado is the better bet to stay healthy and thus age better, because of his body type and fluidity on the field. This piece can't answer that question, but let's examine it quite a bit more closely.

As far as the physical strength comment, wouldn't you describe Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder as physical strength guys? They're the two most durable players in the game, although I guess the exec would argue that they're built more like offensive linemen (well, offensive linemen from the 1970s) than linebackers. On the other hand, the 21-year-old Cabrera did look more like a linebacker than a lineman.

The most durable player of the last 50 years was Pete Rose, who played 150-plus games in 17 seasons. He wasn't the athlete Trout was, but certainly would be described as a "physical" player with his squat, thick frame; there was nothing about Rose that would be described in terms of "flowing athletic skills." Physically, he certainly resembles Trout more than the leaner Machado. Jeff Bagwell is a guy I assume would be described as a physical strength player and he averaged 159 games per season from ages 28 to 36. Chipper Jones, the exec's example of a player with flowing athletic skills, averaged 138 over the same ages. Alan Trammell was a smooth, graceful infielder, similar in body type to Machado, and he couldn't stay healthy after turning 30.

The point: It just seems to me that prescribing future durability based on body type is a bit of a dubious proposition, unless somebody has catalogued shirtless photos of baseball players and measured muscular definition and career longevity. The list of the most durable players of the past 50 years includes all body types, from the chunky (Bobby Abreu and Rusty Staub), to the tall (Cal Ripken and Dave Winfield), to the PED-implicated (Rafael Palmeiro and Miguel Tejada) to the small and wiry (Ichiro Suzuki and Ozzie Smith).

The exec also says outfielders have more wear and tear physically, which I suppose they do if they keep crashing into walls. Let's do a quick look here. Since 1962, 47 players have had nine or more seasons of 150-plus games played. Here's the breakdown by primary position:

First base: 11
Second base: 2
Third base: 8
Shortstop: 7
Outfield: 17
SS/OF: 1 (Robin Yount)
Everywhere: 1 (Pete Rose)

Obviously, there are three outfield positions, but if we add up the three infield positions other than first base we get 17 players -- the same number as outfielders.

This little study doesn't prove anything, but I don't think we can conclude that outfielders have more wear and tear (if any position besides catcher can make that claim, it's second base). I'm sure somebody has done a more comprehensive study on this.

Finally, I sort of get the bit about "poised and athletic easy-action skills" but I sort of don't get it. He mentions Alex Rodriguez, but I certainly never viewed A-Rod's swing as graceful (like Chipper's). It always seemed a bit mechanical to me, although he had great hand-eye coordination, bat speed and strength, of course. (Notice that I speak of A-Rod in past tense.) Do Harper and Trout not play the game with easy-action skills? I guess that's a matter of aesthetic opinion, but they certainly have baseball skills, unlike Bo Jackson.

Anyway, I'm not saying the exec is right or wrong here, just that we probably don't know. The fact that Harper is currently on the disabled list with a bad knee is certainly an early strike against him. Let's just hope all three remain healthy moving forward.

David Schoenfield | email

SweetSpot blogger

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