Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I'm Angry!

So it turns out that Adam LaRoche, Washington's okayish solution at first base, is not in fact okay. LaRoche's shoulder is hurt. And not just hurt, but really hurt, the kind of hurt that only medical science peppered with a bit of the miraculous can fix. Whoopsies.

Meaning no disrespect to LaRoche, this news strikes me on the surface as more of an annoyance than a tragedy. Whatever happens from here, the Nationals will cope. The results won't necessarily be great -- perhaps, given the alternatives, the results necessarily won't be great -- but those are the breaks.

The underlying issue here seems to be whether the team's training staff, led by veteran head trainer Lee Kuntz, is or should be considered negligent. From my seat, obviously I cannot say. Aside from tallying up time lost to injuries, I'm unaware of any objective measure even approaching a meaningfully comprehensive way of evaluating a training staff's effectiveness. Much of the calculus, so to speak, has to be subjective -- and I don't really know what people in the industry think about Kuntz and his staff. Why would any of us know? As with any professional collective (physicians, lawyers, sanitation experts), I'm sure the sports training subculture presents a certain collegiality that is disturbed in only the most extreme situations (malpractice suits, license revocations, permanent liquidations). If Lee Kuntz is a bad trainer, no one's really going to tell us.

We could infer this if the Nationals were to let him go, and they haven't. That they have kept him for several seasons suggests either that they like his work or that they like the idea of stability, especially in the wake of several years of transition and disarray. I guess that's the "outsider-insider" take, which is perhaps a tepid endorsement of the guy's work.

I know Kuntz comes across negatively, especially right now. In addition to the casualty list that has compiled on his watch, he's provided several quotes to the media that seem quite foolish in hindsight, increasingly so in the past year. But if those quotes are "data," wouldn't the relevance or meaningfulness of such data depend on whether other teams' trainers also are available to the media, so that we could have quotes and outcomes to compare? And, in this instance, the Nats appear to be a special case: according to Will Carroll, the fact that the Nats let Kuntz give media briefings apparently is rare among professional sports teams.

The upshot is that, although the results speak more than the words, Kuntz has much more of an opportunity to come across negatively, given the access given to the media in this case. Given that he's been in the profession a long time and has been employed by three major league organizations, there's got to be at least a rebuttal presumption that he can be a capable head trainer for an MLB team. Which isn't to suggest that the LaRoche situation presents as the textbook case of injury detection, or that there aren't even deeper questions to consider about what the purpose of a team trainer actually is.


  • "Given that he's been in the profession a long time and has been employed by three major league organizations, there's got to be at least a rebuttal presumption that he can be a capable head trainer for an MLB team."

    Prosecution Exhibit A : Gary Bennett.

    Proof you can have a job in baseball on multiple teams without the needed skill to perform said job. I guess what I'm saying is that Kuntz must carry great veteran presense in the trainer's room.

    By Blogger Harper, at 5/25/2011 4:33 PM  

  • Man, you write like one of those blood-sucking lawyers! :-)

    For myself, I'm not so much concerned about how someone comes across in interviews. We've seen both the good and the bad of that over the years, from incompetent leaders who have been trained to be polished in front of a camera and microphone to hard-nosed field managers who gruffly tell it like it is...and win ballgames.

    Remember how back in 2005 y'all were praising Randy St. Claire for being a genius of a pitching coach? A few years later many of that same crowd were wondering how great he must be if the Nats pitchers generally stunk and were falling injured at an astonishing rate. The results spoke volumes in that case, which seem to be the more useful indicator.

    Even so, some players play with such abandon that they are time bombs ticking away until that one play which over-stresses a muscle, then BOOM! Others can play successfully for entire careers without overdoing it. Then there's Nick Johnson who just seems to be a magnet for injuries.

    I'm not sure a trainer can do much to keep the self-destructive type of player from doing something harmful, while the smart players don't need much from the trainer in that department except maybe a massage.

    Nick Johnson needs a guardian angel watching over him.

    By Blogger Bote Man, at 5/27/2011 1:05 AM  

  • The Nats probably keep Kurtz around because they pay him the minimum wage. You know the Lerners are looking under the couch cushions for lost change to pay Werth. That's why they won't fire Riggleman and Eckstein either.

    By Anonymous phil dunn, at 5/27/2011 12:49 PM  

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