October 3, 2011
Playoff Injury Updates
With the playoffs upon us, injury news has slowed significantly. That’s certainly a good thing for the teams, but it doesn’t make for good stories. There is some news, however. Even though Matt Holliday was able to make a pinch-hitting appearance over the weekend, things didn’t go as planned. After the game, he let on that the pain was actually worse. When the flexor tendons of the hand are injured, it becomes difficult to grip things, especially things with torque like a baseball bat. Holliday decided against a cortisone injection because it would have shut him down for a few days, but now he may not be able to start at any point during the NLDS.
Over in the American League, Kyle Farnsworth suffered a mini-setback with his elbow soreness that does not appear to be too severe. Manager Joe Maddon expects that Farnsworth will be ready for game 3 of the ALDS, but he has Joel Peralta lined up just in case. The right knee of Alex Rodriguez may be bothering him more than most expect, as he’s been having trouble against the Tigers’ starting pitchers. It’s either that or the Tigers pitchers are, you know, good.
In non-playoff team news, Nick Blackburn did have radial nerve decompression surgery on Friday. Justin Morneau also had surgery on his left wrist to stabilize a subluxing tendon, while Ben Revere had his knee scoped to clean out some torn cartilage.
That’s it at this time in terms of injuries, but there will surely be news of players who will need surgery at some point coming in the next few weeks. Looking forward, we’re going to review 2011 in greater detail now that the injury database is more complete than it has been before and we also have salary data. We’re going to be able to provide real insight into exactly how injuries impact the game on a day-to-day level, and not just blocks of disabled list times.
First, we’re going to provide some very broad numbers in terms of injuries this season. At this time of year, we hear all across the country how injuries are the reason a certain team didn’t make the playoff—we’re looking at you, Red Sox nation. All teams face injuries, and it’s the mark of a good organization to be able to find ways to replace those injured players. Do teams have a gripe? Let’s look at the data.
At first glance, it looks like it certainly does help to have fewer injuries, as one would expect. Arizona, Detroit, and Tampa Bay are all among the teams with the least number of disabled list transactions in 2011. The six teams with the most disabled list transactions did not make the playoffs. But tied for the sixth-most are the Phillies, who had the most wins in MLB in 2011, and finishing with only one fewer transaction were the New York Yankees, who had the most wins in the American League. In fact, 50 percent of the playoff teams were in the top half in 2011, while the other 50 percent were in the bottom half.
So what about pitching? Pitching has been described as a key to success, so let’s examine injuries to pitchers.
We get some separation here between the playoff teams and the remainder of the league. Still, near the top we have the Phillies and New York, the two teams with the best records in their respective leagues. Texas, another division leader, is only one transaction behind before the step down to the teams who were healthier. But shouldn’t starting pitcher injuries be more difficult to overcome than injuries to relief pitchers? Boston, Texas, and Philadelphia all have five disabled list transactions involving their starting pitchers.
In this very brief rundown of injuries this season we see how the sheer number of injuries is rarely a reason why certain teams make the playoffs and others don’t. Injuries to certain players naturally cost more wins than others, as does roster construction as a whole. In the coming weeks, we’re going to look back at the true impact injuries had in 2011.
Corey Dawkins is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @CoreyDawkinsBP