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August 6, 2014

Moonshot

Troy Tulowitzki and the Brittle Bones Hypotheses

by Robert Arthur


In a twist of stunning unpredictability, Troy Tulowitzki is injured. Like the year before, and the year before that, Tulo is spending some time on the 15-day disabled list, after missing a handful of games for sprains and strains earlier in the season. Troy’s annual trip breaks up what was easily (on a rate basis) the best season of his career.

A glance at Tulowitzki’s injury history reveals a voluminous catalog of the many ways baseball players can be hurt. This year, Tulowitzki suffered a hip flexor strain. Last year, Tulowitzki had broken ribs. The year before, a torn muscle which necessitated surgery. Other injuries on his record include maladies in his foot, ankle, and hand.

Tulo’s pattern of recurrent injury stands as an example of the idea that some players are just injury prone, that is to say more vulnerable or likely to be injured on account of some inherent characteristic. Tulowitzki is not alone in being accused of this weakness: others who have borne the label include Jose Reyes, Carlos Quentin, and all pitchers ever (except Mark Buehrle). We don’t just have anecdotal evidence for the existence of a “health” skill, however. Using some regressions, I showed before that a strong predictor of a player’s number of days lost due to injury was how much time he had missed due to injury in the previous three years. This result gives credence to the idea that there is variance in a player’s intrinsic probability of being injured.

Tulowitzki’s case attracted my attention because of the way his injuries are all distinct from each other. In successive years he’s managed to strain a muscle in his abdomen, break a bone in his torso, and tear a muscle in his groin. While there are perhaps commonalities to these injuries, it’s clear that it isn’t a single, lingering problem that’s dogged Tulowitzki. He’s earned his injury prone tag by being hurt in different ways.

An even better example may be Tulowitzki’s Rockies teammate, and fellow injury prone hitter, Carlos Gonzalez. If Tulowitzki’s injury history is a catalog, CarGo’s could be an encyclopedia. Still a spry 28-year-old, Gonzalez’s rich and extensive report includes strains, contusions, lacerations, and flus. Like Tulowitzki, Gonzalez has suffered at many different body parts: his legs, his fingers, his back, his knee, his thigh, his trunk. Just as various are the causes of his injuries: running into walls, being hit by pitches, foul balls, viruses, bacteria, and cutting himself with a steak knife. Most recently, Gonzalez had to be operated on to remove a be-tentacled “fatty mass” from his fingers (which may or may not have been a Cheeto).

Even though we suspect, based on good statistical evidence, that there is something to the idea of injury proneness, it’s not clear what the cause of the injury prone property might be. In some cases, it’s obvious that old wounds have failed to heal properly. Carlos Quentin exemplifies this pattern. He’s suffered from some kind of knee ailment every year dating back to 2010. It’s clear that the issue has lingered and become exaggerated over time, causing longer and longer stretches of lost games. We could call this the “recurring injury” hypothesis.

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Related Content:  Colorado Rockies,  Injuries

10 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Chrisfiander

You can add Ryan Howard's torn Achilles while running...I mean jogging to first base back in 2011. Love being a Phillies fan!

Aug 06, 2014 09:14 AM
rating: 0
 
kmbart

Without discounting the idea that a "full-bore" player like Bryce Harper may cause the injury with his style of play, it also seems likely that the abilities that make a player exceptional - like Tulo and CarGo - are fast-twitch muscles, stronger wrists, better eye-hand coordination, all of which lead to them pushing the limits of the human body. Just like a car going 60 MPH is more likely to suffer severe damage, so would a player who runs faster, hits harder, and dives to the edge of his range regularly reach those limits more often.

Aug 06, 2014 12:27 PM
rating: 2
 
Plucky

No article about injury-proneness is complete without a Kevin Mitchell reference

Aug 06, 2014 14:45 PM
rating: 0
 
Worthing

Eric Davis you meant, right?

Aug 06, 2014 16:51 PM
rating: 0
 
therealn0d

J.D. Drew and his Medical Mystery Tour?

Aug 07, 2014 10:15 AM
rating: 0
 
brucegilsen
(999)

D.L. Drew

Aug 09, 2014 15:54 PM
rating: 0
 
Plucky

I meant Kevin Mitchell: http://www.si.com/vault/1997/06/16/228401/livin-large-oft-injured-kevin-mitchell-loves-toys-and-clubhouse-high-jinks-but-the-former-mvp-is-also-a-guardian-angel--and-more

Aug 07, 2014 12:27 PM
rating: 0
 
Plucky

ack, that's not really the article I'm looking for. Somewhere out there there's an article devoted to all his (often ludicrous) injuries, like the time he shattered a tooth after putting a cupcake in the microwave too long, which warmed the cupcake but superheated the icing

Aug 07, 2014 12:34 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Robert Arthur
BP staff

Oh, that's a good one.

Aug 07, 2014 12:47 PM
 
therealn0d

I was, in my youth, an avid skateboarder until my best friend split his head open and ended up in a coma with his skull stapled together (he lived). One of the crucial skills for survival in skateboarding is learning how to fall. There's a lot of body awareness to it and knowing how to pick the moment you're going to bail and take your lumps. Correspondingly, there is a moment when you might choose to hang in and pull off the trick. There's a fearlessness to hanging in coupled with increased risk, but there are skaters that simply have superior spontaneous risk assessment along with the ability to bail effectively (through repetition.)

What I'm getting at is that maybe baseball players aren't being taught to "fall" effectively, and that some players naturally have a skill like this.

Aug 07, 2014 10:46 AM
rating: 1
 
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