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July 13, 2009
Under The Knife
Midseason THR Updates
For the last five years, we've been collecting injury data based off the official DL reports. While this data isn't complete, since the DL alone doesn't tell the full injury story, it is the only consistent source. By adding extra information to the database, we've been able to establish timelines, baselines, and guidelines for injuries, as well as using it as part of the Team Health Report prediction system. Since teams are starting to take note of this type of exercise, why not take a mid-season look here at the All-Star break, and see if we can find anything of note?
Most interesting to me is that the difference between perception and the statistical reality is often stark. Some teams, like the Mets, are being openly questioned in the media, yet the numbers don't seem to bear this out. Granted, this is just half a season of data and the measures we use aren't ideal, but they are better than nothing and definitely consistent year-over-year. Oblique strains don't have park or era adjustments, or get worse from year to year. Oh, Tim McCarver? You had an oblique back in your day too; maybe you still do. Sports medicine has made some amazing advances, taking the kind of injuries that ended a career and sent someone back to Memphis on a Greyhound, and turning them into just a six-week loss. It's easier to remember Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton than it is someone like Larry Jaster or Ron Willis, guys who were out of baseball by their age-26 seasons. Just looking at the All Star team this year, players like Johan Santana, Josh Johnson, and Mariano Rivera would be more likely to be in that latter category were it not for spending some time on the DL and the surgeon's table.
My advice is to take a quick look at these numbers as a check against your perception. Are things getting worse or better, or are things as bad as they seem? Another half-season's worth of injuries will give us a full look, something we know teams are doing as medical staffs begin to feel the weight of objective measures of their results.
Team: Arizona Diamondbacks (11 injuries)
The biggest loss for the Diamondbacks this year has been Webb, its irreplaceable ace, but the timeline on this particular injury has been changed by the possibility of surgery and lack of progress. Would the team have handled things differently if they'd known he would miss the season in April? Even the offense has taken a hit, with Connor Jackson, Chad Tracy, Eric Byrnes, Chris Snyder, and Stephen Drew all seeing time on the trainer's table, with the injuries themselves ranging from Drew's pulled hamstring to Byrnes fractured left hand.
The Braves' big injuries this season have come from two guys who haven't even thrown a pitch this season: Hudson and Tom Glavine. Atlanta released Glavine last month while he was rehabbing his left shoulder, while Hudson continues to rehab from his torn elbow, recently throwing live batting practice; he could return sometime in August, assuming no setbacks, though 120 days of DL time isn't going to help head trainer Jeff Porter get in contention for the Dick Martin Award. Simply put, any Tommy John rehabs are going to knock a staff out of consideration, which is something we're still trying to figure out how to make allowances for.
Baltimore has seen Uehara, its big off-season pitching acquisition, hit the disabled list twice this season, first with a hamstring injury, and most recently with a strained elbow. This is a bit of a known, anticipated problem, given his health problems in Japan. The Orioles got shortstop Cesar Izturis back on Friday from an appendectomy that had him on the DL for almost a month, something Richie Bancells and his staff couldn't have prevented. Aside from those two and some other small injuries, this is a major turnaround for the O's; given the predictive value of injuries, with this team as it was with the Rays and Brewers, this could augur well for the MacPhail era.
Boston takes on players with significant injury risks knowingly, tasking Paul Lessard and Mike Reinold to do what they do to keep a successful team on the field. Brad Penny and John Smoltz are two clear risks, but their training staff's ability to keep players like J.D. Drew and Rocco Baldelli on the field counts too. More importantly, their focus on preventative care with a young pitching staff shows that the holistic approach Boston takes is working well.
Aramis Ramirez's return to the lineup is as key to the team's future as his loss was to the two months previous. Ramirez had missed that time with a dislocated shoulder. The Ramirez injury coupled with Rich Harden's missing nearly a month with a back injury made up the majority of the Cubs injury cost. Add in a couple of other minor injuries, and the Cubs' days and dollars lost are extremely low. If some of this is "luck," then a second-half surge could have two mutually exclusive meanings in the Friendly Confines.
The White Sox have been one of the luckiest teams in baseball in regards to the injury bug... or have they been one of the best? Quentin (foot) has been the only major loss for the White Sox, and is currently on a rehab assignment, so they could have one of their biggest bats back sometime later this month. Herm Schneider and his staff are in line for another Dick Martin Award and, more importantly, they help keep the Sox in contention.
Team: Cincinnati Reds (8 injuries)
A struggling Cincinnati offense had been without two of its important bats for much of the season. Encarnacion had been out since late April with a fractured wrist before returning from the disabled list last week, while Joey Votto missed nearly a month with dizziness and stress-related issues. The Reds have also had to make do without their best starter from a year ago in Edinson Volquez. It's hard to say that the injuries, while costly, can remain at this low a level, especially given the issues with the pitching staff and Jay Bruce's wrist.
Team: Cleveland Indians (11 injuries)
The Indians have gone from contender to pretender, but it's been a tale of two training rooms in Cleveland. Grady Sizemore missed time, but avoided surgery for now. Travis Hafner missed time, but before and after that stint, he's shown signs of returning to his previous level. Tommy Johns new and old also really hurt their numbers as Jake Westbrook rehabs while Anthony Reyes starts the process.
Most of Colorado's injuries this year have been suffered by its pitching, with Francis (shoulder), Taylor Buchholz (elbow), Ryan Speier (hamstring), and Manny Corpas (elbow) being the biggest losses. Francis and Buchholz make up well over half of the injury cost to the Rockies, but neither of those was expected to be a big contributor coming into the season. Despite the middling injury stats, the Rockies' push for contention is largely fueled by their relative health.
Detroit is another team to be hit hard with pitching injuries. Jeremy Bonderman (shoulder) came off of the DL to make one start for the Tigers before going right back on it. Dontrelle Willis has been on the DL twice for anxiety disorder, and Nate Robertson has also taken a trip to the DL twice this season (back, then elbow). Detroit also started the season without one of its key relievers in Joel Zumaya (shoulder). Add Carlos Guillen's long DL stint, and the fact that they're mid-pack in terms of injuries is actually impressive.
Florida has been able to keep most its key players off of the DL so far this season; the loss of closer Matt Lindstrom (elbow) towards the end of last month is the Marlins' toughest loss. Sean Cunningham and his staff have been fighting since 2006 to keep the pitching staff healthy and have never been able to keep quite ahead of it. Some of that is because of age, and some of it is workload, but this year, they're weighted down by Scott Proctor, who's time in South Florida shouldn't be on Cunningham's ledger.
Many of the Astros' injuries have involved players' legs. Valverde missed all of May and the first few weeks in June with a calf injury, and Geoff Blum (hamstring), Kazuo Matsui (hamstring), Doug Brocail (hamstring), and Brian Moehler (knee) all joined Valverde on the DL at various times throughout the year with leg injuries. Mike Hampton (groin) has also returned to the DL yet again in his first year with the Astros. It's a very odd pattern for the new head trainer, Nathan Lucero.
We'll just link back to Rany Jazayerli's in-depth analysis and nod. The Royals have bigger problems than their medical staff, but none are as easy to fix. Knock Dayton Moore's front office for making many of the wrong moves, but at least there, they're making some.
Team: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (11 injuries)
The pitching has been devastated by injury and tragedy, but it's the collapse of the starting rotation that is so odd. For years, the Angels have been mid-pack in terms of their injuries, but have managed to keep their most valuable players on the field. One theory is that 2009 is a "pay the piper" year for Ned Bergert's staff, where all the workload and weardown they've been able to keep off the shelf in past years is finally unavoidable.
Team: Los Angeles Dodgers (11 injuries)
The Dodgers have had a load of pitching injuries, and they are still paying the price (statistically and literally) for signing Jason Schmidt. That Hong-Chi Kuo is on the DL is no surprise, but the key is trying to keep Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw off of the DL as both head for another season of innings increases and playoff pitching. The Dodgers might want to look at the Angels to see what the long-term cost might be. Still, flags fly forever.
The Brewers have had relatively few injuries this year, but they have been to key players. Weeks is out for the season after a tear in his wrist ended his season in May. Milwaukee was also without closer Trevor Hoffman for the first few weeks in April while he recovered from an oblique injury. Still, those numbers put the Brewers' staff back in contention, both for the NL Central and for the DMA.
Injuries to pitching are a common theme this year, and the Twins are no different, as five of their eight injuries have been to pitchers this year. Baker (shoulder), Jesse Crain (shoulder), and Glen Perkins (elbow) have each taken their turns on the disabled list, and Boof Bonser (shoulder) and Pat Neshek (elbow) have yet to throw a pitch this year as they both recover from surgeries. Joe Mauer (back) spent the first month on the DL, but he has found a newfound power stroke since coming back, making many ask for a SI strain of their own, so that they too can get an SI cover.
The Mets have been hit the hardest with their injuries to key players. The Mets have lost over $22 million in salary, or just $14 million less than the entire Marlins' payroll for the season. The surprising thing is that the days lost are just in the mid-range of teams this season. Given the media frenzy, you'd have been reasonable to think that no team had ever had this many injuries in the history of baseball. No bigger perception gap exists than that being endured by those in the giant new training room in Citi Field.
Team: New York Yankees (9 injuries)
The Yanks have had odd injuries-notably those suffered by Alex Rodriguez and Xavier Nady-as well as basic ones (Chien-Ming Wang and Brian Bruney). The Steinbrenner money has never bought depth, but aside from the irreplaceable Rodriguez, the team's managed to stay a pretty even keel. Keeping Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui healthy is key, but the long-term health of CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett are perhaps even more significant.
Team: Oakland A's (12 injuries)
The A's have had injuries all over the roster, but they've been hit hardest among their position players. Eric Chavez (forearm) finds himself on the DL yet again, this time for over two months. Nomar Garciaparra has found himself on the injury list twice this year for his calf, and Mark Ellis (calf), Ryan Sweeney (knee), and Travis Buck (oblique) have also spent time on the DL. Duchscherer (elbow), Josh Outman (elbow), and Joey Devine (elbow) head the list of Oakland's injured pitchers, and the latter two are done for the season. Simply put, the A's took on too much risk, and ended up having too much of it cost them.
Team: Philadelphia Phillies (8 injuries)
Raul Ibanez was having a career year before he hit the DL in June with a groin injury, but the only other position player to find their way to the dreaded DL was Carlos Ruiz with a strained oblique for most of April. Pitching for the Phillies is a different story: Myers (hip) has been on the DL since the end of May, and has since been joined at different times by Brad Lidge (knee), Scott Eyre (ankle), and Antonio Bastardo (shoulder). Myers' days alone are going to push the Phillies out of DMA contention, but keeping the rest of the team off of the DL might keep them on top of the NL East.
The Pirates have been able to avoid major injury problems this year, other than Doumit. Doumit (wrist) was just recently activated after spending almost three months on the disabled list; the only other position player to join Doumit on the DL was shortstop Jack Wilson (hand) for a short stint at the end of April. Pittsburgh's main losses from among their pitching have come at the expense of relievers Tyler Yates (elbow) and Rule 5 pick Donnie Veal (groin). On a macro level, last year's levels were likely unsustainable, even for a solid medical staff, so this bounce up isn't that bad and keeps them in the top third.
The Padres where hit hard with injuries in the month of June. Headlined by the loss of Peavy (ankle), San Diego also saw pitchers Chris Young (shoulder), Luis Perdomo (knee), and Luke Gregerson (shoulder) hit the DL for varying stints. Groupings of injuries often come from a "death spiral" or show patterns, but this one appears like neither. On the surface the days lost are pretty devastating, but over the last five years the Padres have always been above average. My guess is that internally they know a lot more about this, and have better answers than are available to us.
The Giants are another team to be relatively lucky on the injury front... or is it luck at all? Dave Groeschner has taken over from Stan Conte without missing a beat. The team is regularly in the top ten and often a finalist for the DMA. That Sergio Romo is the biggest loss says a lot here; that they're surprisingly in the wild-card hunt says even more.
Team: Seattle Mariners (13 injuries)
Seattle has seen more than its fair share of pitching injuries this year, a real comedown from last year's surprisingly low totals. With a new front office coming over from Milwaukee, a team where a commitment to health helped turn the franchise around, this is one area we can expect to see renewed focus on in coming months.
St. Louis has been without its slugging third baseman in Glaus (shoulder) all season. With some injury-prone players and some unavoidable trauma (Rick Ankiel, meet wall) the totals aren't that significant. More than any other manager, Tony La Russa uses roster flexibility to paper over small issues. There's a nice balance between injury risk and injury management with the Cardinals. While many will talk about Dave Duncan's being at La Russa's side for all these years, they might want to note that goes Barry Weinberg as well.
On the negative side, the Rays have been hit by a lot of unexpected trauma for players like Aki Iwamura, not to mention the neck problem of Pat Burrell. On the other side, they've taken on a lot of risk with retreaded pitchers that have broken down, losing days and a reasonable amount of dollars. Scott Kazmir might be the downside, but they've been very healthy despite workload increases for a group of young pitchers, and who you might thus anticipate a higher expectation of injuries from among them.
Hamilton (abdominal surgery) is the only Rangers position player to take a trip to the disabled list. The pitching staff has had a lot of losses, but mostly they've been of the quick-trip variety that's covered by depth. The only worrying trends are the back-and-forth nature of pitching injuries to Frank Francisco and Matt Harrison. There's a theory that the best medical staffs get tested more by their front offices, and that the risk-adjustment made causes a "bounceback." We'd love to see ten-year numbers on the Rangers.
All of Toronto's injuries except one have been to pitchers, as only Michael Barrett breaks the string, but George Poulus is headed to St. Louis as an "All Star." The Jays take on risky pitcher after risky pitcher, breaking every part of the kinetic chain, seeing injuries start at different levels, and failing to have any pattern. You can call that bad luck or a bad organizational philosophy. Maybe the most accurate way to describe it is "losing."
Team: Washington Nationals (12 injuries)
Washington has had a mix of injuries so far this season, as they stay young and keep cycling through a medical staff that's been in flux since les Expos left Montreal and Ron McClain didn't make the trip. The injuries are a bit all over the place, mostly traumatic, and is the first sign of a reduction since Nationals Park opened. It's not much, but it's something for the team that's dead last in both three- and five-year stats.
Thanks to Bil Burke for creating the database, and to the several people that have maintained it over the years.