The impact of injuries goes way beyond the training room to all areas of an organization. A sudden unexpected injury in the middle of a pennant race, for example, may force a team to trade away young talent for a veteran to fill the open spot. If a player with a big contract suffers an off-season injury while training, it may change how a team allocates its budget as they scramble to sign that stud pitcher or coveted slugger.
Conversely, teams that are able to keep their players healthy can reap the benefits of doing so. Landing few players on the disabled list allows a club to let their minor-league players develop longer instead of having to rush them to the majors to fill in for injured regulars. Minimizing DL costs is also an investment in the future, as preventing traumatic injuries and their lingering complications allows players to realize their ability and produce on the field.
Last year, BP’s Will Carroll presented the inaugural Dick Martin Award for Best Medical Staff to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays’ team. This year, the candidates have been narrowed down to the top four, with the winner to be named and the award presented at the winter meetings in Dallas next month. The criteria for the award include the amount of days spent by players on the disabled list, the amount of money spent on players’ contracts while on they’re on the disabled list, dollar distance from the average DL salary and percent of team payroll spent on DL salary. These criteria were chosen to demonstrate how well teams were able to keep their players healthy not only in comparison with their peers but also within their means.
Here are the nominees:
DL RANKINGS: DL Days: 18th (698) DL Salary: 27th ($3,690,185.19) $ From Avg. DL Salary: 27th (-$9,063,166.98) % of Payroll: 29th (6.11%) DL SUMMARY: PLAYER DAYS DL SALARY % of PAYROLL Tim Spooneybarger 192 $414,814.81 0.69% Ismael Valdez 110 $1,018,518.52 1.69% Antonio Alfonseca 96 $187,259.26 0.31% Nate Bump 78 $153,111.11 0.25% Josh Willingham 65 $127,592.59 0.21% John Riedling** 50 $231,481.48 0.39% Guillermo Mota 33 $529,629.63 0.88% Josh Beckett*** 32 $306,222.22 0.79% Jim Mecir 27 $183,333.33 0.30% Carlos Delgado 15 $370,370.37 0.61% **John Riedling made two trips to the DL, one for 15 days and one for 35 days. ***Josh Beckett made two trips to the DL, both for 16 days.
The Marlins placed very well financially in the final DL tally. Like the Devil Rays, their DL Salary figures were largely aided by their modest expenditure, however their numbers hold up in context, placing behind only the Rays in percent of payroll spent on DL salary.
What is disconcerting about the Marlins’ DL summary is the sheer number of pitchers. The two position players who hit the DL for the Marlins (Carlos Delgado and Josh Willingham) account for a mere 11.5% of DL days and 13.25% of the total DL salary. Tim Spooneybarger, once thought to be a potential closing candidate, spent the entire season on the shelf, accounting for many of the Marlins’ DL days. Florida had to know that Antonio Alfonseca, who failed his physical before inking a lucrative contract, would be a major health risk. Predictably, he spent a significant amount of the season on the disabled list. The Marlins plugged the injury-induced pitching holes with minor-league talents Jason Vargas, Joshua Johnson, and Scott Olsen. Yet, at the trading deadline, the Marlins felt they needed more bullpen help and traded Yorman Bazardo and Mike Flannery to Seattle for Ron Villone.
DL RANKINGS: DL Days: 29th (234) DL Salary: 9th ($16,872,666.67) $ From Avg. DL Salary: 9th ($4,119,314.50) % of Payroll: 8th (21.98%) DL SUMMARY: PLAYER DAYS DL SALARY % of PAYROLL Jeff Bagwell 129 $14,333,333.33 18.67% Brandon Backe 39 $84,259.26 0.11% Lance Berkman 37 $2,398,148.15 3.12% Humberto Quintero 29 $56,925.93 0.07%
A cursory glance at Houston’s DL rankings–ninth in salary lost and distance from the average–would seem to indicate that their injuries were a major problem. However, the Astros’ 2005 season serves more as a caution to teams about the length and cost of contracts than any medical woes. Jeff Bagwell missed 129 days ate up a bit more than $14 million, or roughly 18.7% of Houston’s 2005 payroll. The only sadder thing for a team than footing this kind of bill for a player who stepped to the plate a measly 119 times is having that player be the face of the franchise. Bagwell accounted for almost 85% of the team’s DL dollars and over half of Houston’s DL days.
The Astros had to know that Bagwell was not going to be able to contribute much, if anything, this season and perhaps more amazing than his DL figures is the fact that the medical staff was able to get him to a point where he was able to even swing a bat. Correcting for Bagwell’s injury, and injuries of a similar type, is extremely complicated. The nature of the injury makes it tough to assess the the medical staff’s ability in handling it; however, the fact that Bagwell played at all this year should be seen as a credit to Houston’s medical staff, not a demerit. If we assume that the Astros priced in Bagwell’s injuries to some extent (both baseball- and money-wise), Houston did a miraculous job of keeping their players healthy. Aside from Bagwell, Houston sent three players to the DL for a paltry 105 days, spending $2,539,333.33, 3.31% of their 2005 payroll. If adjusted for this member of the “Killer Bs,” the Astros’ figures shoot way down, placing them best in DL days and percentage of payroll and above only Tampa in DL salary.
DL RANKINGS: DL Days: 28th (252) DL Salary: 29th ($3,272,808.64) $ From Avg. DL Salary: 29th (-$9,480,543.52) % of Payroll: 28th (8.13%) DL SUMMARY: PLAYER DAYS DL SALARY % of PAYROLL Ben Sheets** 74 $2,740,740.74 6.81% Jeff Cirillo 70 $136,543.21 0.34% Julio Santana 40 $78,518.52 0.20% Russell Branyan 33 $162,962.96 0.41% Matt Wise 19 $40,462.96 0.10% Brady Clark 16 $113,580.25 0.28% **Ben Sheets made two trips to the DL, both for 37 days.
The Brewers had unquestionably the best overall year health-wise. They placed no higher than 28th in any category, performing extremely well in all areas. Milwaukee remained extremely healthy coming into August, having placed just three players on the disabled list up to that point. Even more impressively, only one player remained on the DL entering August (Jeff Cirillo, fractured left hand). By mid-August, injuries briefly claimed sparkplug center fielder Brady Clark (16 days) and relief pitchers Matt Wise (19 Days) and Julio Santana (40 days). Ace Ben Sheets was the only player to make multiple trips to the disabled list–early in April for vestibular neuritis of left ear on and then in late August with a torn latissimus dorsi muscle. Sheets accounted for most of the financial damage, his DL salary accounting for roughly 84% of the overall dollars lost. Aside from this small band of injured brothers, the Brewers did a fantastic job of keeping their club healthy throughout the season.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
DL RANKINGS: DL Days: 20th (635) DL Salary: 30th ($1,857,919.75) $ From Avg. DL Salary: 30th (-$10,895,432.41) % of Payroll: 30th (4.89%) DL SUMMARY: PLAYER DAYS DL SALARY % of PAYROLL Rocco Baldelli 192 $437,333.33 1.15% Kevin Cash 191 $386,126.54 1.02% Rob Bell 57 $281,481.48 0.74% Franklin Nunez 44 $85,962.96 0.23% Eric Munson 35 $68,703.70 0.18% Jesus Colome 27 $100,000.00 0.26% Doug Waechter 23 $45,148.15 0.12% Travis Lee 18 $144,444.44 0.38% Mark Hendrickson 17 $38,040.12 0.10% Trever Miller 16 $108,641.98 0.29% Alex Gonzalez 15 $151,234.57 0.40%
After capturing the award last year, the Devil Rays turned in an impressive 2005. Due to Tampa’s low payroll, they managed to keep their DL salary the lowest in the majors by far at $1,857,919.75 (the next lowest was the Brewers, at $3,272,808.64). However, the Devil Rays’ low injury costs were not smoke and mirrors, as they also had the lowest percent of payroll figure in the majors at 4.86%. Despite their low cost figures, the Devil Rays sent almost twice as many players to the disabled list (11) as the Brewers did. Leading the charge was center fielder Rocco Baldelli, who sat out the entire year and ate up 192 DL days. Baldelli’s partner in crime, backup catcher Kevin Cash, further inflated Tampa’s figure by notching 191 days on the list. The Rays’ medical staff can hardly be held accountable for Baldelli’s offseason charity-baseball-induced injury, and the impact of losing Cash’s glove and bat is negligible. It is interesting to note that without these two injuries, the Devil Rays would usurp the Brewers’ 28th position in the DL days category with 251. The Devil Rays admirably smoothed over the loss of Baldelli with their glut of outfielders, and for the most part did a good job of keeping their regulars healthy. Travis Lee and Alex Gonzalez, Tampa’s sixth- and 10th-best hitters respectively by VORP missed three days above the minimum.
Mike Groopman is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.