So last night was a pretty massive disappointment, because not only did the Dodgers fail to climb out of last place with Clayton Kershaw on the mound against Jason Marquis, Yasiel Puig didn’t hit any balls to the Pacific, crushing the dreams of children everywhere. (Slacker.) But hey, at least no one got hurt! Except for Scott Elbert, who’s now getting a zipper… and Chris Capuano before that, and Carl Crawford before that and… well, you know where this is going.
That’s right, if there truly has been a running theme of the 2013 season, it’s the absolutely unfathomable run of injuries this team has suffered. For the masochists among you, the New York Times has this handy grid of just how much money is currently sitting on the disabled list, and the Dodgers have finally overtaken the Yankees for first place now that Matt Kemp and Crawford are hurt and Mark Teixeira is back.
To be honest, it’s not the money that bothers me as much as it is the frequency, and the sheer number of injuries has made “Fire Sue Falsone!” nearly as much fun of a sport as “Fire Don Mattingly!” There’s probably some amount of misogyny in that from some corners, though it’s hard to ignore the near-daily list of aches. But how do you detail whether a training staff has done a good job or not? As often as I say that we don’t have full visibility into the front office, we have even less knowledge of what’s really happening in the trainer’s room, especially when considering what is kept private between a player and his medical professional. Simply measuring by “days on disabled list” seems unfair in that it’s very much like “pitcher wins” — it’s a raw number that comes with no context whatsoever, stripping it of real indicative value.
So I figured it was time to investigate that, and this is one of the rare times I start writing without really knowing on what side I’m going to end up on. Let’s start with a rather depressing chart:
Yikes. “Healthy” is a relative term there, because this far into the season no one is fully healthy; those are just the guys who we haven’t heard of any particular injuries for. Otherwise, the list is pretty shocking, and I’m sticking here just with guys who have spent the majority of the season with the team. (Sorry, Tim Federowicz, Elian Herrera, Javy Guerra, & Scott Van Slyke.)
The first thing that stands out to me on the list of injured is just how many of those are either fluke injuries or absolutely no surprise whatsoever. Chad Billingsley‘s elbow was almost certainly not going to hold together — remember, we were talking about it blowing up basically as a given in January — and the last time Mark Ellis made it through a season without some kind of leg injury was something like 1983. Hanley Ramirez‘ thumb injury came during the World Baseball Classic when he wasn’t even with the Dodgers, and of course Zack Greinke getting steamrolled by Carlos Quentin is indicative of nothing other than that Quentin is kind of a prick.
There’s a lot of that in the “banged-up” group as well, it turns out, because Hyun-jin Ryu and Matt Guerrier each took balls back at them; Adrian Gonzalez hurt himself when he ran into an umpire — yes, really — while Nick Punto was taken out by a hard slide at second base.
Punto is 35 years old, and I guess that sort of leads into the other issue here: Ned Colletti loves older players with injury histories. Chris Capuano (34) and Ted Lilly (37) have each been disabled twice, and each have long, extensive litanies of health concerns. Skip Schumaker is 33 this year, as is Josh Beckett, who brings a long list of right arm issues over his career; Jerry Hairston is 37 and had thirteen different trips to the disabled list before this season. Carl Crawford, 31, missed a month of 2011 with an injury to the same left hamstring that has him on the shelf now.
What’s also interesting to me, I think, are the injuries that aren’t shown here. We don’t see anything about Kershaw’s hip, which gave us such worry last September, or Greinke’s right elbow, which terrified us in March. Perhaps most notably, while Crawford was unable to avoid getting hurt, it wasn’t due to his surgically-repaired left elbow, which almost everyone figured would sideline him well into the season. It’s not all good, of course; I haven’t included Kemp’s disappointing return from shoulder surgery either, though we know that those kinds of injuries tend to take a long time to return from.
The obvious outliers here are the hamstrings of Kemp & Ramirez, and I don’t really have a great answer for that. Were they not properly hydrated? Did they not stretch properly? Was Kemp attempting to make up for his terrible season by overexerting with his legs? Was it just bad luck? I don’t think we’ll ever know, to tell you the truth.
It’s extremely difficult for me to look at this list and say that Falsone and team are doing an outstanding job, because that’s a tough assertion to back up when you look at the sheer number of injuries. But once you dig into all of these situations, it’s also tough to say that the work of the training staff is sub-par, because just look at what they’ve been handed to work with. My guess — and again, I am neither a doctor nor in the training room — is that the appropriate reaction here is similar to what it was when the “Fire Mattingly!” furor was at its peak. If a change is made, well, fine, I won’t put up much of an argument. Otherwise, it really does seem to be mainly due to the composition of the roster and the unexpected and unforeseeable incidents that have impacted it.