Head Trainer Sue Falsone Leaves, But Will It Matter?

ramirez_injured_2013-05-03The season was barely two months old in early June when the growing list of injuries seemed insurmountable. The most serious concern at the time was Hanley Ramirez injuring his hamstring just days after returning from his thumb injury, but it was also more about the quantity than the quality.

Or as I said on June 5:

I swear that the original version of this game thread made jokes about how for once there was no one headed to the disabled list, a rare occurrence after days of Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford and A.J. Ellis and Chris Capuano. I suppose that remains technically true, because it doesn’t involve a roster move, but there is news and it is not good: Scott Elbert, who had already undergone surgeries on his left elbow in September and January, will now be adding Tommy John surgery to the list as well.

And then I had to talk about Mark Ellis‘ groin strain and Matt Guerrier‘s sore hand and… man, do I not miss what this season was like before everyone got healthy.

Looking back, it’s not at all surprising now that on June 6 I devoted an entire post to the injuries that were crushing the team and trying to identify who was responsible. Now, it appears the team has come to a decision on that: Sue Falsone, the first female head trainer in the major American pro sports, has stepped down, in what certainly feels like something that was more than just her decision. (Buster Olney outright says “she was fired,” though I’m not 100 percent sure that’s accurate.)

It’s impossible not to be simply shocked at the rate of injury this Dodger team suffered through, because it was never-ending even when it seemed to be getting better. Remember, it was only June 6 when we were panicking about team health, and while it was better after that, it certainly didn’t stop. That was before Kemp’s ankle and his September recurrence, it was before Andre Ethier‘s September & October were destroyed by his ankle, it was before Ramirez injured his back and shoulder and ribs, it was before Chris Capuano‘s groin injury, etc. etc.

Falsone took a lot of heat for all of that, because, well, someone had to, but even at the time it seemed clear that it wasn’t all on the training staff. It couldn’t be. Between the completely unpreventable freak stuff like Ramirez’ thumb (and then ribs), Kemp’s ankle, Zack Greinke‘s collarbone, and Yasiel Puig slamming himself into walls, and the collection of guys with extensive injury histories that Ned Colletti had put together like Crawford, Ellis, Ted Lilly, Capuano, Josh Beckett, and the simple fact that no trainer in the world was going to be able to prevent Chad Billingsley‘s elbow from blowing up, it was hard to put all of it on her.

Still, it wasn’t all due to old players or freak injuries, and the sheer volume was shocking. I imagine it also didn’t help late in the season when Kemp’s ankle went from “seemingly no problem” to “out for the playoffs” to “it’s highly unlikely he’ll need surgery” to “Kemp undergoes ankle surgery; Return uncertain“.

It wasn’t all bad, of course, because you might remember that we never again heard about Greinke’s right elbow after the spring, and Clayton Kershaw’s hip was never a known issue this year, and Ramirez praised her work with his constant injuries. If anything, I think many of us have been saying for years that we wish some of the heat would blow back on VP of Medical Services Stan Conte, also known as “the guy who apparently signed off on Jason Schmidt’s shoulder“. It’s not like injury problems have only popped up since Falsone has been around, and Conte was reportedly back on the field with the team this year anyway.

But something’s not working here, whether it’s the training staff or the players or both, and while obviously so many of these were out of her control, it’s difficult — from this distant vantage point, anyway — to say that an excellent job was done. Obviously, the situation is such that you wonder if anyone else really could have done better with what quickly became a mess, but I suppose we’ll find out soon. Without knowing what really went down, I can’t complain too much about this move either way.

Who Is Responsible For the Never-Ending String of Dodger Injuries?

ramirez_injured_2013-05-03So 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:

injuries_june-6-2013Yikes. “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.