Injuries up 26% since 2006

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Days on the Disabled ListThe Yankees have dealt with more than their fair share of injuries this season, having lost their two primary setup men, number two starter, starting third baseman, backup third baseman, and top two catchers at various points this year. The Yankees aren’t alone though, because injuries around Major League Baseball increased 26% from 2006 to 2008 as Michael S. Schmidt, writing for The NY Times, shows. The number of injuries in 2009 is similar to those in 2008 midway through the season.

Jeff Zimmerman at Beyond the Box Score recently put together a database of players that went on the disabled list from between 2002 and 2008, which also shows that injuries have gone up over the last three seasons (see graph below). The Yankees are actually near the bottom of the league in the number of total trips to the disabled list and total days lost due to injury since ’02, but their average DL trip was among the longest in the league (thanks, Carl).

Positional Trips to the DL by YearSo why have the number of injuries gone up? Well no one knows for sure. “There are a lot of theories around about why it has gone up, and a lot of them make sense, but I am not convinced that it’s one thing,” said Stan Conte, the director of medical services and the head athletic trainer for the Los Angeles Dodgers. “Anyone who thinks they have the one answer is lying or wrong.”

That doesn’t stop anyone from formulating theories however, but in all likelihood there”s more than one thing at work here. Coincidentally, or maybe not, amphetamines were added to Major League baseball’s banned substance list in the ’05-’06 offseason. It’s no secret that players have long relied on “greenies” to help then battle through the 162-game grind, and now that they’re unavailable players are finding out that they can’t play hurt as frequently any more.

Better medical technology may also be contributing to the increase in injuries. Torn hip labrums – which have shelved Alex Rodriguez, Mike Lowell, Carlos Delgado, Chase Utley and Alex Gordon within the last 12 months along – are not a new injury, they’ve just become easier to diagnose through technological advancements. Then you have the possibility of teams abusing the disabled list, or players not willing to play hurt because it could cost them a big payday down the road. There are plenty more potential reasons that I won’t even begin to try to touch on.

Peter Nash, director of underwriting for a syndicate of Lloyd’s of London, a firm that insures contracts for both teams and players says “We believe that injuries move in five-year increments: they go up for five years, then plateau, then go up for five years, and plateau, and over time, they are going higher and higher. As long as athletes are pushing themselves as hard as they can, the number will continue to go higher and higher.”

What do you think is the cause behind the increase in injuries? Is it PEDs? Better technology? Something else? A fluke?

Seventh-inning stretch can now be used as intended
Kei Igawa sets his very own record
  • cr1

    Do you know (anyone?) whether there have been corresponding trends in other sports?

  • A.D.

    Theres a combo of players not wanting to play hurt & teams not wanting them to play hurt, and turning a couple day think into a couple week thing.

    You also see more muscle strains, the hip & rib cage has become real popular lately. Some blame greater weight training, others players not playing through the pain.

    As its noted theres more incentive all around to make sure players are healthy going onto the field both from the player and the team perspective, along with guaranteed contract, and more advanced surgeries being able to fix previous career ending injuries. Not that long ago TJS was career ending, now its a blip on the radar screen for many. Which would make a difference of 0 days on the DL to a year+ for guys like Pavano, Hudson, Ryan, Brackman, Sanchez, Johnson, etc.

    • Mattingly’s Love Child

      I’m definitely no doctor or physical therapist, but could the hip/rib cage injuries be due to greater core training? As athletes strengthen muscles that have hardly ever been used are they stressing them/fatiguing them to the point of injury? Just a thought by someone with no knowledge of the subject besides knowing that I should do more core exercises myself…

      • jsbrendog

        did you stay at a holiday inn express last night?

        • Mattingly’s Love Child

          No, but I did stay at a KOA Kampground this weekend….

      • Jorge Steinbrenner

        There’s definitely a backlash brewing to the idea of “core” training which says that it actually weakens muscles rather solidify them. That being said, when the guys I trust who are excellent personal trainers start changing what they do to accomodate that, I’ll begin to believe that.

  • Pablo Zevallos

    I think some of the players who used to use PEDs are now paying the physical cost of it–i.e. injuries to ligaments, labrums, etc.

  • Rebecca-Optimist Prime

    Has over training been brought up as a possibility?

  • JGS

    the Yankees long average DL stint is probably massively skewed by one Carl Pavano

    I think it just boils down to teams protecting their huge investments and DLing first and asking questions (could you actually have played through this?) later

    • Ed

      In addition to Pavano, the Yankees average stint is skewed by their love of Tommy John rehab projects.

      Brackman, Humerto Sanchez, and Jon Lieber are 3 stints of 1 year each.

      Steve Karsay is another big contributor to the average as well.

      • JGS

        do Brackman and Sanchez count? I thought this was just talking about major leaguers

        • Pablo Zevallos

          Yes, because they are/were on the 40-man roster.

          • Ed

            Technically, they weren’t on the 40 man roster because they were on the Major League 60 Day DL :)

    • andrew

      but their average DL trip was among the longest in the league (thanks, Carl).

  • Tank the Frank

    Coincidentally, or maybe not, amphetamines were added to Major League baseball’s banned substance list in the ‘05-’06 offseason. It’s no secret that players have long relied on “greenies” to help then battle through the 162-game grind, and now that they’re unavailable players are finding out that they can’t play hurt as frequently any more.

    I don’t know if anyone else has seen this, but I have seen players in the dugout constantly sipping on Redbulls and – what I believe – a supplement called NO Explode. I’ve never taken any prescription or illegal amphetamines, but I take NO Explode every time before I work out. And I’ll tell you from experience the affects that are felt and the benefits that are gained can’t be that far off.

    My workouts wouldn’t be near as affective if I didn’t take this energy drink, and if I were an baseball player, knowing I had to play a 162-game season, I would definitely take it before every game.

  • Tank Foster

    All sorts of “diseases” show increases when you step up your screening and surveillance. The key is that they are counting DL stints and total days on the DL…these aren’t necessarily synonyms for “more injuries” or “more severe injuries.”

    I think the blog post hit on the most likely reasonzzzzz:

    1. Increased diagnostic testing…teams getting more MRIs.
    2. Teams using the DL unconventionally (for “tired arm” and other things, to give them chances to rehab or retrain players who don’t have minor league options).
    3. Longer rehab assignments…although I guess they wouldn’t be counted because those are off the DL. Never mind…
    4. Overtraining. Could definitely be. Conventional wisdom has always been that if you work on strength and flexibility, you can avoid injuries. Whether this is really true or not is hard to prove. I am sure there are many athletes who over train. Could definitely be a factor.
    5. Teams resorting to the DL for minor injuries that in the past would have been ignored.
    6. Not just amphetamines, but how about the juice? Wasn’t one of the benefits of steroids that they helped you recover from workouts and recover from injury faster?

  • Ed

    In the long term scheme, I’d imagine the trend is due to advances in medical technology. So many injuries that were career ending in the past aren’t anymore. As arthroscopic surgery becomes an option for more procedures, players can recover faster and make a more thorough recovery than in the past.

    Elbow repair has become routine, and hip repair is moving in that direction. The worst injuries at the moment are shoulders, which are still very much a hit or miss thing (especially for pitchers). As shoulder surgery improves, you’ll see a lot more careers extended, and probably another jump in injury rates as guys who would’ve retired when they blew out their shoulders are hanging around long enough to blow them out again or to need Tommy John surgery.

  • Jake

    Now I’m no doctor, but what about the fact that some injuries which used to be career ending are now a lot more treatable. For example TJ surgery is now a sure thing, not to mention the host of other surgeries which are no big deal these days among athletes.

    • MattG

      This is the answer. Almost certainly, the 26% increase can be explained away by the manner in which the data treats career-ending injuries. A pitcher that retires with a torn elbow ligament will not accrue any days on the DL. A pitcher that rehabs from Tommy John will accrue > 180 days.

  • MikeD

    I think it’s a combination of many factors. One not mentioned in the article, but also contributes, is how teams treat players with injuries. A team paying a player millions of dollars is going to take even a minor injury much more seriously and may be more likely to DL him early on hoping to avoid a major injury.

    • Ed

      One thing to remember though is while players making 7-8 digit salaries seems absurd to us today, Joe DiMaggio’s $100,000 contract was just as crazy back in the day. Salaries have gone up much faster than inflation, but the industry has grown a ton as well over that time, so Joe DiMaggio going down hurt the team financially just as much as A-Rod going down does now.

  • Salty Buggah

    So those graphs say there is an increase in DL days/trips, not necessarily more injuries? Better technology/medical advancements would explain that a bit. Now, we can better diagnose injuries, such as the torn labrum. So, instead of a player resting an injury a bit and then coming back later to play through the pain, we can diagnose these injuries for much serious procedures like the one A-rod had.

    But then again, if the technology is better and we can better diagnose injuries, DL days/trips should go down. If a player got misdiagnosed before and came back, they would have hurt them even more, causing another DL trip and a lot more days. Now, with a correct diagnosis for the most part, they should be able to just heal after surgery/rehab and not be hurting again (unless they are unlucky and just injure another body part).

    • Salty Buggah

      A-rod did not have the full-blown procedure, so let’s use Chase Utley and Mike Lowell instead, even though they their surgery done in the offseason mostly.

  • Salty Buggah

    Or we can just blame A-rod for that 26% increase and that would probably the best answer, right?

  • John

    Hmmm, it’s odd how Left fielders are one of the most hurt position year to year with Catcher, though that makes sense. And it’s wierd how many SS were hurt last year.

    • Ed

      Probably because older, banged up players move to left field a lot.