The Year of the Setback

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The Yankees have the best record in the American League and the best record in the AL East by no small margin, and they’ve gotten there despite a number of significant injuries. Offseason pickup Michael Pineda has yet to throw a meaningful pitch for the team thanks to his torn labrum, Brett Gardner has started all of seven games, Mariano Rivera tore his ACL in a fluke accident, Andy Pettitte had his ankle broken by a batted ball, and Alex Rodriguez had his hand broken on a hit-by-pitch. The list of injuries to non-essential players is even longer.

Yesterday we learned that Pettitte suffered a setback during his rehab, a minor setback but a setback nonetheless. Brian Cashman called it the “ebb and flow” of rehab and said he wasn’t progressing as hoped, which qualifies as a setback in my book. Gardner suffered not one, not two, but three (!) separate setbacks before finally having season-ending surgery, three months after the original injury. Pineda was working his way back from shoulder tendinitis when he apparently suffered the tear. That’s an awful lot of setbacks this year, to the point where you wonder if it’s a trend and not just a coincidence.

Obviously injuries are just unavoidable at times — the Gardner, Rivera, Pettitte, and A-Rod injuries were the definitions of fluke — but it seems that if you’re a Yankee and you get hurt theses days, you stay hurt. David Robertson (oblique) and CC Sabathia (groin) made it back from their ailments in short order and Joba Chamberlain has breezed through his rehab (his setback was self-inflicted), but they are the lucky ones. Even if you go back to last year, there were setbacks from Phil Hughes (shoulder), Pedro Feliciano (shoulder), and Rafael Soriano (elbow). Again, coincidence or trend?

I think durability is the most underrated skill in the game. Every team, particularly those in the AL East, is so well run these days that winning isn’t just about having the best players, it’s about having the best players and keeping them on the field as much as possible. Are all these setbacks a medical staff problem? A fluke? Are players being rushed back before they’re 100% ready to go for the sake of winning? Remember, Joe Girardi took it easy on Robertson when he came back from the oblique because he wanted “to be cautious.” Did Robertson come back sooner than maybe he should have? I think all of those questions are fair game.

The Yankees have weathered their injuries as well as could be expected thanks to both strong depth and unexpected performances (Dewayne Wise and David Phelps in particular). Pettitte had his setback yesterday and if something happens to throw A-Rod off the recovery course, his season will be effectively over. We shouldn’t spend time every summer talking about how the best additions the Yankees could make at the trade deadline are getting their own players back and healthy, all of these setbacks are a concern because they’re happening so frequently.

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  • Andy in Sunny Daytona

    Aardsma. Set back.

  • John NYC

    I guess nobody has noticed, but we have a lot of old guys. Harder to heal, easier to injure. Plenty of younger guys get injured, too, of course, but the older the team, the more likely the injuries.

    Not really a mystery.

    • 28 this year

      Well the only older player to suffer a setback is Pettitte and that, we don’t even know enough to say its a major setback. Gardner is young, Pineda is young, Phil Hughes was young, Rafael Soriano isn’t really old. Your statement makes sense in a general sense but thats clearly not applicable to the situation here.

  • Ed

    The Hughes and Feliciano setbacks last year I wouldn’t worry about. They really didn’t know what was wrong with Hughes last year and were really just grasping at straws. It’s hard to predict a recovery time when you’re not sure what he’s recovering from.

    In Feliciano’s case, they knew his shoulder was bad and that he’d most likely need surgery. Considering the problem and his age, they knew that surgery would likely be career ending. They were rather upfront in saying that they would try rehab and hope that it worked. Once he was initially diagnosed with the problem, it really seemed like they were saying “if we get anything out of this contract, we’re lucky.”

    The issues this year do seem to be a legit concern. I wonder if we could be feeling the effects of Gene Monohan retiring.

  • Rainbow Connection (futurely Dummies Playing w Balls and/or RI$P FTW)

    i still believe CCs groin injury is made up. hes had a huge workload this year and in years past, his velocity was down, they were up 9 games in the division, and the all star break was coming up. they needed a very minor non arm injury to give to the fans, and went with groin.

    • Knoxvillain

      I’ve thought the same thing.

    • Tom Swift

      “Made up” might be overstating it. My guess is that players play banged up all the time. If they really needed CC to play through the injury, maybe he could have, who knows. But they didn’t, so he got some rest that will keep his innings down.

  • Slugger27

    the article is misleading with regards to setbacks. The premise seems to be that the yankees dont do well with recovering from injuries and that maybe its not a coincidence, yet the article only states gardner (and now, pettitte) as an example.

    you mislead the reader by mentioning pinedas injury as a setback, even though the injury that ended his season is something separate and wasnt the same thing he was rehabbing. you mention arod, but his is a hypothetical setback for sometime in the future. robertson, CC, and joba were deemed “lucky” because they didnt have a setback (and therefore, didnt fit the narrative of your article). hughes last year i wouldnt say was a setback since nobody knew what was wrong w him, and it was clear that feliciano wasnt going to pitch for the yankees as soon as his diagnosis came out. thats 7 players mentioned in your “setbacks” article that didnt have setbacks. i dont remember soriano last year, maybe you’re right on that one.

    even after all the setback complaining, theres actually only 2 people it applies to: gardner, and now pettitte. doesnt seem like theres really a big problem once you look at things objectively.

  • MattG

    What evidence is there that this quantity of setbacks is unusual?

    None. As much as we hate to admit it, medical professionals know next to nothing about how the human body works and heals.

    • Slugger27

      and, again, only like 20% of the names in the article actually suffered setbacks.

  • RetroRob

    Trend and not just a coincidence?

    Neither. There is randomness to injuries. I was thinking last year when the Red Sox had a variety of issues, or looking across town at the Mets’ health problems, that the Yankees for the most part have been a pretty healthy team, especially considering their age. The Yankees take a pretty conservative approach toward these things and since I’m not aware of any key changes in the organization that would lead to more injuries, then it’s just been a bad-luck year. As a team, they’ve handled it quite well.

    • jjyank

      I agree. I think it’s just random occurances. Every player is different, and thus has different reactions to injury. The same injury to say, Joba and Gardner, may require different time tables, since Joba is apparently a freak of nature.

  • sangreal

    The worst part about Gardner’s surgery is that Girardi indicated he doesn’t think it is related to his injury/setbacks but rather its the sort of thing you find in any athlete’s elbow

  • Travis L.

    Ok. I’ve read a couple guys (or girls) here that say how much this article “misleads” or the information given “doesnt fit”. How about you folks start up your own blog? You obviously are better writers and have a better connection with the Yankees than Mike. Go ahead and get it going and then maintain it as well as Axisa has with RAB. Damn, you people get on my nerves. Just shut up, read the article, soak up the info that is there, and move the hell on. If you cant do that and want to criticize Mike for what you THINK is a “misleading” article, then go read some shit written by your fellow know-it-all-but-dont-know-shit individuals and leave RAB alone.

    • Slugger27

      i dont THINK its a misleading article, it is a misleading article. he has a point/agenda to get across (the yankees dont handle injured players’ recoveries well), and to do so he used hypothetical injuries (arod) and non-setback related injuries (hughes, feliciano, pineda) to mislead the reader and make it more convincing. he then credited 3 successful recoveries as “lucky”, with no rhyme or reason other than that they were successful and therefore didnt fit his argument.

      i get it, you love you some mike. i love his work too. i read RAB everyday and credit his commitment to this site for its popularity. that being said, this article isnt his finest work, and regardless if it was or not, by putting information on the internet, he opens himself up to criticism. he knew that when he started the blog, or should have known it.

      also, ive scoured all comments and cant find anyon that wrote the “information doesnt fit” … who are you quoting?

    • MattG

      Hey Mr. Axisa, how are you?

      This is the exception that proves the rule. Damn-fine blog does a damn-fine job of even-handed, objective analysis, and thus attracts damn-fine readers (mostly) that appreciate it’s damn-fine writing.

      But when damn-fine blog writes something… a weensy bit lazy?…dame-fine readers are certain to point it out!

  • Eddard

    They should have decided on surgery months before they did for Brett Gardner. Team doctors dropped the ball on that one. Looks like they’ve learned their lesson with Andy and are telling him to take it easy to ensure that we have him for October when it really counts. The rest of the regular season is meaningless. Division is locked up, it’s just a matter of getting healthy and ready for October.

  • IWannaBeAHirokstar

    This is really getting ridiculous. 5 pitchers (including Joba and Aardsma) along with Gardner and Alex. Once they’re back at full strength they should play even better.

  • Jose M. Vazquez

    Players are bigger, stronger, faster and even receive even better nutrition than today’s ballplayers. The injuries could result from the training regimens that they are put through (I’m guessing) then . I know that when I was growing up, ballplayers would never lift weights. Most worked in the offseason from bricklayers to grave diggers. If a knee was hurt, it often had to be opened up, compared to the scope of today. What I am trying to say is that players then often played with slight injuries. Pitchers completed games and many pitched 250-300 plus innings. They had no personal trainers, nutritionists or all the other goodies that today’s players have.

    • MattG

      I’m sorry, are you saying that the cause of increased setbacks is the advent of training and medical advancements?

      • Jose M. Vazquez

        Not the medical advancements, please, I did not mean that. I said that maybe the training may have something to do with the injuries but I am just guessing. I really don’t know, maybe todays guys are,bigger sronger, faster but softer than the old players.

    • Slugger27

      i dont even know where to start with this….

    • Jose M. Vazquez

      I forgot to mention that in the early fifties the Yankees would play a July 4 doubleheader. As a young boy, I would pay 50cents to sit in the center field bleachers(the blackened area now). I was at least 480 feet from home plate. Even in the July heat I remember one instance when Yogi caught both ends of the doublebill. They nly took maybe 30-40 minutes between games.

  • LiterallyFigurative

    I’m going to chalk it up to just dumb luck in regards to the initial injuries as well as the setbacks.

    There is nothing that anyone can prove that says the players were rushed, and knowing how cautious the Yanks tend to be with injuries, it’s hard for me to blame the team. Sometimes guys just get hurt. Sometimes even the best doctors misdiagnose a case. The body is a strange place.