Archive for Injuries
In my opinion, the single biggest upgrade the Yankees made this winter was replacing Chris Stewart with Brian McCann behind the plate. They paid top of the market dollars for that upgrade — McCann’s five-year, $85M deal is the largest ever given to a free agent catcher by more than 60% — but the impact on the field will be enormous. Few things in the game are as valuable as a catcher who can hit while playing above-average defense.
Like every other long-term contract, McCann’s deal carries quite a bit of risk. It’s unavoidable. Catchers are riskier than other position players because the position is just so demanding. Squatting behind the plate day after day in the summer heat and humidity sucks enough — between the regular season and playoffs, McCann already has over 9,000 innings at catcher on his legs, most of them in the Atlanta summer — but then you have to add the foul tips and everything else on top of that.
Thankfully, the risk associated with McCann’s contract went down earlier this week. MLB and the MLBPA announced their new “experimental” rule regarding home plate collisions, a rule that eliminates needless contact. The runner can still run into the catcher if he has the ball and is blocking the plate, but that’s it. He can’t run out of his baseline to target the catcher and the catcher can’t block the plate without the ball. Reducing the number of collisions means reducing McCann’s injury risk.
“I don’t know if it’s going to [be hard to adjust to the new rule],” said McCann to Chad Jennings. “As long as you give the guy the plate before you have the ball, it’s kind of the same rule. … We’re taught to be in the right position so if you do get run over, you’re not going to get hurt from it. When you catch the ball, you do have to be in the right position because you are vulnerable for ACL [injuries], you’re vulnerable for concussions. You don’t want to see anybody miss time because of that.”
McCann, 30, has been remarkably durable (for a catcher) throughout his career, but he did miss about a week with a concussion following a collision with Shane Victorino back in 2008. We watched Frankie Cervelli suffer a concussion when he was run over by Nick Markakis in September 2011 (video) and Mark Teixeira send Bobby Wilson to the DL for more than a month with an April 2010 collision (video). Wilson, who didn’t even have the ball, suffered a concussion and a severe ankle sprain. The runner doesn’t even have to be running at full speed for a collision to inflict serious damage.
I’m not quite sure how I feel about the new anti-collision rule — it will take some getting used to, if nothing else — but the league wants the game to be safer, so it’s easy to understand why the ban was implemented. Given all the money the Yankees committed to McCann this winter, anything that can potentially keep him healthier is a big positive. Catching is still going to be crazy dangerous, but eliminating unnecessary collisions may help the team’s new backstop stay healthier and more productive deeper into his contract.
Does anyone honestly want to hear a recap of the 2013 Yankees injury situation? From the revelation that Alex Rodriguez would miss at least half the season, to Brett Gardner‘s strained oblique in September, injuries buried the team.
What hurt the 2013 team could make the 2014 team stronger. Two key players who missed almost all of the 2013 season appear to be healthy in 2014.
How much did losing Teixeira hurt the Yankees in 2013? His relatively weak 2012 campaign might obscure his overall impact. Particularly in terms of power output, losing Teixeira hurt badly.
The Yankees went from an AL-leading .188 ISO in 2012 to a third-lowest .133 in 2013. A good portion of that loss came from free agent departures. Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, Nick Swisher, and Russell Martin were the Nos. 4 through 8 power producers on the team.
Not only was Teixeira the No. 3 power source on the 2012 team, but he ranked No. 23 (out of 143) in all of MLB. In a season when the Yankees needed their power guys more than ever, they lost almost all of them to injury.
Getting a healthy Teixeira in 2014 could provide the lineup with the power boost that it needs. (Particularly at first base, where they had the worst OPS in the AL in 2014.) Yet the question remains: what will Teixeira look list after serious wrist surgery?
The closest comparison is Jose Bautista, who did experience a power dip in 2013, after suffering a similar injury in 2012. Yet there are two mitigating factors here:
1) Bautista underwent his surgery almost two months later in the season than Teixeira, so Teixeira could be further along in the healing process.
2) Bautista did still produce quality power numbers in 2013, producing the eighth-highest ISO in the majors. That’s a drop-off from his No. 1 mark in 2011, but by no means a cliff dive.
There is no way Teixeira can be worse than Lyle Overbay and the 2013 cast of first-base misfits, so his return will be welcome regardless of actual outcome. At the same time, his return to form as a middle of the order bat will go a long way in powering the 2014 Yankees lineup.
Ladies and gentlemen, it feels so good to be back — only it didn’t. Each time Jeter returned last season he struggled physically. It honestly came as no surprise, at least in hindsight.
Baseball players rely on their lower halves. A novice observer might see the upper body central in every baseball movement; the ball and bat sit in our hands, after all. But everything that sets great players apart comes in the lower half. Swinging, throwing, and defensive range all rely on strong hips and legs.
Coming into 2014, Derek Jeter’s lower half was probably the weakest of his career. The ankle injury that ended his 2012 season prevented him from strengthening his hips and legs during the off-season. Sure, physical therapy got him to a certain base of strength, but that base is hardly enough to power a pro baseball player.
Jeter, unused to such physical limitations, pushed himself too hard and reinjured his ankle. Again, that meant rest and no opportunity to strengthen his lower half. Why did he injure his squad, then his calf, and then his ankle again in 2013? Because his legs were weaker than ever.
A full off-season to build strength should benefit Jeter. It’s tough to expect much of him this year, his final season, one during which he will turn 40 years old. At the same time, he is Derek Jeter. With physical strength behind him, perhaps he could come close to the .316/.362/.429 line he produced in his last fully healthy season.
As with Teixeira, it’s difficult to see Jeter not improving on last year’s shortstop production, which ranked 14th out of 15 AL teams.
Seeing as he’s the best second baseman in the league, the Yankees had no chance of replacing Robinson Cano‘s production this off-season. What they did, instead, was reinforce other areas of weakness in hopes that they can spread Cano’s production among many positions.
The man tasked with actually replacing Cano has not been known for his reliability in recent years. After three straight years of more than 700 PA, Brian Roberts has managed just 809 in the last four seasons combined. Worse, his combined numbers during that span are worse than any single season he’s produced since 2003.
Getting a relatively healthy 2014 from Roberts will go a long way for the Yankees. It’s tough to expect him to repeat his last fully healthy season, considering that was four full years ago. He did get better as last season progressed, though, so perhaps a healthy Roberts can still be a productive player.
The bet is a long one, as we all know. If the Yankees win, they get a slightly below average hitter at 2B (which would be above average for the position) for a low cost. If they lose, they have to replace Roberts from within, which means that the best among Eduardo Nunez, Dean Anna, or Corban Joseph gets the spot. (Or it could be Kelly Johnson with one of the above, or Scott Sizemore at third.)
In 2013 Cervelli got his big chance. With Russ Martin gone and no other surefire starting catcher candidate on the roster, he could get some consistent playing time. He responded well early, producing a .877 OPS in 61 PA.
Then he got hit with a foul ball and broke his hand. Before he came back he suffered an elbow problem that kept him on the shelf longer. Then he got suspended for his involvement in Biogensis. Now he’s sitting behind Brian McCann, one of the best-hitting catchers in the league, on the depth chart.
Given his lack of minor league options and his relative experience, Cervelli figures to get the backup job. His return from injury can help prevent the catcher spot from being an offensive black hole when McCann takes days off. He might also make it easier to give McCann days at DH, limiting the wear and tear on the starter.
Most of all, a successful return from injury could raise Cervelli’s trade value. The Yankees will absolutely need help at the trade deadline. A healthy catcher who still has a few years of team control remaining could prove a valuable bargaining chip. With John Ryan Murphy and even Austin Romine ready at AAA, they can certainly afford to part with Cervelli.
What hurt in 2013 can help in 2014. The Yankees will get back a number of players whose absences hurt them immensely. Combined with the new guys, and we could see significant improvement this time around.
We’re only six days away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Tampa for the start of Spring Training. Here are some injury updates in the meantime, courtesy of Kevin Kernan, Andrew Marchand, Wally Matthews, Matt Ehalt, and the Associated Press.
- So far, so good for Derek Jeter (leg). He just completed his third week of baseball activities and everything is holding up well. “I feel good,” he said. “I’ve been working hard, and I’ve had a complete offseason to work out and strengthen everything … It’s been fun, but it’s been difficult because you’re starting over from scratch.”
- Mark Teixeira (wrist) has started taking batting practice against live pitching. He has gradually worked his way back from surgery, first by taking dry swings and then by hitting off a tee and soft toss. “There’s plenty of guys that come back from injuries come back way too fast and get reinjured,” he said. “That’s not in my plans this year.”
- Scott Sizemore (knee) feels good as he works his way back from his second torn left ACL in the last two years. “I’m feeling pretty good, getting back on the field feels great and I haven’t had any issues with the knee,” he said. “Obviously, two serious knee injuries, doubts crept into my mind if I was ever going to be able to play again. Nothing’s given.”
- Manny Banuelos (elbow) is completely rehabbed from Tommy John surgery and on a normal throwing program right now. “[The elbow] feels normal, just like before surgery. I feel ready to go,” he said.
Seven months ago today, Mark Teixeira had surgery to repair a torn ECU tendon sheath in his right wrist after a rehab regime failed to strengthen the joint. The Yankees were without their first baseman essentially all of last season and the result was a whopping 86 wRC+ from the position, fourth worst in baseball and by far the worst in the AL (Twins were next at 93 wRC+). The timing of the injury — Teixeira got hurt in early-March during pre-WBC workouts — left them with few alternatives at first.
Teixeira, who turns 34 just after Opening Day, has been rehabbing for months and recently started some light hitting off a tee and soft toss. He had been taking dry swings for weeks and is slated to start hitting against MLB quality velocity (90+ mph) sometime this month. Game action will follow in March. Teixeira acknowledged the wrist is still stiff — “I’m expecting until June, and maybe even through this entire season, it’ll be a little tight,” he said to Dan Barbarisi recently — which isn’t uncommon even this far out from surgery.
The Yankees do not have an obvious backup for Teixeira but I suspect that will work itself out something before Opening Day. My biggest concern right now isn’t necessarily a setback that shelves Teixeira for a few weeks or months, but his actual performance. That’s the great unknown. Will the wrist hamper his power production? Will his left-handed swing be hindered while his right-handed swing is fine? How long will it take to shake off what amounts to a full season of rust?
“My entire career, April has not been my optimal baseball performance,” said Teixeira to Barbarisi. “Then throughout the year, I get stronger, I get better, and that’s the goal, to have 162 good games, not 30 good games … Am I going to go out and say, ‘OK, I’m going to hit this, have so many home runs, this many RBIs in April?’ I have no idea. Nobody has any idea.”
As Barbarisi noted in his article, both David Ortiz and Jose Bautista suffered similar injuries and saw their performance slip the following year. Ortiz did not have surgery for a partially torn ECU tendon sheath late in 2008 and then had the worst year of his career in 2009, with reduced power (.224 ISO) and overall effectiveness (100 wRC+). It wasn’t until 2010 that he got back to being the .260 ISO, 150 wRC+ monster he usually is. Bautista went from .322 ISO and 165 wRC+ from 2010-12 to a .239 ISO and 134 wRC+ in 2013 following surgery late last year. He was still obviously very good, but there was a dip in performance.
Wrist injuries are known for sapping power for several months even after the doctor says the player is healed, though only heard that about broken bones (hamate, specifically). Ortiz’s performance in 2009 and beyond fits that timetable and we’ll just have to wait and see how Bautista rebounds this summer. The issue with Teixeira is that his performance had been in decline even before the injury (wRC+ from 2008-12: 152, 142, 128, 124, 116), though his power production was consistently in the .240 ISO range. Given his declining batting average (and subsequently declining OBP), power is Teixiera’s redeeming offensive quality and if that is compromised because of the wrist, he won’t be of much use to the Yankees at the plate in 2014.
I guess the good news, if you want to take it that way, is that the team’s first basemen were so very bad last year that Teixeira almost can’t help but be an upgrade even if the wrist injury saps his power. A perfectly league average hitter will be a big step down for Teixeira but an improvement for the team at first base overall. Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann were brought in to solidify the middle of the lineup (a full year of Alfonso Soriano will help as well) so even without Robinson Cano, the Yankees won’t need Teixeira to carry the load as the cleanup hitter. There are enough bats in the lineup to bat him sixth if his production warrants it. That said, the team can’t afford a half season of Lyle Overbay-esque production at first base either. Teixeira is an important part of the team but it’s impossible to know how much he can contribute this year.
During a recent YES Network interview (video link), Mark Teixeira acknowledged still feeling some stiffness in his surgically repaired right wrist. “Right now, I’m six months out of surgery. Will I be 100% day one? I hope so,” said Teixeira. “Even my doctor said ‘it’s going to keep getting looser, keep getting stronger’ … I’m a little anxious about the way I’m going to feel, but I know that as long as I’m doing what I’m told, doing what I’m supposed to be doing, that I should be fine.”
Teixeira, 33, missed all but 15 games last year due to wrist trouble, eventually having season-ending surgery in early-July. During the interview he said he has been taking dry swings for two months and just recently started hitting off a tee. Hitting against 90+ mph pitches is on tap for next month with game action to follow in early-March. Hearing Teixeira still has some stiffness in the wrist is disconcerting, but there is still a long way to go before Opening Day. The Yankees improved their offense this winter but they’re still going to need their first baseman to remain healthy and productive.
Via Dan Martin: Derek Jeter is expected to begin baseball activities at the Yankees’ minor league complex on Monday as he works his way back from numerous leg injuries. “I’ve been working hard. I started working out in the beginning of November. I’m anxious to get back out there,” said the Cap’n, who added he is “still focused on this year” and not looking ahead to 2015 and beyond.
Jeter, 39, was limited to only 17 games last season due to those leg injuries, including the fractured ankle he suffered in the 2012 ALCS. He did not start baseball activities until early-March following offseason surgery on the ankle, so he is well ahead of last year’s schedule. Given his age and all the missed time, the Yankees will probably take it easy on Jeter in camp, at least early on. He is probably their second best infielder right now, and they need to take care of him and not push it too hard too soon.
The Yankees came into the offseason needing at least two starting pitchers and so far they’ve added just one, re-signing Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year contract. He was the team’s best pitcher in each of the last two seasons and makes perfect sense on a one-year deal, but he is also the second oldest starter in the AL behind R.A. Dickey. Age brings a bevy of concerns.
Chief among those concerns is injury … well, both injury and recovery time. Older players tend to take longer to heal, that’s just the way the human body works. The Yankees have had a lot of health problems in recent years (both injuries and setbacks) thanks in part to their older roster. They’ve made their bed and have had to sleep in it when it comes to players getting hurt, and given their moves this winter, they’re content with rolling the dice again in 2014.
Last week, Jeff Zimmerman at FanGraphs published his annual starting pitcher DL projections, which have been shockingly accurate over the years. It’s not a specific injury projection (so and so will have a shoulder problem, etc.), just a projection of who will visit the DL next season based on their age and workload, as well as other factors like breaking ball usage and strike-throwing ability. It’s complicated, so click the link for the full explanation.
The Yankees only have three starters locked into spots next season: CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Kuroda. A bunch of young kids will compete for the fifth spot and that fourth spot figures to go to a pitcher to be acquired later. Not only are Sabathia (career-worst year in 2013), Kuroda (crashed hard late in 2013), and Nova (erratic has hell) performance concerns heading into next season, but they’re also DL risks according to Zimmerman’s data.
Sabathia: 47% chance of landing on DL
It wasn’t too long ago that Sabathia was baseball’s preeminent workhorse, and in some ways he still is — he is one of four pitchers to throw at least 200 innings in each of the last seven seasons (Justin Verlander, Mark Buehrle, and James Shields are the others). Over the last 26 months, however, CC has dealt with a torn knee menisicus, a groin strain, elbow stiffness, a bone spur in his elbow, and a hamstring strain. He has finished each of the last three seasons either injured or in need of offseason surgery. Sabathia is getting up there in years and he’s thrown a frickin’ ton of innings in his career, and he compounds the problem by not telling anyone he’s banged up until it gets really bad (he pitched through the knee, elbow, and hamstring problems). It’s no surprise his risk of landing on the DL is so high, 16th highest among the 128 projected pitchers.
Kuroda: 43% chance of landing on DL
Kuroda has avoided the DL since arriving in New York but he has dealt with fatigue late in each of the last two seasons, so much so that he stopped throwing his usual between-starts bullpen session in September. He had a shoulder problem in 2008, an oblique problem in 2009, and a concussion (hit by a line drive) in 2010. Kuroda has topped 195 innings in each of the last four seasons and 180 innings in five of his six seasons in MLB. His DL projection is the 34th highest thanks mostly to his age.
Nova: 41% chance of landing on DL
Coming up through the minors, Nova was a workhorse who rarely missed a start. He has been hurt in each of the last three seasons though, missing time with a forearm strain (2011), shoulder tightness (2012), and triceps inflammation (2013). That’s three arm-related injuries in the last three years, albeit minor non-structural injuries that shelved him no more than a few weeks at a time. Nova has youth on his side, but his DL projection is still the 45th highest out of the 128 projected pitchers.
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Now, obviously, every pitcher is an injury risk. It comes with the territory. Some are riskier than others for a variety of reasons. The pitcher most likely to land on the DL next season according to Zimmerman is Bartolo Colon (64%), which makes sense given his age, injury history, and general portliness. He’s the only active pitcher over 60% (retired Andy Pettitte is at 63%). The pitcher least at risk is Madison Bumgarner (26%). The top free agent hurlers rank anywhere from not that risky (Ervin Santana, 34%) to moderately risky (Ubaldo Jimenez, 38%) to very risky (Matt Garza, 51%).
As for the Yankees, they have three of the 45 starters most at risk of visiting the DL next season, and that’s on top of their performance concerns. The team does have some nice back-end depth in David Phelps, Adam Warren, Michael Pineda, and Vidal Nuno, but three of those four guys spent at least a few months on the DL this past season themselves. Only Warren made it through the entire year healthy. The Bombers not only need to add a starter, they need to add a durable innings guy they can count on to take the ball every fifth day.
During a recent appearance on the YES Network (video link), Mark Teixeira laid out his rehab plan as he works his way back from season-ending wrist surgery. He’ll be performing strengthening exercises through the end of the month, start swinging a bat in January, start hitting 90+ mph pitches in February, then resume full workouts when Spring Training begins. He will be a bit behind the other position players in camp but hopes to get into his first Grapefruit League game during the first week of March.
“That first game, against Justin Verlander in Lakeland, he throws me a 95-mph fastball on the inside part of the plate, I want to drop the head (of the bat) on the ball. Even if I don’t get a hit or get a homerun off it, I want to know that I can make a really strong, quick move on an inside fastball at 95 mph, and have no pain, no tightness. Once I do that, then I’ll know that I’ll be fine for the season,” said Teixeira. The 33-year-old missed all but 15 games of this past season with wrist problems. Jose Bautista rebounded well from the same wrist surgery, which is a positive sign, but the Yankees need Teixeira to come back and have an impact in the middle of their lineup this season. The upgrade he represents over Lyle Overbay is significant but not guaranteed until he’s actually healthy and out on the field.
As you know, the Yankees lost a frickin’ ton of players to injury this past season. Important players too. Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter missed essentially the entire year, Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson both missed over 100 games, Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner missed huge chunks of time … on and on it goes. Never-ending, it seems.
Jeff Zimmerman at FanGraphs posted injury data for 2013 and, believe it or not, the Yankees did not lose the most days to injury this year. They did lead baseball with 28 DL stints, but their 1,496 days lost trailed both the Marlins (1,538) and Braves (1,536). The Royals only lost 461 days to injury this past season. Must be nice.
Of course, tons of injuries are nothing new for the Yankees. This chart really drives home the point:
That’s an average of 1,200 (!) or so days lost to injury over a four-year period. Obviously some percentage of the injury pie is just plain ol’ luck. Curtis Granderson having not one, but two bones broken by pitches this summer was bad luck. Andy Pettitte having his leg broken by a hard-hit ground ball last year was bad luck. It happens. The non-luck portion has to do with things like the team’s injury prevention strategies, the training staff, the age of the roster, etc. Age is definitely a factor — older players tend to get beat up a little bit more and they take longer to heal. The Yankees have an older roster by design and they have to deal with the injury consequences, that’s all. They make their own bed.
Health is something of a market inefficiency these days. It’s not just about who has the best players anymore. It’s about who has the best players and keeps them on the field the longest. A huge part of Robinson Cano‘s value is his durability. He’s not just a brilliant hitter and an excellent defensive player, but he plays every single day. Since he broke into the league in 2005, only Ichiro Suzuki, Miguel Cabrera, and Michael Young have played more games. Over the last five years, only Prince Fielder has played more. He’s amazing. The Yankees have struggled with injuries over the last few seasons and when it happens year after year, it’s not really a coincidence. Some teams have a knack for keeping players healthy, but New York is definitely not one of them.
“Get a little healthier,” said Joe Girardi to Anthony McCarron earlier this week when asked what the team’s first order of business was this winter. He’s not kidding. Even though the Yankees have not played a game in more than a month, they still have plenty of injured players to keep tabs on. Here’s the latest on the walking wounded, courtesy of Charles Curtis, Mike Puma, Bryan Hoch, and John Manuel:
- Derek Jeter (ankle, calf) has started lifting weights for the first time in over a year as he prepares for next season. The ankle surgery kept him from lifting last winter and I guess he wasn’t able to do anything even after returning during the summer. Will it help? Hopefully.
- CC Sabathia (hamstring) has started throwing and is working out at full strength after his season ended in late-September due to a Grade II strain. He suffered the injury six weeks ago and the initial recovery timetable was eight weeks, so apparently he’s ahead of schedule. Sabathia was expected to start a long-toss program similar to his usual offseason routine as soon as the hamstring was healthy. Elbow surgery threw off his routine off last winter.
- Outfield prospect Mason Williams missed some time this week after being hit in the face by an errant throw during Arizona Fall League play. It was a freak accident — he was in the tunnel next to the clubhouse when the ball hit him. Williams has a small cut on the bridge of his nose and has since returned to action. This year’s injuries have officially jumped the shark.