A report from Science Daily (whose logo actually kind of resembles the San Diego Padres’) has produced some new information about injuries in baseball – specifically, to whom they happen and where they most frequently happen. In the study, they analyzed players’ stints on the DL from 2002-2008. Some of the tidbits:
Pitchers are more likely to get hurt than fielders
No kidding, right? If you read FanGraphs, then you’ve no doubt seen their Trade Value Top 50 series that ran in the last few days. Mentioned a few times in there is that position players got a bump in value because they’re considered safer bets to stay healthy; what’s not mentioned is that pitchers are 34% more likely to get hurt than fielders.
When pitchers get hurt, they’re hurt longer
In terms of proportions, pitchers who hit the DL spent 62.4% of the season there while fielders clocked in at 37.6%. Considering that season-ending surgeries (e.g. Tommy John) occur more frequently in pitchers, it makes sense that their average would be higher than fielders’. Xavier Nady might have a thing or two to say about that, though.
An overwhelming number of injuries happen before the All-Star Game
Since most of the season happens before the All-Star Game, it is to be expected that more injuries would happen in the first part of the season. What’s surprising is how many of them do: 74.4%. Which…wow. Both pitchers (76.7%) and fielders (71.1%) suffer a ton more injuries before the break.
Percent of injuries by body area: 51.4% upper extremities, 30.6% lower extremities, 7.4% back, 4.3% core
Another seemingly disproportionate number. Upper extremities – i.e. arms, shoulders, wrists and hands – do often seem to be the culprit when a player hits the deel, but over half the time? Considering all the hamstring and groin and back and oblique strains? 67% of pitcher injuries occurred in the upper extremities, bee tee dubs.
Pitchers may not get injured because of high workloads during the season
This report seems to suggest that they don’t. As I just mentioned, 67% of pitcher injuries happen in the upper extremities. Of those injuries, 79% happen before the All-Star Game. Which, taken to its natural extension, could suggest that pitching isn’t dangerous because pitchers throw so many innings but rather because…well, because it’s a dangerous act. The body isn’t really meant to be hurling baseballs 90+ mph or snapping off sliders; doing so can cause an injury after one pitch or after one season. Ask Joe Nathan, who tore his UCL before the season even began, or what’s left of Tony Saunders‘ left arm.
The article really says all that needs to be said about the injuries, but it’s certainly interesting to see them researched more thoroughly than they have been before. As a sabermetrically-minded gentleman (used loosely) myself, this also raises questions about regression to the mean – viz, what kind of distribution do we see here, and are there teams that are more likely to get hurt than others? Could that be traced to the early-season weather, or are there teams who are better than others at preventing this early-season spike in injuries? How much of this data is skewed by the introduction of September roster expansion and teams not wanting to put players on the DL during the pennant race? Will Carroll at Baseball Prospectus has often said that health is a skill, but this report raises questions about what skill it is, exactly, that could help a player avoid the spring injury bug and play through the relatively safe dog days of summer.