The Tuesday Discussion: The Plethora of Injuries…
This week we asked our writers:
What is with all the Yankees injuries? Is this just bad luck? Is it poor conditioning? Is there another factor at play? What is your take?
Lincoln Mitchell: Some of the Yankees who got hurt this year, like Stanton and Sabathia were either old or injury prone, but that does not explain what happened in 2019. My sense is that looking at it through only the lens of this team, this year, it seems very unlikely it was simply bad luck. However, when you expand the scope and realize that there have been somewhere between 24-30 teams for each of the last fifty years, meaning considerably more than 1,000 team seasons over that period, it seems likely that eventually some team was going to run into luck as bad as what the Yankees faced this year. As unsatisfying as it sounds, these injuries are most likely bad luck.
Matthew Cohen: I highly doubt that given the resources that the Yankees pour into this kind of thing that this is the result of poor conditioning.
On the pitching side, (Severino, Montgomery, Betances, Loaisiga) I’d tend to refer us all to the old saw that “young pitching will break your heart every time.”
As far as the hitters (Judge, Sanchez, Stanton, Hicks and Andujar) I would note that the first 3 are really large human beings who swing the bat really hard. I have no evidence to support this but I would not be surprised if they were found to be more injury prone than smaller players who rely more on pure athleticism. Hicks has been injury prone his entire career. Andujar was just bad luck.
Sometimes you have bad years like this. I would point out the magnificent job that Brian Cashman has done in assembling a team that has done as well as the Yankees have despite the injuries.
Michael Saffer: I have a few thoughts on this topic. First, teams provide trainers for the players to maintain top physical abilities during and after the season. Many players have their own private trainer as well. People that exercise know the risks of overdoing it. Perhaps teams need to look into the risks of players having their own personal trainer along with the team trainer.
Next, we are watching a generation of players that grew up playing baseball all year. Keith Hernandez once said that it is important to play different sports to work out different muscle groups. Perhaps we are seeing the downside of playing one sport all year.
Andy Singer: Baseball is a grind – players prepare to play a minimum of 162 games per year, plus 1 month’s worth of Spring Training games, and some playoff games (if they’re lucky!). Save for maybe a 4-6 week shutdown after the season, players are putting the stress of baseball-related activities and conditioning on their bodies year-round. Yes, I realize that a player’s job is to play baseball and that we should expect them to be able to come to work, but the reality is that players are putting a significant amount of wear and tear on their bodies in order to play the modern game. Based on this rigorous schedule, I expect more injuries throughout the year than even a decade ago.
That said, what the Yankees have experienced this year is almost beyond belief. Everyone has either read or heard me say that pitcher is a Greek word for “breaks often,” but even some of the pitching injuries this season require closer scrutiny. Luis Severino has a high-effort delivery and throws hard, so it is not necessarily surprising that he sustained a significant strain while ramping up during Spring Training. However, there is no question but that his rehab process left something to be desired, particularly given the decision to allow him to begin throwing off of a mound without giving him an MRI for no other stated reason than Sevy doesn’t like MRI tubes. Maybe Sevy would have been back earlier without that kind of error and maybe he wouldn’t have, but the process was clearly flawed, even from the outside. I also believe that it was egregious that Betances was never told that he had a structural issue with his shoulder (impingement) since the Yankees signed him as a teenager. Again, that may not have changed Betances’ return timeline, but it does speak to gaps in the process.
On the player injury side, we have certainly seen far more injuries than ever could be reasonably expected throughout the course of the 2019 season. Bad luck certainly plays a factor here, but given the sheer number of serious injuries the Yankees have sustained this season, I think a full review of the Yankees’ training procedures and medical oversight is required. I am not a doctor, nor am I a trainer, and do not know what specific protocols have been observed in the cases of each injured Yankee this season. Here is what we can see from the outside: some players have experienced significant setbacks during rehabilitation protocols; the Yankees have often publicly underestimated return timelines; and a higher volume of players are getting hurt when compared to the rest of the league.
We can’t say definitively that the training or medical staff is solely to blame based on anything that is public information, but I think we’ve reached the point where something more than luck is at play here. No one thing is to blame, but I think the Yankees will need to review all options this off-season, even if it means shake-ups with regards to personnel or protocols in training, recovery, and treatment.
Ethan Semendinger: Nobody in baseball can deny that the Yankees have had extremely poor luck with the injury bug this year, and unfortunately, the cause of this cannot be denied or ignored. The lack of knowledge of the behind the scenes work of both the medical and training staffs makes it extremely hard to properly evaluate where things are going wrong. Personally, I think it is wishful thinking and a little naive for us to believe that this is all due to bad luck, as there has to be some logical reasoning as to why injuries continue to compile, especially for those previously injured.
A few years back issues arose with Greg Bird that had him miss the entire 2016 season, where new medical diagnoses continued to delay his rehab and subsequent return. It was frustrating to continue to hear that Bird, “would be back soon,” when days later something new seemed to continuously arise. The same thing happened with Mark Teixeira in the years before as well.
It’s unknown what happened to those staffers in charge of the diagnosis of either player, but those two scenarios were red flags. The unfortunate thing is that this year we’ve seen these issues with Gary Sanchez, and Giancarlo Stanton, and other key contributors to the team, where they are either rushed back too soon and get re-injured or continue to have set-backs that keep delaying them further.
Somehow, the Yankees are holding it together and adding new pieces (Montgomery, Betances, and soon Severino) and I think it would be best not to interrupt was has brought the best record in the MLB. However, something new needs to happen this off-season so that the “Next Man Up” mentality becomes a relic of the 2019 season, as the “Thumbs Down Guy” and “Toe-Night Show” were for 2017.
Patrick Gunn: There’s definitely some bad luck involved, like Encarnacion getting hit in the wrist with a pitch, Gio Urshela fouling a ball off both of his shins in the same at-bat, and Andujar hurting his shoulder on a slide. I’m not sure if I can say conditioning is the issue since most of the players hurt were completely fine last year. I think there’s a ton to say that better conditioning could have prevented all of these injuries, since, for example Judge and Stanton both have histories of getting hurt and several players who have spent their entire careers healthy have gotten injured this year. The Yankees somehow found away to get so many players hurt at the same time. It’s unfortunate, but thankfully the Yankees have had the depth to survive.