Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Injury prone, brittle and phooey

There are several discussion points or "memes" thrown around all the time that get my dander up. One of them is, "He plays to win." Gosh, athletes are competitors, so wouldn't like 97% of them play to win? Another large one lately is when a player is labeled, "injury prone" or "brittle." This last one is highly amplified by the recent free agent signings of Jacoby Ellsbury by the Yankees and Josh Johnson by the Padres. Ellsbury's signing, of course, was a big deal because of the Yankees/Red Sox angle and that the deal was so large and for seven years. Ellsbury was quickly stated by many to be injury prone. I have heard of measuring skill sets. But measuring a guy's ability to stay healthy? Come on.

Josh Johnson has missed a significant number of starts in four of his eight full big league seasons. Thus he is injury prone. Scott Kazmir miss years and had lost his fastball before he disappeared. So he is injury prone. What are we measuring here? Are we saying that some guys were born with more of a dark cloud over the heads? Are we saying that some guys are babies who go on the disabled list for every other thing? Do some players have a disposition to get hurt? Coco Crisp comes to mind there the way he throws his body all over the outfield when he plays out there. But even so, how much are injuries just random, freak events?

2013 was a banner year for injuries according to a great story by Jeff Zimmerman of According to Zimmerman's data, there were 29,504 days lost by players to the disabled list. That is astounding. I found a different way of looking at it.

If there are eight position players on each team and there are thirty teams, that leaves 240 possible times where a player can play in 150 games (I didn't count the DH). Obviously, there are platoon situations that prevent that happening and some players prove to be poor during the season and are replaced. So that prevents many from playing in 150 or more games. What would you say that figure to be? Maybe half? Less than half?

According to some research I did last night, only 62 position players (ie, non-pitchers) played 150 games or more. That is some 25.8% of the total possible. Obviously, injuries play a factor. I also counted how many of those 62 were players aged 30 and higher. Only 21 of those guys played 150 games or more.

According to my data, the last three years have shown a sharp decrease in both areas. Here is my data:

Players over 30
Year  > 149 games  > 149 gms
2013 62 21
2012 64 26
2011 62 16
2010 74 29
2009 73 23
2008 67 24
2007 74 29
2006 74 24
2005 71 28
2004 69 28
2003 73 24
2002 75 21
2001 74 24
2000 75 30
1999 72 35
1998 90 38
1997 75 29
1996 74 31

And here it is in graph form:

The amount of players over 30 has decreased from the peak days of 1998 and 1999. Is this a PED thing? Perhaps. And from 1996 to 2003, the amount of total players over 150 games was always over 70. The last three years, that has shrunk to 62, 64 and 62 respectively. 

Looking over this data and combining it with Zimmerman's stuff just reinforces the idea that a lot of players are getting hurt. This stuff just happens. Occasionally, you get a player where it seems to happen a lot. There is Tulowitzki and even Brett Gardner. In the past, George Brett and Mickey Mantle were considered injury prone.

I consider most of these players to have been unfortunate. They have missed more than their share of games due to injury. Does that mean they are injury prone? Or does that just mean they have been unlucky?

And does such bad luck predict what will happen in the future? Unless it is a chronic injury such as Nick Johnson's wrist or Mantle's knee, I don't think that is fair or accurate. The odds of the Tulowitzki, Gardner, Johnson and, yeah, Ellsbury staying healthy in 2014 and each year beyond seem just the same as not. 

Players get hurt all the time. They hit the bags wrong when they slide or step on them. The dive and bounce off walls. They fall into seats. They get hit by pitches. These all seem random. I'm not a good numbers guy. I cannot give you foolproof data. But from my perspective, this injury prone stuff is all phooey. And every time somebody says that a guy is injury prone and it has nothing to do with a chronic problem, my teeth will continue to grit. 

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