When Troy Tulowitski went down with a broken rib Thursday night, there had been 285 players on the disabled list this season who had combined to miss more than 10,000 days. “One of the biggest factors in the game today is the injury rate,” Billy Beane has uttered for two years, now. “The healthiest and deepest teams win.”
In Beane’s case, he saw this coming a couple of years ago, and combined with the exhaustion factor—schedule, weather, getaway night games, the enforcement of no amphetamine rules—saw that pennant races can be decided by young, talented, deep teams. Long term deals for players in their thirties may become increasingly scarce; injuries and the banning of HGH, which many of the anti-doping leaders claimed postponed the normal eyesight aging that begins in ones’ mid-thirties, are considered, and not just by a team like the Angels that in 2016 will have $95M tied up in five players well into their thirties.
But what we also have is an extraordinary number of oblique, rib cage, abdominal and other strains that were unheard of 25 years ago. In the last week, a half-dozen general managers have said that they are studying whether players today don’t work out too much. “Is it necessary to do the weight room work they do during the season, especially when they’re getting to hotels at 6 am on travel days?” asks one of those GMs. “Then look at their off-seasons. A lot of players never give their bodies time to recover, and they’re back in full training a week or two after they’re done with their seasons. They’re hitting and throwing in December, or early January. Does the body actually recover?”
This was not true in the past. In 1986, Ted Williams and Wade Boggs were riding in the backseat of my rental car from Winter Haven to Clearwater, Fla. to meet Don Mattingly and have a long dinner spent talking hitting. Going across the Courtney Campbell Causeway, Williams asked Boggs about his off-season routine. Boggs said he took two weeks off, then started hitting and training.
“I never picked up a bat in the off-season,” Williams said. “Looking back, I wish I had. Maybe I could have hit a helluva lot better.”
I almost drove into Tampa Bay, I was laughing so hard.
Giancarlo Stanton has been searching for reasons he has had assorted injuries, and it had been suggested that perhaps his body cannot take his 250 pounds when his body fat is 4%. There are several other cases like that.”
“It starts with the kids,” says one scout. “The teenage kids today play year round. They have fall schedules. They all go to showcases all over the country, year-round.” In fact, this weekend, just after high school seasons and tournaments finished and the draft is a week old, there is the first huge showcase in Minneapolis for kids all across the country. We all love hearing about a kid from Gainesville, Georgia named Michael Gettys who has such a strong arm that a radar gun got him at 100 MPH throwing from the outfield. We love hearing that there is a host of “big” arms. A few years ago Dr. James Andrews talked about the incredible escalation in the summer of surgeries he performs on teenage baseball players. “It’s almost as if we like drafting a kid who just had Tommy John Surgery,” says one scouting director. “Because most of these kids play and throw so much under so much scrutiny that we know sooner or later, they’ll blow out. So better to get them pre-blowout that post-blowout.”
Oblique pulls are now part of everyday conversations. Double-A prospects miss time with torn abdominal muscles. “I know we’re having a complete review of our developmental and major league workout programs,” says one general manager. “It’s a constant conversation piece in our business. I think a lot of decision-makers look at games played per season before they look at Wins Above Replacement.”