I’ve been frequenting Rob Neyer’s new gig at SB-Nation and highly recommend that you do the same. A few days ago, he referenced this SI article in which Will Carroll reports more than $1 billion has been wasted by MLB teams on injured players in the past decade. That’s a pretty astounding number. What’s even more noteworthy is Carroll’s assertion that some teams have figured out how to prevent injuries and/or recover from injuries faster than others:

A majority of teams are around average over the last decade. Many of these have major fluctuations — a year in which they’re good, followed by a year where the injuries hit more. Most around baseball would call that “part of the game” or “luck.” While it’s essentially random around the average for teams that allow it to be that way, the fact that some teams consistently stay at the top or the bottom suggest that there’s more to it than mere randomness.

Neyer agreed that this may represent a significant market inefficiency. Certainly, keeping the best players on the field most of the time is an advantageous strategy for any organization. That some teams have figured out how to do it better than others made me wonder how the Cardinals compare to the rest of the league. Using a spreadsheet provided by Jeff Zimmerman in the discussion happening on the topic at The Book’s blog, I calculated the percentage of each team’s total salary lost to injury (2002-2009).

As you can see, the Cardinals appear to fluctuate randomly year-to-year. Their 16/30 MLB team ranking might suggest that they have yet to implement a strategy that maximizes injury prevention and/or faster recovery time. I don’t know about you, but if there’s any way to heal David Freese’s ankle/foot once and for all, thus minimizing the likelihood that Nick Punto will make 400 PAs at the hot corner, I’m game. If Carroll is correct in his estimation that it would only cost teams $1 million to employ a “world class” medical staff or $50K to hire a third trainer (refer back to the comments section at The Book’s blog), something less than one-third of MLB teams actually do, the Cardinals may want to rethink their approach to injury prevention/recovery.

Andy Beard

Proud STL resident. Baseball enthusiast. Music lover. Theology thinker/reader. MA in Clinical Psych. Never met a pizza I didn't like.

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5 Responses to “Could the Cardinals Improve Injury Prevention/Recovery?”

  1. Why did you choose to use % of salary instead of DL trips? Just curious. The Cardinals only had 2 less players then the Dodgers had on DL Trips (83 to 85 respectively). However, the Reds have 103 DL trips (3rd most in the 8 year time frame) but have been “luckier” in a sense that it was a lower % of their team salary. Three other teams in the division (Hou, Pit, Mil) are all in the top 5 in baseball in terms of least DL trips.

    • I’d think games lost might be a good compromise. Just DL trips doesn’t speak to severity very well I wouldn’t think, just the frequency. Maybe both have their own unique information… Just throwing things out there.

      • Good call Steve. I was just throwing out ideas and trying to learn more about the subject. This does appear to be a spot where a team can gain a competitive advantage as the White Sox have done. Unfortunately if you look at games the Cardinals are in the bottom third of the league and are trending downward the last three years. Each column probably has its own piece of information you cant take from it. DL trips shows how good a staff is at keeping nagging injuries at bay and not forcing the player to go on the DL. Days shows how good a staff is at rehabing a injured player.

    • Nick, thanks for the comments. Sorry for my delay as I’ve had a busy couple of days.

      I chose to use percentage of salary because the articles I referenced spoke about the issue in terms of money wasted… and I didn’t want to look at total money lost because there would obviously be some noise there since large market teams are likely to hand out bigger contracts, making themselves susceptible to bigger losses.

      In hindsight, I agree that this is probably not the best way to present the data. For example, Milwaukee was regarded as the second-best team at taking advantage of injury prevention/recovery but, in my graph, they get placed in the middle. Perhaps your (and Steve’s) suggestion to break down the data in terms of trips to the DL and days lost to injury would better represent teams’ ability in this area.

      I highly encourage you (or Steve) to read through the discussion that I linked to at The Book’s blog… Sky Kalkman did something with the data that I didn’t quite follow. Maybe one of you can help me out.

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