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.