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Blue Jays Pitchers Injured at Record Pace?

The news came down yesterday: The Blue Jays’ Drew Hutchison will undergo Tommy John surgery, and Dustin McGowan will have arthroscopic shoulder surgery. By itself, the news wasn’t very remarkable — McGowan has been injury-riddled his entire career, and elbow surgeries are relatively commonplace.

Except that Hutchison will be the third pitcher on the Jays to get Tommy John surgery this season. He’ll be the sixth pitcher to go under the knife, period. The devastation has been so complete in Toronto that they might be on their way to setting records.

First it was Jesse Litsch that went down — he never made it to Opening Day and eventually needed biceps tendon surgery. A month later, Dustin McGowan went down. His surgery was just scheduled. Around that same time, Sergio Santos reported some shoulder issues. He tried to rehab the pain away, but couldn’t, and ended up having shoulder surgery. Ryota Igarashi had a month-long hamstring strain before he hit waivers.

June was the real crucible for the Jays. Brandon Morrow went down June 12th, and has since lost two months to that oblique injury. June 14th, Kyle Drabek hit the disabled list on his way to Tommy John surgery. June 15th, Robert Coello felt some elbow inflammation that has kept him out since. June 16th, Drew Hutchison went on the schneid. For the record, that’s two Tommy John surgeries and four months of non-TJ missed time, all discovered in a one-week span.

The upshot of all of this is that the Jays have already lost 711 pitcher days to the DL so far this year. If you add in the days that they will lose to surgery, they’ll lose at least 1045 pitcher days this season. No team has lost as many as 1000 over the last couple of years. If you go back to 2002, you’ll see that the team is an oblique strain or two away from the top of the leaderboard:

Year Team Days on DL DL Trips
2002 Padres 1139 19
2004 Rangers 1101 18
2007 Royals 1064 15
2008 Braves 1010 18
2010 Nationals 992 11

There’s a slight caveat to these totals — they don’t include pitchers that never threw a pitch for their team that season. So players like Jesse Litsch wouldn’t appear here. But two things are immediately clear: Blue Jays pitchers are going down at an alarming (but not record-breakingly) rate this year, and they’ve done so with fewer trips to the DL. That means that when a Blue Jays pitcher has gone down this year, he’s gone down hard. Watch out, Jason Frasor.

The average DL expectancy for a pitcher is around 50 days once he hits the DL, so with 11 trips to the DL, the team should have expected 581 days missed. They’ll end up about twice as worse off. Given historical records, this seems to be within the normal ebb and flow and just due to the vagaries of chance, and not due to some organizational philosophy.

Another good sign is that those top five most-injured staffs since 2002 all bounced back the next season. Those five clubs averaged 543 days missed the year after they all topped 980 innings missed. The Blue Jays shouldn’t expect to miss as many days next year as they did this season. That would be a record.

Those facts — that the Blue Jays aren’t quite setting injury records, and that they should be fine next season — don’t quite help it hurt any less this season, on the other hand.