The real nice thing about having Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke in the same starting rotation, aside from all the wins, is that they allow a team to lose two key starters for the season — Hyun-Jin Ryu to a shoulder injury suffered in spring training and a Brandon McCarthy to Tommy John Surgery after just four starts — without it crippling the team. The Dodgers would’ve preferred Ryu and McCarthy stay healthy, but with top-end talent like the Dodgers had, a lot can go wrong for things to still go right.
This year, the Dodgers had a chance to retain Greinke, but they narrowly missed out, with Greinke heading to Arizona. Whether or not they “missed out” on guys like David Price and Johnny Cueto doesn’t matter; the point is, those guys play for different teams, too. Without Greinke, the Dodgers rotation will be much different than it was in 2015, but in certain ways, it will be very much the same.
You start with Clayton Kershaw. We’re talking pitching here, so you always start with Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw is the best in the world and he’s got a clean bill of health when it comes to his arm, so there’s no better place to start. But after Kershaw, there’s still Ryu, who’s clearly an injury risk, and there’s still McCarthy, who’s clearly an injury risk, and there’s still Brett Anderson, who made 31 healthy starts last year, but made just 32 starts the past four years combined, and so he’s clearly an injury risk.
The Dodgers knew that’s what they had going into the offseason, and their first move to address the rotation, having missed out on the top flight arms, was an attempt to sign Hisashi Iwakuma. Iwakuma’s 34 years old, had an injury history in Japan and hit the disabled list last year, so he’s clearly an injury risk. So much so, in fact, that he failed his physical and the Dodgers decided to move on.
The guy they moved on to ended up being Scott Kazmir, who signed a similar contract to the one the Dodgers were prepared to give Iwakuma. When you think Scott Kazmir, you probably think injury risk. Granted, Kazmir’s averaged 31 starts a year over the past three seasons and has avoided the disabled list, so most recently, he’s been something resembling durable. Yet, still, there’s been the occasional skipped start due to shoulder concerns or early, precautionary removal due to tricep tightness and of course the three years of injuries that derailed Kazmir’s career and left him jobless, not too long ago. After all, the best predictor of future injury is past injury. While he’s been healthy lately, we’ll never live in a world where Scott Kazmir isn’t considered an injury risk.
So, to quickly recap, after Kershaw, the Dodgers had three injury question marks, who they tried to tandem with an injury question mark, but when that didn’t work, they went out and got a different injury question mark. Got it. With that in mind, let’s look at some numbers and graphs.
Given the nature of Ryu and McCarthy’s season-ending surgeries last year, it probably wouldn’t surprise you to learn that the Dodgers lost more days to the disabled list from their pitchers than any team in baseball last season. They also had the most individual trips to the disabled list, by pitchers. So, that’s last year. What about the last three years?
The last three years of days lost to injuries:
The last five years:
How about 15?
Since forever, the Dodgers have been experiencing injuries as often as any team in the game. It’s been that way for the past couple decades, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.
Which is interesting, because Stan Conte was the Dodgers longtime director of medical services, and if there’s any trainer whose name you know, it’s probably Conte’s. Before resigning to focus on research and consulting, Conte earned an impressive reputation over his 20-plus years in the game, and has long been considered to be on the forefront of injury prediction and prevention technology.
You’d think the team with the renowned medical staff and the unlimited capital to invest in cutting-edge technology might have the injury thing figured out, to an extent, yet the numbers are what they are. I should have mentioned earlier in the post that there won’t be a real conclusion here. This is just thinking out loud.
Most of what we’ve heard about the Dodgers’ advancements in the medical field have been in the last half-decade or so, and perhaps that should simply be viewed as a response to their already decade-long run as one of the most injury-prone teams in baseball. The results don’t yet match the publicity because the team’s investments in the new technology haven’t had the time to pay off. Perhaps also there’s something of a selection bias in the data, in that larger market teams like the Dodgers are more active in free agency, and free agents are older players by necessity, and older players are more likely to get hurt.
Above all else, maybe the Dodgers just don’t care as much about injuries as other teams? That sounds bad. Of course the Dodgers want their players to stay healthy — that’s why they’re doing all they’re doing to advance their knowledge of injuries. But the Dodgers currently have the most money, and have always had a lot of it. That means each dollar lost to an injury matters less to the Dodgers than it does any other team. That’s why a team like the Dodgers can afford to guarantee $10 million to Brett Anderson even though he hadn’t been healthy in three years. If he blows out his arm again, oh well, what’s $10 million to the Dodgers? If he’s healthy in 2015, like he was, then they get 180 quality innings from a 27-year-old lefty and huge surplus value.
If there’s any team who can commit dollars to a risk without feeling the pressure of that liability, it’s the Dodgers. Maybe that’s why they’ve dedicated so many resources toward injury technology — because they know they’ll continue to take risks on injury-prone guys. If the guy goes down, there are always backup resources to be used in an effort to patch the hole, and in the meantime, there’s cutting-edge medical procedures waiting for you in the training room to aid your recovery. If the guy stays healthy, the return is well worth the risk. With the overwhelming number of injuries the Dodgers have dealt with in recent history, and the overwhelming number of injury risks just in their current starting rotation, maybe on the surface it doesn’t make sense to invest money in another risk like Kazmir. On the other hand, maybe it’s just part of the plan?
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