By Michael Levitt
To many baseball fans, it seems like there are more injuries this year than there usually are in the first month of the season. Part of it may be that many well-known players are getting hurt, whereas in a normal year, players who get hurt are ones that play lesser roles for their teams and are not as in the public eye.
Many well-known players have gotten hurt since spring training started, including San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto and Toronto Blue Jays outfielder George Springer. Not only did Tatis Jr. sign a massive extension during the offseason that will keep him in San Diego for the next 14 years, but he is also one of the young stars of the game and could be considered the leader of the “there should not be unwritten rules” group of players. Soto has been compared to baseball great Ted Williams for his hitting prowess and ability to avoid strikeouts, so losing him for any amount of time is huge for the Nationals. Springer was one of the best free agents of the offseason and he finally made his Blue Jays debut last week, which should be a big boost to Toronto’s lineup.
One of the possible reasons for more players getting hurt is because of the pandemic. Last season was one of the worst in recent memory for baseball injuries, according to a recent study, with an average of 8.66 injuries per 1000 athlete-exposures (defined as one rostered player for one game). Both 2018 and 2019 were around five injuries per 100 athlete-exposures, so it was a significant increase. It will probably go down a bit this season as it is closer to a full season, but there is still cause for concern because of the vast differences last season caused for players.
The number of injuries this season is not counting players who missed time due to coronavirus protocols. Practically a whole team could be made of players who have had to miss time because of the protocols, so that makes even more players who are missing time, albeit for safety rather than injury. That could make it feel like more players are getting hurt than normal since they are not on the active roster, which unconsciously impact fans’ minds.
The 2020 season was a shortened one, so players did not get a full offseason to prepare for the season before it started. They had a full offseason before spring training started the first time, but after it was shut down, players did not get game experience for months. The season ended on time, so they had a regular offseason in preparation for this season, but that was not the only issue.
Another issue that was caused by last year’s shortened season was that pitchers did not get a full season’s workload, which could hurt them this year. Not only were most starting pitchers not built up enough at the start of last season, but all pitchers (both starting and relief) also did not get a full season to pitch. This mainly affects starting pitchers but can affect relief pitchers as well. Teams typically try to keep starting pitchers to roughly the same workload season after season once they reach a typical starting pitcher’s workload, and last season threw a wrench in that for all starting pitchers. Pitchers who normally throw 200 innings in a season threw about 80 innings last year, so teams are being more cautious with most pitchers this year. It could make more of an impact on pitchers later in the season since the leader in innings thrown this year is below 80 innings. Not every pitcher is the same so it might affect some pitchers more than others, and teams will most likely be more cautious with some pitchers than others.
To combat the limited workloads of pitchers last season, more teams are using six-man rotations this year and giving pitchers an extra day of rest every now and then. This should help lower how many injuries there are this year, but it remains to be seen if that is a correct hypothesis. In general, teams are giving players more rest days than they normally are, most likely so they can stay healthy and help the team compete for the playoffs.
It is still early to determine if there are more injuries than past years. It can be compared through this point, but it is only one month into the season, so there is plenty of time for the frequency to correct itself. The most injuries usually happen in April as some players are getting back into the swing of a season, but that could change this year depending on how players are affected by last year’s shortened season.
Edited by Emma Moloney