goinspillar

Chad Jenkins. Todd Redmond. Neil Wagner. Josh Thole. Ryan Goins. Munenori Kawasaki. Anthony Gose. Kevin Pillar. Moises Sierra.

No matter what you think of the individual players, the fact that all of those names currently occupy the same Major League Baseball active roster is astonishing. This wasn’t how it was drawn up. Not even close.

The Toronto Blue Jays have had to reach very deep on their depth chart this season. It’s been ugly at times, and the Buffalo Bisons likely don’t appreciate it in the midst of a playoff push in the International League. But it is what it is, and the Jays have been hammered with injuries throughout the year.

If it all feels oddly familiar, it should, because it’s not really a one-year blip. In fact, you could go so far as to call it a systemic issue since 2011.

That’s because, for the third straight season, the Jays are leading the league in number of pitchers used. It’s also the third straight season where they’re within spitting distance of the leaders for total players used.

Year Most Plrs # Jays Plrs Most Pitch #
2013 Chc/Mia/Nyy 50 49 Tor 29
2012 Bos 56 54 Tor 34
2011 Col 55 53 Tor 30

Fingers could certainly be pointed at a number of different culprits. The training staff, the pitching coach, and a lack of major league-ready talent in the organization could all be behind the trend. Regardless of the cause, it’s readily evident that the Jays have some sort of issue keeping players on the field for extended periods of time.

It’s pretty damn unlikely that an extreme performance three years in a row is simple variance (and this is backed up by the fact that, looking at the past 10 years, teams tend to repeat on the leaderboards, though none have three-peated as “champion of depth testing” like the Jays are vying to do).

What’s concerning, too, is that it’s not a matter of the league becoming more injury prone. The following graph charts the Jays’ total player usage against the league average since 2004. Notice how the Jays have spiked without an accompanying spike in the league rate of player usage.

blakegraph

To reiterate, the Jays have had a major spike in the number of players used while the league average has held steady, and it’s something new since 2011.

It’s worth repeating that this might not entirely be due to injuries. A team could conceivably go through a large number of players if its crop of “replacement players” were either very poor or very interchangeable. However, the Jays were sixth in total disabled list days in 2012, and sixth in average days lost from 2010 to 2012. While the data is incomplete for 2013, your memory should serve as a fine ledger for this year’s DL situation. The bulk of this heavy player usage appears to come from injuries.

And it’s clearly an issue. It’s damn near impossible to effectively plot out a season if injuries are not surprises but rather expected bumps in the road. The Jays have had to go 50 players deep on their depth chart for three straight years, essentially deploying a full Triple-A team each year. Most teams use their whole 40-man roster, sure, but the Jays have essentially needed to add 10 bodies to their 40-man each season just to get by.

For all the talk that comes from the organization about the value of waiver claims and organizational depth, it doesn’t appear to have helped much. Perhaps the situation would be worse without the likes of Chien Ming-Wang and Ramon Ortiz and Thad Weber eating a few innings, but it’s hard to imagine how.

Of course, it’s difficult to just invest against injury via depth. Cash spent on reserves is cash that most people would argue is better invested in the players expected to play. And while the organizational depth was being heralded in recent years, before it got to the point of being ready as a stash of reserves, the depth took a hit to bolster the main roster.

It’s difficult, too, to suggest how to fix it. The turf at Rogers Centre is probably to blame for some of the more minor injuries that occur to position players, but it’s not as if it can be ripped up and replaced – and if it were the primary cause, why the spike in roster depletion starting in 2011, and not 2010 when FieldTurf was changed to AstroTurf Gameday Grass, whatever the hell that means?

It would be nice if there were a simple answer. The smart assumption is that the organization is acutely aware of the issue and working to fix it. But as 2013 has hammered home, the best laid plans often go astray. It’s likely the organization will trumpet some sort of fix to the issue this offseason, and it’s probably also likely that the number of players used will decline in 2014, because how could it not.

And hey, in the meantime, there’s something to root for. 2013 Toronto Blue Jays: We have the most major leaguers in the narrowest definition of the term.

Comments (73)

  1. Then fire everyone on the staff then If you think you have the answers to everything wrong related to injuries . It isn’t always as cut and dry as you think it could be. Bad luck could also be a huge factor. You can’t kick out the Argos because they won’t move anywhere else. For the foreseeable future I think the jays just need to have better luck

    • Ok boys, here’s the plan for 2014: Better luck! Flawless! Offseason done!

    • @Jay22, you make your own luck in this world

    • Did you make it past the title?

    • “Bad luck could also be a factor.”

      Well it could if they were league leaders in injuries for a single year rather than a trend towards being so every year for the last 3 years. When the latter is the case, as it is, it becomes wildly improbable that luck alone is to blame, which is kind of the point of the whole article.

    • Stoeten, is that you?

  2. I don’t really agree with the lens here.

    “Total players used” could have more to do with a trigger happy GM * an inability to identify productive talent than systemic injury problems.

    Even if the Jays were #1 in DL time in a 3 year span, that doesn’t mean they have a systemic issue. It could just mean that they got the most unlucky. I mean, somebody has to be last.

    So given that they are more like 6th or whatever in DL days lost, I’d be more inclined to say that the total # of players used is a function of Anthopoulos’ demonstrated roster move impatience, multiplied by an (arguable) inability to identify productive talent.

    • I’m kind of with you.

      I think there’s some noise in the main data being used to conclude that the injury problems are systematic, some of which, I think just has to do with the approach of the GM.

      Besides injuries, there are other factors with the Jays why their numbers of players used would be so high. For one, it was just a few months ago, in happier times, when the discussion was AA was over-tinkering with the roster via waiver claims. That would have added to the total. Plus, coupled with ineffectiveness of the rotation, the team has been shuffling in long relievers in-and-out for much of the last two years.

      Going back further, and seeing teams like Miami and the Cubs appear on this list, it also says something about roster construction. Not to say that injuries haven’t played a big role, but another major factor, before this year at least, had to have been the number of young players that had options, allowing them to make frequent roster moves.

      Not saying the injuries aren’t an obvious problem, and there definitely could be a systematic issue – be it the turf, talent identification, risk or health management, etc. – but I think there’s a bit of a conclusion being jumped to.

      Don’t get me wrong, I did really enjoy the piece and the insights!

  3. Could just be bad luck. Even for 3 years.

    Although I have no idea. It’s probably a bunch of different factors.

  4. Yeah, and Matt Harvey too! Wait, no…

    Really. Josh Johnson is systematic? Or is that the Jays tend to pick up players with a higher history of injury risk. And pitchers get injured – Matt Harvey??

  5. It’s an interesting thought experiment, whether it’s systemic or just plain luck. But repeated data year after year suggests systemic, doesn’t it?

    There probably isn’t data at the minor league levels, but that’d be more support for the organization being a problem. If it wasn’t, then there’s support for replacing that god-awful turf.

    Does it seem like there’s been a lot of back injuries? Would that be more turf related? Bautista, Lind, and Dickey have all struggled with back injuries with the Jays.

  6. Not sure how and if they affect the analysis, but some things worth considering.

    1) Re: number of players, the poor record of the team. If they were in playoff contention maybe some guys would be playing through late season injuries or wouldn’t be shut down for the year. I don’t remember the exact circumstances of Bautista’s reaggravation, but maybe he wouldn’t have opted for surgery until the end of 2012, if the Jays were in a playoff race.

    2) Re: DL days. The timing of injuries: Drabek, Hutchison, and Perez all got Tommy John’d with nearly 4 months of the season left. That leads to nearly 1.5 years of DL time each. Someone with a late season Tommy John like Matt Harvey may only account for 1.1 years of DL time even if he doesn’t pitch again until 2015. Similarly, Jose Reyes suffers a catastrophic ankle injury 10 games in and is DL’d for 75 days or so. If someone suffers the exact same injury tomorrow and they only account for the 30 days or so left in the year. Then there’s Dustin McGowan who may singlehandedly be responsible for the Jays numbers in all 3 years.

    • When it comes to the team being bad though, part of that is because OF injuries and lost time. I don’t think the Jays would be as bad as they are this season if Reyes, Lawrie, Bautista, Rasmus, Melky, JJ, Delabar, Oliver, etc hadn’t spent time on the DL. So while it doesn’t tell the whole story, injuries ARE part of those poor records.

      • Drabek Hutch and Perez spent the same time more or less as every TJ injured player does. Over the span of the last 10 years, The Rays have had 3 pitchers go down with TJ surgery. The problem is, the Jays have too many TJ surgeries. PERIOD.

  7. Interesting…I wonder how much more you can slice the data to find anything that’s changed since the time period spike.

    If it were a systemic issue, there would be similar issues at minor league team levels too – i.e. more injuries or players used than the league.

    For pitchers, I’d want to know if age, pitch repertoire, velocity, etc. factor in (i.e. are guys like Morrow, Johnson, Hutchinson, Drabek, etc. more similar than guys who have stayed healthy, in any way?)

    For hitters, is there an approach or plane of swing tendency that results in wrist or oblique injuries more than is normal? or conditioning, where the leaner more physical specimen guys like Lawrie/Bautista/Rasmus are more prone to a specific type of injury.

    • The pitch repertoire is something that really needs to be looked at. In particular, compare it to that of the Rays or other organizations that seem to have much fewer pitcher injuries (White Sox, perhaps)

      If you look at Miguel Cabrerar’s or Chris Davis’ swing, there is hardly a stride and the swing is smooth and fluid. EE is somewhat similar with the short stride, but his swing much more violent. Bautista is a completely different animal with the high leg kick and a tremendously violent swing. Is that a factor? Don’t see how it could not be.

  8. Bad luck I doubt it 3 years in a row.

    Maybe bringing up guys before they are ready? Sounds more plausible.

    • I don’t see how playing in the majors (ignoring the possible effects of turf) is any more physically demanding than playing in the minors.

  9. Fire that creepy trainer bloke the camera always shows in the dugout. hes got slicked back hair and a scare that would frighten jack the ripper.

  10. It’s probably the free health care in Canada. Players wait to admit injuries, in hopes of eventually playing in Toronto, where they can get there lingering injuries dealt with for free.

  11. The sample sized is too small to derive significant confidence in any conclusions. Also, the statistics presented as evidence are weak, if not misleading.

    • All the statisticians and bad luck people are missing at least one obvious fact: The Rays and the White Sox have been at the opposite end of the injury continuum for a few years now. If the Jays want fewer injuries they should examine what those 2 teams do. It wouldn’t hurt to hire a few of their people away and install real turf too.

  12. Players recognize the lack of a winning culture here in T.O, and therefore if they are ever acquired by the Jays, they simply decide to heal up their battered bodies, so they are ready to go once they get moved out.

    • Hey Steve, you see my article on firing Gibby? Man, its fun to make asinine linkages to support public opinion in order to gain page views eh. I’m getting almost as good as you.

      It’s a sad weekend though; after the US Open is done, the only sport I remotely know anything about is over for another year :(

      But we will always have shit to make up about the Leafs, and added bonus this year – our “expert” opinions on team Canada.

      I pity the fools who decided not to become sports writers. Easiest. Job. Ever.

  13. An interesting starting point for analysis. Thanks for the lunchtime read.

    Something that may shed light while addressing concerns I’m seeing in the comments is a comparison against similar/dissimilar teams. For example the Rays, a team that 1)Plays on turf, 2)Has notably fewer DL stints, especially among pitchers, and 3)Has a reputation for roster tinkering, taking flyers on players, and giving minor leaguers their chance in the Show.

  14. I do find it a little ironic that whenever the fact that these systematic injuries were mentioned in this blog before, it was usually always equated to shit luck and randomness, and those that pondered the possibility of anything more were quickly shot down and had their intelligence questioned.

    Just a slight point that perhaps we should all be a little more open-minded.

  15. Get these guys on grass!

    • That will totally fix the pitchers’ arms!

      Though it will improve my enjoyment of attending games.

  16. Interesting article.
    I must say though IMO, I find it hard to believe that the pitchers injuries are anything other then a run of bad luck.

    The Jays have a wide variety of pitching coaches at every level that have served throughout baseball in other organizations. It seems far fetched to me that once under the umbrella of the Toronto Blue Jays that they all adopted an approach that contributes to pitcher arm injuries.

    And for those saying that it could be due to the Jays “rushing prospects”, to me this would contribute to the kids getting bloated ERA’s and injured ego’s but I can’t see how it suddenly makes their limbs more frail. There isn’t a sudden new friction that acts on a pitcher’s elbow once he makes the jump from AAA to MLB.

    I could definitely buy the turf as being a factor to positional players being injured. But as noted above the Rays play on turf and have had significantly less injuries.

    Some of the big contributors to the lost man games can be explained away: You can’t prepare for a pitcher getting hit in the head with a line drive, you have to kind of expect a 40 year old Ortiz to have sparks fly out of his arm at some point, Johnson was acquired with documented arm issues, Morrow has had arm issues back to his days with Seattle, McGowan has been eating a hole in the DL for the entire 3 years that this sample is based on, Drabek had Tommy John as a Phillie……. it kind of goes on.

  17. Hey stoeten, you talk about AA not wanting to give oliver as a gift to some team offering nothing. Then what do you call the boni gift? Even unloading olivers salary has value.

  18. Wow

  19. Lots of potential causal factors to explain this systemic injury problem.

    I am not sure this one has been mentioned yet:

    AA thought he had a market inefficiency in targeting players with the casual “injury prone” tag to them; Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Brendan Morrow, but it turned out that the market was valuing these guy efficiently.

  20. and it’s probably also likely that the number of players used will decline in 2014, because how could it not.

    I thought this last year, and shit just kept rolling downhill. I think it’s definitely plausible that it is systemic, but let’s remember that Bruce Walton was the pitching coach last year, and the injuries to the pitching staff mounted up last year too.

    Some of the blame has to go on Anthopoulos for creating a rotation made out of glass. Johnson was already injury prone and losing velocity, and the Jays should have sold high on Morrow with his injury history too.

    Unless drastic changes are somehow implemented into the rotation, 2014 doesn’t look too promising for me.

    • Same could be said about the 2012 red sox

      • Sure. They had various issues, the greatest being payroll, and managed to slap together a team that, somehow, is a winner.

        Anthopoulos gave it a try, and he shouldn’t lose his job for it – there’s still plenty to love about this team. Let’s hope he can work some magic and the 2014 Jays can be the 2013 Red Sox.

  21. Injury prone players keep getting injured. This is nothing new and with this group expect the same next year.

    Staying healthy and on the field is a talent.

    Go in with this group next year and expect more of the same.

  22. I blame Miley Cyrus for this whole mess.

  23. One thing I am critical on the Jays over is their use of the replacement players. I don’t like seeing pitchers brought in, fail once, then sent out. It comes off to me as one of desperation, poor talent judgement, or poor talent management. Why not figure out who your best options are and stick to them? Why cycle looking for the hot hand?

    At least I like our depth better next year. Should Alex bring the same starting 5 back (or bring in another P if Johnson is let go), then Buffalo’s rotation could include Romero, Hutchison, Drabek, Nolin, and Jenkins or Stroman. Even McGuire has had a string of good starts in AA lately and could push himself to AAA next season.

    • You have a point there. Set them up to fail.

    • @Steve02, I think you have a point there. I am starting to question how this organization runs it’s ball team at every level. There is no excuse for what has happened to Ricky Romero and it is shameful.

  24. “It’s pretty damn unlikely that an extreme performance three years in a row is simple variance (and this is backed up by the fact that, looking at the past 10 years, teams tend to repeat on the leaderboards, though none have three-peated as “champion of depth testing” like the Jays are vying to do).”

    ….It’s pretty damn unlikely that simply looking at team rosters over 10 years gives you an idea of who’s on the roster year after year, with any sort of insight. Rosters are very fluid by the month let alone by the decade.

    “To reiterate, the Jays have had a major spike in the number of players used while the league average has held steady, and it’s something new since 2011.”

    A major spike, to me, should probably be more than 30% of the league average. Not every team can be below average.. but 50% ABOVE would probably get me a lot more worried. What’s the team most “under” the average? 30% seems about right to me just by guessing. Is it a normal distribution?

    Also, with a sample size of only 40 everyone above that baseline adds a 2.5% “spike” PER player, which seems pretty steep to me.
    This also doesn’t really take into account the severity of injuries. Seems to me a lot of guys get injured around the all star break or waiver claim time just to skirt around some MLB roster rules or for some extra days off for nicks and bruises. Maybe the young jays have had more guys used due to paternity leave or bereavement leave than other teams?)

    Lastly, the “Most Pitchers Used” is kind of meaningless without any context. What’s the all time high for pitchers used? Did all of the pitchers used get an injury? Were all injuries severe enough to miss a start? Were some guys just spot starters the second day of a double header? Were some showcases in September? Were some pitchers so terrible that we ended up cutting them? Did some of the pitchers come with injuries prior to Toronto? Maybe the Jays had a bigger bullpen than the majority of teams?

  25. It would be detrimental to the future of this team to chalk up this season as bad luck and injuries. This team was out of it long before we called up the buffalo bisons.

    • and to add to that, we use more players because we haven’t been in any sort of late season hunt.

      that means more calls up, less important games,players being shut down, etc etc.

  26. Stoeten, what is the editorial policy for this site? Do you approve articles or do guest posters have carte blanche?

    I’m wondering if you endorse this article. I’m wondering whether, in the event you disagreed with the article, you would feel like you could respond or write a counter-post, or if you would feel like that would be poor etiquette.

    I think Nick and Bret, above, hit the nail on the head on why this article is problematic. But a lot of readers put more stock into it when it’s you making comments like that. See oseebhai and Radar taking this article to mean you have been wrong to correct their speculations about Jays being injury prone.

  27. Interesting to see the 3 year Fangraphs data from 2010 until 2012, which is a fairly large sample size.

    Perusing it, there certainly seems to be quite a contrast between Tampa and Toronto in terms of pitcher injuries.
    In fact Toronto has lost 4 times as many days lost to injury than Tampa in regards to Hurlers.

    There was a very interesting S.I. Article earlier this year about Tampa Bay and pitching. Apparently they have a proprietary shoulder strengthening program that they institute from day 1 with their prospects. Obviously the Jays with their new tennis motion program are hoping for similar results.

    • Considering McGowan is probably 400++ man games of this 3 year period it doesn’t seem fair to compare the teams on face.

      • Yeah, but McGowan certainly isn’t the only major injury on this staff.

      • @ Smasher, I agree.

        I you take the apx. 400 McGowan days of the Fan graphs list (2010 to 2012 DL days) the Jay are middle of the pack.

        Add that to the fancy chart caveat……..

        “It’s worth repeating that this might not entirely be due to injuries. A team could conceivably go through a large number of players if its crop of “replacement players” were either very poor or very interchangeable”

        A+ on gathering the data.

        B- on interpreting the data.

        D- on headline (what is this, the Toronto Star?)

        We live in an era where pitchers break, often. Which is why I think that Mark Buehrle will get H of F votes if he ca go 4 or 5 more years without hitting the DL.

  28. D’arnaud era begins fulltime.
    Nice move by the Pirates getting Byrd and Buck for almost nothing.
    I think I’ll cheer for them down the stretch.

  29. @TSNScottyMac: Alex Anthopoulos: John Gibbons will return next season. #BlueJays #MLB

    • If AA is back that is.

      • And why wouldn’t AA be back? Three year window? Year one, *POOF*! Two more to go. At the end of that if the results are in the same ballpark, fire his ass.

        • Giving him another year makes sense. I think that he deserves at least one more year.

          I just don’t think that Rogers is running this team from a baseball operations persecutive first. They were planning of making a big return on the investment they made in this team across all their media properties, and are on the hook for the costs for a few more years.

          My friend couldn’t give away decent Yankee tickets yesterday!

          I just see the money and corporate pressure interfering.

          I hope I’m wrong, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

      • I can’t see them removing AA after 1 bad season. I realize a lot was expected of this team, but I can’t see his head being on a pike with Rogers unless 2014 is all the same/worse with no signs of improving.

        Until then, cheers to drowning out this season and to high hopes in ’14.

  30. Regardless of who is to blame for injuries, even if anyone IS to blame for injuries, I don’t think anyone’s heart would break if a different training staff were on board next year. If you replace the training staff, and things go well on the injury front next year, great. Couldn’t hurt, right? (pardon the pun..)

  31. My quarter flipped tails three times in a row. Bad luck? I doubt it.

  32. This is a bullshit, awful post that’s throwing around assertions without any real evidence to back it up except ‘well, uh, maybe the turf’. It’s no different than throwing out a ‘Gibby isn’t a winner’ post or something like that, except this blog usually understands that managers are only important at the margin. The DL days is obviously more important than the number of players used, but neither are really capturing the real propensity for injury. For example, nobody’s surprised to see the Yankees at the top of the DL list, because they keep trotting out a bunch of guys on the wrong side of 35 over there.

    It would’ve been easy to calculate playing-time-weighted average age for each team, that would’ve maybe provided some insight. You could’ve looked to see if it’s coming from the pitching side or the position side, and Fangraphs seem to suggest it’s mostly pitching and we do pretty well on position players, and then what about the turf? Heck, these numbers would’ve looked a lot better if AA had just cut McGowan at some point. Does that mean, gasp, there’s not a story here?

    This is just a bunch of vague nonsense that allows anyone to project the blame onto their target of choice.

  33. Maybe it’s all the babying the Jays as an organization do with all their players. Really hate the over conservative pitch counts and treating the prospects like they were made out of glass. They treat them like they are made out of glass, and they end up behaving like they are made out of glass.

  34. One thing that hasn’t been touched on is the age of the roster. The Jays over that time have been one of the oldest teams in the league. With age comes injuries.

    Also, agree with everyone who mentioned AA’s roster management as a hug factor here. The spike clearly coincides with his tenure.

  35. If you look at the actual data I’m not sure McGowan skews the results as much as many think.
    Basically the researchers looked at any players from a respective teams 40 man roster and how much time they spent on the I.R.

    In 2012, Toronto had 11 pitchers go on the D.L. for greater than 15 days, Tampa had only 2 hurlers go down. Toronto’s cumulative 40 man pitcher injury days were in the 1200 range, Tampa had about 200 lost days.

    McGowan accounted for 183 of those days. I suppose to be fair if you cherry pick the data for McGowan, you probably should do the same cherry picking for the Rays ,and throw out Jeff Nieman’s 109 games. This takes the difference down to about 900 lost innings, still rather significant.

    Any way you cut it, Toronto lost many more pitchers than Tampa on average from 2010 until 2013, many of a particularly catastrophic nature. It’s hard to believe this is all random bad luck.

  36. “Considering McGowan is probably 400++ man games of this 3 year period it doesn’t seem fair to compare the teams on face.”

    The 3 year data is based on the AVERAGE amount of days missed over the 3 year period. Toronto from 2010 – 2012 AVERAGED about 820 lost pitcher days, Tampa about 210.

    McGowan was at 181 days in 2010, 158 in 2011 . You can’t average him out to 400 games per year . Again though, you run into data cherry picking issues, if you throw out McGowan, should you not throw out J.P Howell at 181 games in 2010 as well?

  37. [...] the team, and Stroman would have learned something. The injury rate for the team has been one of the worst in the majors for 2 years in a row, but the team is unwilling to commit to bio-mechanics as a possible solution, a venture which would [...]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *