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||#|
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.
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.