The idea of playing hurt causes more confusion among baseball watchers than just about any other. Non-big leaguers struggle with the justification for proven talents risking further injury and providing sub-standard production in the name “gamerdom.” Why do they do it?
This isn’t new ground on Getting Blanked. We covered on a daily show weeks ago and The Common Man touched on a similar subject in April. It seems so obvious: take the time required to get right, playing hurt often does more harm than good.
Right now, two very significant pieces on playoff-aspirant baseball teams are battling through injuries and, frankly, their play is suffering in the process. Both Dustin Pedroia and Chris Young look like shells of their proper selves, thanks in no small part to playing through injuries.
Looking forward to 2 crummy weeks from Dustin Pedroia, a DL stint, and a strong return come August when Boston may or may not be contending.
— Patrick Sullivan (@PatrickSull) June 5, 2012
This tweet from out friend Patrick was quite prescient, indeed. Dustin Pedroia first injured his thumb at the end of May, requiring nearly a full week on the bench before returning right around the time Sully tweeted this on June 5th. At the time of the injury, Dustin Pedroia looked quite Pedroia-ish. He had an .800 OPS with 5 home runs in 200 at bats – pretty much par for the course.
Since rushing back, Pedroia has been predictably (for Sullivan) awful at the plate. Just 9 hits in 60 plate appearances, a .464 OPS and only three extra base hits. It is possible this 60 PA sample is just a random slump…but that requires stretching and straining and a determination to ignore both the forest and the trees.
Pedroia, of course, aggravated his thumb injury Tuesday, sitting out yesterday’s game against the Marlins as a precaution. His manager, Bobby Valentine, insists he just “got a scare” but does admit his recent run of poor play is likely related to his injury. From ESPN Boston:
“It’s hard to quantify, but probably,” Valentine said. “But like you said the other day when (Jon) Lester was pitching and he makes that play in the first inning and turns a double play on the line drive. He is out there helping the team win a game. He’s not having the ‘laser show’ every night but he’s an amazing presence on our team.”
It is true, Dustin Pedroia helps the team in more ways than one. But taking so much away — while hitting in his traditional #2 spot in the batting order, of course — seems counterproductive. If he waited another week, would the Red Sox be that much worse off than they were when he was playing and obviously off? Consider this heat map, examining Pedroia’s handling of the fastball before his injury and since his return.
Any time a hitter has problems with the hands/thumbs/wrists, one must wonder how much their batspeed is affected. Using this visualization as a rough guide, Pedroia certainly looks like a player unable to do what he does best: put on a laser show.
Chris Young is in a similar position except he’s been worse for longer. Chris Young, you might have already forgotten, raced out to an amazing start to the season. His numbers matched division rival Matt Kemp (another casualty of the Came Back Too Soon-itis) and he carried his team for the first month of the season.
Chris Young’s season came crashing down when he made a long run after a deep fly ball, only to crash into the left-center field fence at Chase Field in Arizona. Young missed a month before returning to Arizona’s everyday lineup in mid-May. Returned to watch his numbers spiral into the toilet.
Since his first game back, on May 17th, Chris Young owns a tidy little .452 OPS. He has five extra base hits in 105 plate appearances. Zero home runs. Ugly. A shame, really.
DBacks manager and known cuddlebug Kirk Gibson recently gave Young an “unscheduled” day off, citing his struggles and the appearance that his young CF was “pressing.” Snakes beat guy Nick Piecoro suggests that, while Young couldn’t possibly sustain his early season numbers, he certainly looked like a new hitter in 2012.
His approach at the plate was improved. His swing seemed shorter, more compact, more direct. He looked different from the Chris Young we’d seen in previous seasons.
He looked better.
He was better and, even battling injury, he still draws his walks and plays strong defense in center. Would Young be better served to take a seat and let his body get back to where it belongs?
— Chris Young (@CY24_7) June 20, 2012
Baseball players will tell you that no man goes through an entire season 100% healthy. Bumps and bruises pile up over the course of 162 games but you just play through them. These players are key members of their team and likely lauded for their determination wilful sacrifice. They set the Right Kind of Example for younger players, as Chris Young’s self-affirming tweet suggests.
Perhaps bloggy types make too much of this, wishing players were babied in an unrealistic manner when we consider the greater baseball culture. We don’t have to look much further than the treatment of Young’s teammate Stephen Drew — by the owner of his freaking team! — to recognize the many factors contribute to a given player’s decision on when to come back.
Like just about everything, this is 100% performance based. If a player comes back from injury and excels, we assume they are healthy. Paul Konerko had a minor wrist procedure earlier this month and while his numbers aren’t quite what they’ve been this year, he has not quite fallen of the map like Young & Pedroia.
Fans want to see the best players at their best. Healthy players are usually better than injured players. While the “wait til you’re all better” approach is probably too simplistic, one hopes players balance the real needs of their team with their own unrealistic expectations of performance while nursing nagging ouchies. A little bit of self-awareness and humility can often go a long way (I’m told.)