MLB: The early injury epidemic

(Photo Credit: Keith Allison)

As the baseball season hits the summer, it’s expected to see notable players land on the disabled list for various reasons. What we never see coming is seeing key players go down in the first week. So far, 2018 has seen key players go down in Spring Training and in the opening days of the year, leading to bench players and young minor league talent having to fill their roles.

With the minimum requirement for players being on the disabled list shrinking from 15 days to a mere ten, we’ve seen teams place guys on the DL more since last season. That leaves some with this question: Are teams taking advantage of sitting guys to bring up reinforcements from the farm system or are key players injured? Why could these players be getting injured so early in the year?

Minor ailments

Since the league reduced the 15-day DL to the 10-day DL last season, we’ve seen teams use the disabled to rest guys for a few days rather than have an inactive bench player or pitcher for up to a week. It’s a smart strategy but considering who’s on the DL right now, it makes some wonder if players have minor ailments that wouldn’t have required a DL stint two years ago.

Seattle Mariners DH Nelson Cruz, who has been out with an ankle sprain since April 3, could be back as soon as Friday now that he’s out of his walking boot. April 13 is the earliest Cruz can return from the DL but if the rule was still 15 days, would the Mariners have placed Cruz on it at all? It’s still possible they would have but the chances are good they would’ve kept him on the bench and use him in late-game situations so the ankle could rest.

The same question is raised with Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who is heading to the DL retroactive to April 6 with lower back tightness. Rizzo has a history of dealing with back tightness in his career but has never required a trip to the DL which raises the question again. Are minor ailments leaning teams more towards sending players to the DL for the required ten days? 

Were players injured during Spring Training going into the year?

It’s common for injuries to happen during Spring Training, but sometimes minor ailments can turn into early season struggles which may also persuade teams to place players on the DL. It’s easy to option young players to the minors but once a player runs out of options, they can no longer be sent to the minors without getting designated for assignment. At that point, said player's team has ten days to trade them, release them, or send them to the minors.

Players are tough so when they are sore, they don’t always realize it could be because of inflammation of the muscles or even non-displaced fractured bones. For players like Wil Myers, Matt Wieters, and Jake Lamb, who were all placed on the DL less than a week into the season, it’s easy to wonder if their injuries resulted during Spring Training but they wanted to play through the ailments. 

It makes sense not to place them on the DL immediately going into the season if they’re in the Opening Day lineup, but is it worth losing them for the first ten days of the season versus losing them for a month of the year or longer?

Maybe it's the injury bug after all

We as fans never want to believe our favorite players aren’t immune to the injury bug, but maybe that’s the case to start the year. Just like it’s possible that teams are taking advantage of the 10-day DL, players like Rizzo, Cruz, and Xander Bogaerts could deal with injuries serious enough to keep them off of the field for ten days or more.

Every year it seems like there are three or four teams that get derailed by the injury bug but so far this season it feels like every team has lost a key player in the lineup, rotation or bullpen. It’s unfortunate when teams lose beloved players to the injury bug but it goes to show that every player can land on the DL during their careers, some more than others.

What do you think is causing MLB's injury epidemic? Let us know in the comments below.

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