Cliche: Injuries are a part of baseball, and of all sports.
The Jays, like many teams, have been hard-hit by injuries in recent years. However, just how hard-hit they’ve been is tough to assess. Ask a Jays fan about bad injury luck and he or she will point to 2013. Ask a Rangers fan, and they'll moan about 2014. And so on. There's obviously fan myopia at play here - when one person's team fails due to untimely injuries, that team is hard done by, but when other teams have a ton of injuries, the same fan will discount the impact of those injuries. So, it’s easy to point to the Stroman injury this year, or the Encarnacion injury in 2014 or Reyes in 2013, and wonder if the Jays are unusually unlucky in this regard. After, all, the Red Sox were ravaged by injuries in 2012, the Yankees were hit hard in 2013, and the Devil Rays seem to be going through the same thing in 2015. So – are the Jays really injury-prone, or does it just seem that way to fans of the team?
Short answer: Yes, they are more injury-prone than average.
Longer answer: The Jays were 7th in days lost to the disabled list from 2010-2014 (5 seasons), behind the Padres, Dodgers, Rangers, Yankees, Athletics, and Red Sox (the Nationals, Mets, and Rockies rounded out the top 10). That’s tough to overcome, particularly if you’re the Blue Jays or Padres and not the deep-pocketed Yanks, Sux, or Dodgers. For example, when Curtis Granderson got hurt in 2013, the Yankees went out and traded for Alfonso Soriano and his $18,000,000/yr contract. Most teams don’t have the salary flexibility to do that.
Who were the healthiest teams from 2010-14? In order: White Sox, Devil Rays, Royals, Tigers, Twins, Indians, Mariners, Giants, Cardinals, Cubs. That group made the playoffs 17 times in those 5 seasons. The 10 most-injured teams – including some of the biggest spending teams in the game – made the playoffs 13 times in the same period.
Want details? Here’s the Jays’ DL numbers from 2010-2014:
2010: 15 stints, 950 days
League average: 15 and 767
2011: 20 stints, 908 days
League average: 17 and 827
2012: 18 stints, 1431 days (6th)
League average: 16 and 984
2013: 26 stints (2nd), 1478 days (4th)
League average: 17 and 969
2014: 18 stints (6th), 764 days (16th)
League average: 16 and 877
2012 and 2013 were especially bad for the Jays, but even 2010 and 2011 were worse than league average. 2014 was somewhat better than average, in terms of days lost to DL time, anyway, but those Jays were certainly nowhere near the healthiest team in the league.
Here’s 2015, so far:
Stroman April 5- (52 days)
Izturis April 5- (52)
Saunders April 5-25 (26)
Navarro April 22- (35)
Reyes April 28-May 25 (27)
Saunders May 10- (17)
Travis May 22- (5)
7 stints, 214 days and the season is about 30% over. And that’s not considering the fact that J-Bau has been playing injured, or factoring in the time spent on the bench by Reyes and Travis, hoping their injuries would heal without a DL trip.
Bottom line: The Jays have had more injuries than the average team and more time spent on the disabled list than the average team. Only in 2014 did the Jays suffer less DL time than average, and in no season from 2010-14 did the team have fewer DL stints than average.
Of course, there are injuries and injuries. Not having Maicer Izturis isn’t as big a deal as not having Marcus Stroman or Jose Reyes. When I was writing this post, I had intended (taking a cue from a commenter in the Fangraphs story), to take ZIPs or Steamer WAR projections for each season for the injured players, weight those projected WAR numbers by time lost, and see how much (projected) player value each team lost due to injury. Unfortunately, those past WAR projections don't seem to be available online. What I do have is the 2013 player values lost to injury (from the same Fangraphs post):
Yankees 10.4 wins
Blue Jays 9.4
Red Sox 4.3
White Sox 3.4
(Playoff teams in bold)
What does that tell us? Obviously, the Jays lost a lot of important players in 2013. They finished last, 74-38, and the injuries (Reyes, Johnson, Morrow, etc) probably had something to do with that. However, the Dodgers and Braves lost some key players as well and managed to make the playoffs, so these things can be overcome. Nonetheless, it's interesting to see a value attached to players on the DL, and if I manage to dig up some WAR projections for the other years, I'll perform the same exercise with those numbers and post them.
So, now that we know the Jays lose more players, for more time, to injury than the average team does, what does this mean? Frankly, I'm not sure what to conclude. It's hard to believe that a team could be "just" unlucky with injuries for 5 (going on 6) seasons. Can we blame the training and conditioning staff for not doing enough diagnostic/preventative work, or the scouting and GM for not recognizing physical flaws in the athletes they sign? Is it turf related? Is it all the time spent passing through customs? I don't know, but I'd rather believe that the Jays are victims of bad luck - which, by definition, will gradually even out over time - as opposed to there being some unknown, systemic deficiencies in how the team is run which could potentially hinder them for years.
So, guys... let's be careful out there.
I got a lot of information for this post from the following places: