Throughout the baseball season, teams have to deal figure out how to deal with injuries. Injuries may cause a player to miss less than the 15 days required for a disabled list stint or some may need rehab games in the minors. Brandon Magee takes a look at some of the ways the Boston Red Sox have mishandled injuries in 2015.
One of the major difficulties in baseball is managing injuries. The decision to place anyone on the disabled list is complicated – balancing the extent of the injury versus the impact on the team tends to be more art than science. This year, the Red Sox have had a number of injuries where they have avoided the disabled list. Were those decisions correct or would a DL stint have helped the team, and the players, in the long run?
After the All-Star break hope was running high that with Dustin Pedroia’s return from the disabled list, Boston could make a run to get back into the playoff race. Pedroia suffered a hamstring injury on June 24th against Baltimore and had already missed three weeks of baseball. His performance suggests he rushed back to action. In six games, all Red Sox losses, Pedroia went 1-for-22 with a double and a return to the disabled list with the same hamstring injury.
Did Pedroia push to come back? Almost certainly. Should the Red Sox listen to their players with regards to injuries? They have very little choice, the player is the best judge of how they are feeling. Did the Red Sox do everything they could do to make sure Pedroia was ready? No.
Most position players coming off the disabled list go to the minors for a few games to get back into game action and make certain they are feeling good. Pedroia did not. John Farrell said the team would need to limit Pedroia’s activity. John Farrell said that Pedroia would not start both games of a doubleheader four days after his return. Neither happened. Pedroia played each of the first six games he was eligible for before his return trip to the disabled list.
Playing poorly through an injury has been a recurring theme. After hitting ten home runs in April, Hanley Ramirez suffered a shoulder injury running full bore into the wall on an attempted catch on May fourth. He would leave the game and not return to the Red Sox lineup until May 9th, missing an additional four games. In his first eleven games after the injury (the time he would have been on the 15 day DL), Ramirez batted .234/.250/.298, in contrast to the .283/.340/.609 he had been batting when he exited the game. He would not hit his 11th home run until May 28th and has slugged only nine total in the nearly three months since the injury occurred.
Would a DL stint have helped Hanley’s shoulder recover and avoid the complete sapping of power that occurred? While there is no guarantee, the results – .259/.300/.409 in the 61 games played since the initial injury – make a DL stint look obvious in hindsight.
Pablo Sandoval was also a victim of injury, taking a pitch off the knee on May 19th. At the time of the injury, Sandoval was batting .270/.342/.416 in the first month and a half. He would pinch hit two days later, would pinch hit again three days after that and then come back into the regular lineup. In the eleven games he played that would have corresponded to a fifteen day DL stint, Sandoval batted .143/.189/.143. The knee was obviously affecting his swing and his defensive ability. Hindsight is 20/20, but a stint on the disabled list seems fairly obvious in the light of the statistics.
The Red Sox mantra of deep depth seems to indicate that at some level, they understand that players coming back from injuries too soon has a deleterious effect on team and player. A player like Brock Holt, who can play all the positions, would make the team think twice before bringing a player back too quickly. Yet, when Pedroia came back, Holt, coming off an All-Star appearance, was relegated back to the bench; starting one game at first base and seeing two pinch hitting appearances. The Red Sox with their large stash of outfielders – Holt, Craig, Castillo, Bradley, Brentz and Nava – should have found a way to survive a fifteen day absence of Hanley Ramirez. Sandoval’s injury also should have been a trivial issue to cover for fifteen days, with Holt sliding over to take over the starting position with one of the Pawtucket infielders, Garin Cecchini or Deven Marrero, coming up for the short term.
Unfortunately, the injury calculus is difficult. Betting that Allen Craig is going to be a better Hanley Ramirez for a fifteen day period feels like a losing proposition as Craig is, generally speaking, an inferior player. However, that bet (or another like it) may well have paid off during the time period where Ramirez was clearly compensating for injury and in the future, as Ramirez had a real chance to heal. The same is true, in a different degree, for replacing Dustin Pedroia and Pablo Sandoval.
The Red Sox appear to have learned their lesson with recent injuries to Brock Holt and Mookie Betts. Betts was immediately placed on the 7-day concussion DL. Holt was kept out of multiple games before coming back on Wednesday.
Hopefully, the team does not rush Betts back, fully allowing his concussion to heal. Jackie Bradley Jr. will be fine in the meantime. If Holt reinjures his foot, the team should consider placing him directly on the DL as well, the team will be able to manage in his absence. That is the calculus that the Red Sox failed to apply throughout this season. Failing this test repeatedly has put the Red Sox into the worst place they could be: last.