Baseball Has A Serious Injury Problem
The popular perception is that the NFL and college football carry the highest risk of serious injury among sports because they feature contact on every play. The reality is that Major League Baseball also has a serious injury problem that costs the sport millions of dollars in lost productivity and diminished lineups.
According to USC, over the past 15 years, MLB players on the disabled list have accounted for $7 billion in lost wages. So far this season, 558 players have spent time on the disabled list, per RosterResource.com. This includes major stars like Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg, Corey Seager, Madison Bumgarner, Shohei Ohtani and Miguel Cabrera. Why does a non-contact sport like baseball suffer from this injury plague?
1. Children are starting to play baseball at younger ages and playing longer before going into the majors. ABC 10 News reports that the 15-19 age group has a high rate of Tommy John surgeries as arms are not ready for the stress of pitching.
2. The baseball season stretches over seven months, including spring training. Teams in the playoffs play even longer than that. Games are played almost every day, with few off-days. This puts continual stress on bodies that do not have time for recovery, leading to inflammation and fatigue.
3. Baseball often involves moving from a standing start and base-running and fielding that involve sudden twists and turns and torque on joints. This causes sudden pressure on ankles and knees and hamstrings.
4. In the hundreds of thousands of years of evolution of the shoulder and elbow, nothing prepared the human arm for the ability to throw a ball 100 times a game at high rates of speed. A fellow Forbes contributor writes that, among major league pitchers, 25% have undergone Tommy John surgery. Even though starting pitchers pitch fewer innings than they did in the early days of baseball, they also throw at heightened speeds, putting extreme pressure on the arm.
5. Advances in training and nutrition have produced heavily muscled bodies that are more susceptible to hamstring and quad injuries. Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes trained in the 2016 offseason with explosive workouts such as squats and dead lifts, which require extensive recovery time. He battled quad and hamstring injuries during the next season.
6. Disabled lists now allow players to spend as few as 10 days on them. This was collectively bargained in 2016. Sometimes teams put a player on the list because they want to limit innings pitched. Per TheRinger.com, Dodgers pitcher Ross Stripling admitted last year that his designation for “lower body fatigue” was really a strategy to limit his innings.
Teams are aware of these problems is is the league. MLB.com reported that the Washington Nationals had players miss a total of 3,813 games between 2010 and 2015. They fired their training staff after 2015. The club then hired a staff that puts more focus on injury prevention and analytics, which has reduced injuries.
USC is currently doing a study that is trying to prevent injuries by looking at three minor league teams. The study focuses on the range of motion in the shoulder; correlation of muscle control; and shoulder, trunk and leg strength. This study is focusing on players who were injured and players who weren’t and developing projection models from the data collection.
Efforts in prevention and treatment are a high priority for Major League Baseball to keep talented players on the field and not the disabled list.