Talk to any knowledgeable Reds fan, and they’ll agree that injured pitchers have doomed the 2017 season. The Redlegs have seen seven of their starters added to the disabled list. Even if they had a lineup of veterans, no club can consistently win with that many injuries.
At the onset of the season, the Reds rotation appeared a bit ominous. Three pitchers expected to be at the top of the list were out for large swaths of time: Homer Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani, and Brandon Finnegan. As a Reds fan, this is frustrating and drains hope for the rest of the season right from the start.
Surely this number of pitchers on the disabled list only happens to the bottoms teams, doesn’t it? After reading all of the injury reports, it seems like the Reds are among the most injured teams in the majors, aren’t they?
After doing some research, I can assure you that does happen to other teams. Surprisingly, the Cincinnati Reds aren’t even in the top quarter of teams for pitching injuries in the majors.
Pitching rosters across the nation have been ravaged by injuries this year. Through early July, spotrac.com reported that 107 starters and 122 relief pitchers had spent time on the disabled list. The number of starters is flabbergasting. Consider that theoretically, the combined teams would only need 150 starting pitchers to complete a season. If the 150 stays, less than 30% of starters have not been on the DL this season.
Now let’s compare those numbers to the previous two seasons. In the entirety of the 2015 season, 93 starters and 150 relievers spent at least some time on the disabled list. For the duration of the 2016 season, 105 starters and 169 relievers were on the DL at some point. The 2016 season compared to the 2015 saw some increase in injuries, but, ultimately, they seemed related.
Coming back from the all-star break during the 2017 season, we have seen almost as many pitching injuries as in the previous two seasons. The big difference? We still have almost three months of baseball left!
Nine of the Cincinnati Reds pitchers have been on the DL this season. Seven major league teams have exceeded that number: the Dodgers (15), Texas (14), Oakland A’s (12), Mariners (11), Boston (11), the Angels (11) and Tampa Bay (10). Other teams with an equivalent nine injuries include: Atlanta, the Chicago White Sox, Colorado, Toronto, the New York Mets, and San Diego.
There are a lot of different ways to measure the impact of injured pitchers. The number of days lost and over $400 million in salaries paid to DL players aren’t really good metrics to use. It may seem pretty bad with the Reds, but they really aren’t much worse off than many other teams.
Many of the injuries benching pitchers come from the high-speed tossing fans love. Velocity is fun to watch, but often causes overuse injuries. When bad mechanics are added to the equation, a pitcher is almost guaranteed a spot on the DL.
Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price noted that most pitchers are throwing harder at younger ages.
“Maybe there’s a price to pay for kids being able to throw so hard at young age,” Price commented. “In this last handful of years we’re seeing things that the game has never seen with this type of velocity. We’re seeing it in the minor leagues. We’re seeing in the college (game). We’re seeing it in the high school (game).
Reds Medical Director and renowned sports medicine surgeon Dr. Timothy Kremchek explains the two reasons he sees for the drastic increase in injuries across the sport of baseball: caution and velocity.
“No. 1, I think the investment that teams are putting into these pitchers, they’re pulling the plug a lot earlier, (saying) ‘We’re not letting you pitch through this,”’ Kremchek stated. “I think they see the investment and they don’t want to lose someone for the rest of their career. That’s No. 1.
“No. 2, there’s no question that young kids in high school who throw the ball over 90 miles an hour have a 500 percent greater chance of injuring their arm or elbow in the next number of years. We’re drafting kids in high school who throw 90-plus miles an hour. It’s catching up with them. Years ago, if you threw 86, 88 in high school, they’d think they’d get you to 90s in the minors. Perfect. Now these kids are throwing in the 90s in high school. Their bodies aren’t strong enough to do it. They get fatigued. They give it their all-out effort. They throw curveballs from age 12.
“These kids are having arm problems in their 20s when they’re about to hit the big-league or high-minor league level and they’re struggling.”
The trend is likely to continue because more pitchers are throwing harder. The Reds drafted Hunter Greene, a right-hander, who threw 102 as a 17-year-old.
As the higher velocity pitches became the norm over the past five years, we have seen injuries increase as well. A prime example is Reds top draft pick Hunter Greene who consistently threw over 100 miles per hour in high school.
Four of the Reds pitchers that aren’t on the disabled list have touched 100 miles an hour this year: Raisel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen, Luis Castillo and Ariel Hernandez.
“I think the breakthrough is understanding,” Dr. Kremchek continued. “You can’t avoid it. These kids are throwing more than they’ve ever thrown before they’re drafted. The one thing we’re trying to monitor is their overall health. Those are things we haven’t done as much in the past. Make sure that their core’s not tight. We really didn’t watch as much before. We’re watching their innings. The other thing that causes injuries is fatigue. We’re making sure the minor league kids don’t over pitch.”
Dr. Kremchek added that the Reds aren’t alone in this endeavor. Every team is taking similar approaches to keeping as many pitchers off the DL as they can.
For 25 years, Bryan Price was a pitching coach before he became the Reds team manager. It was under Price’s leadership that the Reds had the healthiest starting staff in baseball during the 2012 season. In fact, to Price’s credit, there was not a single Reds started to miss a start in 2012.
Price is reluctant to place the blame on any one factor. He does recognize that increasing numbers of pitchers are being injured, though.
“There’s an epidemic of arm injuries,” Price acknowledged. “I don’t know the answer. I know what my speculation is. I’m not a physical expert. All I know is the things I saw as a young pitching coach that matured into an old pitching coach. There’s been changes. But you can’t then, in turn, say the changes in the game are directly related to why we have more injuries.”
But Price is keenly aware that if the Reds want to compete, they will need a healthier rotation. You can’t simply recruit top talent and watch them miss starts. Price’s approach involves keeping them healthy first and foremost.