It’s no secret that the 2019 Yankees suffered immensely horrendous injury luck — historically so, in fact. Not surprisingly, the Yankees fanbase has not been discussing how good Gerrit Cole looks in pinstripes, the gaping social media hole that Didi Gregorius left after signing with the Phillies, or the 2017 American League MVP race, it has been discussing the team’s newly-revamped strength and conditioning program.
Much of these discussions have understandably revolved around a number of players that have received the label “injury-prone” from fans and the media alike, most notably Giancarlo Stanton, Luis Severino, and Gary Sanchez. But do the numbers back up these impressions?
In order to look at this, I’ve run some numbers on twenty-four players who project to provide some level of significant contribution at the Major League level (two notable absences from the study are Jordan Montgomery and Ben Heller, both of whom missed the better part of two seasons due to Tommy John surgery, and thus whose numbers would be greatly skewed). To do so, I’ve counted total number of games that the player was on the MLB active roster and injured list, not merely the number of games they’ve played. For injuries in 2015 and after, I used the player profiles on spotrac.com. For players who played before that date, I had to reverse-engineer days missed based on news articles and Baseball-Reference’s game logs, so numbers might not be 100% accurate.
Total injury reports, however, do not tell the whole story. After logging the entire injury reports, I looked at the nature of each injury, and removed games missed due to “incidental” injuries. These would be impact-based injuries such as broken bones that occurred due to circumstances unaffected by player conditioning, such as being hit by a pitch or batted ball. Illnesses unrelated to the game have also been excluded. While significant, these types of injuries very rarely result in the types of physical damage that make a player more injury-prone.
The resulting statistics tell a bit of a complicated story:
At the top of the list are three players near the bottom in terms of games played. This should not be surprising, as one long injury can really throw the numbers out of whack in such a small sample size. Miguel Andujar and Clint Frazier in particular have less to be worried about in this respect, as most of their time on the injured list relates to their torn labrum and concussion, respectively, so they still have plenty of time to get those numbers into a much better place.
Most concerning to the Yankees in 2020 should be James Paxton, as he has missed a whopping 41% of potential games due to soft-tissue injuries throughout his seven-year career. While he has been more durable of late relative to the early part of his career (he started 29 games in 2019 and 28 in 2018), the Yankees are counting on him to be a major piece in the middle of their rotation. Similar concerns can also be expressed for Luis Severino, although the fact that almost the entirety of his time missed comes from 2019 does alleviate some of that concern.
Among the batters, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez typically find themselves receiving the injury-prone label, and it’s easy to see why: all three have missed at least 19% of the games over the course of their careers. In Judge’s and Stanton’s cases, these numbers are not quite as bad as they seem, however, as incidental injuries did result in a significant portion of missed time for both of them. While missing 15-16% of games is not ideal, it is not nearly as concerning.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the bottom of this list is filled with relief pitchers who have not had a ligament tear (i.e., Tommy John surgery or an Achilles tear), along with younger players who have not yet had a substantial injury (Gleyber Torres) and veterans who have played long enough that their substantial injury has been balanced out (Brett Gardner).
When I began this study, I looked to try and find a concrete standard to describe players as “injury-prone,” one that could remove some of the noise produced by non-soft tissue injuries and try to give some clarity for fans going forward. Instead, the results have simply reinforced just how complicated the idea of “injury-prone” players are. Admittedly, there are trends that exist — relief pitchers who can avoid long-term injuries seem more durable — but on the whole, there are simply too many variables to try and make any concrete statements from data regarding games missed. Ultimately, you have to look more in-depth at the individual history of each player in order to draw any true conclusions. This data can merely point you in the direction of which players to look at.