Thursday, May 17, 2012

2012: A Freak Injury Odyssey

As they are in every other sport, injuries are a big part of baseball. They affect the good teams and the bad, and a team's ability to overcome its injuries and still produce and win is what separates the great teams from the good. It would be completely unreasonable to expect your team to not get bitten by the injury bug at some point, and the unpredictable nature of injuries makes it almost impossible to plan for. All of that being what it is, it's fair to say that the 2012 season has been irregularly unpredictable and unkind to the Yankees in the injury department, to the point that it's downright freaky. It doesn't just seem like it's every week that we're all scrambling to our computers or smart phones to write or read the latest "BREAKING NEWS!!!!!111!!!" story on a major injury to a key player; that's almost literally the way it's gone for the Yankees this season, and it goes all the way back to Spring Training.

With no statistic, basic or sabermetric, in place to analyze injuries, I took it upon myself to create a rudimentary system to measure and capture just how freakish the Yankees' collection of injuries has been this year. I call it the "Johnson-Hill Scale," and it's a simple 1-10 numbering system that measures an injury's freakiness. The low end of the scale, 1-3, represents injuries so common and expected that you would almost be surprised if they DIDN'T happen, and is named after Nick Johnson and his Mr. Glass-like skeletal and muscular structure. The high end of the scale, 8-10, represents injuries so unexpected and out of left field that it wouldn't be outside the realm of possibility for some evil forces to be involved, and is named after former outfielder (and Yankee) Glenallen Hill, who infamously cut his foot on a glass table while sleeprunning to escape from a spider that was chasing him in a dream. Here's how the Yankees' collection of bizarre injuries this season grades out on the Johnson-Hill Scale.

- Dave Robertson's Bone Bruise- Johnson-Hill Rating- 8

Stairs are a tricky thing. I know I've had my battles with them in the past. Boxes can be a bit of a pain too. If D-Rob would have fallen up or down the stairs while moving some heavy boxes, or just strained his back or tweaked something trying to lift a box, that would be a pretty normal injury and something most people could relate to. But falling down the stairs while attempting to carry EMPTY boxes down them? That's like bad slapstick comedy. The good news was that D-Rob wasn't seriously injured and didn't miss Opening Day. The bad news is he's hurt again with a strained oblique and we haven't read any explanation yet as to how that injury occurred.

- Joba Chamberlain's Open Ankle Dislocation- Johnson-Hill Rating- 9

Anybody who's been on a trampoline in his or her life has fallen off at some point. Usually that results in a scrape, a bruise, maybe a cut, and in the most extreme cases a broken bone. To fall off a trampoline in a way such that you suffer an open dislocation of your ankle joint and start bleeding out all over a children's play place? That's not normal. I bet Joba couldn't do that again if he wanted to. There's just no reason to ever expect that someone would suffer an injury that severe playing on a trampoline with his kid. Extra insult to this injury because it happened while Joba was already rehabbing from TJS.

- Brett Gardner's Strained Right Elbow- Johnson-Hill Rating- 6

This one isn't super freaky. Hideki Matsui hurting his wrist attempting to make a sliding catch years back comes to mind, and I was watching the Phillies-Nationals game recently when Jayson Werth broke his. With Gardner, though, it's difficult to fully grasp how he could have hurt himself on a play that looked so harmless. We've seen him make more dangerous diving plays before, and also crash into walls without getting hurt. The injury and way in which it occurred are both relatively normal, but it does get a few extra freak points for happening in what was Gardner's best game of the season to that point and for the continued setbacks he has had in his recovery.

- Michael Pineda's Torn Labrum- Johnson-Hill Rating- 7

In today's day and age, it's hard to be shocked when a pitcher suffers a shoulder or elbow injury. They're almost commonplace today, like some kind of cruel rite of passage. With Pineda being a young pitcher who throws very hard, it's not a huge surprise that he suffered a major injury, especially in a case where he was out of shape and probably overthrowing. What makes this particular injury bizarre is that it happened in his rehab start after he had already been shut down with shoulder stiffness. Everything looked fine on all his initial evaluations after the trade, everything looked fine when the Yankees first shut him down and sent him for an MRI, and then boom! Torn labrum on one of the last pitches he threw in 2012. That's harsh.

- Mariano Rivera's Torn ACL- Johnson-Hill Rating- 10

Yes, my opinion is jaded here because I'm a Yankee fan, but after he does finally retire, I think this scale has to be renamed the Johnson-Rivera scale. Mo tearing his ACL while shagging flyballs before a game, the same thing he's done every day since he started playing professional baseball, is the definition of a freak injury. It's freaky that it took this long for something to happen, it's freaky that it wasn't even an in-game injury that knocked Mo out, it's freaky that it was such a severe injury, it's freaky that it happened in what was supposed to be Mo's final season, and it's still a bit freaky to think that it happened to the indestructible Mariano Rivera. If anything, I would have expected Mo to suffer a torn labrum after all these years. The image of Mo being carried and placed into the back of that John Deere cart like a bucket of balls still doesn't seem 100% real to me.

I can really pile on here and mention Eric Chavez knocking himself out of action for a week by concussing himself on a play where he didn't even hit his head. Or Freddy Garcia taking a million comebackers off the body and missing time in ST. Or Nick Swisher tweaking every muscle he has in his legs. Or the elbow scare to C-Grand in ST. Or the calf scare to Jeter in ST. Or Rafael Soriano ripping his fingernail off while warming up in the bullpen. Or the litany of injuries in the MiL system that have put guys like Manny Banuelos, Austin Romine, Pat Venditte, Dan Burawa, Zoilo Almonte, Graham Stoneburner, Jose Campos, Chris Dickerson, Russell Branyan, Rob Lyerly, and Anderson Feliz on the shelf. It hasn't just been a freak injury bug biting. It's been an injury plague, and it's spread across the entire system.

As Jeter, A-Rod, and others have said over the past few weeks, nobody is going to feel sorry for the Yankees. Lineup cards still need to be filled out, guys still need to take the field, and games still need to be played. The players who can return this season will at some point, and those who can't will be back next year. Injuries are always going to be a part of the game in every season, and they are something that every team has to deal with. That being said, it's fair to say that the bad injury luck suffered by the Yankees in the first month and a half of this season has been a bit excessive. With the way they've played the last 2 nights, maybe it's starting to take its toll on players, but the good news is there's still a lot of games left. Or with the way things are going, maybe that's the bad news.

1 comment:

gregory said...

Great article man. It is pretty crazy how these injuries have piled up and many of them are "freaky"