Frustrated by injuries? The Twins aren't the only MLB team bitten in 2021(free post)
Losing Byron Buxton or Josh Donaldson is never fun -- although I was surprised by what I found when I dug into Twins injuries vs. the rest of the Major Leagues.
The Twins took their off day Monday ahead of two crucial series with the Yankees and Astros, sitting tied for fourth (or last) place in the division with the Detroit Tigers. That’s a sentence I never though I would be typing in the first week of June 2021. But here we are, and here the Twins are, 12 games off the pace in their division and 9 games back in the AL Wild Card. Stranger things have happened, although I’m now mentally setting the benchmark of chasing down Cleveland, an 8-game gap, with the obvious and required mentality being: One Series At A Time.
This column is 1 of my 5 thoughts this week, sponsored by the subscribers of my 5 Thoughts Newsletter. If you’d like to support the work, you too can become a subscriber for less than $1 per week.
Other thoughts in the full column this week include the team’s record in 1-run games, including two exciting ones over the weekend; plus, Nelson Cruz appreciation, a starting rotation update and the run differential game.
Thought #1) MLB’s 2021 Injury Wave
I got a first-hand glimpse of an underlying problem Sunday while working my radio job, with a view of a mostly empty Target Field during a Twins road trip. On a hot day in Minneapolis – with the bulk of the team in Kansas City – there was Byron Buxton, getting his running work in, flying around the bases after some warm-ups. And I do mean flying. I might be mistaken but I thought I also saw Mitch Garver, Max Kepler and Luis Arraez doing their work to get back from various injuries. That’s four first-division hitters that the Twins likely were counting on to do some heavy lifting in 2021, and yet each was unable to on this particular day in June.
Right now I view the 2021 season as a year defined for the Minnesota Twins by a bad start, Álexander Colomé, to a lesser extent Kenta Maeda, and, unavoidably, injuries.
So with all this as a backdrop, I was rather surprised to learn that the Twins are one of the healthiest teams in the big leagues, at least in terms of the number of days missed due to injury. Only six MLB teams have had fewer cumulative days missed to injury, according to spotrac.com. And maybe it’s just because of the nature of some injuries? The Twins right now don’t have any starters declared done for the year, but they have a large number of players grinding through discomfort just to fill out a lineup card each night. It might also be worth noting that not all “IL days” are equal. It hurts the Twins more to be without April’s AL Player of the Month, Buxton, than to be without, say, Devin Smeltzer, just to pick one injured reliever on the Twins. (Nobody will feel sorry for you, of course, with teams like the Astros spending approximately $20 million on players on the Injured List so far, per Spotrac.)
This is a topic worth some exploration, and I may look to write about it again in the near future if it’s something you find interesting. To begin, I’d like to share a piece written by James Wagner for the New York Times. Wagner quoted in the piece Stan Conte, a former head trainer for a couple MLB teams, who now has an injury analytics consulting firm. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:
“Conte has noticed a troubling trend to the upswing in injuries. Overall, soft-tissue ailments, such as muscle strains, were up 117 percent through spring training and the first two months of 2021 compared with the same period in 2019. Specifically, groin injuries were up 700 percent (to 16, from two); hamstring injuries were up 194 percent (to 47, from 16); and oblique injuries were up 83 percent (to 22, from 12).”
As a fan of EPL soccer, I think I might be more annoyed than average at a wave of soft-tissue injuries, which are sometimes considered “preventable” by understanding the relative workload of a player’s body, sometimes referred to as the “acute to chronic ratio” (i.e. how much work are you doing today relative to the load that your body is trained for?). High-level soccer is probably an easy example to understand with all the running, but just to make the point let’s consider instead marathon training. You’re not supposed to wake up one morning and decide to run a marathon, and then go do it in the afternoon. If you’re athletic enough, you might be able to pull it off but there would be regrets. Instead, you build a workload over time, never jumping too much in load any one week, with the idea of more safely getting to a spot where you can run 26-27 miles in one go.
Well, they always say baseball is a marathon, right?
Let’s wrap this up by saying injuries are an easy and obvious excuse for the Twins. It’s brutal to lose one of your best players, Josh Donaldson (hamstring), in the first half-inning of the year, get off to a bad start in the first month overall, lose your best player, Buxton (hip), for the second month, and have a number of important teammates join him on the Injured List along the way. It’s frustrating to Twins fans, I know, when Maeda, Kepler and Buxton are down with soft-tissue injuries (although Garver and Arraez not so much).
At first glance, though, it seems like we can say that the Twins have either been a) better; or b) luckier when it comes to keeping players on the field performing, at least relative to the rest of the Majors.