Could overreliance on analytics produce injury prone players?
As most fans know, No MLB team has come close to matching injury totals that the 2019 New York Yankees endured. The Yankees positioners had an incredible 1,149 days on the IL, while pitchers’ injury days totaled 1,171. Goodness.
The team had 30 players serving 39 relays on the IL, which was an MLB record. Only Gleyber Torres, DJ LeMahieu and Austin Romine remained on the active roster all season, but even they faced lingering issues. Without the contribution of outperforming replacement players, the Bombers would never have made it to the playoffs.
As I wrote at the time, something had to be done immediately to remedy the unprecedented and alarming injuries suffered that year. GM Brian Cashman and the Yankees blamed the strength and conditioning department (correctly, I thought at the time). So, in January 2020, they acted quickly to overhaul and restructure this component of the organization.
The Yanks have added Eric Cressey as the team’s new director of player health and performance. The Bombers also added Donovan Santas as assistant director of player health and performance as well as Brett McCabe as the team’s new strength and conditioning coach. Other key members of the force and conditioning staff have also been recruited. Many expected the addition of these new world-class health and performance personnel to dramatically reduce the number and severity of injuries.
Such optimism was justified at the time. The new additions were among the country’s top experts in these fields. They were relatively young and were familiar with the latest research and innovative approaches in their specific areas of expertise.
Yet the shortened 2020 season came with surprisingly similar injuries, often to the same players. For example, pitchers Zach Britton (hamstrings), Tommy Kahnle (Tommy John surgery) and James Paxton (elbow) were placed on the IL from the start. Additionally, valuable positional players such as Aaron Judge (calf), Giancarlo Stanton (hamstrings), DJ LeMahieu (thumb), Gary Sanchez (lower back) and Gleyber Torres (hamstrings) missed time. .
Maybe the new health and performance staff just needed more time to work their magic? It seems logical.
Well, with just over 60 more games to play in the 2021 season, once again many Yankee players suffered significant injuries and health problems. So far, Bombers pitchers Darren O’Day (hamstrings), Corey Kluber (shoulder) and Clarke Schmidt (elbow) have landed on the 60-day IL.
During his rehabilitation after Tommy John surgery, Luis Severino suffered a grade 2 groin injury in mid-June and was immediately arrested. This delayed his return to the Yankees to mid-August.
Regarding positional players, Aaron Hicks (wrist surgery) and Tim Locastro (ACL tear) are absent for the remainder of the season. Luke Voit has missed most of the year with a variety of ailments. He only played 29 games. Trey Amburgey (hamstring twist), Miguel Andújar (stretched wrist) and Clint Frazier (vision problems) are also on the IL with no return schedule.
And let’s not even get into the SECOND COVID-19 outbreak the team experienced this year …
Based on these results, it is unlikely that the number and severity of injuries to Yankees players were due to a lack of care and treatment by the the excellent staff of health, strength and conditioning. Indeed, the players continue to suffer injuries very similar to those of 2019 (and 2020), which suggests that the new staff is not to blame. Something else must be brewing.
An overreliance on analysis in list building can be the root of the Yankees’ problems.
Another explanation, which has not received attention so far, concerns how Yankees executives use analytics to select and retain players on their 40-man roster.
Much has been written about the Yankees ‘- and other MLB clubs’ heavy reliance on analysis to determine player performance and value in addition to formulating baseball tactics and strategies. Baseball scouts, in general, have complained loudly that their player ratings and comments are being sidelined in favor of primarily data-driven arguments. Sour grapes? Perhaps.
Many baseball fans fear that too much reliance on empirical evaluations to dictate team formation, tactics and strategy tends to diminish the human element of the game. Huge weight in quantitative evaluations does not automatically translate into dominance and team success.
Those who share this view argue that one must also take into account the psychological and behavioral characteristics of players to produce the camaraderie and good team chemistry needed to win games and reach the playoffs.
Analysts and Yankees fans suspect that Cashman and other club officers rely almost exclusively on data and statistics in their evaluations of baseball players and ignore essential human traits, such as courage, drive, dedication, creativity, motivation to succeed and the willingness to sacrifice one’s own. personal interest for the good of the team.
Operating primarily in a heavily data-driven paradigm when evaluating player performance and value, Yankees executives are more likely to favor a particular type of baseball player who can play for the Bombers.
Coming to the point, their algorithms seem to steer the Yankees toward physically imposing players (Judge, Stanton, Sanchez, Voit, Hicks) who primarily rely on steps and homers rather than smaller athletic guys who can knock for the sake of it. mean, play solid defense, and / or have an impact on the bases.
These trends, informed by analysis, may unintentionally lead to the selection of more injury-prone players.
Indirect evidence that the Yankees’ overreliance on analysis is likely to produce more injury-prone players
Playing baseball involves a certain type of movement that puts a lot of stress on the bones, muscles, connective tissue, and tendons. Swinging a bat requires the use of small muscles you didn’t even know about. This is especially true for taller and heavier stance players, due to their overall weight and body type.
Since I don’t have access to the Yanks database and methodology, there is no way to verify it. I would also need similar information from other MLB teams for comparison. Nonetheless, there is circumstantial evidence we can rely on to see if this theory holds up.
Joel Sherman’s interview this month with Yankees assistant general manager Michael Fishman, who oversees the team’s analytics department, sheds light on this argument. Asked by Sherman about the role of analytics and its application to roster formation, he avoided answering the question and simply said that the views of other leaders and scouts were also incorporated into the making process. decision-making regarding the acquisition and retention of players.
My review of injuries in 2019, 2020, and 2021 above indicates a trend that many, if not the most common and significant, injuries were suffered by the physically taller position players. These include Edwin Encarnacion, Judge, Stanton, Voit, Hicks and Sanchez.
To me, a mixture of empirical information with consideration of the personal traits of players is the most conservative approach a baseball organization can take. The two sets of knowledge, while different, are equally important. Nonetheless, arguments are likely to persist as to the extent to which baseball executives should weigh player performance data and statistics against the human element in developing team rosters and strategies.
Either way, it’s clear that the Yankees’ strategy just isn’t winning.