Injuries are a part of the fantasy baseball world that doesn’t always get enough attention in the offseason. When preparing for fantasy drafts, people will often overlook the possibility of an injury occurring or even a setback in one’s recovery because they would rather focus on the best case scenario of a player’s output. Instead, what I like to do, is understand the inherent danger involved in rostering a player and weigh that with the best and worst possible outcomes alongside the cost of actually acquiring that player. Essentially, I try to decipher whether or not the reward is worth the risk. In order to do such a thing, I think it’s important to look back at previous years and figure out if the data shows any signs of future happenings. It’s not just imperative to look at an individual’s injury history, but also look at any league wide trends. In doing so, one may be able to better predict the future. What makes this a daunting task nowadays is that the past three seasons can and should all be separated into three separate categories of reasons why things happened the way they did. In 2019, for example, it was a normal season that followed its predecessors, with a regular offseason and continued training throughout. In 2020, however, we were subjected to a pandemic-shortened season with a ton of quirks that made it an unenviable task to bring about any normalcy. Finally, in 2021, we made it back to a full 162-game season, but it also had some injury concerning repercussions that made for new and challenging consequences that we hadn’t seen in years previous.

What I want to do here is three-fold. First and foremost, I want to look back on the last three seasons and examine the types of injuries that happened over time to see if there were any trends happening. What you will notice is that there were new and developing injuries that posed a challenge for Major League and fantasy teams everywhere. After that, I want to generally look at the injuries that took place in 2021, pontificate why they happened, and see if we can figure out any trends going forward. Finally, I want to look ahead to 2022 and speculate on if there will be ramifications due to the ongoing labor talks and MLB shutdown and how that may affect next season’s roster construction. With that, let’s go back to the future, shall we?

  • Note – all visual data that is used is from spotrac.com
  • Note – I highly suggest that you listen to “Pallazzo Podcast Fantasy Baseball” by our very own Michael Govier as a general rule of thumb. However, the episodes where his guest Dr. David Meyer were phenomenal, and they talk in detail about how the body responds to certain actions like throwing a ball. If you’re on Twitter, I strongly suggest a follow to the aforementioned people and podcast.

2019

The world as we knew it was the same as it had always been. The offseason before and after the regular season (for a while at least) would be just like any other. Here the players would train with their teams’ coaches and medical staff, develop offseason programs to enhance a part of their game in question, and they would work to grow from their deficiencies. Within specific teams, there could be meetings to discuss strategy, sessions to discuss mechanics and programs to make sure that players would come into camp the next season lean and/or with added muscle to help make their game a better product. Here is a brief summary of the injury report for 2019:

Pitchers dominated the Injured List in 2019, as per usual, due to various injuries. As a side note, it’s important to keep in mind that throwing a ball as hard as you can, many times a game, does tremendous damage to one’s arm. Due to the velocity of a delivery, as well as the spinning and rotating of the hand while dislodging the ball, various ligaments and muscles are being overused and overstimulated. As a result, there is wear and tear over time, resulting in these injuries. While that’s a story for another day, it’s, for now, a friendly reminder that a pitcher’s arms, while tough and durable, can also be fragile and unreliable as well.

As you can see from above, pitcher-related injuries were overwhelming in 2019. That’s not to say that these injuries could not happen to hitters, but rather they are most common in pitchers. Of note, too, are the number of lower-body injuries as well, which will become more prevalent down the road. The thing to remember too here is that there is nothing really out of the ordinary. Outside of a small surge or decline, year after year these numbers are relatively consistent with the norm.

2020

The beginning of 2020 was a tumultuous time for everyone. The pandemic known as Covid-19 was in its infancy and was still an unknown force in the world. Spring Training was well underway when the world shut itself down, and Major League Baseball was no exception. Players, coaches, and staff were all sent home and facilities were shut down everywhere. As a result, players who were beginning to get back into game shape found themselves in a rut and unable to maintain any progress gained. They were subsequently training on their own and some players were unable to give their entire bodies the first-class elite treatment that they were used to. Keep in mind, all baseball teams have access to the world’s best trainers, medical staff, fitness equipment, workout facilities, and more. When a player is unable to have access to these luxuries, their bodies tend to suffer and can’t maintain their high-level peak.

The point of watching Joe Kelly here isn’t the fact that he forgot how to throw, or that he broke a window. It’s just a way of showing that players were forced to train with what they had available. While it’s not uncommon for athletes to find new and innovative ways to harness their craft, at this point and time in the world, this was one of the only methods athletes had at their disposal. Here’s an inside look at the injury report for 2020, with a specific focus on the numbers at the bottom:

This 2020 Injury Report indicates that 456 players were injured that season over a 60 game season, which is incredibly close to the 2019 total of 563 players over a 162 game season. Keep in mind that this does include those that were on the Covid-19 Injury Reserve, and we were in a world without a vaccine. Also of note too, is that there are potentially serious ramifications of that as well, such as the unknown lingering effects of having Covid-19. Still, it’s rather alarming that players everywhere were injured. In the world of fantasy baseball, it was a frustrating task to even roster a healthy team. Looking at specifically how they got hurt:

Notice the slight difference here is where the injuries are taking place. The biggest concerns here are with regards to the hamstring and the knees, which had a pretty big jump from its 2019 numbers. In only a 60 game schedule, there were more than half of the 2019 total hamstring injuries and about half of the 2019 total knee injuries. That’s not to say that the upper body was able to withstand any and all injuries in 2020. In fact, there were almost as many arm-related injuries in 2020 as in the previous year, specifically to the UCL. Many studies have shown that this is due to a change in workloads:

Essentially, with players and staff trying to overcome the obstacles of not being able to properly train, compounded with the challenges of playing over a shortened season all led to the bodies of these athletes not knowing how to react to a change of pace. The muscles were being trained in different ways and weren’t necessarily responding in ways that they normally would. Still, there would be lingering effects going forward into next season.

2021

One thing that everyone needs to remember is that baseball players, like all athletes, are human beings. They may be at the physical peak of what it means to be a human, but they are human nonetheless. One characteristic that everyone can relate to is the ability to adapt to change. We all have that capability, and the new world of 2021 was beginning to become familiar to everyone. As a result, masks felt less intrusive, cleaning and sanitizing became the norm, social distancing became easier and communication through new means was prominent. The mental aspect of living in society in 2021 was easier as well, making the preparation of athletes and staff much more bearable. Remember, we are all creatures of habit. As such, players were able to better train and come up with ways to make themselves better. They were also able to be with their team, to a certain extent, and have programs and machines ready in order to help them get ready for a full 162 game season. It also posted some potential for danger.

There are some very important concerns here, both of which had ramifications on the season. The first concern is the total number of injuries, which is almost double that of the 2019 season. While remembering that this total also includes the Covid-19 virus as an injury, it also shows that the bodies of the players weren’t yet ready to jump over to an additional 100 games from the previous year. The number of injuries to pitchers is staggering as well, which ties itself into the body pushing itself to be stretched out over a longer time. As such, teams constructed their rosters differently, such as instituting a six-man rotation, placing multiple proven closers to help a closer-by-committee approach, and calling up prospects for spot start games in order to give their starters additional rest. Essentially, rosters were constructed in a different manner.

Digging deeper into this trend, there is a lot to unpack in the graphic above. First and foremost, while Covid-19 was still a dominating force, it didn’t necessarily hurt rosters as hard and as often as in 2020, especially on a per-game rate. The world was one with a vaccine, and as such, players on the Covid-19 Injured List were subject to a shorter period of time. Also of note is the rapid rise in hamstring and oblique injuries that forced their way into almost every team’s Injured List this year, which are strain and sprain related:

I highly recommend giving the linked article a read, because it’s very well laid out as to the trends that were being seen midway through the season. Essentially though, because the body is filled with both muscles and ligaments, there is wear and tear associated with various physical activities. Baseball is predicated on being a one-sided sport, meaning that one side of your body will likely be overused due to the game itself, causing it to be either overworked or for the side that isn’t being used to try to overcompensate. In a pandemic world that had a shortened 2020 season, many players’ bodies were playing catch up at a speed they weren’t necessarily used to. As such, their bodies were working overtime and breaking down in places they hadn’t normally. Players were injuring themselves by running the bases, swinging a bat, and doing fundamental baseball moves and actions.

While the injuries did seem to subside somewhat as the year went along, the fact remained that these once physically elite players were no longer in peak condition partly due to the surroundings of their environment. They still weren’t able to have their bodies catch up to the level from which they were expected to perform over a 162 game season, which the Injured List definitely showed. Still, one would have to think that things will improve come 2022, however, I’m not sure this will be the case.

2022

On December 2, 2021, Major League Baseball implemented the first work stoppage in 26 years, as both players and owners were unable to reach an agreement. While there are many ramifications to this stoppage, there is one that is in focus for the purpose of this writing. As it stands, players are once again unable to train, practice and rehab with their team’s staff and medical facilitators, and are now at home awaiting any news of a settlement. This is something to monitor in the long run as we could once again see a rise in injuries next season, similar to what happened this year. Should the lockout linger and carry itself into the new year, we could very well see a 2021 injury trend of Oblique and Hamstring cases rise again. These injury types aren’t always fixable through surgery and do take time to heal. Remember that muscles can be trained to perform, either short-term or long-term. This means that short term, one can prepare a muscle through movement to get it ready to perform (ie warmups) or long term through repetitive motions (ie swinging a bat and pitching over and over) to grow. Without proper equipment, programs and facilities, we could see these muscles either improperly trained or improperly balanced in their training.

During Covid last year, players had their Spring Training routine shut down and were sent home. They were isolated from their world, meaning they had no access to their team’s facilities and limited access to their trainers and doctors. What we saw in 2021 were improperly trained muscles. If a lockout continues onward and into the normal time for preparation into Spring Training, it’s unclear as to what lies ahead for players with injuries. As of right now, we are seeing some players take matters into their own hands.

While it’s great to see how much he has progressed, doing this on their own isn’t the same as being with the best of the best in order to train. There are other superstars who have some lingering injuries that may not get the full treatment they deserve this offseason.

The joke of him performing his own course of action is a clever one; however, the underlying principle remains that without access to these facilities and facilitators, injuries may not heal quite like we all hope. Players will hype themselves up as healthy in an effort to play, but how much do we actually trust Fernando Tatis Jr.’s shoulder? Do we believe that Mookie Betts’ hip is fully healed? Can Jacob deGrom successfully pitch through a season without re-injuring himself? These and many more injuries may not get the time needed to fully heal and get a correct diagnosis. Furthermore, if there are issues that are present and cannot be addressed, any delay in surgery will undoubtedly delay one’s start to the 2022 season as well. If the lockout continues and players aren’t able to reunite with their staff soon enough, we may be faced with increasingly tough challenges before and during the upcoming season. I am by no means a doctor, nor am I pretending to be one here. What I am though, is someone who is seeing the potential dangers that lie ahead for players that are injured or who are close to recovering from an injury. There are professional doctors, nurses, trainers, and physicians here for a reason, and they are the ones who can help out those in need. If they are inaccessible to these athletes in their time of need, it could make for some problems down the road. Here’s to Major League Baseball solving this labour dispute as soon as possible.