Mailbag: How Good Are the Padres at Avoiding Injuries?

Reader David recently wondered about injury prevention, specifically as it relates to the Padres…

I read Will Carroll’s piece on the cost of injuries and the relative success of some clubs at preventing injuries over the last decade a few days ago and have been mulling it over. Among the key nuggets: “What’s clear is that player movement can be affected by the team context. It allows a team like the Brewers to make a deal for Shaun Marcum, knowing that even with his significant injury history, he’s more likely to stay healthy in Milwaukee’s rotation than in Toronto’s.”

I know that many of the Padres players in the earlier part of last decade were very vocal about the skills of both the medical and training — particularly the massage — staff. I’d love to know whether that remains in place even though Kelly Calabrese isn’t around to offend Keith Hernandez any more, and how much guys like Dr. Fronek and other team physicians are involved in developing injury-prevention regimens for minor leaguers.

Something remains in place. The Padres currently employ a sports massage therapist named Philip Kerr. I know nothing about him other than he has the same name as a British fiction writer… probably not useful for our purposes.

Because I don’t know the answer to David’s actual question, let’s look instead at a related issue: How successful have the Padres been at preventing injuries over the past several years?

Jeff Zimmerman has done work in this area. Among other things, he corroborates Carroll’s assertion that the White Sox excel at keeping their players healthy and has made available a handy spreadsheet.

Here’s a look at the Padres using numbers from the spreadsheet (2002-2009) and one of the other referenced articles (2010):

Year Sal% Rnk WPct
2002 29.9  29 .407
2003 33.9  28 .395
2004  8.4   8 .537
2005 10.7  15 .506
2006 24.6  26 .543
2007  4.8   4 .546
2008 12.5  15 .389
2009 35.3  29 .463
2010 21.1  27 .556

Sal% is the percentage of total salary lost to injuries. I threw in the team’s winning percentage for an extra dose of fun.

I can’t speak to the accuracy of Zimmerman’s numbers, which are derived from Josh Hermsmeyer’s Free Player Injury Database (I have no specific reason to doubt them, just haven’t done any testing myself), but assuming they hold up to scrutiny, the Padres haven’t been good at preventing injuries.

Other than 2004 and 2007, the Padres have been either middle of the pack or near the bottom. Ironically, their best showing came in 2007, when critical injuries to Mike Cameron and Milton Bradley in the season’s waning days killed the team’s chances at a postseason berth.

Additional work has been done in this and related areas, if you’re interested:

It seems to me that the study of injuries, like the study of defense, is one area where sabermetrics has yet to reach its potential. For example, I would love to know what — if any — correlation exists between the amount of time/money lost to disabled list trips and a team’s on-field success (just looking at the Padres from 2002 to 2010, it’s hard to tell). Here’s hoping we’ll see more work in this area in the future.

Thanks to David for bringing Carroll’s article to my attention and inspiring me to poke around a bit.

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No links were hurt in the compiling of this list…

  • Ashford broke barriers behind a mask ( Umpire Emmett Ashford was highlighted in last month’s Ted Williams Chapter SABR meeting.
  • Eric Chavez: Coulda Been a Somebody, Coulda Been a Contender (Beyond the Boxscore). Dave Gershman ponders what Eric Chavez, pride of Mt. Carmel High School, might have been. Cool charts.
  • San Diego Padres Top 30 Prospects for 2011 (MadFriars). John Conniff gives his list (subscription required).
  • Platooning Closers: Good Idea or Great Idea? (FanGraphs). The Braves are considering such an arrangement. Everything old is new again. See, e.g., 1981-1983 Orioles (Tippy Martinez, Tim Stoddard), 1985 Cardinals (Jeff Lahti, Ken Dayley), 1985-1987 Mets (Roger McDowell, Jesse Orosco), and others I’m probably forgetting.
  • “Daaaaa-vid Neeeeew-han” (RJ’s Fro). Beautown reminisces about the time he saw new/old Padres infielder David Newhan playing at Triple-A Las Vegas.
  • How Vital Are All Those Vital Checks (Newhan on Baseball). Newhan and his father, Hall of Fame sportswriter Ross Newhan, have a blog. [h/t Dodger Thoughts]
  • Will ‘Moneyball’ movie be worth it? (SweetSpot). Jon Weisman compares the upcoming film to The Social Network. My thought is that if the Moneyball movie focuses on the human-interest stories, e.g., Chad Bradford, Scott Hatteberg, and that one pitcher whose name escapes me, then maybe it will be worth watching. I realize the book inspired many people to learn more about sabermetrics, but as someone who started reading Bill James in the ’80s, that aspect seemed like watered-down review material and I don’t know how well it would translate to the screen.
  • The Dodgers according to Ned Colletti (Dodger Thoughts). Speaking of Weisman, here’s his very thorough take on the Dodgers GM. Know the enemy and all that.
  • A brief aside about the role of sports writers now and in the future (Hardball Talk). As Craig Calcaterra notes, “No one cares where the factoid comes from. People care about what it all means and will read stuff from people who will help them figure that out.” That’s the assumption I’ve been operating under here at Ducksnorts for the past 13+ years.

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9 Responses »

  1. OT … BP’s look at payroll …

    Projected 2011 payroll: $43,460,000 (27th)
    2010 payroll: $37,799,300 Opening Day (30th), $43,654,177 year-end (30th)
    Future commitments: $13.55 million for 2012, $3.5 million for 2013

  2. Thanks for doing the legwork I was too lazy to do myself!

    While the Zimmerman data is interesting, the metric isn’t particularly insightful at overall injury prevention. For example, that percentage in 2009 is driven significantly by the fact that Jake Peavy and Brian Giles represented 50% of the total payroll. In 2010, Chris Young was 17% of total payroll. Now, it’s certainly alarming that they lost their ace pitchers to significant injuries two years running, but I’m not sure how telling it is at overall injury prevention. I’ll look forward to browsing through the other links you’ve provided!

  3. It’s funny that 2007 had such a low injury rate, since two very big injuries (bradley and cameron) seem to define that season in my mind. Though any season where you get 173 innings from chis young has to be viewed as a success.

  4. I just read this over at an article at BP …

    Ludwick went from Busch to Petco midseason, and while the spacious park out west was blamed for his failure to produce the rest of the way, the real culprit may have been his calf injury, which he sustained with the Cards and supposedly never got over. Since Petco is a better park for righties than Busch, this would make sense, and give hope for Ludwick’s 2011.

    … give me some hope for a better 2011 out of Ludwick!

  5. Basing the extent of injuries based on salary lost is strange way to gauge it and his numbers of player days on the DL are incorrect as well.

    Just ONE example of statistical inaccuracies:
    Zimmerman claims the Padres only had 10 trips to the DL in 2009 while the Padres actually had as many as 9 players on the DL at ONE TIME and many players made multiple trips to the DL.

    The Padres have had 3 of the worst 5 seasons for total players days on the DL since 1969 over the past 11 seasons including setting new records for total number of player days on the DL twice.

    If the NY Mets had not had the worst season for injuries ever, in 2009 the Padres would have broken their own record for player days on the DL that they set the previous season.

    Not quite sure where they got those statistics.

  6. The Free Player Injury Database is rough to use. Players are identified by codes and there’s no sorting by teams. It would take a lot of time to double-check Zimmerman’s numbers to see, for example, if he counted players who were hurt in spring training as making a trip to the DL, or if a trip was defined as moving off the roster after opening day.

    The Baseball Injury Tool Page is friendlier. I checked the 09 roster against it and came up with 18 major leaguers who visited one or both of the disabled lists, for a loss of 1118 days. Floyd and Adams spent time on both lists.

    My total didn’t include Worrell, who missed the whole season and never appeared in a major league game for us, or Kouzmanoff, who was listed as day-to-day for three weeks in September because there was no need to free up a roster spot. I did count all of Peavy’s stay even though it wasn’t all as a Padre. However we handle those cases, we seem to have suffered about 2x the number of DL visits and a lot more lost time than Zimmerman shows.

    It would be interesting to calculate injuries in terms of projected WAR or PECOTA or another forward-looking value metric. “Losing” Walter Silva in 2009 was a positive for us; losing Blanks in 2010, even though it didn’t cost much money, was a serious blow.

  7. Hope fo Ludwick in 2011? I’ll second that!!!

  8. @David: My pleasure; it was interesting to learn what work has been done in this area. As you note, payroll might not be the best way to measure this stuff; maybe days on DL or some such would be better. The unstated implication of basing it on salary is that your best players are the ones who are paid the most, but this is not always the case.

    @Websoulsurfer: Yeah, I think there will be some growing pains as they figure out what to do with this data (or even which data to use). I don’t why there are discrepancies, but given the nature of injury data, I’m not surprised it’s hard to get accurate publicly available data.

    @TW: I like the forward-looking angle. I’m sure someone will get working on that before long, if they haven’t already.