Another day, another round of physical concerns. The Mets scratched Jacob deGrom from his scheduled start Tuesday night and an MRI revealed inflammation in his right lat. The Brewers returned Christian Yelich to the injured list with lingering back trouble one day after activating him. The Cardinals awaited a second opinion on Jordan Hicks’ right elbow inflammation.
For all the talk of rules changes in the sport — the need for more action, more offense, a faster pace of play — Major League Baseball’s biggest problem may be keeping players healthy. A new collective-bargaining agreement presumably will address some of the sport’s aesthetic and competitive issues. But no one in the sport has figured out how to reduce injuries, and the return to 162 games in 2021 from 60 in ’20 represents a particular challenge.
Information provided to The Athletic from an independent firm that studies injury data (which asked not to be named because it is not authorized to discuss its research) shows placements on the injured list increased by 15 percent in a comparison from the first month of 2019, baseball’s last full season, to the first month of ’21 (both years include IL placements from spring training). The increase for pitchers was 22 percent, and the overall increase in soft-tissue injuries, including hamstring and oblique strains, was 97 percent.
A host of caveats apply, starting with the fact that the IL is not a form of medical diagnosis, but a roster management tool clubs use to replace injured players with healthy ones. Teams are being extra careful, particularly with young pitchers, fearing the impact of a dramatic increase in workload over a full schedule. And while the data includes only orthopedic injuries, not trips to the IL because of COVID-19, the increase in roster size from 25 in 2019 to 26 in 2021 might have contributed to an overall jump in the numbers.
Then again, the rate of increase in April injuries from 2018 to ’19 was similar to the rate of increase from ’19 to ’21, making it premature to suggest that going from 60 games to 162 has led to a greater number of injuries. The league is coming off a normal offseason and normal spring training; if anything, the effect of the ramp-up should be more of a factor later in the season. It’s difficult to draw firm conclusions when the sample size is still so small.