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Will Baseball's Disabled List Now Be Used for Injury Prevention?


Will Baseball's Disabled List Now Be Used for Injury Prevention?

Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association renegotiated their collective bargaining agreement this past offseason. One of the notable rule changes revolves around the length of time injured players are held out of action.

Previously, the minimum number of days that a player had to spend on the disabled list (DL) was 15 (excluding the special 7-day DL used only for concussions). Under the league’s new labor deal, there is now a 10-day DL.

This change was instituted to protect players, while also allowing teams to have more roster flexibility.

In past years, a team might hesitate to put a player with a minor injury on the disabled list if he was likely to be healthy in less than 15 days. Instead, the club would play shorthanded for a few games while anticipating his return the lineup. During that time, there could be pressure on the player to take the field before he was ready. Now, if a player is expected to be out for a week (7-10 days is a common diagnosis for many nagging injuries) it’s less of a gamble for his team to add him to the 10-day DL and replace his position on the roster.

Paul Swydan of Fangraphs took an in-depth look at how MLB franchises can benefit from the shorter disabled list, particularly in regards to starting pitchers. He cited an example from last August, when Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez pulled his hamstring during a game against the Orioles:

“Rodriguez was firing on all cylinders. In his first four innings in Baltimore, he pitched no-hit ball, walking just [one] while striking out seven. He struck out [the side] in order in the fourth. When he came out in the fifth inning, however, he tweaked his hamstring. He left in the middle of his at-bat against Steve Pearce and wouldn’t pitch for 12 days. Rodriguez spent those 12 days on the active roster, because at the time, the team was hopeful he would make his next start.”

Had Boston placed Rodriguez on the 15-day DL, it would’ve committed to him skipping at least two starts. Now, assuming there’s a day off in the schedule (normal for a 10-day span), teams can put a starting pitcher on the disabled list and have him miss only one turn in the rotation.

The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh recently examined whether or not clubs have been taking advantage of the new DL this year:

“Naturally, one would expect shorter DL stints to lead to more DL stints. … 158 players had been placed on the 10-day DL through this April 25; through the same date last season, 140 players had been placed on the 15-day DL. … In other words, DL activity has increased, albeit not by so much that the sport has functioned in a dramatically different way.”

Lindbergh speculates that this may change when players are in greater need of rest as the season progresses:

“If we do see stretching of what constitutes an ‘injury,’ some of it will likely be done in the name of preventing fatigue. ‘Fatigue’ needn’t be a BS justification for a DL stint; as former Dodgers head athletic trainer and VP of medical services Stan Conte says, ‘Many people think the 10-day DL will be [used] to rest players with the idea that this will reduce injuries overall, since many of us think fatigue is a cause of injuries. This is especially [true] for starting pitchers.’ … However, since we haven’t hit May yet, it’s too soon for fatigue to be a big problem (or a convincing fake one).”

Rather than for recuperating from injuries, could the disabled list now be used as a method of injury prevention?

In a study conducted by WHOOP and Major League Baseball in 2016, players were found to have diminishing daily Recoveries preceding injuries. Will teams use this knowledge to their advantage in 2017?

Imagine an East-Coast squad heading out West for a 10-day road trip. One of its starting pitchers has been underperforming and is showing signs of fatigue. The club can now throw him on the DL, leave him back home to rest and call up a player from the minors to take his place for one start.

When the dog days of summer begin to take their toll this season, don’t be surprised to see players making brief 10-day DL stints as a means to stay healthy for the long haul.

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