Injuries and the Postseason Go Together Like Success and Motivation

When a sports franchise begins a season, their first thought is to win a championship and if along the way you break some individual and team records, icing on the cake.

On August 23, 2016, Doug Padilla with ESPN reported that the Los Angeles Dodgers “managed to tie a major league record on Tuesday when they put their 27th player on the disabled list this season.”  That player was left-handed starting pitcher Scott Kazmir who had been suffering from neck inflammation. Left-handed starting pitcher Brett Anderson also went on the disabled list the same day, but for the second time this season.

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We can be sure that disabled list records were not what the Dodgers envisioned to lead the league in when they began the season. However, here were are, with a little over thirty games remaining in the 2016 regular season and as of 8/27/2016 the team finds itself one game ahead of the second place San Francisco Giants who have fought injuries all year as well. With the rosters expanding on September 1st, Clayton Kershaw on the mend, and Andre Ethier getting healthy, the Dodgers will be looking for a final month push into the playoffs.

“We’re looking forward to September 1st, as everybody is”

Dave Roberts, Los Angeles Dodgers Manager

With reinforcements on the way, we are going to look at teams with significant injury accumulation over the course of a season that managed to be successful in making the playoffs. We will determine what teams, if any, have made the playoffs despite sending 27+ players to the disabled list. Then, we will discuss the effect on teams that have suffered many and/or significant injuries yet still made the playoffs.

Before we begin, here is some context up front so that we are all on the same page. First, per Doug Padilla, “official records in this area have only been kept for the past 30 years, but all the teams high on the list were added in recent years.” Second, starting pitchers are leaving games earlier, bullpens are becoming more specialized, and position players are not expected to play in all 162 games in a season for reason of the platoon or injury, which has recently come to the attention of Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred and the Owners. Third, in general, injuries have been on the rise in Major League Baseball, which you can read about here, here, here, here, and here. In 2016, interestingly, Tommy John surgeries are down, significantly.

The point to understand here before moving forward is context. We must know and understand the context of something before we should believe anything. The context here is that the game of baseball is always changing, yet it always stays the same. Like anything else that wants to survive, baseball, because of circumstances and time, is always reinventing itself.

In modern baseball, competition and an increase in injuries and salaries have led teams to become more creative and inventive when drafting/developing players and signing free agents using analytics and technology. We also have better technology, experience, and understanding now to recognize when something is physically wrong with a player. Therefore, it is likely that we are going to continue to see teams place more and more players on the disabled list (DL) until we can modernize and prefect injuries.

What teams have made the playoffs when sending 27+ players to the disabled list?

It is of note that “the only other team on record to have put 27 players on the DL was the 2012 Boston Red Sox” and that team did not qualify for the playoffs. The Red Sox finished the 2012 season with a 69-93 win-loss record (.426 winning percentage), 26 games back of first place, which was good for last place in the American League East Division. The team did draw 3,043,003 fans in 2012, however, the fifth most in their 115-year history.

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In contrast, the 2016 Los Angeles Dodgers have also sent 27 players to the disabled list, but are 71-57 (.555%), in first place in the National League West Division, and are tied for the sixth best record in Major League Baseball. These are an amazing feats, but when we take a simple visual inspection of the Major League Baseball team injury list, the Dodgers have more than any other team and it adds further context.

It appears, despite limited data, that the 2016 Los Angeles Dodgers may become the only team to reach the playoffs when sending at least 27 players to the disabled list.

What is the effect on teams that have suffered many and/or significant injuries?

The Dodgers are on pace to become one of a handful of teams in Major League Baseball history to make the playoffs despite not having a starting pitcher break the 200 innings mark, which you can read about in detail here. We previously highlighted Dodgers minor league pitchers Jose De Leon and Trevor Oaks with the innings pitched issue in mind.

For one, it seems that like most people and their life situations, sometimes you sink and sometimes you swim. Similarly, teams have been known to turn injuries or at least injuries to key players into winning streaks and the will to win. The psychological effect cannot be understated on both sides, whether a good or bad conclusion.

Rob Neyer with Fox Sports argues, “performance in spite of injuries proves playoff perseverance.” He specifically highlights the 2014 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim who lost their ace starting pitcher Garrett Richards to the disabled list and yet went on a streak of 20 wins and 6 loses to make the playoffs after his departure. However, the Angels were already in first place before Richards hit the disabled list.

In contrast, the 2016 Los Angeles Dodgers were eight and half games out of first place when their ace starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw hit the disabled list with a herniated disc. They are now in first place and many more pitchers and position players have hit the disabled list since Kershaw’s hopefully short absence.

Danny Knobler with Bleacher Report writes in “How Have the Dodgers Erased the SF Giants’ Huge Lead Without Clayton Kershaw?” that the Dodgers success is due to the bullpen’s dominance, team and farm system depth, Manager Dave Roberts’ leadership, the San Francisco Giants abrupt change in fortune in their win-loss record, and lastly a “semi-soft” schedule for the Dodgers. We wrote about the Dodgers depth and youth movement previously. Regardless, that is many things to go right for the Dodgers after sending 27 men to the disabled list and a rare feat within itself.

It is also possible that the Dodgers rallied around ace Kershaw after he fell victim to injury.

What we do know is that Dodgers are on a path to break even more records as they continue their push to the playoffs. They may become the first team ever to make the playoffs while sending at least 27 players to the disabled list. One of a handful of teams to make the playoffs while having no starting pitcher even close to 200 innings pitched. Lastly, the Dodgers may be the only team in history to have every starting pitcher in their rotation not named Kenta Maeda, the one who signed a long-term incentive laden deal in 2016 because of his own arm peculiarities, to hit the disabled at least once and possibly still make the playoffs.

In two weeks, we will revisit this topic from a different standpoint, discussing defensive shifts and bullpen/relief pitcher limits in light of MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s comments in context of the Los Angeles Dodgers constant moves between the disabled list, minor league transactions, and their use of the bullpen.

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Jeremy Evans

Jeremy M. Evans is the Founder & Managing Attorney at California Sports Lawyer®, representing entertainment, media, and sports clientele. Evans is an award-winning attorney and industry leader based in Los Angeles.

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