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MLB’s mounting injury problem has no end in sight

We’ve seen plenty of fans and readers comment early in the 2021 season that it feels as though injuries are up from previous years, and that is indeed the case. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic breaks it down in an excellent look at the increased IL stints of the non-COVID variety. IL placements are up 15 percent overall compared to the first month of the 2019 season, Rosenthal reports, with a 22 percent uptick among pitchers. Specifically, soft-tissue injuries such as hamstring, quadriceps and oblique injuries have nearly doubled in frequency, while arm and elbow injuries are up by a much slighter margin of 19 percent.

Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns, Pirates GM Ben Cherington and Marlins pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. all discuss the issue with Rosenthal, offering opinions on everything ranging from the root of some injuries to the level of club-to-club variance in treating injuries, managing player workload and other health-related matters. For anyone who’s been alarmed at the number of injuries that seem to be spanning throughout the league, it’s a must-read piece with insight straight from key team decision-makers who are faced with these challenges everyday.

It’s not surprising to see more concrete data backing up what many have suspected to be the case: Injuries are spiking around the league. While some clubs are surely just being cautious with minor injuries for key players — Tim Anderson, Josh Donaldson, Max Fried and Trent Grisham all had very brief IL stints for hamstring issues — it’s hard to ignore both the volume of IL transactions and the extent of some of the early injuries.

We’ve already seen Kole Calhoun, Ketel Marte, Carlos Carrasco, David Price, Jazz Chisholm, Jorge Alfaro, Brendan Rodgers, Shogo Akiyama and Jake Fraley sustain hamstring injuries that will keep (or already have kept) them out three-plus weeks. Calhoun’s, which required surgery, could cost him two months. MLB.com’s transactions log shows 13 IL placements due to oblique strains in April alone — three of which have resulted in the player being moved to the 60-day injured list (Julian Merryweather, Rowan Wick, Bobby Wahl). George Springer has already hit the IL with an oblique injury to open the year and now a quadriceps strain, so he checks the box for a pair of those soft-tissue injuries.

Elbow troubles are nothing new for pitchers, of course, but we’ve seen a bevy of Tommy John surgeries already in 2021. Dustin May, Kirby Yates, James Paxton, Adrian Morejon, Luis Avilan, Jose Leclerc, Jonathan Hernandez, Jimmy Cordero, Blake Cederlind, Roenis Elias, Forrest Whitley, Jose Castillo, Michel Baez and Bryan Mata are just some of the big leaguers and notable prospects to undergo UCL replacement surgery since spring training opened a couple months back.

We’ve also already seen several of the game’s exciting young stars impacted. The White Sox may not get another plate appearance from Luis Robert (hip flexor strain) or Eloy Jimenez (ruptured pectoral tendon) in 2021. Ke’Bryan Hayes has missed much of the season with a wrist issue, and the Marlins are still building Sixto Sanchez back up after shoulder troubles stalled him. Adalberto Mondesi hasn’t played a game for the Royals yet thanks to an oblique injury. Fernando Tatis Jr. is playing through a shoulder subluxation.

Clubs will continue exercise caution and utilize a number of minimal, 10-day stints on the IL to manage workload and to creatively keep fresh arms available on their pitching staff. Such tactics are commonplace every year, and that’ll probably be all the more true in 2021 given concerns about the dramatic workload increase over 2020 (particularly among players who spent most of last year working at alternate sites). However, the early trend is concerning with regard to soft-tissue injuries and arm troubles for pitchers. Trepidation regarding those arm injuries, in particular, only figures to escalate as pitcher workloads increase over the next five months.

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