In 2016, the White Sox were abnormally unhealthy by their standards. They lost more than 1,000 days to the disabled list for the first time since the Internet got good at keeping track.
And yet for a year of data, it wasn’t all that alarming. The White Sox were the healthiest team in the league the year before. Average them out, and the 2015-16 stretch (725 days missed) lined up with their 2013-14 selves (742 days missed).
They courted the risk of DL time inflation by acquiring Brett Lawrie and Alex Avila, and Herm Schneider couldn’t tame their track records of poor health. Zach Putnam also made his usual trip to the disabled list, although it was longer than usual.
2016 was also the year that turned White Sox rookies into Spinal Tap drummers. Matt Davidson broke his foot during his White Sox debut while Charlie Tilson tore his hamstring in his, adding 150 days to the tally. That sequence of injuries would be written off as too fantastical for fiction, so you wouldn’t count on that repeating.
The Sox also suffered a couple of costly long-term injuries (Austin Jackson, Jake Petricka) that don’t neatly fall into any narrative, so it couldn’t all be waved away. Nevertheless, even though it felt like the White Sox collapsed under the weight of a staggering body count, they still lost a below-average amount of time to disabled list relative to the rest of the league.
2017 is a different matter.
* * *The White Sox dealt with an above-average amount of injuries this past season no matter how you slice it, according to Jeff Zimmerman’s annual tally of days lost to the disabled list.
They certainly broke new ground by their own standards:
- 2012: 515
- 2013: 727
- 2014: 756
- 2015: 353
- 2016: 1,097
- 2017: 1,278
More troubling is that the White Sox raised the league average for once. The other 29 teams lost an average of 1,054 days to the DL. Zimmerman didn’t update his rolling averages, but their three-year average of 909 days lost brings them to the middle of the pack, as opposed to the solid top-five status they’d long enjoyed.
Strategic, freak or otherwise blameless (292 days)
*Dylan Covey (80 days): He lost a ton of time to an oblique injury for the second straight season, but because he was clearly in over his head as a Rule 5 pick, the White Sox were better off disabling Covey for as long as possible. They used up just about all of the three months allowed by the rules.
*Geovany Soto (156 days): The White Sox were lucky to get a full season out of Soto the last time around, and he played only 26 games for the Angels the year before, so the math won here.
*Willy Garcia (45 days) and Yoan Moncada (11 days): A violent collision in short right field isn’t the fault of the training staff.
Perhaps unavoidable (343 days)
*Zach Putnam (161 days): Putnam had put off a more dramatic elbow procedure when he had bone chips removed in 2016, but he finally underwent Tommy John surgery after hitting the disabled list in April.
*Charlie Tilson (182 days): Tilson spent the entire year on the 60-day DL due to a sequence of injuries described as compensatory stress reactions in his foot and a stress fracture in his ankle. I’m not sure how much of this can be attributed to the Sox training staff since the main injury occurred on his first day in uniform, and the aftershocks early in spring training. However, Tilson had no such issues over his final 2½ seasons with the Cardinals preceding the Zach Duke trade, so it’s not like he always gets around by gurney.
Previously problematic parts (230 days)
*Miguel Gonzalez (29 days): The Orioles dumped him because of a sluggish return from shoulder issues, so there was a precedent for the a/c joint inflammation that sent him to the DL in mid-June. He missed a month, but came back to throw eight quality starts in nine tries, resulting in a last-minute trade to Texas for Ti’Quan Forbes.
*Nate Jones (153 days): The nerve repositioning surgery wasn’t the first work on his elbow. He’d already had Tommy John surgery, and the prospect of another injury was baked into his contract extension.
*Tyler Saladino (48 days): Back problems cut his 2016 season short, and they seemed to plague him in 2017, as well. Beyond the seven weeks on the disabled list stemming from back spasms, he also slugged a paltry, homerless .229 when active.
Banged up (71 days)
*Avisail Garcia (13 days): This is the one injury that I’d see as good news, because Garcia is no stranger to the disabled list, and this time it didn’t throw off his season. He went on the DL in late July with a ligament strain in his thumb after it contributed to a 3-for-24 stretch. It only required a minimal amount of time on the shelf, and he also took the occasional day off as he returned to regular action. Everybody handled everything responsibly, and he hit .382/.439/.548 over his final 48 games to close out the season.
*Michael Ynoa (12 days): His hip strain was probably the most forgettable injury of the year.
Reynaldo Lopez (14 days): He only missed a couple turns, and he came back to average better than six innings a start in September, so that’s cool. It’s a little worrisome that he took the mound with a bad back, and also that he would’ve kept pitching if it weren’t for Jose Abreu.
*Nicky Delmonico (11 days): He barely missed more than the 10-day minimum, but his production still lagged afterward. Some of that can be written off as rookie inconsistency, but he also received cortisone treatment afterward.
*Matt Davidson (21 days): Davidson went on the disabled list after Marcus Stroman bruised his wrist with a fastball. He was expected to miss the minimum time, but he was scratched from the lineup on his initial attempt at returning and ended up doubling the length of his absence.
Long-term injuries (342 days)
*Jake Petricka (65 days): Petricka bookended his August with trips to the DL for an elbow sprain, with the second one resulting in nerve tranposition surgery and flexor tendon debridement.
*Jake Petricka (53 days): He also missed most of the first two months with a lat strain, along with…
*James Shields (61 days): … whose encouraging start was halted by the same injury. Zimmerman’s research shows that there were only 11 lat injuries in baseball last year, and the Sox had two of them concurrently.
*Carlos Rodon (90 days): The MLB transaction page says Rodon missed the first 67 days with biceps bursitis and the last 23 days with shoulder inflammation, but there isn’t a bursa sac in the biceps, so I’d bunch them into the same area. The Sox tried to downplay his lack of activity in spring training, and Rodon dodged the media through early May, so I wasn’t inclined to put much faith in his well being even before it flared up again in September.
*Leury Garcia (73 days): He jammed his hand sliding into second base in June 11, but the sprained finger wasn’t initially expected to be an issue. Then he only played in one game over the next nine days before going on the DL, and then he needed a month before he could start a rehab stint.
Garcia also missed the final 29 days because he reinjured it slipping on some stairs, but he didn’t look right during his supposedly healthy August in between DL trips. He hit just .239/.280/.385 with 32 strikeouts over 125 plate appearances, all of which dragged down his season numbers.
* * *You can remove hundreds of days from the Schneider’s tally for various reasons, but the same can be said for every trainer for every team in every year. Even after that accounting, there’s still been an uptick both in missed time and understated forecasts for missed time.
The White Sox have referred to Schneider and the training staff as the team’s “secret weapon” over the years, and they still scored points in 2017. Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia both attributed their strong seasons to Allen Thomas, and while Derek Holland wasn’t good, he was able to throw his highest innings total in three years.
It speaks to the Sox’ track record that “average” feels “horrible,” but recent history says they shouldn’t expect an advantage in this category. They’re average overall the last two season, but they’ve lost the most days by far of any AL Central team during this time.
That’s the upshot. The upside is that this could be beneficial to the front office’s approach in the long run. The White Sox have never fared well in projections, and Schneider’s track record has often been deployed as a counterpoint. After watching the Sox fail to take advantage of even freakishly healthy seasons over the past decade, they shouldn’t let anything dissuade them from accumulating as much depth as possible.
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