A’s Injury Epidemic: What Billy Beane Says About It
OAKLAND -- In only one way this season are the A’s setting records.
Through 69 games, they have used the disabled list 16 times, the most in the big-leagues this year and the most through 11 weeks for any A’s team since record-keeping began in the late 1970s.
In the words of executive vice president Billy Beane, the A’s are “living under the shadow of this injury epidemic.″ So far A’s players have missed 633 games due to injury.
Are the players on the Oakland roster particularly brittle? Is there something the medical staff should be doing that it’s not? Is it simply bad luck?”‹
Beane said there are “no easy targets″ when trying to explain this “epidemic.” He points to the pitchers sidelined with Tommy John surgeries, saying they are symptomatic of what the club is going through. Jarrod Parker, Chris Bassitt and Felix Doubront are out for the year while recovering from Tommy John surgeries.
“We just had a rash of Tommy Johns,″ said Beane, addressing the issue of the training staff. “In every department we evaluate both the good and the bad. You have to evaluate, and every department has good and bad, but in my mind it’s kind of a lazy narrative to say that injuries are the result. They are bad luck or injury history when you acquired the player.
“You could expect at some level Parker’s injury. But Bassitt’s came out of nowhere.″
The A’s disabled list was populated with 13 players at its peak. The number is now down to 10, still the most in the majors. But there is hope that number can dip into single digits with right fielder Josh Reddick and starting pitchers Rich Hill and Sean Manaea expected back by the end of the month.
In addition to the players listed above, the A’s have had ace pitcher Sonny Gray, infielders Danny Valencia and Jed Lowrie. reliever Liam Hendricks and backup catcher Josh Phegley on the DL.
Henderson Alvarez, who was supposed to be a key member of the rotation, is still there after shoulder surgery last July.
The A’s players say they couldn’t be happier with the treatment they get from trainer Nick Paparesta and his assistants, Walt Horn and Brian Schulman.
“I think Nick and Walt and Brian are some of the best guys in the league,″ said reliever Sean Doolittle, who missed most of the 2015 season with a shoulder ailment. “After the way they took care of me last year, I have a lot of respect for what they do.
“The methods they use are cutting edge. They try to stay ahead of the curve. They try to keep trying to learn to get us the best treatments. They have their hands full now, but it’s not for lack of effort.″
A senior executive with another American League team said, “I don’t know of anything the A’s have done wrong. Sometimes it’s the track record of the player just holding true.”
Hill, currently out with a groin strain, is 36, an age when injuries historically tend to increase. Beane and general manager David Forst knew that when they signed him, and the groin injury, which is relatively mild, isn’t overly surprising.
Then there is Parker, a right-hander who had Tommy John surgery while with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2010.
The A’s knew when they traded for him in 2011 that it was a risk vs. reward transaction, and the team was richly rewarded when Parker helped them to back-to-back post-season appearances in 2012 and 2013 by going a combined 25-16 in 61 starts.
Since then Parker hasn’t pitched in the big-leagues at all. He had another Tommy John surgery, and two subsequent injuries have followed.
Alvarez was another risky acquisition who has now twice suffered shoulder setbacks when it was thought he was one start away from joining the rotation. Also, infielder Mark Canha, who had 16 homers last season, had hip and back problems that cropped up last year and finally required surgery. He is out for the year.
There are flukes as well, beginning with the broken left thumb suffered by Reddick on a slide into second base. He was the A’s hottest hitter when he got hurt.
“When you look at the majority of our injuries, they’ve happened on freaky things,″ catcher Stephen Vogt said. “They are not really performance-related injuries. Tommy Johns are one thing; they’re inevitable in this age. The issue is that Reddick’s slide was a fluke. Like Sogard’s knee.″
Infielder Eric Sogard first suffered a shoulder injury in spring training. By the time his shoulder healed, his left knee, which had bothered him for the last two seasons, blew up and required season-ending surgery.
The poor facilities at the antiquated Coliseum might have something to do with the slower recovery time for some of the A’s players.
At their spring training site in Mesa, Arizona, there are hot and cold hydrotherapy pools, another pool with a treadmill and a huge gym, none of which is available in Oakland.
Instead, there is one hot tub available at the Coliseum. Players who want to use jumping or stretching stations must do so in the hallway outside the clubhouse, where the elevator opens, and media and stadium workers going back-and-forth provide unnatural obstacles.
“I was out there the other day; we’re always out in the hall,″ Doolittle said. “And there was a dumpster out there. I don’t know what that was about. But we do have to get real creative with lack of space here.″
Players also don’t have daily access to chiropractors or acupuncturists like many other big league teams, because there is no space for exam rooms. So some players will start the day visiting them privately, but it’s a nuisance.
Most players take it in stride, but some complain, like Chris Coghlan. Insiders say his frequent complaints were internal but vocal enough that it was part of the reason for his being traded to the Cubs earlier this month. That and a .146 batting average over 51 games.
The injuries have become so pervasive that they are impacting the A’s ability to trade. At 28-41, this would be a logical time to ponder trades. Beane says that kind of thinking is not possible at the moment.
“This whole thing has been a chaotic mess,″ Beane said. “I have not contemplated moving anybody. I haven’t even thought about it. I want these guys back, healthy and playing for our team. Before anything else, we need to settle our roster down. We’ve had some tough years injury-wise, but this is completely unprecedented.
“We’re just going day to day. No one could be expected to prepare for this many losses. I just want to get some bodies back. We’re at the situation where we’re calling up starters for a game, and when we do that, it means our Triple-A team in Nashville doesn’t have a starter.″
More than that, the injuries are forcing the A’s to go with players who should be in the minor.
“These injuries affect the whole organization,″ Beane said. “Take Daniel Mengden and Sean Manaea. These are two guys we think very highly of, but we started the year thinking Mengden would spend the whole year in the minors learning and that Manaea might be an option the latter third of the season. But we’ve had to call up both.
“We can’t realistically evaluate this team. There’s no way to know what we possibly could have achieved. There are so many players being used who were not being counted on, and some players who should be here and aren’t. I don’t think any club could perform at a high level with this many players out. There’s just no way.″
For more on the A’s, see John Hickey’s Inside the A’s blog at ibabuzz.com/athletics . Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JHickey3 .