Despite perpetual dedication of two spots on the disabled list to pitchers recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2013, Kansas City Royals players suffered the least number of days on the DL as a team.
Health has long been suspected of being an untapped market efficiency. Rany Jazayerli and Joe Sheehan had speculated about the possibility of teams adding wins by keeping their players healthy. Keeping players healthy may help give the Royals a boost during the wild card fight.
General Manager Dayton Moore has developed a keen eye for injury prone players since being burned by the acquisition of a washed-up Jonathan Sanchez, who had something akin to chronic bicep tendinitis.
Moore has always been a careful planner and bet-hedger, but now, he takes even less risks on players than ever before. He makes sure to mention in every press conference that the medicals of newly acquired players checked out.
The same type of caution is embraced by Ned Yost, whose style of management lends itself to keeping players fresh. Even though he started Salvador Perez in a month’s worth of consecutive games, if he thought Salvy couldn’t handle it, Salvy wouldn’t have played.
Yost infuriated fans by giving Yuniesky Betancourt too much playing time, but with a decent bench in place of Yuni, Yost can use the same strategy to keep players fresh without costing the team wins. If he manages to keep players rested, the sporadic days off will pay returns by ensuring more playing time for the everyday players down the stretch.
Most importantly to the team’s health, the team has one of the best training staffs in all of baseball. In 2011, the training staff won the Dick Martin Award, named for the former Minnesota Twins trainer. The award is based off a formula that calculates the dollars and time lost to injuries. The Royals were the best in the league.
In 2013, the Royals medical staff, with a little help from the nationally renowned KU Med Center staff, won the Major League Athletic Training Staff of the Year award for their ability to keep players healthy.
Royals position players only suffered 173 days combined on the disabled list in 2013, less than half the average. If injured players give around league average production, or even a little less, the Royals probably saved two or three losses, just by keeping their players twice as healthy as the average team.
Astonishingly, not a single pitcher hit the DL during the season. Both Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino recovered from Tommy John surgery during the season. Paulino didn’t play a single day of the season and, even with that, the Royals had among the lowest days lost on MLB pitching staffs.
While it’s impossible to predict which teams will lose the most days to injuries, and therefore lose the most production, the Royals are fifth best at preventing injuries since head trainer Nick Kenny took over before the 2010 season. That even includes the depressing and unlucky 2012.
Over the course of the season, as more DL stints stack up, we will see the win expectancy of other teams start slipping, which could be crucial in the wild card race. Other teams, such as the oft-injured Athletics, the Orioles, and, of course, the Yankees will suffer under the weight of injuries and the Royals probably won’t (at least not as much).
Something so limited in scope as preventing injuries will not secure a playoff spot, but it will keep the floor from dropping out on the Royals. It might be just what they need to stay competitive.