It’s the Toronto Blue Jays body part tally five weeks into the season, a litany of woes akin to an Operation game board, with 17 injuries to 16 different players, a tally still pending. of the status of Joe Panik and without Teoscar Hernandez. , who ran out of time with COVID-19.
Even for those hardened by baseball’s inevitable attrition, it took a lot of work. Yes, injuries are part of the game and every team has them. But the steady procession of players to the injured list – evidenced by this week’s George Springer saga – has been jarring, and the typical audience’s tally amid such hardships is serious.
Still, it’s important to avoid scapegoats or settle for the simple and superficial answers so handy at times like these.
The Blue Jays may be in the high end when it comes to injuries this season, but they’re far from alone. While aftershocks from the pandemic are undoubtedly playing a role in the current outbreak, there is a troubling gulf between the industry’s attempts to keep players on the ground and its ability to do so.
Take the Blue Jays for example, with one of the bigger ones, otherwise the the largest performing department of the majors. Never have they collected, processed and mined as much medical data as they do now, and never had a resource in place for any need someone might have.
Yet how can their attempts to create a player health Xanadu be reconciled with the results six years after the high performance department began existence? Are things getting worse instead of better?
“We think they’re helping,” said general manager Ross Atkins. “We think we’re learning a lot and the results have been mixed so far, and right now obviously our results are far from ideal when it comes to health. But performance isn’t just about injuries. He also tries to avoid them, to try to maximize the abilities of the guys, to put them in a position to be successful. We feel amazing about what we have learned, what we will continue to learn and the addition of (new Medical Director) Andrew Pipkin this year, what we have learned from his participation and help in this process. “
To be fair, the science of sports has its limits and healing and sustaining the human body is not a foolproof endeavor. Objective measurements used to track effort and identify warning signs – isometric tests, for example, that isolate muscle contraction and measure it to assess strength – provide information but not always answers.
As Springer recovered from his first strain of ATV, his results in isometric strength tests and GPS speed tracking gave the Blue Jays “all the confidence to take the next step” with the star outfielder, Atkins said.
Yet in Springer’s third game he again injured the recovered quad strain, which put him back on the injured list on Wednesday night.
Take into account the increasing force with which the game is played – and the fact that athletes are trained to build and use in more specific ways – and maintaining health is just more complicated.
“It’s a different game, different from the power of individuals,” Atkins said. “The speed at which the guys throw the ball exceptionally hard and hit it exceptionally long has definitely increased. And with that, there is a risk that we are trying to manage and manage. The most successful teams in recent years have done so by having depth and managing the workload. A lot of our focus is on how we think about putting men in safe positions to have healthy years and healthy careers.
There is undoubtedly to rethink the question of whether current training techniques push too many actors beyond enduring physical capabilities. Maybe not every guy needs to throw 97 with a run or throw angle a 420 foot ball over the fence. Perhaps there is a competitive edge to be found by swapping isolation exercises meant to create movement-specific power for more holistic, less demanding repeatability.
That’s not where the game is right now, and the urgency right now is to find ways not only to just survive the season, but to thrive in it as well.
In Springer’s case, the Blue Jays said the recurrence he experienced on Saturday “was a slight feeling of stretching or cramping that could occur due to a certain level of fatigue after playing two consecutive games.” , Atkins explained.
Describing it as such after Springer came out of Sunday’s 7-2 win over the Atlanta Braves would have changed the rhetoric significantly this week, avoiding the gray that surrounded his status. But improving return-to-play decision-making for players like the veteran isn’t that simple.
“We rely heavily on feedback and we rely heavily on feedback from players, how they feel,” said Atkins. “But the measurements we use, whether it’s isometric tests of strength or using Catapult to measure their GPS speed, we have both and it’s not something we’re trying to gut.” or entirely on their comments. I will say this: George is exceptionally strong and exceptionally tough. His pain tolerance is exceptionally high, and we need to figure out if we’re factoring it appropriately as we go along with him.
The question, in a broader sense, applies not only to the Blue Jays, but to the industry as a whole.