Throwing Injuries Cost MLB Teams $140 Million in 2018. Is there a Solution?

During the 2018 MLB regular season, 75 pitchers combined to earn $203,818,000 million dollars in salary. The 75 pitchers mentioned in this analysis are pitchers who had suffered a major throwing injury (missing 90 days or more) or had surgery at some point during the 2018 MLB season. $139,415,000 million dollars of the salary was never truly earned by the 75 pitchers because they were unable to pitch (work) due to a throwing related injury.

A similar scenario happens each year, and when it comes to running a business, MLB Organizations continue to pay for MLB pitchers who are unable to fulfill 100% of their contract demands. Last year, these 75 pitchers combined to miss 70% of the regular season or were only available to work 30% of the time. As we continue to study the likelihood of MLB pitchers getting hurt within a given timeframe, the most important question to ask is, can any of the unfulfilled contracts be avoided or managed differently?

With our most recent DVS Model Analysis, we analyzed every single MLB pitcher that pitched during the 2018 MLB regular season and found that the DVS Model showed that of the pitchers who suffered a major throwing injury, they were18% more likely on average due to their mechanics to get hurt at any given moment compared to the average pitcher who didn’t get hurt in 2018. The analysis below will outline and continue to expand on the strong correlation we continue to see: pitchers, regardless of age and playing level, will continue to get hurt at faster rates if they have lower DVS Scores and less efficient mechanics.

TEAM BY TEAM BREAKDOWN

The largest amount of money lost in 2018 went to The San Francisco Giants who had both high salary pitchers Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija go down with major injuries in 2018. The Chicago Cubs came in second, in large part because of Yu Darvish’s injury that lost nearly $21 Million. Of the 30 MLB Organizations, only the Toronto Blue Jays and the Minnesota Twins did not have a pitcher at the MLB Level that endured a major throwing injury during the 2018 season.

The Los Angeles Angels lost almost $11 Million and saw eight of their pitchers go down with a major injury, which was the most by any MLB Team in 2018. The Oakland Athletics came in second, having six inujured pitchers combine to lose over $2.5 Million. The bar chart below reflects the total salary lost by each MLB Team during the 2018 season.

 
Salary Lost by MLB Team in 2018.png
 

The financial implications will fluctuate year to year but the rise and fall will in large part be influenced by how many pitchers within an organization are at higher risk of getting injured year to year. With the advent of The DVS Forecaster, we can now quickly determine total risk for a single pitcher or groups of pitchers within an MLB Organization. As a pitcher’s risk profile changes, the DVS Forecaster has the ability to display live updated probabilities for each MLB Organization.

A pitcher’s total risk profile is affected by factors such as Mechanical Risk, Birth Year, Injury History, and Role. The DVS Score is the overall number comprised of the mechanical components in a pitcher’s delivery, but since each component has been found to carry more or less risk, the Mechanical Risk Coefficient allows us to quantify varying levels of injury risk when comparing any number of pitchers with the same DVS Score. Lets take a closer look at the mechanical breakdown for all 75 pitchers who were injured in this analysis.

  • Average DVS Score for injured pitchers in 2018: 12.5

  • Average Mechanical Risk Co-Efficient for injured pitchers in 2018: 1.14

  • Average DVS Score for non-injured pitchers in 2018: 13.46

  • Average Mechanical Risk Co-Efficient for non-injured pitchers in 2018: .97

To paint a clearer picture how a pitcher’s total risk profile can be used to assess future injury risk, we can take a closer look at three pitchers who had a major throwing injury in 2018 and their varying levels of risk.

pitcher EXAMPLES

For this comparison, we will use pitchers Sean Manaea, Taijuan Walker, and Keynan Middleton and assess what the DVS Forecaster would have shown at the beginning of the 2018 season. The table below highlights the varying levels of innings, prior injuries, DVS Score, and increased injury risk due to mechanics. We chose these three pitchers because they are similar in age, have accumulated innings at the MLB level, had time to develop within their respective organizations, and pitched for several years with a DVS Score of 12 or below.

 
Statistics as of 1/1/2018

Statistics as of 1/1/2018

 

When comparing the three pitchers above, Oakland A’s pitcher Sean Manaea has the highest overall mechanical risk with an overall DVS Score of 8, which carries 42% more risk than the average MLB pitcher. If we account for all the factors mentioned above to complete the Total Risk profile for each pitcher, we can see which pitcher going into the 2018 season was the largest injury risk.

PROBABILITY OF INJURY AT EACH FUTURE INNING

The line graph below is an output produced within the DVS Forecaster as of January 1st, 2018, prior to any of the three pitchers getting hurt. The graph essentially depicts the probability of future injury risk for each pitcher based on any given inning.

 
DVS Forecaster output as of 1/1/2018

DVS Forecaster output as of 1/1/2018

 

The important takeaway from the graph above is that Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Taijuan Walker had the highest total risk going into the 2018 season. If you look at the starting point of all three colored lines above, you will see that Walker’s black line starts higher in comparison to the other pitchers. The height of the line is important because this tells us the given injury risk at a specific point in time based on any particular inning. All three pitchers ended up having a major injury in 2018, and using the DVS Forecaster tool above, we can see both Manaea and Walker had their highest total risk within the next 100 innings, whereas Middleton had his highest total risk near inning 300 (highest point of blue line). Therefore, the DVS Forecaster could have provided accurate insight into all three injuries.

However, if any one of the three pitchers avoided injury during 2018, 2019, or 2020, you can see how the total risk significantly drops around 750 innings. This is due to the fact that the DVS Model accounts for specific variables such as a pitcher reaching small milestones in innings or avoidance of injury. If so, their total risk per inning will drop.

Conclusion

Looking to the past for answers may be lost in modern-day decision making, but at DVS, we use our historical data, combined with our testing data of current pitchers to write a narrative of potential pitchers who can throw more innings in a career before suffering a major throwing injury. Sean Manaea, Taijuan Walker, and Keynan Middleton are great examples to use here because they have all been under higher levels of mechanical risk for an extended period of time, and now each has suffered a major throwing injury. Once a pitcher’s injury risk is determined, an MLB Organization can implement a vast number of solutions to keep a player healthy, but if their mechanical risk is never adjusted or mitigated, the chance of future injury risk will remain high.

With our success at preventing throwing injuries at the USPBL using our DVS System, we can foreseeably bridge the gap between injury analytics and on-field development.

-JO