THE BIG HURT: The effects of a delayed start on injured players

With the major-league season pushed back a minimum of eight weeks (a very fluid mark), players with injuries or illnesses obviously have more time to get healthy. While this benefits all players, there are some who might see more benefit than others. For example, if we assume that we will miss the first six weeks of the season, a player due back in mid-May might go from 75% of the season to 100%, while a player due back in early July would only go from 50% to 60%. At the same time, there are players whose injuries are more complicated than just the time needed to heal—if a player’s injury is one that could recur or get worse over time, the extra time off doesn’t change that risk profile much.

In general, the stop-and-start nature of the pre-season has the potential to increase the overall rate of injuries. The players most at risk are those players who are already injured, older players, and players on teams whose medical and/or training staffs have a checkered history (we’ll Met you decide for yourselves which teams qualify for this last criterion). Pretty much all pitchers have increased risk, as well, if they did not follow a proper workout regimen in their down time.

First, a note about the effects of the virus itself, beyond canceled games. Given the epidemiological projections, it’s highly likely that multiple players will contract the virus in the coming weeks (at least one Yankees' minor leaguer has tested positive). However, given that MLB players are younger and in better physical condition than the general population, it should present a relatively small risk to those infected. The one exception we’re aware of is David Dahl (OF, COL), who lost his spleen in 2015, leaving him at higher risk from infectious diseases. If a player without an underlying condition contracts the virus, the likely result would be 1-2 weeks of recuperation, with another 1-2 weeks where they’re maybe not at 100%.

Players who might benefit from the delay

Justin Verlander (RHP, HOU) – R shoulder, lat strain (3/8/20)
This appears to be a mild strain, which is normally a 2-4 week recovery. Given Monday's news of the more lengthy delay of Opening Day, he should be caught up and able to participate in the regular throwing program to ramp back up. His age makes him a risk; this particular injury doesn’t add much to that.
2020 Impact: Elevated risk; Small possibility of missing a brief amount of time
Est. Return: Ready when spring training resumes

Joc Pederson (OF, LAD) – Hip/side soreness (2/20/20)
There haven’t been many specifics about his injury, other than “soreness.” Usually, this means a muscle strain, maybe an oblique, lat, or lower back muscle. They’ve been slow to ramp up his activity thus far, which is actually a plus when it comes to muscle strains. There’s always the possibility that there’s something more nefarious going on, but for now it looks like a minor thing. If it's a simple muscle strain, it should be cleared up by the time OTAs resume.
2020 Impact: Elevated risk
Est. Return: Ready when spring training resumes

Mike Clevinger (RHP, CLE) – L knee, torn meniscus (2/14/20)
His projection was 6-8 weeks from surgery; however, we suspect that some of that time was needed to get his arm ready, not his knee. We have five major-league pitchers with similar injuries since 2012 and the longest return time was 6 weeks (though none of those injuries occurred in the spring). There’s a good chance he’s ready for full participation.
2020 Impact: Elevated risk
Est. Return: Ready when spring training resumes

Giancarlo Stanton (OF, NYY) – R calf strain (2/26/20)
This is a Grade 1 strain, and the typical recovery time is 2-4 weeks. The team doesn’t think he’ll be ready that quickly, though they’re probably being cautious and allowing him time to get back in the swing, so to speak. His F health score demonstrates his risk; this injury doesn’t add much to that, except for the possibility of recurrence the first couple of weeks. He should be ready.
2020 Impact: Already high risk; Risk of recurrence
Est. Return: Ready when spring training resumes

Aaron Judge (OF, NYY) – Rib fracture (September 2019)
Judge injured his shoulder diving for a fly ball last September. He reportedly heard a “crack” when he landed and has experienced intermittent soreness ever since. This has been reported as a “stress fracture,” but that’s an entirely different animal. He’ll be re-evaluated in two weeks, but that will just be to determine how much longer he’ll need. Surgery has also been mentioned as a possibility, but that will only likely be needed if it begins to compress nerves or blood vessels as it heals. Our best estimate is 6-12 weeks from when the injury was discovered (March 6), though more likely on the long side of that estimate. Unless a stress reaction (a softening of the bone) was a factor in the injury (unlikely), there should be no long-term effects unless he needs surgery. He was getting back into activity when the pre-season was put on hold, so perhaps he’s ahead of schedule, but there’s still a chance he’s not ready to go when Opening Day finally arrives, depending on how long the delay lasts.
2020 Impact: Variable return time; Possibility of longer IL stay than indicated; Possible reduced production when he first returns
Est. Return: May?

Carlos Carrasco (RHP, CLE) – R elbow inflammation (3/7/20)
He received a cortisone injection and was going to be shut down for “a few days.” This follows a flexor strain in his hip. These are seemingly minor injuries, and the elbow strain in particular could be a bit of injury cascade. Right now, there’s no need to panic, but his risk is obviously very high. At this point, he needs to continue his throwing program; and now there’s a chance he’s ready to jump in when activities resume.
2020 Impact: High risk
Est. Return: Ready when spring training resumes

Michael Conforto (OF, NYM) – R oblique strain (3/9/20)
This is a typical spring training injury, as players are putting stress on their bodies in ways they haven’t done in several months. It’s a Grade 1 strain, so not much to worry about. The delay virtually guarantees he’ll be ready from the opening bell, barring a setback.
2020 Impact: Risk of recurrence
Est. Return: Ready when spring training resumes

Max Scherzer (RHP, WAS) – R side discomfort (3/10/20)
This is apparently the result of him altering his delivery in the off-season to prevent the neck/shoulder issues he had in 2019. He’s said it’s just fatigue—his belief is that he did not build up the strength in his side enough to support his new delivery. As the Bard might say: aye, there’s the rub. This is a textbook example of injury cascade, where a player alters his mechanics to relieve stress on one part of the body, resulting in extra stress on a different part of the body. It may be minor, but it is a good indication that his plan to alter his delivery isn’t as cut and dried as it’s been made to look. The risk that his 2019 injuries added to his profile hasn’t been eliminated. Take that into account when drafting.
2020 Impact: You need to pay attention to his D health score
Est. Return: Ready when spring training resumes

Other players who might benefit:

Yoenis Cespedes (OF, NYM; R ankle sprain)
A.J. Puk (LHP, OAK; L shoulder strain)
Willie Calhoun (OF, TEX; Broken jaw)
Matt Magill (RHP, SEA; R shoulder irritation)
Trey Mancini (OF, BAL; Colon cancer)


Players who aren’t helped as much by the delay

Chris Sale (LHP, BOS) – L elbow, flexor strain (3/3/20)
The good news here is that three different doctors have examined him, included noted Tommy John specialists, and they have pronounced that his UCL is “intact.” His current issue is a flexor strain, which is much less of an issue than a UCL tear. Roughly 80% of such strains are healed in 2-8 weeks, but he will also need time to build up his arm and get ready for the season. He will likely miss most of April and may see this drag on through some or all of May, regardless. Add this to the mystery ailments he had in 2019, and he’s an extreme risk. While the delay obviously shortens the time he’ll miss, the biggest factor is his overall risk.
2020 Impact: Risk abounds; Variable return time; High risk of recurrence or complications
Est. Return: Sometime in May, though early June isn’t out of the question

Griffin Canning (RHP, LAA) – R elbow soreness (2/26/20)
He was diagnosed with “chronic changes” to his UCL. He’s described the issue as “tissues rubbing together,” and has stated that nothing was torn. However, minor tears of the UCL can be difficult to diagnose. He had a PRP injection, which might help with healing, but the evidence there is mixed. What is obvious is that there’s a structural issue in his elbow, so even if he heals and gets back to 100%, this is likely to be a recurring issue that will probably require surgery at some point. The extended delay might give him enough time to catch up and resume a regular throwing program, so he may be ready to go when Opening Day rolls around. However, he remains an extreme risk.
2020 Impact: Extreme risk; Variable return time
Est. Return: Ready when spring training resumes

Seranthony Dominguez (RHP, PHI) – R elbow soreness (2/22/20)
Let’s recap his recent health history: in June 2019, he experienced elbow soreness and had some apparent damage to his UCL. He had a PRP injection and began throwing again in August but was shut down at the end of August. He resumed throwing again in late September, at which point there were no more reports, good or bad. He made two appearances this spring but has been shut down again with elbow soreness. Forgive our pessimism, but this feels like the Garrett Richards Path to Tommy John Surgery. There’s a chance he recovers and is fine all season, so we’re telling you there’s a chance. There’s also a chance that he fails to make a single appearance in 2020. In theory, the delay gives him more time to recover and perhaps only miss a couple of weeks of action, but he’s an extreme risk from this point forward.
2020 Impact: Anything from 2-3 weeks IL time to Tommy John; Extreme risk overall
Est. Return: Late April/early May, best-case scenario


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.