THE BIG HURT: Resetting the injury landscape

Welcome back to the Big Hurt, unceremoniously delayed by the biggest hurt of them all: COVID-19. We'll have a brief treatise on injury strategy in a short season, followed by some follow-up on some fellows we followed during the spring.

This builds on three pieces from earlier this year: Possible effects on 2020 of 2019 (and more recent) injuriesHealth scores that don't tell the whole story, and The effects of a delayed start on injured players.

Injury strategy

Our expectation is that there will be more injuries in July than we'd see in a normal April. The first two months of the season tend to see quite a few more injuries, since spring training can only prepare a player so much for the rigors of playing every day. No matter how diligently players may have worked during the delay, they are all off of their usual training schedules. That alone is an important point, so even if a player has continued to work out, the uncertain effects of starting baseball three months late will likely mean more injured players.

Teams will also have a much bigger roster, so players with minor, nagging injuries may well just sit without hitting the IL. We saw this in past Septembers, and we'll probably see it in 2020. In addition, teams will be less likely to play a banged-up player when they have a bevy of options on the bench.

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The players

We won't cover every player we mentioned in the pre-season, but we will discuss those whose situations may have changed significantly since we last wrote about them.

We'll start with some Tommy John surgeries from 2019. Most of these guys would have been at just about a year on Opening Day, but will now be more in the 15-month range. That doesn't guarantee anything (in about 15% of all TJS's, the player never makes it all the way back), but it makes it more likely that they can contribute at their pre-injury level. Corey Knebel (RHP, MIL), Michael Fulmer (RHP, DET), and Carlos Rodon (LHP, CWS) fall into this category. We'll also note some guys who would have already been at 18 months, but who have now had more time to ramp up: Lance McCullers (RHP, HOU), Michael Kopech (RHP, CHW), Shohei Ohtani (RHP, LAA), and Chad Kuhl (RHP, PIT). They should benefit from the additional time.

James Paxton (LHP, NYY) – Back, microdiscectomy/peridiscal cyst (February 2020)
He's at 100%, whatever that looks like for him. Still a tremendous risk given his history.
2020 Impact: Red-flag risk
Est. Return: Opening Day

Adalberto Mondesi (SS, KC)–L shoulder, labrum surgery (October 2019)
He suffered a shoulder subluxation in July of 2019, returned too soon, and injured the shoulder again in September. He then had surgery in October to repair a torn labrum. He was ready to make his spring debut when camps shut down. Labrum injuries take a long time to fully heal and as we saw with Gregory Polanco (see below), even if the shoulder feels good, there may still be issues. The extra time means extra healing, so the risks have gone down, but until he plays we don't really know what to expect.
2020 Impact: Some risk; Possible reduced production at start of season
Est. Return: Opening Day

Gregory Polanco (OF, PIT)–L shoulder surgery (September 2018)
He suffered an horrific injury at the end of 2018, came back way too soon in 2019, and ended up on the IL again after only 150 AB. His prognosis is much better this time around. We were concerned about the risk that he still wasn't 100%, and that's still a concern. However, the extra three months will help, and he was having a great spring against reasonably good pitching. Be aware of the risks, but he looks like a buying opportunity here.
2020 Impact: Elevated risk
Est. Return: Opening Day

Tyler Glasnow (RHP, TAM)–R wrist, nerve decompression (November 2019)
Nerves become compressed when the surrounding tissues thicken and put pressure on the nerve. This is likely the cause of his forearm issues in 2019. The surgery is low-risk, with high odds of success. In three months of regular workouts, the issue has not recurred. There's still some risk, but at this point, it's more or less approaching the normal risk of being a starting pitcher.
2020 Impact: Moderate risk
Est. Return: Opening Day

Yoenis Cespedes (OF, NYM)–Both heels, surgery/R ankle, multiple fractures (August and October 2018, May 2019)
In the first of the articles mentioned above, we had an exhaustive (and exhausting) write-up. Nothing has really changed since then, and he's even now only at the "optimistic he'll be ready" stage. 
2020 Impact: He's so risky, even his risks have risk
Est. Return: Got a magic 8-ball? Opening Day is possible but still a long shot

Luis Urias (SS, MIL)–L wrist fracture (1/28/20)
Eugenio Suarez (3B, CIN)–R shoulder surgery (1/28/20)

The extra time off should be plenty to get both of these guys past their injury issues. There is a small amount of risk remaining for both, but not anything that should really discount them in a draft. [Though Monday, after this was written, Urias was announced as COVID-19 positive, which will likely delay his return. -Ed.]

Christian Yelich (OF, MIL)–R kneecap fracture (September 2019), plus stuff
He was discussed in two of the above articles. His knee is a non-issue, but there remains the fact that his limited IL history has masked recurring back issues. He's done a terrific job of managing those, and the short season makes this less of an issue, but there's still some risk there that you don't really want in a top-3 pick.
2020 Impact: Some risk
Est. Return: Opening Day

Players without specific injuries whose risk levels may have changed

"Nelson Cruz (DH, MIN) has an A health, but he’s also 39 years old, and his health score doesn’t reflect that anywhere." That was our take in the spring. The short season definitely benefits him, as it does most older players, as it cuts down on the accumulated wear and tear of a long season.

Everything we said above applies to Justin Verlander (RHP, HOU) as well. His lat strain in the spring is now fully healed.

Spring and subsequent injuries

Mike Clevinger (RHP, CLE) – L knee, torn meniscus (2/14/20)
He reported himself as "fully healthy" in late April. He should be ready to go.

Giancarlo Stanton (OF, NYY) – R calf strain (2/26/20)
He was deemed ready to go at the end of March. He'll spend most of his time at DH, which cuts down on his risk, but he's still an F health, a grade he has fully earned.

Aaron Judge (OF, NYY) – Rib fracture (September 2019)
The last of the above articles has a lot of detail about this injury. Despite the mixed messages and the Yankees' original confusion over the nature of the injury, it's clear now that it's likely a stress fracture of the first rib:

Stress fractures can be maddeningly slow to heal, and even though this injury occurred almost 10 months ago, it wasn't getting serious treatment until this spring. The last pronouncement from the team was that he'll be ready for Opening Day. There's just a ton of risk here, and you should only buy if his price is solidly discounted.
2020 Impact: Very high risk; Potential for reduced PT or output
Est. Return: Opening Day

Max Scherzer (RHP, WAS) – R side discomfort (3/10/20)
There's been no news since this first happened, but there's every reason to expect it's cleared up. We speculated in the spring that it could be a recurring issue, as it's apparently related to a change in his delivery. However, three more months to refine that and build up his strength maybe make that less of an issue. Consider him a minor risk for recurrence of this issue, but don't ignore his D health score.
2020 Impact: His D health is a good measure of his risk
Est. Return: Opening Day

Griffin Canning (RHP, LAA) – R elbow soreness (2/26/20)
He's expected to be ready to go after having a PRP injection in the spring. However, his UCL is still dicey and he remains a very high risk for TJS in the near future.
2020 Impact: Very high risk for TJS in the near future
Est. Return: Likely Opening Day


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