COVID-19 Roundup: Testing Could Be Key for Baseball’s Return

This is the latest installment of a daily series in which the FanGraphs staff rounds up the latest developments regarding the COVID-19 virus’ effect on baseball.

Following South Korea and Testing for COVID-19

South Korea could provide a roadmap for a return to play for major league baseball. According to the AP, the KBO is hoping for an early May restart.

On Wednesday, the country recorded 53 new infections, marking the third consecutive day that has seen new cases around the 50-mark. The downward trend from a Feb. 29 peak of 900 is increasing the chances of the 10-team Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) League not only starting in May but also playing a full 144-game season.

“If the situation continues to improve from here and on, teams will start facing each other in preseason games beginning on April 21, and we should be able to get the regular season started in early May,” KBO secretary general Ryu Dae-hwan said after a meeting with club general managers in Seoul.

While a lot can happen in a month, that’s certainly some promising news on the baseball front as well as for South Korea. One of the key factors for success in South Korea has been testing:

Dr. Angela Caliendo said Tuesday that South Korea’s experience “shows you the importance of testing.”

“I do think the testing they did in South Korea was very important in controlling their outbreak,” said Caliendo, an infectious diseases professor at Brown University’s Alpert Medical School.

With their widespread testing program, South Korean authorities were able to identify infected people, isolate them and trace their contacts with other people, who then also could be tested.

If the United States had adequate testing, “you could consider areas of the country that are at different points of the virus” spread progression, Caliendo said during a call with reporters arranged by the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

The solution is identifiable, but is proving problematic. Illinois and California combined have roughly the same population as South Korea but have performed only half the number of tests despite aggressive efforts by their governors. Illinois has had problems getting tests and reliable machines that can process the results. California can’t get enough tests or process them quickly enough, with a per capita testing average below national figures. These struggles come with the news that federal support for many testing sites is ending. As Jeff Passan noted in his report on the potential for an Arizona start to the season:

Most important would be a significant increase in available coronavirus tests with a quick turnaround time, which sources familiar with the plan believe will happen by early May and allow MLB’s testing to not diminish access for the general public.

Ben Clemens discussed all of the difficulties in the Arizona plan yesterday, including testing, and it seems clear that without widely available tests and the ability to receive immediate results, this season likely won’t happen.

Even More Questions in the Minors

Unlike the majors, there is no television money to incentivize the start of the minor league season, which could mean no season at all without the ability to put fans in the seats. At ESPN, Jesse Rogers wrote about many of the challenges the minor leagues face in potentially playing its season. The piece discusses the potential for minor league teams to get loans under the CARES Act, and playing into September when the minor leagues are typically shut down.

Former Major Leaguer Ready to Help COVID-19 Patients

Mark Hamilton was a second-round draft pick in 2006 who got 66 major league PA’s in 2010 and 2011 with the Cardinals before bouncing around the minors during the 2014 season. Now, after having finished his baseball career, Hamilton is graduating from Hofstra’s medical school and is set to start his residency in New York in June, according to a report from Derrick Goold. If he’s needed earlier, Hamilton has indicated he would go wherever he is called.

Stay safe, everyone. While the IHME projections continue to move down, keep in mind, the peaks differ from state to state, and the model assumes social distancing measures continue through the end of May. We still have a lot of work to do.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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4 years ago

How do teams develop prospects without minor league games?

4 years ago
Reply to  vbjd1111

It’s a good question- the answer may mean less MiLB in the future. Instructs year round? The equivalent of basketball pick up games? Regional games versus leagues?