For more than a decade — longer than Sandy Alderson has been general manager – the Mets’ handling of injuries has led to raised eyebrows, shaken heads, and an endless series of punchlines. Think back to the handling of Ryan Church‘s 2008 concussion, the battles over Carlos Beltran‘s 2010 knee surgery, the “angry bullpen session” that effectively ended Johan Santana’s career in 2013, and last year’s Noah Syndergaard mess, in which the pitcher suffered a season-wrecking strained latissimus dorsi days after refusing to climb into an MRI tube. Any Mets fan can offer you a multitude of additional instances, including a number of stretches where the team played shorthanded while trying to avoid placing a player on the disabled list.
All of that was supposed to change after last season, when the Mets dismissed trainer Ray Ramirez and set about hiring a high-performance director “to oversee players’ health and institute policies throughout the minor league levels.” On January 23, the team announced the hiring of Jim Cavallini with the title of director of performance and sports science; earlier, they promoted assistant trainer Brian Chicklo to replace Ramirez.
Fast-forward to Tuesday at the Mets’ camp in Port St. Lucie, where Yoenis Cespedes — who has played through numerous leg injuries since being acquired on July 31, 2015 — was scratched from the lineup of a Grapefruit League game due to a sore right wrist. Here’s MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo describing the scene:
Yoenis Cespedes says his right wrist injury occurred while swinging in last Tuesday's game, one week ago. He's played three times since then, but underwent x-rays this morning. The Mets cut off his interview after 90 seconds so there's no additional info right now.
— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) March 13, 2018
Yes, it’s only one data point, and maybe it really is “nothing serious,” as Alderson suggests*. That said, it bears a strong resemblance to business as usual for the Mets, allowing a less-than-healthy player to keep testing himself when rest would probably be better, particularly in the spring when the games don’t count. Cespedes played just 81 games last year, missing 38 from late April to mid-June due to a left hamstring strain (and quad soreness) and not playing after August 25 due to a right hamstring strain. The year before that, he played in just 132 games due to injuries. He’s already been slowed by a sore right shoulder this spring.
*Update: Via DiComo, “Cespedes said he first injured the wrist swinging his bat in a March 6 game against the Astros, but he played through it the next two days. The Mets knew Cespedes’ wrist was sore when he took the field on Sunday, according to [manager Mickey] Callaway, but they didn’t bench him until two days later.” Cespedes received x-rays (negative, no fracture) and a cortisone shot on Tuesday; he’s considered day-to-day.
According to Jeff Zimmerman’s injury data, the Mets ranked seventh in the majors in total days on the DL last year, with 1,487 — or, 426 more than the average team. They were 10th in pitcher DL days (781) and fourth in position-player DL days (706). Though a slew of their players — including Jacob deGrom, Lucas Duda, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Neil Walker, Zack Wheeler and David Wright (who hasn’t played since May 27, 2016) — ended the 2016 season on the DL, the team had the 10th-lowest total of DL days that season (987). The year before that, though, they had the majors’ second-highest total (1,790) even while winning their first pennant since 2000.
From Zimmerman’s work, it appears as though the Mets recorded the majors’ seventh-highest three-year average of DL days from 2014 to -16, the sixth-highest five-year average from 2012 to -16, and the third-highest 15-year average from 2002 to -16. While raw DL days don’t tell us everything — some players are more predisposed to injuries, and things like Wright’s spinal stenosis couldn’t have been foreseen — their recent litany of shorthanded play suggests that they’ve tried to avoid adding to their totals, which all too often seems to blow up in their faces. It is fair to wonder how many of the Mets’ DL days were unnecessary or could have been prevented through more careful management.
Cespedes, deGrom (back), Michael Conforto (September shoulder surgery), Jeurys Familia (arm tightness), and Anthony Swarzak are among the Mets currently nursing injuries of some sort; Wright won’t resume baseball activities for at least another eight weeks. That’s not an unusual count for a team in spring training, but if the team is going to improve upon last year’s 70-92 finish, they’ll have to do better at handling the injuries that come their way.
Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.