In the first instance of what could be a wave of players electing to undergo surgeries while MLB remains on an indefinite hiatus and before hospitals begin canceling elective surgeries to focus their resources on COVID-19 patients, Justin Verlander had surgery on his right groin on Tuesday. Per the Astros, the recovery timeline is six weeks, and since there isn’t likely to be any baseball in that time after the Centers for Disease Control recommended limiting gatherings of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks, it made sense for the 37-year-old righty to go under the knife now.
It’s been a rocky spring Verlander, who’s coming off a season for which he nabbed that long-elusive second Cy Young after going 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA, 3.27 FIP, 300 strikeouts — reaching that plateau in the same game in which he notched his 3,000th career strikeout — and 6.4 WAR. Recall that he was scratched from his February 27 start due to discomfort in his right groin, though the Astros felt the danger was minimal enough that they allowed him to throw a simulated game that same day. He was roughed up in his Grapefruit League debut on March 3 against the Cardinals, then left his March 8 start against the Mets after two innings, complaining of soreness in his right triceps.
Verlander underwent a precautionary MRI last Monday, which revealed that he had actually suffered what Astros general manager James Click termed “a mild lat strain.” The pitcher’s constellation of symptoms brought to mind the only major injury-related absence of Verlander’s stellar career. In the spring of 2015, he experienced triceps cramping and then a triceps strain; somewhere along the way during his rehab, he also suffered a lat strain, didn’t make his season debut until June 13 of that year, and finished with just 20 starts and 133.1 innings.
It seems quite possible, perhaps even likely, that Verlander’s current lat injury is a result of compensating for his groin problem, which he was continuing to rehab. According to Click, “Initially, the hope was that physical therapy would be the proper course of action. However, after a recent setback in his rehab, the medical staff recommended that a surgical procedure was necessary.”
In my last post before a string of COVID-19 related ones, I detailed the ripple effect Verlander’s absence might have on Houston’s rotation. Though they’ll have the benefit of a full season from Zack Greinke, the Astros lost Gerrit Cole, Wade Miley, and Collin McHugh to free agency, are counting on Lance McCullers Jr. to make a strong return from Tommy John surgery, and hoping that youngsters Jose Urquidy and Josh James, who have a combined eight major league starts between them, can make significant contributions as starters, too. I won’t rehash that analysis here, but will note that any team for whom innings caps are a concern — as is likely the case for those last three pitchers — is likely to benefit from a shortened season, since such pitchers will be available for a greater portion of it. Likewise, having a healthy Verlander available for a greater share of whatever 2020 season winds up being played is a boon.
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.
I thought hospitals were postponing all elective surgeries at this time.
He may have went to a surgery center and not a hospital.
That’s the most diplomatic way of pointing out that someone of Verlander’s wealth can buy whatever health care he wants whenever he wants it. The bed he recovers in would be far more useful to someone in need, but why worry about that when you’re rich, right?
Let’s not demonize the guy. There aren’t that many people in ICU yet and I’m sure if he was taking time away from the pandemic response he wouldn’t have done it. Two weeks from now might be a different answer
He got in just under the wire.
Until yesterday it varied by state.
Today it is national.