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“Good Luck” is Better Than “Break a Leg”

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Adam Eaton tagged out
Adam Eaton was tagged out
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Diamondbacks’ assistant GM Amiel Sawdaye said he wants the analytic department to impact every department including medical. Let’s look at injury data at a high level. This table compares the parts of the body most commonly injured by MLB players in 2015 with the most common sports injuries.

Comparing MLB Injuries and All-Sports Injuries

Body Part Percent of MLB Injuries in 2015 Rank of All-Sports Injuries
Body Part Percent of MLB Injuries in 2015 Rank of All-Sports Injuries
Elbow 21.7 7
Shoulder 17.1
Knee 7.6 5 and 6
Back 7.1
Hamstring 6.6 3
Forearm 3.5
Oblique 3.5
Groin 3 2
Wrist 2.5
Archilles 2
Ankle 1.5 1
Hip 1.5
Shin Splints Unknown 4

Baseball injuries to elbow and shoulder are more frequent than other sports. It is reasonable to think that pitchers account for most of the elbow injuries. Baseball injuries to the ankle, shin, and groin are less frequent than other sports. What stands out is that hamstring injuries are perhaps equally as frequent in baseball and other sports.

Diamondbacks Injuries in 2016

Although not all injuries result in a trip to the disabled list (DL), at least it is a published measure. Starting from that list, Jim McLennan generously provided me with his recently calculated estimate for wins lost due to injury. Methodology: figure out bWAR per game based on 2016 (if they missed less than half this season) or 2015 (more than half). Then presume the same rate over the games they missed, and cap it at a minimum of zero (teams can't get "better" through injury). The method is simple enough, and in line with the previous methodology. Final tally = 10.1 wins lost.

Injury Losses in 2016

Player Missed Base value Games Value lost
Player Missed Base value Games Value lost
Ahmed 66 0.2 96 0.1
Brito 33 -0.3 129 0.0
Chafin 53 -0.5 109 0.0
Collmenter 49 0.2 113 0.1
De La Rosa 91 0.0 162 0.0
Greinke 31 2.3 131 0.5
Herrmann 46 1.3 116 0.5
Miller 23 -0.7 139 0.0
Owings 37 1.6 125 0.5
Peralta 20 3.7 162 0.5
Peralta 35 3.7 162 0.8
Peralta 52 3.7 162 1.2
Pollock 129 7.4 162 5.9
Total 665 10.1
Jim McLennan

How does this compare to the last two seasons? I tip my hat to Jim McLennan who addressed those years in “The Healthy 2015 Diamondbacks.”

Injury Losses Compared for Three Years

Year Missed Games Missed Days bWAR Lost
Year Missed Games Missed Days bWAR Lost
2014   1354 13.7
2015   891 4.2
2016 665 831 10.1
Jim McLennan

Three points to make. First point is injuries significantly impacted 2016. The second point is without any injuries the team would likely have been within a few games of 500 in 2016. The third point is that the impact of each day lost, or each game lost, is significantly higher than in previous two years.

Clearly, injuries have been a factor in team under-performance. Can this problem be turned around? After looking at the data, I decided to focus on hamstring injuries.

Hamstring Injuries

Hamstring injuries can be mild and not hurt much, or they can be severe. I was surprised that it takes up to 10 weeks to make a full recovery from a hamstring injury and re-injury is common. Hamstrings are slow to heal due to constant stress from walking. How many hamstring injuries have the Diamondbacks had? As far as I know, there were 4 hamstring injuries over the last 3 years: Chris Herrman(July 16 2016), Jeremy Hellickson (August 19, 2015), Ender Inciarte (July 16 2015), and AJ Pollock(although he was not put on the DL, I decided it was a significant injury that occurred during Seattle series played July 27-29, 2015). Although it is a small sample size, hamstring injuries were about 9% of total injuries, which is greater than the MLB average of 6.6%. A reduction in hamstring injuries would be valuable to the team. Let’s look deeper.

What is the Hamstring?

The hamstring is a group of muscles that run along the back of each thigh. Two of these muscles, the semimembranosus and semitendinosus, are inside of the knee. The biceps femoris (long head and short head) is on the outside of the knee. The biceps femoris muscle is the most commonly strained hamstring muscle, occurring in up to 83% of hamstring injuries. Min Soo Pata, my yoga instructor, said it’s because people do not correctly use the inside hamstring muscles, and instead overuse the outside muscle. What do the hamstring muscles do?

  • They are knee flexors (bend the knee).
  • They're also hip extensors (straighten the hip joint).
  • They are heavily involved in knee stabilization.
  • They are built for speed. They tend to be more fast-twitch dominant than most muscle groups.
  • Muscles that support running are the quadriceps, the gluts, and the hamstrings. The true speed muscles are the hamstrings and glutes. Both play a much more important role in the running stride, especially at high velocities.

When Do Hamstring Strains Occur?

  • During running and jumping or sudden stopping and starting. Those actions are normal parts of a well-played baseball game!
  • When there is no warm up before exercising.
  • When muscles in the front of your thigh (the quadriceps) are tight as they pull your pelvis forward and tighten the hamstrings.
  • When glute muscles are weak.

Injury Prevention

Important note: Detailed exercises and training programs should only be developed with your certified trainer who has detailed knowledge of you, in consultation with a medical doctor as appropriate.

  • Isokinetic strength training can increase the ratio of hamstring strength to quadriceps strength. A study showed that this type of training reduced re-injury from 7.7% to 1.1%.
  • Exercises can increase strength of glutes. Glutes and hamstrings work together. If the glutes are weak, hamstrings can be over loaded and become strained.
  • Practice strengthening and stretching exercises for your hamstring if your doctor and physical therapist recommend them.
  • For athletes with hypermobility of joints, develop conditioning, strength and muscle-control to harness that hypermobility in a controlled and effective manner.
  • Two breathing exercises can help athletes prevent and recovery from hamstring injury by developing breathing patterns that will help restore the body to a “neutral alignment”.
  • Isometric maximum voluntary contraction (MVC test) can identify risk of hamstring strain before it happens. A person lies on his/her back with one knee bent to 90 degrees with heel resting on a bathroom scale, which is placed on a firm table or box. By pushing that heel downwards without lifting hips or buttocks off the ground, the hamstring strength can be measured. If the test is performed weekly then any significant drop in strength would warn you of impending risk of hamstring strain.

Walking My Talk

As your fearless AZ Snakepit writer, I tested several exercises to stretch and strengthen my glutes and hamstrings. The following photos show three of my exercises. I will share with you kind reader that only rarely do people consider my glutes as my most distinctive feature.

                        Hamstring Stretching
Hamstring Stretching
                  Hamstring Strengthening
Hamstring Strengthening
More Hamstring Strengthening
More Hamstring Strengthening