The 2016 Disabled List - part 1
Stan Conte, PT, DPT, ATC
This is the cover of the infamous “RedBook” that was published for MLB Club Only in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s by American Specialty Insurance Company. They were the first to be concerned about increasing injuries in MLB. It was only given to MLB Front Offices and not the public. I used this data for my first published medical article in 2001, Disability Days in Major League Baseball.
As people who have worked with me will tell you, the end of the season brings a multitude of excitement for me. If you are fortunate enough to make the playoffs, it is the thrill of potentially making it to the World Series and the fun of receiving all the Gatorade products the company sends you for the playoffs. For teams that don’t make the playoffs, it is the finality that a disappointing season is finally over and you are able to reset and hope for a better season next year.
For me it also involves the excitement of going over the final numbers of the Disabled List. OK you may think that I am a bit weird. I would like to call myself a DL Geek but I realize I am too old and not smart enough to deserve the title of Geek. But I enjoy looking at the trends and nuances of the DL as one of the proxies for injuries in Major League Baseball.
We have gone over the strengths and weakness as well as limitations of the MLB Disabled List in a previous article on Hamstring Injuries. As a reminder, the strength of the DL is the historical perspective it gives us relative to the past 20 plus years as the rules (other than the concussion DL) have remained stable since at least 1989.
Let’s look at those previous DL numbers since 1998 that were chronicled in an article that we authored earlier this year, Injury Trends in Major League Baseball: 1998-2015.
NEW MLB DL RECORD
The hamstring article showed a “record” number of DL’s for hamstring strains in 2016. This was a small indicator that this also may be a record year for all injuries in Major League Baseball. And that proven to be correct.
2015 had eclipsed previous records for Placements (also called Observations or Obs), Days lost to players on the DL (DL Days) and Dollars lost to salary and replacement cost for players on the DL.
Before we get into the numbers, let’s make sure we are all using the same numbers and definitions:
Observations: This is the number of times teams used the DL to call up another healthy player. If a player went on the DL, recovered and played and subsequently went back on the DL for the same or different injury, that counts as two placements in my system. In some people’s mind that is only one because it is the same player. I see it differently as the player either sustained a new injury or re-injured the previous injury. It makes no difference; I see that as two DL placements.
Days Lost: The is from the time he went on the DL until the day he was reinstated on the MLB roster. What about rehab games? Some would say that a player was able to play while he was playing rehab games in the minor leagues. While on the DL, a pitcher can spend up to 30 days to rehab in the minor leagues while position players have only 20 days. After they complete the maximum days, they must be reinstated to the MLB roster with a few exceptions. I include those rehab days as part of the lost days since the player was not able or the team did not think he was ready to compete at the Major League level. Some players are reinstated from the DL after rehab and then immediately sent back to the minor leagues. The DL days would be the same for all and this is consistent in the tallying of the DL lost days.
DL Dollars: This is a pro-rated amount based on the player’s guaranteed salary. I count a complete season as 183 days. Some could argue that is 182 or 184 but I have used 183 consistently for all the years of calculations. So for example, if a players makes $1,830,000 per year and misses 100 days, his DL costs his team $1,000,000: Formula: (1,830,000/183)*100 days.
What about replacement costs. The entire idea of the DL is to get a healthy player to replace the injured player. Many times, but not always, it is a minor league player that is called up. By the Collective Bargaining Agreement, that called up player has to be paid the MLB minimum salary. This number has changed over the years and in 1998 was $170,000. It is now in 2016, $507,500. To see the minimum salaries from 1970-2015 click this link. I have used the minimum salary for each year to determine the minimum replacement cost based on DL days lost. We know that this is undervalued and is probably much more than that but it is the minimum a team would have to play to replace the injured player. Again, the key is to be consistent from year to year on the calculations.
In the previous 2015 record year, the number of placements was 536 with 30,302 DL Days and $694,835,359 in DL Dollars including minimum replacement costs. Those at the time, set all-time MLB records. Let’s compare that to 2016 numbers.
DL Placements for past 7 seasons:
So the number of players placed on the DL in 2016 exceeded the previous high in of 536 by 25 more players indicating a 4.1% increase. What is more astonishing is that it is a nearly 24% increase since 2010.
To get a better idea of the continued upward trend in the number of placements over the years, the following is a graph dating back to 1998. 1998 was chosen principally because that is the first year that there were 30 teams in the league, which has remained stable in the past 19 seasons.
For those of you that are in to analytical stats, this trend line is statistically significant with a p value = .000029 (anything under .05 is significant) and a r2 = .65.
DL Days Lost for Past 7 seasons
Again, there is another record number of DL Days compared to the previous record in 2015. This is nearly a 4.5% increase from 2015 and a staggering 34% increase since 2010. In addition, this is only the second time that the number of DL Days has surpassed the 30,000 watermark.
Below shows the DL Days Lost dating back to 1998:
This trend is also highly statistically significant with p value = .0005 and a R2 of .51.
What about DL Dollars?
First, DL Dollars are not always comparable from year to year like Placements and Days Lost. This is because average player’s salaries continue to increase each year and the minimum salaries increase as well. This makes it more difficult to compare over time. But let’s look at them as we did with Placements and Days Lost.
As you can see, 2016 Total DL Costs were below the 2015 high by about $24 million. Even there were significantly more DL Days in 2016 than 2015, less money was spent on salaries of players who didn’t play because of injuries. This is because many times the total lost dollars by the DL is more about who gets injured rather than how many get hurt. If more high salaried players go on the DL this will increase the dollar amounts and those could inflate the numbers. Personally, I do not like reporting these numbers since it doesn’t tell the whole epidemiological story but it does put into dollars the need for prevention and avoiding long DL stints.
However, increase in player’s salaries only explains part of the upward trend in Total Costs. Looking at the increase in average player salaries since 1998, we see a 395% increase. When looking at the percentage change in DL Dollars from 1998 to 2015, we see a significantly larger increase in this number to 509%. This indicates that the increase in DL Dollars has been steeper than the average MLB salary
The number of placements and days lost to the DL have continued to rise with 2016 hitting record numbers in spite of 2015 being a record year prior to 2016. There continues to be statistically significant upward trends in injuries as measured by the Disabled List. DL Dollars were down by $24 million dollar compared to 2015 that represented a 3.5% decrease. However, this still was the second largest lost dollars in MLB history.
Our next blog will go deeper into this data to look at injuries by position and diagnosis for 2016.