Down Time: 2013 disabled list stats by team

It's easy to feel as though your team is the unluckiest, that they always seem to end up with more injuries than everyone else and players miss more time when they do go on the DL. But which teams have actually suffered from injuries the most, and what clubs have actually got this far without having many injury disasters?

Given that we're at the All-Star break, I decided to take a look at all the DL moves so far this season and break them down by team, as well as the number of days per stint, to identify which teams have been the most healthy and which have had to deal with their players spending most of their time on the treatment table.

To do this, I used Pro Sports Transactions' very useful database, which tracks a variety of roster transactions, including moves on and off the DL. I searched for all disabled list moves made for the 2013 season, from those placed on the DL before the season even began right up to the moves made right before the All-Star break. Once this information had been collated, I subtracted the day players were placed on the DL from the day they came off; if a player is still on the DL, I used July 18th as the standard end date to calculate their total days on the DL so far.

A disclaimer: the number of days a player is on the DL is calculated from when the team made the move, not the day it was retroactive to. If a team gave a player four or five days to see if they recovered from a problem before placing them on the DL, those days won't be included in these calculations. What these numbers reflect is therefore not the exact number of days that each player missed but rather the number of days that the respective teams replaced the players on the roster for as a result of the DL move.

In total, there have been 372 DL moves so far this season, with a total of 15902 days lost to injury. That means that the league has averaged 12.4 DL stints and 530 days lost per team. Within those numbers, there is a huge fluctuation between MLB teams and both the amount of DL trips and the time their players have spent on the list. There was a remarkable difference between the team at the top of the list and the rest.

Your winners of 2013's most healthy team so far: the Kansas City Royals. Incredibly, the Royals have put just two players on the DL so far, and one of them, Danny Duffy, is recovering from Tommy John surgery, so KC already knew he wouldn't be playing a major part for them before the season started. That makes Jarrod Dyson the only player that the Royals have had to put on the DL in-season in almost 100 games of action. Duffy's absence for almost three months pushes their average days per DL stint to just above 60 with a total of 121, but excluding him, the Royals have had just 36 days when a player has been on the DL. By way of contrast, the Tampa Bay Rays, in second place, have made 6 DL moves this season.

Of course, the fact that the Royals have been able to field a stable lineup hasn't really helped them all that much, as they're still six games under .500 and a distant third in the AL Central. MLB Injury News contributor Stuart Wallace theorised that age is one of the factors which might contribute to some teams staying healthier and that's certainly something the Royals do have on their side. Alex Gordon, now 29, is virtually a veteran compared to the rest of the Royals lineup. They don't have a regular starting position player of 30 or over and they have three regular starters (Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez and Mike Moustakas) who are still under 25.

Age can't have everything to do with it, though. The Atlanta Braves are proving that this year, with the Upton brothers and Jason Heyward all struggling with injury recently, and younger players like Freddie Freeman and Evan Gattis have both spent time on the DL. They rank fifth in days lost, with 753 over 15 DL stints.

So which is the least healthy team? That really depends how you want to define it. Unsurprisingly, the Los Angeles Dodgers lead the way for number of DL trips, with 22. Matt Kemp, Zack Greinke, Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramirez - the Dodgers could almost put together an All-Star team of injured players if they wanted to. However, their 744 cumulative days of DL time ranks sixth, so while they've had a lot of players go down, a lot of them have not missed huge chunks of time. You might guess that the injury-prone Yankees take the crown, and they rank second, but they're over 100 days behind...the Miami Marlins.

Yes, the Marlins have accumulated 898 days of DL time so far, crushing the Yankees' 790. If you're at a loss to explain that, it's probably because you aren't familiar with a lot of the players on the shelf. Giancarlo Stanton's injury woes have been much publicised, but Alfredo Silverio and Jose Ceda are not household names. Both of them are pitchers who are recovering from Tommy John surgery and have spent the whole season on the DL, amounting to 218 days between them. Logan Morrison is probably the most famous name on the list after Stanton.

Can we really know whether teams are managing, or even preventing injuries more effectively than others? Wallace suggests that teams like the St. Louis Cardinals (who are on the low end with 8 DL trips so far) draft and sign players based on a certain body type or mechanical approach, might be exerting greater control over their injury risk, which could potentially translate to fewer DL trips in future years. Chicago White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper is renowned for his apparent ability to keep pitchers healthy and although we don't know a great deal about his methods, the numbers seem to back it up, as Baseball Prospectus' Ben Lindbergh found in 2010.

One obvious issue these numbers do point to is players with recurring problems, and that is certainly a major factor. When I looked at the issue of innings limits recently, I referenced Russell Carleton's excellent work on what actually predicts injury. Carleton clearly demonstrated that a previous injury to a body part is by far the most effective predictor of whether a player will land on the DL in future years. That's borne out by individual situations on the teams that have lost a lot of playing time to the DL.

Take the Dodgers: Kemp has gone down with hamstring and shoulder problems, both areas he has experienced issues with in the past. Stephen Fife has been on the DL twice with right shoulder bursitis. Ted Lilly has made three trips with various problems and it's clear he has never been able to get back to full health after offseason surgery. The Yankees have high-profile examples: Mark Teixeira's wrist and Kevin Youkilis' back have both been issues practically all season, and both of them have been on the DL twice. Stanton is quickly developing a reputation for having leg injuries after having knee issues last year and hamstring problems in 2013. The Rangers' Alexi Ogando has been on the DL for 59 total days with biceps and shoulder inflammation, the second trip coming just days after his first activation.

These situations frequently result in players aggravating a problem by returning too early or injuring another part of their body because they're over-compensating. Sometimes there's a fundamental problem that won't just go away with rest, but these players want to stay on the field as long as they possibly can, and sometimes that means they end up spending more time on the DL precisely because they didn't want to take those extra days off.

At the end of the day, a lot of this is also down to luck. Hit-by-pitches and comebackers are good examples. Curtis Granderson has had two bones broken by pitches. Alex Cobb and J.A. Happ were hit in the head by extremely fast line drives. You can argue, as Bleacher Report's Will Carroll and our own Raymond Bureau have done, that teams should be investing in better protective gear for players,  but these injuries don't have anything to do with usage or the approaches taken by the medical staff or front office off the field; it's just what happens when a baseball hits you at over 90 mph.

We also have a relatively small sample size here. All we can really say is that the Dodgers have had to make an unusually high number of DL moves and the Royals have had a remarkable lack of injuries thus far. We might see this even out in the second half. It's possible that a ten or twenty-year sample might allow us to draw more significant conclusions about DL stats, but it's also possible that the unpredictable nature of injuries would obscure any broader trends.

These are just a few of a multitude of explanations. Part of the problem here is we don't have all the information about injuries or what teams are doing to combat them. On top of that, while a DL stint is a distinct, easily quantifiable event, injuries are not. As Carroll says, no two injuries are alike. We don't always know when a player first gets injured or what other factors are at play. Sometimes it's not even clear if the DL trip is based on injury or performance, such as Dan Haren's recent stint. Much of this information may be an interesting quirk that doesn't tell us a great deal about individual teams and their management of players, but it's also a good way to take an objective look at the issue of time lost to the disabled list and think about whether teams really are just unlucky or if there's a lot more at play.

Of course, DL trips also don't cover everything. Sometimes players skip a game or two with a niggle or a cut and they don't show up on the DL statistics. In my next feature, I'll take a look at these situations, see if it's possible to identify which teams have suffered the most from those injuries that aren't enough for a DL stint, and whether we can learn anything about how different teams manage players.

Thanks to Stuart Wallace (@TClippardsSpecs) for offering his thoughts on this topic. 

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