THE BIG HURT: 2022 health scores that may not tell the whole story


BaseballHQ Health scores use a simple but very effective methodology to assign injury risk by assigning risk based on IL days in previous seasons. The best predictor of an injury is that the player had a similar injury the season before, and the risk is even higher if the player had a similar injury in each of the prior two seasons, so the methodology works well. (The model excludes COVID IL stays, as that’s a unique event that doesn’t tell us much about a player’s ability to stay healthy.) Statistics back this up: Players with A or B health scores tend to hit the IL at about half the rate of players with D or F scores.

However, the methodology isn’t perfect. It will miss injuries that occur at the end of a season and thus have a smaller IL stay. There are freak injuries that probably shouldn’t be counted, and there are players who tend to play through injuries that aren’t counted by the model since they don’t lead to IL stays. There may also be some bias in players’ 2022 health assessments, as 2021 saw a huge surge in injuries, likely related to the shortened 2020 season. Unfortunately, we can’t separate the injuries that would have happened anyway from those that were due to the unusual circumstances.

Here, we’ll review some players whose risk might be overstated or understated by the BaseballHQ methodology.

Players who are riskier than their health score indicates

Nelson Cruz (DH, FA; A Health Score): He’s thus far thumbed his nose at the aging curve, with skills improving as he hit his mid-30s. He’s spent only 41 days on the IL in the past four seasons, and none since 2019. However, in 2021 he had six different minor injuries (foot x2, neck, wrist, forearm, and knee) that caused him to miss time even though he was able to avoid the IL. He’ll also be 42 in 2022, and that’s a big health risk in and of itself.

Fernando Tatis, Jr. (SS/OF, SD; C Health Score): During the 2021 season, he partially dislocated his shoulder at least five times, two of which led to IL stints. He decided against off-season surgery, which potentially leaves him vulnerable to more issues going forward. His production is so good that he can still provide excellent value if his IL trips are limited, but there is significant risk that he sustains an injury that he can’t easily return from, as each injury potentially destabilizes the joint a bit more.


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Alex Bregman (3B, HOU; C Health Score): After the season ended, he revealed that he needed surgery on his right wrist. Had the injury occurred earlier in the season, he would have missed significant time, likely dropping him to an F health score. The wrist should be 100% to start the season, so it’s not an ongoing concern, but three IL-worthy injuries in two seasons means the risk is higher.

Christian Yelich (OF, MIL; C Health Score): He’s been battling back problems for years, going as far back as 2014. He’s had a couple of short IL stays over the years but seemed to manage it well from 2016 to 2019. In 2021, it cost him 33 days on the IL in two different trips. Could the back issue explain his power drop in 2020 and 2021? Sure, but the risk here is that it gets worse over time. You’d expect that he’s taking steps to manage the issue, but it’s still here, eight years later.

Max Scherzer (RHP, NYM; D Health Score): He’s had some health issues in recent years, but no big injury that kept him out for a long time. However, he’ll be 38 in July and has thrown more than 42,000 pitches in his career (not including playoffs). His D health score is already a warning, but there’s probably more risk here than that grade represents. We’re also concerned that GMs are ignoring the risks (19 ADP; sixth pitcher taken on average), partly because there’s a lack of elite starting pitchers available.

 

Players who are less risky than their health score indicates

Chris Bassitt (RHP, OAK; D Health Score): He had Tommy John surgery in 2017. Since then, his only IL trips are from a bruised calf (2019) and being hit in the face by a line drive (2021). The latter is a freak injury that doesn’t really increase his injury risk, especially since he came back quickly and looked very good post-injury. Given his age and relatively recent rise to prominence, we’d consider him somewhat risky, but not enough to significantly affect our valuation.

Ronald Acuña (OF, ATL; D Health Score): We’re admittedly of two minds here. First, his ACL tear is not a terribly common injury, and only one player since 2012 (Wilson Ramos) has had multiple ACL tears. Acuña does have some history, with injuries in 2020 and 2018 (including an ACL strain), but we believe that even though his risk of an ACL injury is higher post-surgery, the overall risk is low enough that it doesn’t make him all that risky. The flip side is that he may be limited in terms of PT and SB opportunities over the first half of the season. That’s not strictly injury risk tied to his health score, but it does increase his overall risk.

Julio Urias (LHP, LA; D Health Score): His big knock is missing most of the 2018 season recovering from shoulder surgery. However, the shoulder has been fine the past three seasons and he tossed 186 innings in 2021 without incident. With his shoulder surgery four years behind him, we’re willing to give him a pass.

Mark Melancon (RHP, ARI; D Health Score): He had a rare condition that was corrected by surgery in 2017—a nerve was compressed due to compression of the sheath surrounding the pronator muscle group. He experienced a flexor strain early in 2018 that may have been related, but since then, he’s been clean, injury-wise. His age (37) increases his risk, but not to this level.

Anthony Rendon (3B, LAA; F Health Score): He spent 116 days on the IL, but his injuries can all be traced back to the impingement in his hip. There is some performance risk here, as his power may not be back to 100%, but his injury risk is not much of a concern.

Huascar Ynoa (RHP, ATL; F Health Score): He punched a bench. Maybe we can call that “maturity risk” or something, but it doesn’t make him a health risk.

 

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.





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