As more stars get hurt, value in keeping them healthy rises
More than half a billion dollars is being spent on players on the disabled list
Changes to the bonus system for draft picks will hurt team's chances to improve
Chris Perez is the latest closer to prove the role is more style than substance
If it seems as if a star player goes on the DL every day, you're wrong. Sometimes it's two, as happened Thursday when Matt Kemp and Troy Tulowitzki added to the casualty list of a season rocked by injuries to big-time players.
Yes, injuries are part of the game, and you can find any season with handfuls of key players on the disabled list. But this year the rate seems especially ridiculous. It began in spring training with the rash of injuries to closers (Joakim Soria, Andrew Bailey and Ryan Madson), which continued early in the season (Mariano Rivera and Brian Wilson), and hit just about every team hard except the Texas Rangers, who kept their Opening Day roster intact until pitcher Neftali Feliz went down recently.
Entering play yesterday, there were 183 players on the disabled list, or about half a dozen players per team. The hardest hit teams were the Padres and Red Sox (12 DL players each) and Nationals (11).
Teams are paying $3.1 million a day to players who can't play -- a bill of more than half a billion dollars a year to useless players ($566 million). I'll say it again: The next market inefficiency to conquer is prehabilitation, that is, figuring out a better way to keep players on the field. If teams aren't thinking of carving out competitive advantages through health and fitness they're missing the boat.
To give you an idea of the state of injuries, check out the all-DL team: a 25-man roster of players on the disabled list:
C: Carlos Santana, Jonathan Lucroy
1B: Ryan Howard, Lance Berkman
2B: Chase Utley, Brian Roberts
SS: Troy Tulowitzki
3B: Chipper Jones, Evan Longoria
DH: Victor Martinez
LF: Carl Crawford
CF: Matt Kemp, Jacoby Ellsbury
RF: Jayson Werth
SP: Roy Halladay, Jered Weaver, Michael Pineda, Chris Carpenter, Neftali Feliz
RP: Mariano Rivera, Brian Wilson, Joakim Soria, Ryan Madson, Andrew Bailey, David Robertson
The Major League First-Year Player Draft enters a new era on Monday with the cap system on bonuses. With severe penalties for going even five percent over budget (75 percent tax and the loss of a first-round pick), clubs will have an available pool of money (roughly $189 million for the 30 teams) that represents a 20 percent cut from what they spent in a free market system last year ($236 million). What other industry cuts its research and development investment by 20 percent in flush times?
No team has less money to spend than the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Because of the free agent signings of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, the Angels don't get a pick until the 114th selection. Their entire draft budget, based on values assigned to every pick through 10 rounds, is just $1,645,700, according to Baseball America. How small is that? The Angels spent $1,467,000 last year on one pick, first-rounder C.J. Cron.
And don't expect the Angels to overpay for a difficult-to-sign high schooler in the later rounds. If you spend more than $100,000 for a pick after the 10th round, the overage counts toward your budget.
Here's an example of how the money has dried up: In 2006 the Padres -- the Padres, mind you, not the Yankees or Red Sox - drafted high schooler Mat Latos in the 11th round. He slid in the draft because of rumors about his signability and his makeup. The Padres kept an eye on him as he went to junior college, and then signed him just prior to the 2007 draft for $1.25 million. Neither scenario is likely under current rules: not the draft-and-follow scenario and not the late-round big money to convince a hard to sign kid to sign.
So the Angels will have had scouts scouring the country for the past year and are left with only $1.6 million to sign amateur players. Just how small is that kind of investment in future players? The Angels' entire 2012 draft budget would cover only 10 days of pay for Pujols when he's 42 years old.
Chris Perez, the Indians closer, already has the requisite facial hair (the hockey playoff beard gone amok), entrance theme music ("Firestarter" by The Prodigy), nickname ("Pure Rage") and overrated value caused by the misleading save statistic. It's your basic Closer Startup Kit. So why not go ahead and complete the picture of the modern theatrical closer by showing up an opposing player when you do your job? And how did he choose to show up Jarrod Dyson of the Royals after a punchout? Instead of borrowing from the class act of Mariano Rivera, he cribbed from the vaudeville act of a pro wrestler with a tired hand gesture. I'm sure Dyson was very scared.
But that's what the closer job has become: more theatre than substance. It would appear that Perez is having a great year because he "leads the league in saves." But when you dive into the numbers, he is a product of the theatrical system of how to treat closers. Check out what's behind his numbers from 2011-12:
Total Appearances: 86
Saves with 1-run lead: 25
Saves with 2+ run lead: 28
Four-out saves: 0
Used in tied road games: 3
Now you see that 53 percent of Perez's saves over the past two years came down to this: get three outs before the other team scores two runs or more. What happens when he gets a one-run lead? He holds it 86 percent of the time (25 of 29). The average major league team wins 85 percent of its games with a one-run lead in the ninth. In other words: average. No big deal.
The point is that Perez is a product of the system. Could he get four outs? Could he come into a jam in the eighth inning and finish the game? Could he come into a tie game on the road and buy another at-bat or two for his team to win the game? Probably, but we'll never know because Manny Acta and every other big league manager except Bobby Valentine gives the closer the diva treatment.