Sarris: Can we predict future pitcher injuries using past injuries?

From SABR member Eno Sarris at Sports on Earth on February 18, 2014:

Two out of every five pitchers who pitched in the bigs last year will be headed to the disabled list this year. Look around your favorite rotation and try to decide who will go down. You’ve got your ideas.

Research has provided some guide posts in predicting pitcher injury, but those posts are as shaky as the arms they were built upon. Maybe a trip through a specific rotation would help us mine the research out there in a practical way. Maybe the Texas Rangers can help.

One particular starter on the Rangers is a virtual touchstone for research on pitcher injuries. We all love Yu Darvish, and he can make magic with his arm, but it’s reasonable to worry about Darvish and his health. Why? Let’s count the reasons.

The strongest piece of research shows that past disabled list stints predict future ones. Russell Carleton at Baseball Prospectus showed that you’re ten times as likely to show an elbow injury this coming season if you had one last year, for example. Darvish went on the disabled list last year for what was called an upper back strain, but the trapezius muscle is basically part of your shoulder apparatus. Uh-oh.

This sort of finding, that past health results predict future ones, descends all the way to the smallest parts of the body. R.J. Anderson took at look at blisters, the flap of skin that can fell a giant, and found a similar result: past blisters, and perhaps sheer number of pitches, can help project a pitcher’s future blisters. Darvish had blister problems last year and only eight pitchers threw more pitches last year than the Rangers’ ace. Yikes.

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Originally published: February 18, 2014. Last Updated: February 18, 2014.