Today, all everybody seems to care about is Tommy John surgery. The surgery is on the rise and people want to find a solution. This is not unreasonable: according to Jeff Zimmerman and Jon Roegele’s Tommy John database, there are now 100 players who underwent surgery in 2014 alone. It’s therefore understandable that many people are not only talking about it but also studying it, and trying to find solutions.
But, what about other baseball injuries? Sure, a torn UCL is a devastating injury, but it’s certainly not the only devastating injury in baseball. What about torn labrums, torn Achilles, fractures, concussions? Most other types of baseball injuries haven’t had a lot of studies on them. (As you can probably guess from the title, I’m going to focus on concussions).
So I decided to zig to everyone’s zag. Over the past month or so I’ve constructed a concussions database. My database for the time being includes the start and end date of the concussion, days missed, DL type, Position, Team, Age, and cause. So far I’ve recorded 189 concussions. This may not seem like a lot, especially when you compare it to Zimmerman and Roegele’s database, which contains 962 cases of Tommy John. But concussions, as I’ve found, are not that common in baseball.
My database ranges from the years 1985 to 2015. This, however, is very misleading. Since the year 2000 I found 187 recorded concussions, before the year 2000 I only found two. One was in 1985, suffered by Roy Smith, by a batted ball, which landed him on the 15-day DL. The other was by Ivan Rodriguez in 1999, which happened due to a collision at home plate; he was not put on the DL and didn’t even miss a game. I will obviously keep doing research and will try to find more players, but for the time being it appears that concussions were infrequently diagnosed or reported before 2000.
The database was constructed through many ways. My primary tool was the Pro Sports Transactions database. I also used MLB Transactions, although that proved to be a very ineffective tool. A lot of the concussions I found on the Pro Sports Transactions were not included, and all of the concussions I found with MLB Transactions I already had complied thanks to Pro Sports Transactions. Pro Sports Transactions, however, also had injury types described as “head”. While not all head injuries are concussions, I decided to conduct a search for every player who suffered a “head” injury (according to Pro Sports Transactions). I looked at many players through the Baseball Prospectus (BP) profile page because each player’s BP profile page includes their injury history. This also proved to be an indispensable tool in doing my research. It allowed me to find not only the injury type but also the injury cause. I therefore double-checked every player I found on the Pro Sports Transactions with their BP player profile page. The results and dates almost always matched up. If they didn’t I looked at other sources, such as online articles, or Rotoworld, which had a great list of transactions on the player’s profile page. I also used Bleacher Report and other news reports, which allowed me to find some but not a lot of info. (If you know of another site or way I could check to expand my list PLEASE let me know in the comment section or by email).
Finally before I get started I want to point out that I am not the first to carry out a study on concussions. There was an article written by the NY Times recently, which identified a study published by the American Journal of Sports Medicine, which suggested that players performed worse when returning from concussions. The study, however, “…identified 66 position players who had concussions between 2007 and 2013, including some who never went on the disabled list.” There was also a study published by the SciMedCentral called “Epidemiology and Outcomes of Concussions in Major League Baseball”. The study looked at players from 2001 to 2010 who had concussions. The problem is that they only found 33 players who had concussions during that time. In both cases the sample size is really too small to come to any conclusion.
The way I see it the only database that can actually compete with mine is the BP database, which according to this Ben Lindbergh article, “The Year of Living Less Dangerously,” contains 175 players from 2001 to 2013. I unfortunately, however, don’t know how big the database is today as the article was written in 2014 for Grantland.
What I hope to do with this database is construct similar and more detailed studies. The difference I believe, in the similar studies I will be conducting, is that my database simply has a larger sample size, which will allow us to get more accurate results.
For today, however, we’re just going to start off slowly. First we’re simply going take an overall look at the concussions I recorded. The chart below will show you the total amount of concussions I’ve been able to find from 2000 to 2014. The chart is also interactive; I used Tableau to create it. If you do some clicking around you’ll see that I’ve also included all the players who’ve landed on the DL, the players who’ve landed on the 7-day DL, the 15-day DL, 60-day DL, and those that didn’t end up on the DL (due to a concussion).
So hey look Tommy John surgeries are not the only thing that’s on the rise, concussions are too. While there’s a ton of variance in the 15-day, 60-day, and even the non-DL graphs, the amount of players landing on the DL do to a concussion is on the rise, and there might be an explanation for that.
You see, in the winter of 2011 Major League Baseball and the Players Association adopted new protocols in regarding to concussions. The biggest change according to this Cash Karuth article “MLB, union adopt universal concussion policy” was the implementation of a seven-day disabled list for concussions. The protocol also forces teams to complete a “club-submitted “Return to Play” form to Major League Baseball’s medical director. The submission of the form is required regardless of whether the player was placed on the disabled list.”
“New procedures will be implemented for evaluating players and umpires for possible concussions after such incidents as being hit in the head by a pitched, batted or thrown ball or bat; a collision with a player, umpire or fixed object; or any time the head or neck of a player or umpire is forcibly rotated.” (For more information I recommend reading the article.)
While there has been a rise of concussions after the protocol was implemented, it’s hard to decipher based on these graphs whether it actually had a huge impact. Concussions were on the rise before the protocol was implemented and while there is a drastic increase in the 7-day DL department that was presumably inevitable due to the new rule. When looking at the overall concussions the drastic increase happened in years 2013 and 2014. For the overall DL stints it happened in 2013. In both cases it didn’t happen directly after the protocol was implemented. Maybe the protocol didn’t necessarily have a huge impact. Perhaps it only started to get enforced in 2013?
I also don’t know how many concussions were either not diagnosed or not reported. Before 2005 players rarely went on the DL due to a concussion. The concussion data before 2000 is almost non-existent. It’s hard to believe that players are suddenly getting concussed. This information was either not made public or poorly handled by Major League Baseball. Also maybe it’s simply that doctors are getting better at detecting concussions? Or they might just be paying more attention to it? These are questions unfortunately I simply don’t have an answer to at this point.
Let’s now take a look at which teams have been most impacted by this injury. The graph below again is interactive. The important element to note is that the bigger the circle the more concussions the team has suffered. If you’re not familiar with these types of interactive graphs, there relatively simple. Just bring your mouse over the circles and all the data will be there.
If we were living in an alternative universe and I had a gun to your head and made you guess the team, which had suffered the most concussions, you’d probably guess the Twins. And you would be correct, since 2000 no team had suffered more concussions than the Twins, who are tied with the Mets on 13. The Twins have most notably had Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau; both players’ careers have been seriously hampered by injuries. The Mets most notably had Jason Bay and David Wright.
Perhaps another interesting element to note is that the White Sox have the least amount of concussions suffered, at only two. That is of course if you don’t count the Padres who also have two. But for the sake of interesting trends let’s focus on the White Sox.
The White Sox seem to have a knack or secret sauce for keeping their players healthy. According to this article by Jeff Zimmerman “2014 Disabled List Information and So Much More,” the White Sox have suffered the least amount of injuries since 2002. Also if we look this article by Jon Roegele, “Tommy John Surgeries: A More Complete List” the White Sox have suffered the least amount of Tommy John surgeries. I don’t and will not pretend to know what’s going on up there but it seems as though the White Sox are better than just about any other team at keeping their players healthy, although how they can also be more effective at preventing concussions is a mystery.
While I could have displayed a bigger sample of my database, I think I’ll leave it here for today. I’ve given you a lot of information to absorb, and don’t want to overwhelm anyone.
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