Good news: The White Sox are back to their rightful place at the top -- or bottom -- of the injury prevention list.
Bad news: They still only won 76 games.
Over at The Hardball Times, Jeff Zimmermann posted his annual compilation and analysis of disabled list visits. The White Sox had crept toward the middle of the pack over the previous two seasons, but they returned to the low end of the chart in 2015 in terms of days lost:
This is outstanding news, but it's short on solace, since it would've been so much easier to account for the White Sox' disappointing 2015 if they encountered issues with the injury bug.
Nobody expected much from the 2014 White Sox, but you can see how injuries served as a through-line to undercut any potential surprise they had in store. Nate Jones was lost for the entire season and Matt Lindstrom lasted only until mid-May. Those absences combined for a one-two punch that neutered Robin Ventura's bullpen. On the offensive side, the White Sox gave Avisail Garcia the keys to right field, only to see him hit a deer within two weeks. Throw in a missed month for Chris Sale and brief trips for Jose Abreu and Adam Eaton, and the end result was an unusually high body count. If the Sox and Herm Schneider could somehow return to their normal (excellent) standards of injury prevention, they seemed simpler to solve than your ordinary 73-win team, especially since they sandbagged that number with incentivized September losses.
With the recent past as precedent, if somebody told you the White Sox lost the fewest games to DL in 2015, and the four cornerstones combined for a mere seven games on the shelf ... you'd expect a whole lot more than a three-game improvement.
That's why this is bittersweet, and you can make it bittersweeter (bitterersweet?) by coming up with other ways to phrase their incredible injury luck, like saying the Sox only went outside their five-man rotation once before rosters expanded, and that was Chris Beck for a doubleheader.
Or how 'bout this: The Sox knew they had to cover for one-third of those days well before the offseason even began, as Jones had Tommy John surgery on July 29, 2014.
Or this: An additional 40 percent of the DL trips and 25 percent of the DL days ultimately had zero ramifications.
It's also not particularly consoling that the three teams that lost the most days to injuries all made the postseason, while the six healthiest teams all missed out.
Yech. Let's just proceed with the rundown.
Imaginary or inconsequential: Four trips, 89 days
Here's the aforementioned 40/25 share:
- Javy Guerra suffered the first in-season injury, falling off the roster on April 20 with shoulder inflammation. That was the same day Carlos Rodon was promoted, which suggests an injury of convenience, but Guerra's stint was retroactive to April 13, so perhaps there was a reason he didn't pitch much. Either way, his time on the active roster ended with a DFA, and he failed a drug test down in Charlotte in July, so his time looked limited one way or another. His injury accounted for 18 DL days.
- Dan Jennings went on the disabled list on June 5 with neck inflammation, coincidentally after the out-of-options lefty posted a 13.50 ERA over his most recent 12 outings. That lasted 26 days.
- Emilio Bonifacio strained his oblique and hit the shelf on July 29, but this was merely the final nail in the coffin of a disastrous season. He missed 16 games, but the Sox could've DFA'd him as a preventative measure if they cared to. Instead, he added 16 days to the total.
- Daniel Webb hit the DL with a back strain on Aug. 5. He wasn't out of options, so it doesn't have that whiff of roster shenanigans, but it also caught him at a low point, as he'd walked twice as many as he struck out over the previous month. That's 24 days there.
Late starts: Two trips, 22 days
- Chris Sale started the season seven days late coming back from an avulsion fracture in his left foot that he suffered jumping off a truck (or "jumping off a truck"). A week might be underselling its effects. Sale missed most of spring training, and he didn't find his groove until the second week of May, and you're free to connect those dots. Still, the Sox didn't have to go outside the original rotation during his week away.
- Jake Petricka came down with a forearm strain during the second half of spring training, and needed a couple of rehab outings in Charlotte to get back up to speed. Since spring training injuries can be backdated, he only missed the usual 15 days.
Minor injuries for secondary players: Two trips, 30 days
- J.B. Shuck strained his hamstring scoring on a wild pitch on July 31, going on the disabled list the next day. Even then, he was ultimately replaced by Trayce Thompson after two days of Scott Carroll adding temporary pitching reinforcement, so this one wasn't acutely felt, either. Shuck returned 15 days later.
- Zach Putnam capped disabled list season on Aug. 27 after straining his groin, although he'd tried working through for several days before giving in. He came off the DL 15 days later, but he probably required the minimum time only because minor-league seasons had ended. His first game back looked an awful lot like a rehab stint, anyway. The timing probably saved the Sox a handful of days on both ends.
The whoppers: Two trips, 212 days
- Nate Jones opened the season on the disabled list while recovering from Tommy John surgery. He made his debut on Aug. 7, ending his 2015 DL time at 122 days.
- Matt Albers went on the DL as a cautionary tale retroactive to April 20 after breaking his finger during the brawl with the Royals. It required surgery, and he didn't return until July 19, or 90 days later.
Since Jones' absence stemmed from an injury the year before and the Sox weren't counting on him to be available until the second half, Albers' injury is the only real gut punch. And since the Sox only needed a minor league contract to acquire Albers in the first place, I doubt they projected him posting the 1.21 ERA he ended up with.
Granted, certified DL stints don't account for all the performance-sapping wear and tear. Besides Sale's rocky return, Adam LaRoche was hampered at the start of the season with a hand injury, and the latter injury suggests the Sox might want to consider a more liberal usage of the disabled list. (A counterpoint: Adam Eaton hit .335/.418/.486 with a banged-up shoulder.)
As it stands from our distance, Albers can boast that he was important enough to claim the costliest White Sox injury of 2015, and we can only hope that the Sox can contain their health problems that far down the depth chart in 2016.
And that, y'know, it'll actually matter.