On Thursday night, Denard Span played in his first game in 10 days since injuring his clavicle on a Jeff Keppinger line drive on August 12.
Span’s absence triggered yet another debate amongst Twins fans and pundits alike who questioned the team’s inability to properly handle their disabled. Rather than place Span on the DL a day or two after the injury appeared to be more than simply a day-to-day situation and keep the dugout stocked with healthy bodies, the Twins allowed the situation to drag on for over a week – culminating in an MRI attempt that never happened because of Span’s claustrophobia.
Of course, Span is not the Twins’ first encounter with a prolonged injury this year either.
Prior to Span’s ordeal, it was Trevor Plouffe who had the extended time off. On July 20, Plouffe bruised his thumb on his throwing hand and left the game against the Royals early. The prognosis at the time was that it was originally thought of as day-to-day. It took seven days before he was placed on the DL only to finally return on August 13.
Before Plouffe it was Justin Morneau who, at the end of April, re-injured his surgically repaired wrist. Morneau missed three games in May in addition to five calendar days before the Twinsultimately made the move to put him on the DL.
At some point, these missed games add up.
Clearly, I’m not a doctor. I diagnose most injuries regardless of the severity with Vitamin I (Ibuprofen) and a few (dozen) Grain Belt Premiums. The Twins, on the other hand, have (presumably) a well-paid, well-educated medical staff that should, by most accounts, identify and set out a clear path of recovery. Yet, somehow, these injuries and ailments – no matter how seemingly minor – continue to drag out and leave the team short-handed for extended periods of time.
Truthfully, I have no idea on how the internal decision process is made to DL or not to DL but it appears that the team puts the onus on the players on these ostensibly innocuous injuries. It harkens back to 1993’s The Program, in which James Caan’s character asked one of his football players if he was hurt or injured; the difference being, if he was hurt, he could still play. In Span, Plouffe and Morneau’s case, the players communicated to the medical and coaching staff that they were simply hurt and that they could play in no time. The response from each was “I’ll be fine in a day or two.”
For instance, the Star Tribune’s LaVelle Neal wrote that the team was counting on Span to let them know if or when he’s able to suit back up:
Like Span, Plouffe told reporters and coaches that he would expect to miss “a day” at that time.Ron Gardenhire told reporters after the game that “We've all done that as a hitter -- you get a deep bone bruise right in there and it's pretty painful. So we'll give him a day or two with a little ice and treatment, and he should be back in there."
Similarly, after the decision was made to send Morneau to the disabled list, then acting manager Scott Ullger told reporters that “It’s up to him to let us know when he can play.”
This has become a crappy policy. After two seasons it is obvious that the players cannot be counted on to do this kind of determination. They have machismo and often millions at stake. They certainly WANT to play, there’s no question there. To be fair, the players are the ones actually playing and feeling the pain so they should have an open dialogue with the coaching staff but, ultimately, should they be the influential factor when contemplating the well-being of the roster?
Again, I’m not a doctor – if you needed the reminder. I am a baseball analyst who relies on statistics and data and I have little to no baseline to judge or rate the Twins organization’s methods against another. There is no Wins Above Replacement Level For Guys Your Just DL’ed found on Fangraphs.com. A measuring stick does not exist (it should and some enterprising researcher needs to take up the cause). What does seem obvious is that playing short-handed hinders the team to some degree.
Now, whether or not summoning someone like Clete Thomas or Chris Parmelee would have changed the outcome is certainly debatable but it would seem that continuing down this path regularly puts a team in a deficit. Had this been a contending team, a few games lost because of the disabled list indecision could have cost them vital ground in the standings.
The policy in the Twins clubhouse regarding injuries needs to be re-examined and return rehabilitated in 2013.