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MLB should heed warning signs from the KBO on injury risk

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Batting depth is proving to be crucial in the KBO.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

An MLB baseball season is finally back, and the biggest oddity of this season will be the limited number of games. I’ve seen some people are saying that teams with poor depth will have little problems due to short season, while teams with strong depth are losing an advantage. But my thoughts are little different.

Let’s take a look at the situation in the KBO, which started its season before MLB. Until June 23, KBO teams had each played about 42 games. And there are 174 batters that had more than 20 PAs for that games. This figure is the largest in the last five years.

If you average out the plate appearances in the KBO across 10 teams, you can see the following trend.

  • 2020 : 17.4 batters per team
  • 2019 : 14.9 batters per team
  • 2018 : 15.1 batters per team
  • 2017 : 15.9 batters per team
  • 2016 : 14.9 batters per team

Compared to recent seasons, there are 2~3 more players that have more than 20 PAs per each team during first 42 games.

On the mound, how many pitchers have played more than 10 innings per team during same periods?

  • 2020 : 12.6 pitchers per team
  • 2019 : 12.0 pitchers per team
  • 2018 : 12.7 pitchers per team
  • 2017 : 13.0 pitchers per team
  • 2016 : 12.6 pitchers per team

There is not much of a difference compared to other years.

I believe that the reason is simple: The hitters are getting more injured than the pitchers at this season. So far, a total of 73 players have been listed in the IL. 23 are pitchers and 50 are batters. (28 IFs, 17 OFs, and 5 catchers)

I assume that pitchers would have been relatively easy to prepare a season with a bullpen pitching and hitters had few chances to have a real in-game activity like base-running, defense, and batting.

I think the varied physical activity after an extended time off is a reason for hitters to be getting injured more frequently.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Anecdotally, the most frequent injury in the KBO appears to be the hamstring. I’m not an expert on this area, but I don’t think this kind of injury will be easy to prevent.

Moreover, unlike the KBO, starting the season in the summer can also be a problem in the US. Hitters may get tired quickly in the summer and the risk of injury could be higher just based on the weather.

Rays Roster Implications

If hitters are likely to be injured a lot in incoming season, batting depth will be more important than usual. Based on this hypothesis, let’s look at the Rays roster.

Fortunately, Rays have about 12 to 13 decent batters. But KBO’s results tell that more batters should be needed than that for a season. Therefore, players like Mike Brosseau, Brian O’Grady, Randy Arozarena and Nate Lowe are likely to get quite a few more chances than might have been anticipated in a full season.

And since there are not a normal minor league season, it will be safer to have more big league ready players, or camp invites like veteran outfielder Ryan LaMarre (NRI) could surprisingly benefit.

Judging from the 40-man roster, the most vulnerable part of the Rays roster is at catcher. Although the season is short, it will be hard to spend the season with Mike Zunino and Michael Perez alone. So catchers with major league experience like Kevan Smith and Chris Herrmann are likely to play important roles.

Because hitters were more often injured while fielding and running, It is also worth considering actively using defensive substitutions or pinch-runners.

Fortunately, the rosters start with 30. Rays can consider role players like Lucius Fox, who has strengths on defense, can play a base-running role like Johnny Davis, who was featured as a base-runner late last season.