Friday, November 11, 2011

Dissecting the Bill Smith era: Injuries and rehab

Tsuyoshi Nishioka fractured his
leg on this play in the first week
of the season. It took more than
two months for him to return. 
The Twins used the disabled list 27 times in 2011, a figure that actually understates the problems they had with injuries, illnesses and getting players back on the field.

Of their projected starting lineup at the start of the season, only Danny Valencia and Michael Cuddyer avoided the DL, and Cuddyer almost certainly would have gone on the DL if not for the roster expansion that accompanies September. Of the projected starting rotation, only Carl Pavano stayed healthy all season.

It wasn't just last year, and it wasn't just injuries. Rehabs seemed to stretch out forever. J.J. Hardy implied late in the season that the Baltimore Orioles medical crew solved a wrist problem that bedeviled him all of 2010. The ins and outs of the Joe Mauer saga remain veiled from outsiders, but it appears to have begun with a decision early in the 2010 offseason to try to avoid surgery on his troubled knee, followed by surgery late in December and a rushed rehab.

Denard Span suffered a concussion
on this play on June 3. He was
cleared to play in early August,
went 2-for-35, admitted he still
had concussion symptoms and
returned to the DL.
Publicly, Bill Smith appeared to brush the problem off. The injuries, he said at season's end, were largely "collision injuries," and there's not much one can do about them. He defended the medical and training staff. And as for the curious public statements about Mauer — statements that opened the Twins' most important player to mockery from certain media personalities with high-profile platforms — he said only: That's in the past.

What a general manager says for public consumption and what he says and does in-house are often two different things, of course, but the contrast between Smith's end-of-the-year take and Terry Ryan's is rather stark.

Here's Ryan:

"We had a tough year in medical. We had a tough year in a lot of areas. Not only up here, but right through the system. We need to do some tweaking at the very least there. When it comes to communication, there are areas there that need to be addressed, and I plan on doing that. I know Bill was in the process of doing that up until last week. He was worried about it, and I'm worried about it."

And:

"I think when everybody started to get concerned was the rehab time and how long after a sprained ankle it took to get back on the field. I'm aware of that and I have to talk to our medical people to get a better account of exactly why and some of the decisions that were made."

Ryan says Smith was acting on the problems. Maybe so. If so, he wasn't open about it, or even admitting there was an issue.

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