THE BIG HURT: Health scores that don’t tell the whole story, 2023

BaseballHQ uses a simple but effective method of assessing health risk: prior injuries. More specifically, the health score uses a time-weighted average of IL days over the previous five seasons. While this is a simple figure to calculate, it’s actually quite effective. The single biggest factor in a player’s future risk of injury is whether he suffered a similar injury in the past. And the risk nearly doubles if he suffered a similar injury in the two prior seasons.

While the system is effective, there are nuances it may miss with some players. Some of these are due to missing information—minor-league injuries, off-season issues, etc.—while others are more a matter of qualitative judgement. In some cases, the whole is bigger (or smaller) than the sum of its parts.

Here’s a list of players who caught our eye. We’re not saying that these players are risky or safe, but that there’s more to consider than just their simple letter grade.

Players the model identifies as high risk

Clarke Schmidt (RHP, NYY; “F” health) strained a muscle in his forearm in spring training in 2021 and missed four months recovering. Aside from that, he has two short IL stints in the minor leagues in 2019 working against him. The muscle strain was obviously a significant injury that increases his risk in 2022, but overall, his health history doesn’t read as high risk. Given his 455 ADP, we’re not sure we’d worry about the F health grade when drafting him.

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Aaron Judge (OF, NYY; “D” health) comes by his health grade honestly, with five trips to the IL in the past five years. However, the two most serious injuries (fractured wrist and strained oblique) occurred in 2018 and 2019. Since then, he’s had two trips (both in 2020), one for a strained calf and one for COVID-19. It’s not inconceivable that he’s worked with the training staff to increase flexibility to reduce the risk of muscle strains. It’s also possible he’s just been lucky. But we’d bump him up from “high risk” to “moderate risk” at this point.

Brandon Woodruff (RHP, MIL; “D” health) has two IL trips in the past five years: a strained oblique in 2019 and a sprained ankle in 2022. The oblique kept him out for two months, but it’s the only time he’s experienced an issue like that. We can forgive him the ankle injury—anyone can roll an ankle. We don’t think his health score will dissuade us.

Players the model identifies as low or moderate risk

Yordan Alvarez (OF, HOU; “C” health) has had his issues, but it’s the current issue that has us concerned. He experienced hand soreness in 2022, and it’s a problem again this spring. This suggests a chronic issue that might not just go away with rest (after all, he had three months to recover from 2022). Hand and wrist injuries can sap a hitter’s power, and there’s always the chance that he needs surgery at some point. He may make it through 2023 unscathed, but we’d be concerned about his risk if we targeted him in a draft.

Spencer Strider (RHP, ATL; “B” health) strained his oblique in September 2022, missing 15 days officially. He started in the NLDS (at the four-week point), threw 2.1 innings, and did not look good doing it. This could have been a 6-week absence or longer had it occurred earlier in the season. It was his first injury as a pro, so we won’t knock him too much, but it’s enough to consider him a moderate risk instead of low risk.

Michael Conforto (OF, SF; “B” health) is trying to cheat the model! He missed all of 2022 with a shoulder injury suffered in the off-season, but that amounted to zero IL days since he was unsigned at the time. There’s enough on top of the shoulder injury to place him in the high-risk bucket. You probably didn’t need us to tell you that, but at least now you have confirmation.

Tyrone Taylor (OF, MIL; “B” health) is now high-risk with the disclosure of a sprained elbow that required a PRP injection recently. His health score obviously doesn’t know about that yet, but it’s a red flag. The most obvious concern is the potential for Tommy John surgery (though we don’t know for sure which ligament is injured). PRP injections don’t always work, so there’s a strong risk that we’ll find out in April he’s going to miss more time—and it may be a lot.

CJ Abrams (SS, WAS; “A” health)
Riley Greene (OF, DET; “A” health)

Both players are here because they suffered significant injuries in their last years in the minor leagues, which their health grades do not account for. Abrams fractured his fibula and sprained his MCL in July 2021, missing the last two-plus months of the season. Greene fractured his foot in spring training in 2022, remaining in extended spring training while he recovered. Had these injuries occurred at the major-league level, both would carry a “C” health score; i.e., moderate risk.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.