Injuries are a frustrating topic for fans, and one that we’re often left to discuss unfairly, because we’re never going to have all the information. We get annoyed by the … imprecise return estimates the Cubs offer about injuries and the … generous descriptions of the seriousness of injuries, but the reality is that we’re necessarily operating – as outside parties – with limited information.
Some of what follows is just me shouting at clouds, I guess.
That said, it has long seemed that the Cubs have a particular unwillingness to use the Injured List for guys who need a blow because of a relatively minor ailment. Whether it’s a cultural philosophy of “playing through it” in the clubhouse, or an organizational philosophy that it’s better not to remove a guy for a guaranteed 10 days, I don’t really know. Heck, if I’m honest, I don’t know whether this is just confirmation bias. Maybe we just think this is something that is happening because this is the only team we follow this closely on a day-to-day basis.
But whatever. I’m just saying that it sure seems like we hear a lot of stories after the fact about guys who we’ve noticed are slumping badly, and it turns out they were playing through an injury – or played through an injury and got their mechanics out of whack. Jason Heyward’s wrist, Ben Zobrist’s wrist, Kris Bryant’s shoulder and knee, Daniel Descalso’s ankle, and Javy Baez’s heel all come to mind quickly over the past few years.
Notably, not many pitchers come to my mind quickly. It seems like the Cubs *have* generally been pretty good about popping mildly injured pitchers on the Injured List when they need it. But the nature of pitching perhaps makes it a little harder to tell when guys have played through minor injuries – you miss a lot of time organically between appearances, sometimes you give up runs in an appearance for reasons we can easily dismiss, etc.
Anyway, this is all a setup to something that really rubbed me the wrong way.
There’s a lot of context to what follows, and I want to be clear that I do understand (1) guys play through lots of little bumps and bruises, often without us hearing a word about it, and often just as well as they perform fully healthy; (2) the bullpen had been thinned by injuries recently; and (3) Steve Cishek has been great for the Cubs, overall, the last two years.
Even granting that context, I’ve gotta tell you, this Joe Maddon revelation about Cishek’s hip injury really pisses me off (Cubs.com): “Because of everything else that’s been going on, [Cishek] did not want to own up to it, which is typical of him. It was, I guess, bothering him enough last night to say something late, and then we had to do something. But I think if the rest of the group had been well, he might’ve said something earlier.”
Not only does playing through an injury – and “not wanting to own up to it” – risk an even more serious injury to a player, but it also risks negative performance in the near-term. I get that players do not want to go on the Injured List because they don’t want to not be there for their team and they also don’t want “injury history” to be used against them for future financial purposes. But the players and the team just have to be better about not risking more serious injury and poor performance.
Maybe the Cubs couldn’t have identified it without input from Cishek and without more data, but you can see in the data pretty sharp – small, but sharp – movements in his velocity, release points, and pitch movement over his last three or four outings (and what do you know, the Cubs.com report suggests the hip has been bothering him for “at least a few outings”).
Moreover, the eye test told you something seemed a little off. I think we started commenting about it in his back-to-back appearances in Milwaukee in late July, and since then he’s given up seven earned runs in just four innings of work over six appearances (eight hits, three walks, four strikeouts).
This should not happen. Between the player and the staff, injured guys cannot be out there trying to be a hero, risking further injury to themselves, and not actually helping the team in the process.
I guess I’m just blowing off steam. But what’s the point of building up a huge cache of volume arms at AAA Iowa if you can’t aggressively IL guys who are just a little bit off? Perhaps Cishek would have been back sooner and more effective if he’d been IL’d a week ago.
Like I said, usually the Cubs are good about IL’ing pitchers quickly when there’s an issue. Maybe this whole thing can be a reminder to all the players and the training/coaching staff to be just a touch more vigilant and pushy when it comes to minor injuries.