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The Mets continue to handle injured players weirdly

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With the new collective bargaining agreement, the minimum stay on the disabled list was shortened from 15 days to 10 days as a way to incentivize players and their teams to stop hiding and playing through injuries. If a player had a minor injury that he and/or the team felt would only take a week or so to get through, the player would simply sit on the bench for that period of time, essentially nullifying the utility of one spot on the roster. With the 10-day disabled list, that isn’t as much of an issue now.

The Mets, however, have been very averse to putting players on the disabled list still. Travis d'Arnaud is a good example. The catcher suffered a wrist injury on April 19 against the Phillies. He didn’t start from April 20-23, but appeared in all four games as a pinch-hitter. After a team off-day, d’Arnaud started on the 26th but only lasted five innings. On May 2, d’Arnaud left after six innings against the Brewers. The Mets didn’t put him in the lineup yesterday nor is he in tonight’s starting lineup. As D.J. Short suggested, the Mets could put him on the disabled list, which would free up a roster spot that the club is otherwise using sub-optimally.

d’Arnaud isn’t the only example. Outfielder Yoenis Cespedes left the Mets’ April 20 game against the Phillies with a cramp in his left hamstring. He was held out of the lineup for the next five days and returned on the 26th. He started both on the 26th and 27th, but went on the disabled list on the 28th. The next day, the Mets refused to tell the media the exact severity of the injury, instead vaguely saying it was a “non-serious” injury. Usually, with hamstring strains, the team tells the media whether it’s a Grade 1, 2, or 3 strain with a Grade 3 strain being the most severe.

Lucas Duda hyperextended his left elbow on April 19 against the Phillies. The Mets held him out on the 20th, then placed him on the disabled list on the 21st.

This is all in conjunction with the Noah Syndergaard situation. Syndergaard was scratched from his start on April 27 with biceps tendinitis. On the 29th, the right-hander refused to undergo an MRI, which the team allowed for some reason. On the 30th, Syndergaard started but lasted only 1 1/3 innings in what turned out to be a 23-5 drubbing by the Nationals. He was diagnosed with a torn lat muscle.

The Mets are very passive when it comes to their injured players. They wait a long time before placing them on the disabled list, completely ignoring the added incentives for them to do so. By continuing to use banged-up players, they increase the risk of those injured players exacerbating their injuries. And they allow some of their players to dictate medical treatment as evidenced by the Syndergaard case. Why have medical personnel on staff if you’re not going to use them, especially when it comes to your most important players?

Winners of 87 games last year, the Mets enter Thursday’s action 12-15, good for fourth place in the NL East. How many of those losses might have been wins if the club had a more proactive approach to player health?

Astros exemplify the player-unfriendly bent of analytics

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Even as recently as a decade ago, Sabermetrics was a niche interest among baseball fans. As various concepts began to gain acceptance in the mainstream, players slowly began to accept them as well. Players like Brian Bannister and Zack Greinke were hailed as examples of a new breed of player — one who marries his athleticism with the utilization of analytics. This year, much was made of certain players’ data-driven adjustments, including Daniel Murphy and J.D. Martinez. Both had great seasons as a result of focusing more on hitting more fly balls instead of ground balls and line drives.

Statistics can clearly benefit players. They can also be used against them, and not just by opposing players. The Astros, who are in the World Series for the first time since 2005, are a great example of this. The Astros spent a few years rebuilding after a complete overhaul of the front office, which included bringing in analytically-fluent Jeff Luhnow as GM after the 2011 season. That overhaul instilled so much confidence that, in 2014, Sports Illustrated writer Ben Reiter predicted that the Astros would win the 2017 World Series. He’s only four Astros wins away from being proven correct.

The Astros’ front office, though, took advantage of its players at various times throughout the process. Their success is owed, in part, to exploiting its players. On Twitter, user @chicken__puppet chained a few tweets together exemplifying this:

At its core, analytics is about optimization: getting the most bang for your buck. If you read Moneyball, you know this. Wins Above Replacement (WAR) quickly became synonymous with the field and $/WAR was a natural next step. Sabermetrics defaulted to ownership’s perspective, so highly-paid players who performed poorly were scorned. Cheap players who performed well were lauded.

It is no mere coincidence that once most front offices installed analytics departments, teams stopped handing out so many outrageous contracts to free agent first baseman/DH types. Instead, teams focused on signing their young players to long-term contract extensions to buy out their arbitration years ahead of time, ostensibly saving ownership and the team boatloads of money. Teams began to pay close attention to service time as well. Service time determines when a player becomes eligible for arbitration and free agency, so teams that are able to finagle their players’ service time can potentially delay that player’s free agency by a year. The Cubs tried to do this with third baseman Kris Bryant in 2015, as Craig wrote about.

There is a very real ethical component to covering and being a fan of Major League Baseball, despite the common plea to separate sports from politics. The Astros and Cubs aren’t the only ones exploiting their players; the Angels, for example, made some odd personnel choices earlier this season that happened to allow them to avoid paying some players incentive bonuses. Every front office, in one way or another, games the system because the system is set up to benefit ownership first and players second. And if the likes of Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa can be taken advantage of so freely and openly, what hope does anyone else have?

Fans have been conditioned to group players and owners together as one group of rich people. In reality, the player earning $30 million has more in common with the office worker making $35,000 a year than with team owners. When fans hear about Correa making $507,500 instead of $550,000, or about free agent who wants a nine-figure contract, they wonder why he had the nerve to ask for so much money in the first place. We praise players, like Cliff Lee, who “leave money on the table.” Both the player and that fan, by virtue of existing and participating in this system, are locked in an eternal battle with those who cut their paychecks. Regardless of salary differences, the player deserves to benefit from the fruits of his labor as much as the office worker. Part of being a baseball fan should also include rooting for the players’ financial success and not just the owners’.

Praising the Astros for being smart and savvy will only create more incentive for other front offices to mimic these unethical behaviors. The whole theme of the World Series shouldn’t be about smart, analytically-inclined teams reaching the summit; it should in part be about teams getting ahead with a multitude of exploitative practices against their players.