Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 11/15/14

Pitchers get hurt all the time, but I think we can all agree that CC Sabathia was on the short list of guys who we would expect to make every start in a given season. He’s been a workhorse of the first order for the last decade, but yesterday a twinge in his left groin sent him to the disabled list for the third time in his career and first time since 2006. The Yankees insist that their ace will only miss two starts and return immediately after the All-Star break.

Sabathia’s injury hurts New York but two starts isn’t the end of the world. Unfortunately for them, he wasn’t the only starter they lost on Wednesday. Andy Pettitte (1.4 WAR in nine comeback starts) was struck by a batted ball and suffered a fractured left ankle in yesterday’s game, sending him to the sidelines for a minimum of six weeks and more realistically 8-10 weeks. In the span of about four hours, the Yankees lost their two best starting pitchers.

Injuries are part of the game, but things seem to have been taken to the extreme in the AL East this season. Beyond the usual day-to-day stuff and even random 15-day DL stints, all five clubs in the division have suffered at least three significant long-term injuries to key players…

Yankees
Brett Gardner (elbow)
Andy Pettitte (ankle)
Michael Pineda (shoulder)
Mariano Rivera (knee)

Acquired in exchange for Jesus Montero this winter, the Yankees have yet to see Pineda throw a meaningful pitch for them due to a torn labrum. Rivera torn his ACL in a fluke pre-game fly ball shagging incident and Gardner suffered an elbow strain making a sliding catch less than two weeks into the season. He’s since suffered two setbacks and will be out another month or so. Setup relievers Joba Chamberlain (elbow, ankle), Pedro Feliciano (shoulder), and David Aardsma (elbow) have all missed significant time as well.

Red Sox
Andrew Bailey (thumb)
Carl Crawford (elbow)
Jacoby Ellsbury (shoulder)
John Lackey (elbow)

Daisuke Matsuzaka missed the start of the season but recently returned from elbow surgery while Clay Buchholz (illness) and Josh Beckett (shoulder) are currently sidelined but due back relatively soon. Ellsbury got hurt when Reid Brignac fell on him at second base, another fluky injury. Given how poorly Lackey has pitched in recent years, I’m not sure Boston misses him. At least the fans don’t. The Sox are also without lefty specialist Rich Hill (elbow), setup man Bobby Jenks (back), and outfielders Ryan Sweeney (toe) and Scott Podsednik (groin).

Blue Jays
Kyle Drabek (elbow)
Drew Hutchison (elbow)
Brandon Morrow (oblique)
Sergio Santos (shoulder)

Drabek had to undergo his second Tommy John surgery but it sounds like Hutchison will be able to avoid the same procedure and rehab his injury. Santos has barely pitched for Toronto after being acquired from the White Sox this offseason and he’s since suffered a setback as well. Morrow’s injury is pretty severe and he’s nowhere close to returning. Henderson Alvarez (elbow) lucked out when an MRI showed only inflammation, but Dustin McGowan‘s (shoulder) latest injury is going to keep him out for an extended period of time. Jesse Litsch (shoulder, biceps) is out for the year after a battle with a career-threatening infection. That’s a whole lotta pitching on the shelf, and for a while it seemed like they were losing a starter a day.

Orioles
Nick Markakis (wrist)
Nolan Reimold (neck)
Tsuyoshi Wada (elbow)

Markakis hurt himself on a swing and Reimold (159 wRC+ in 69 PA) is potentially done for the year. Wada, like Pineda, has yet to throw a meaningful pitch for his new team. He blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery before the season. Baltimore is also without backup catcher Taylor Teagarden (back) and fourth outfielder Endy Chavez (hamstring), plus Nick Johnson (wrist) just got hurt yesterday. That last one can’t be surprising. Compared to their division rivals, the Orioles have gotten off easy with the injuries.

Rays
Kyle Farnsworth (elbow)
Evan Longoria (hamstring)
Jeff Niemann (leg)
Sam Fuld (wrist)

Like Pettitte, Niemann was struck by a batted ball that broke a bone near his ankle. Just bad luck. Longoria just suffered a setback and has been shut down from all baseball activities, which is very bad news for a team that needs him in the middle of their lineup. Farnsworth’s elbow started barking last year and the market for Super Sam Capes in the greater Tampa area has dried up. The Rays have also lost starter Jeremy Hellickson (shoulder), outfielder Matt Joyce (oblique), and designated hitter Luke Scott (back) to shorter term injuries. With all due respect to Ellsbury, Morrow, and everyone else in this post, I’m pretty sure Longoria’s injury is the most devastating in terms of the impact on his team.

* * *

There has been a rash of Tommy John surgeries this year — Brandon Beachy, Charlie Morton, Cory Luebke, Mike Pelfrey, maybe Daniel Hudson, so on and so forth — but there’s nothing to suggest that teams are doing something wrong and are suddenly exposing their hurlers to increased risk of elbow trouble. It’s like all the no-hitters we’ve seen this year, they’ve all been lumped together due to random distribution, not because pitchers around the league have suddenly figured out how to throw no-hitters. Same deal with all the blown out elbows.

The AL East has been hit by the injury bug harder than any other division, maybe harder than all of the other divisions combined when you’re talking about star-caliber players — Longoria and Ellsbury are legitimate MVP-candidates, Rivera is a Hall of Famer, Morrow was in the middle of a breakout season, Pineda was poised for one of his own — but it’s just random. Every year a few teams get hit hard by injuries and this year they just so happen to reside in the same division. Injury prevention — keeping your best players on the field and productive — is the new market inefficiency but sometimes there’s just nothing you can do. There’s no preventing a fluke injury.


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