TORONTO – Aaron Boone needs to stop with the injuries.
Twice – first on Sunday when the Yankees were officially eliminated from postseason contention and then again on Monday – the manager was asked in some form: Where did it go wrong?
Each time, though not mentioning it as the only reason, Boone quickly cited the injuries, particularly in the rotation.
“I don’t think you can discount injuries,’’ Boone said Monday. “I [thought] going in, from a starting rotation standpoint, we’d be in a really good spot. It’s been a struggle all year, whether it’s keeping guys healthy, getting guys back or down performances.”
Though “injuries aren’t an excuse” is a time-worn cliché in sports, they actually are an excuse in many instances.
There’s no question Aaron Judge missing 42 games after suffering a sprained right big toe June 3 at Dodger Stadium helped send the Yankees on their way to their first playoff-less season since 2016.
Leaving spring training with Carlos Rodon and Luis Severino on the shelf – and Nestor Cortes’ shoulder failing him in the early going – obviously didn’t help, either. Nor did the other slew of injuries sustained by various regulars.
But as Mets manager Buck Showalter said in early October 2014 while managing Baltimore: “People don't care about your problems. Most of them are glad you've got 'em.”
And the best teams overcome them.
Few teams, for example, have had their 2023 pitching as decimated as the Rays, yet they entered the season’s final week already guaranteed a spot in the playoffs and still in the race to win the American League East. Another Yankees nemesis, the Astros, saw several regulars go down early in the season with injuries and they’re still in the thick of the race to win the West or at least a wild-card spot.
Which, to be fair to Boone, he referenced Monday.
“I go back to 2019, when we were decimated with injuries,’’ Boone said of a team that still went 103-59 in capturing the East title and advanced to the ALCS before losing to the Astros. “It doesn’t mean that’s the end-all, be-all. And it’s on us to figure it out when it happens.”
Boone, by constantly talking about the injuries, also is unintentionally shining a spotlight on yet another internal issue with the club, of which there seemingly is no shortage.
As a response to the 2019 season, the Yankees overhauled their training staff that offseason. The headline move in the reshuffling was bringing aboard Eric Cressey as the Director of Player Health and Performance, a newly created position, in January 2020. Cressey, who co-founded Cressey Sports Performance in 2007, rubbed more than a few in the organization the wrong way behind the scenes with an immediate new-sheriff-in-town all-knowingness. He fit in well in that regard as, generally speaking, that’s been par for the course with many in the analytics/data/sports science wing of the organization.
To be clear, the injury rate for the Yankees, which has never been higher, is not Cressey’s fault. Pointing a finger solely at him, or anyone else specifically, misses the point.
The point being this: Injuries – like the sport of baseball – is not an exact science. And those operating on a self-anointed “I/we have all the answers” level should always be treated with skepticism.
Cressey, the president of Cressey Sports Performance, which has facilities in Hudson, Massachusetts and Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, is highly regarded in his field. As the Yankees noted in a press release after hiring him, athletes from across the sports universe train at Cressey’s facilities, with "his most extensive work…directing the offseason training regimens for more than 100 professional baseball players.
But, as one medical staffer with a rival AL club recently told Newsday, “there’s a difference being responsible for the off-season training of an individual [player] and being responsible for an entire team for a whole season.”
Managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner told the Associated Press in Tampa a few weeks back that he’s considering bringing in an “outside company” to undertake a “very deep dive into everything we’re doing.” That, presumably, will include all things related to player health, as it should.
But a failed season has many causes, and if the biggest conclusion the organization draws after this one is that injuries were the primary one, that would be its biggest failure of 2023. By far.