“We’ve got this incorrect theory that permeates the sport,” McCoy, also a strength and conditioning coach for the Australian national baseball team, said in a phone interview. “I call it the ‘bullets in the gun’ approach. They’ll turn around and say, ‘We’ll cap his pitch count, and then he’ll have more bullets available for the next game.’ What we’re doing is de-evolving the athlete. It’s not a bullets-in-the-chamber approach; it’s about building a bigger chamber.”
McCoy said that baseball was behind other sports, like soccer and football, in terms of preventing injuries through measures like collecting biometric data and adopting the right culture. (According to the collective bargaining agreement, wearable devices are voluntary for M.L.B. players.)
“I don’t claim to have the answers to all of them, but do I think that as an industry we could be more proactive?” said Tingler, the Padres manager, who is a former minor league outfielder. “I, 100 percent, absolutely do.”
Baseball is very different now, said Britton, 33, who is in his 10th major league season and whose team overhauled its strength and conditioning staff after setting a M.L.B. record when 30 players landed on the I.L. in 2019, a mark that might fall this season. He said that pitchers, for example, exert themselves more and throw harder than ever and that players train differently, a potential reason for the jump in soft-tissue injuries.
“Today’s players do such a good job of prioritizing their health, their bodies and doing everything they can to stay in shape and stay on the field,” Rays Manager Kevin Cash said. “It’s just a lot. It’s a grind. They play a lot of games.”
As of last week, only the Cleveland Indians had fewer games (118) missed by players because of injuries than the Kansas City Royals (160), according to Man-Games Lost. Asked how they had pulled that off, Royals Manager Mike Matheny looked around the visiting manager’s office for wood to knock on.
Matheny, a major league catcher for 13 years, said the health data being collected now was “light-years” ahead of a decade ago. He said the Royals tried to make educated guesses about injury red flags, schedule rest for those players and compare notes with sports officials abroad — not unlike other teams. Mere luck, though, could also be playing a part.
“We’re trying to be careful, but we’re also trying to push,” said Matheny, whose team was 27-26 entering Thursday. “So this is where I believe the advancements in the game have been so crucial for us to take all of the information we’re getting from sports science, from sports medicine, and then also use some of the experience that we have and hopefully some of the relationships we have. But it’s kind of uncharted waters as far as the game having that kind of break.”