Billy Beane on injuries

By Jason Wojciechowski on July 27, 2011 at 10:00 AM

In this Susan Slusser piece, Billy Beane is clearly mad, throwing Daric Barton under the bus for an apparent failure to report that his shoulder was bothering him for months. (Barton, for what it's worth, seems to sort of deny the charge, but really dodges it more than anything else.) Remember also that Beane ordered Kurt Suzuki to stay out of the way of possible collisions at the plate for fear of injuries.

I think these two incidents combined illustrate that Beane is at least somewhat serious about reducing injuries on his team (which makes sense -- if you believe Will Carroll's long-stated position that injury prevention is an area where teams can make real gains, as I do, then you'd like to think that Beane also knows this), but recognizes that there are cultural and logistical difficulties standing in the way. Without providing his catcher cover to get out of the way of onrushing baserunners, Suzuki couldn't pull a slap-tag on a close play without incurring the wrath of the media (and possibly his teammates, although one suspects that it's a bigger deal to fans and writers who don't have big outfielders barreling down on us at top speed), so Beane provided him that cover. You can see lashing out at Daric Barton as simple frustration, or you can see it as Beane making an example of him, showing the rest of the team in public that when you hide injuries, you put yourself in a position of disfavor in the organization.

This isn't to say that Beane is as on top of the injury world as he was with on-base percentage or defense, though. He didn't tell Suzuki to stay out of the way until Buster Posey got demolished. He hasn't put together a medical staff that's twice the size of anyone else's (which might help address his "there are 25 guys on the team, so the trainer isn't going to go nag them" issue that he raises in the Slusser article), sent his high-value young pitchers in for biomechanical analysis, or taken any other advanced steps that we know about.

There are two caveats, though. First, "that we know about" is a key phrase. Things leak out, but on medical issues, with the particular privacy issues raised by dealing with players' health situations combined with the usual attempts to protect trade secrets, it's certainly possible that the A's are doing significant work without us hearing about it. Brett Anderson's elbow and Dallas Braden's shoulder and Daric Barton not telling anyone he's hurt are points against this idea, but we can't confuse results and process.

Second, there's always the possibility of a disconnect between ownership and management, even accounting for the fact that Beane is a part-owner of the business. If Billy Beane goes to Lew Wolff with a budget that includes biomechanical analysis trips for Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez and a first-round pick to be named later, does Wolff approve that particular line item, or does he say "the payoff is too speculative" and pocket the additional profit?