The injury bug is a major cause for concern for every major league club in baseball. In the past, the San Francisco Giants have felt the effects of losing key players to injury.
In 2011, the Giants lost catcher Buster Posey to a season-ending injury caused by a collision at home plate. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval has been plagued with injuries over the past two years, and only played 108 games in 2012. Former closer Brian Wilson was sidelined the entire 2012 season due to Tommy John surgery.
Completely avoiding injury is unrealistic. However, there are steps the Giants can take in order to remain proactive in fighting avoidable injuries from occurring.
Sandoval's bat is an essential asset to the Giants' offense—an asset they cannot afford to lose going into the 2013 season.
Given Sandoval's injury history, there are preemptive steps the third baseman can take in order to avoid the disabled list.
While picking on Sandoval's weight is popular fodder among baseball writers, there is legitimate concern at the core of all the criticism. Although his weight doesn't appear to affect his performance on the field and at the plate, carrying extra pounds causes additional wear-and-tear on muscles already under stress.
Going into the 2013 season, Sandoval's weight does remain a concern (via Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal):
No shock, but #SFGiants unhappy with Sandoval's weight. Ongoing issue that Sandovalcannot seem to control. Will be a story this spring.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) February 16, 2013
In order to stay healthy, Sandoval will ultimately need to be maintain a healthier physique. Increased conditioning during spring training should get him into baseball shape, and the Giants are employing a tough regiment.
According to Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News, Sandoval will be assigned extra hours of conditioning before and after team practices.
Looking closer into Sandoval's injury history, another pattern emerges. In 2011, Sandoval fractured his right hand on April 29th and did not return to the lineup until June 14th. In 2012, Sandoval fractured his left hand on April 29th, and again missed significant playing time.
Before sustaining those injuries, Sandoval was explosive at the plate during both years. In the 24 games before moving to the disabled list, Sandoval posted the following impressive lines:
The question now is how Sandoval can prevent history from repeating itself for a third time. In this case, Sandoval's weight cannot be attributed as a cause for the injury. Bad luck is far more likely.
There is no way to counter bad luck; however, Sandoval can prevent exacerbating a fracture by reporting the injury when it happens as opposed to playing through the pain.
In regards to Buster Posey, manager Bruce Bochy took steps to prevent losing his catcher again in 2012. Posey moved from behind the plate to first base occasionally, and employed a sweep-tag approach as a means of indirectly blocking home plate as opposed to purely sacrificing his body.
Posey practiced this new strategy last spring before the outset of the 2012 season. He should continue the approach in 2013, as he will be given less and less playing time at first base as Brandon Belt develops as the everyday man at the position.
In terms of pitching, the Giants have been relatively fortunate in keeping players off of the disabled list. Still, the overall durability and arm strength of the starting core should be monitored closely.
The workload of relief pitcher and potential closer Sergio Romo should increase considerably in 2013. Romo has battled both elbow and knee injuries over the course of his career, bringing his durability into question. Again, the Giants should watch Romo closely and avoid overworking the right-hander.
The Giants have felt the sting of losing key players to injury in the past. Hopefully, the baseball gods will look kindly on the defending World Series champs in 2013.