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Report: New York Mets’ Injury Problems May Come Down to Poor Organizational Medical Structure

May 18th, 2017 at 8:21 PM
By Mike Phillips

As has been the case for the past two years, the New York Mets have been ravaged with injuries. They have already lost 179 games to the 10 day disabled list this season, which is the fifth highest total in the major leagues this season, and are poised to lose many more with key pieces like Noah Syndergaard and Jeurys Familia out for a long period of time. There has been a lot of blame tossed around for the injuries, with most Mets' fans clamoring for the firing of head trainer Ray Ramirez and others casting side-eye at the team's controversial strength and conditioning head, Mike Barwis. ESPN's Jerry Crasnick examined the Mets' injury problems and came away with the impression that a poor organizational medical structure may be playing a role in the team's poor injury luck.

A lot of the information in Crasnick's report comes from sources with knowledge of the team's key medical personnel. While Mets' team doctor David Altchek is highly regarded in the league, baseball sources contend that he isn't a regular presence at Citi Field since Altchek also maintains a practice at Manhattan's Hospital for Special Surgery. Another figure who isn't regularly around the team is Barwis, who operates out of an office in Port St. Lucie and mainly works with players during the offseason. Baseball sources with knowledge of the team's medical operations indicate that there isn't a clear structure of command in the building, which has led to chaos and caused some routine injury situations to fester.

This vacuum has led to Mets' COO Jeff Wilpon to take a more active role in areas that he isn't necessarily qualified to participate, such as public relations and medical decisions. Crasnick's report indicates that Wilpon's style of leadership is that of micromanagement, and that the team simply tries to blow past problems in order to avoid a negative public perception of the franchise. Another source described Wilpon by saying "Jeff gets in the middle of everything that's going on, and he ends up doing more damage." This would certainly explain why the Mets continuously downplay injuries in public only for them to be revealed as more significant issues down the line.

This poor arrangement has clearly led to issues, with the lack of communication between team and players potentially leading to a lack of trust from the players. As a result, players may attempt to hide injuries or downplay the severity of their injury problems, which could lead to a far more significant problem than if the issue was handled properly from the get go. This has clearly demonstrated again this season, with Steven Matz and Asdrubal Cabrera publicly discussing their injuries with a different diagnosis than the one released officially by the franchise. One baseball source told Crasnick in reference to the Mets:

"It's the same old, same old mistakes. The Mets are a successful, profitable organization. But no organization, over a protracted period of time, has more significant players on the disabled list. There's a failing across the board. And what changes have been instituted, if any?"

This is a topic we have discussed before, and it continues to linger over the Mets. General Manager Sandy Alderson addressed the speculation from the baseball sources in the article, denying that Altchek wasn't at the ballpark enough, that Wilpon meddled too much, or that Barwis' training methods were less than effective. Alderson has taken responsibility for the Mets' medical issues and indicated that there is definitely room for improvement, but he has also appeared to lack a true appreciation of the problem, seemingly complaining that the Mets get more flack for minor injuries that other teams get a pass on.

The Mets do take a lot of flack for how they handle injuries, and a lot of those wounds are self inflicted. Even before Alderson signed on as General Manager the team has had some questionable injury situations blow up on them, like when they made outfielder Ryan Church fly to Denver with a concussion in 2009. That decision made the concussion worse, and he was unable to play for extended period of time, leading then manager Jerry Manuel to question Church's toughness. Church was never the same after that concussion and ended up quietly retiring two years later. Another notable injury debacle came in 2011, when first baseman Ike Davis injured his ankle on May 11th in Colorado. The Mets initially termed the injury as day to day, but before long Davis was in a walking boot. The boot turned out to be a horrendous decision that made Davis' injury worse, and he eventually needed microfracture surgery. In essence, the Mets turned a day to day injury into a season ending one due to poor medical management.

A big source of the problem may be Barwis' controversial strength and conditioning program, which came under fire prior to the 2015 season when reports came out that the Mets required players to pay for and attend Barwis' offseason boot camp. The Mets hired Barwis after the 2014 season, when they fired their previous strength and conditioning coach after players missed 426 games due to injury that year. The games missed figures have skyrocketed since Barwis took over the post, ballooning all the way to 1,332 in 2015 before dropping to 882 last year. Barwis' methods have drawn skepticism from baseball pundits, who claim that Barwis' techniques may be better suited for football and basketball than baseball.

The bottom line is that the Mets need to take a serious look at their internal medicine practices. The Mets have had nearly 25% of their payroll lost to the disabled list over the past six years, which is the second most in the majors over that span, meaning they have had a quarter of their paid players over that span on the shelf with injuries. That will absolutely impact the ability to win on the field, so the Mets should be seriously looking at how they handle their injuries internally. The Mets should absolutely implement significant changes during the winter, and if they don't they may simply be oblivious to the problems they have created.

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Tags: Baseball, Jeff Wilpon, Jerry Crasnick, Mike Barwis, MLB, New York, New York Mets, Ray Ramirez, Sandy Alderson

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