Wednesday night in the 11th hour, MLB owners and players agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement that will cover five seasons through 2021. While many of the items eventually agreed upon were tweaks and not major overhauls, one of the items that was of interest to me was the reduction of the disabled list from 15 days to 10 days. On the surface, this could look like a win-win for both the players and the owners. After all, players get to come off the DL and back on to the playing field five days sooner than they would have in past seasons, and owners can save coaches and fans from having to watch replacement-level players play while a most likely better player is on the shelf.
Using DL data compiled by baseballheatmaps.com, I took a look at length of stay on the DL by all players who landed on the list from 2010-2016. Since 2010, 319 players have spent exactly 15 days on the DL. In total, this is 4785 days spent on the DL in seven seasons. Now, for fun, let’s assume those same 319 players were ready to go after the new minimum of 10 days on the DL. Simple math here will tell you those players spent 3190 days on the DL. So in theory, over the course of seven seasons, reducing the DL to 10 days could save players 1595 days on the DL and owners the same number of days using most likely replacement-level players. On a per-team average basis, reducing the DL by five days could actually save a team 7.6 days of DL time.
Seems like a win-win, right? Again, players come back sooner, GMs don’t have to call up as many players from the minors and burn options, and owners save money by not having as many extra players come up from the minors accumulating MLB service time. Not so fast. In the same seven-season stretch, 3324 players spent 15 days or more on the DL and only 319 came off after 15 days. So only 9% of all players on the DL spent the minimum amount of time out of action. Why would this be? Well, the obvious answer is if a player is hurt, they are hurt. No one knows a player’s body better than the players themselves and they will return to action when they feel they are ready.
But the other answer is it pays to be on the DL in the majors. There is protection. Players still earn their salary and collect service time, so why rush back from an injury? In the minors it is a different story. If you get hurt it becomes the next man up for a promotion to the big leagues. There’s a reason there is a saying in the minors: “you can’t make a club in the tub.” Now, just because there is protection doesn’t mean players want to spend time on the DL. If they could, they would spend no time on the DL, as time away from the playing field can hurt future earning potential. Injuries are an inevitable part of the game but most seem to prevent players from feeling they are healthy enough to come back sooner than 15 days to compete at their best. By reducing the DL to 10 days, I can see increased pressure from fans and media to come back quicker. What we have to remember is this is the new minimum. Players will return when they and the medical staff feel they’re ready. I wouldn’t give your hopes up to see players return from the DL sooner than they have in the past.
Former Major Leaguer, amateur writer