10-day DL brings new strategic measures

Short-term injuries and rotation maneuvering more likely to put players on list

April 13th, 2017

More than 10 days into the season, the phrase "10-day disabled list" still takes some getting used to. Maybe its effect isn't as noticeable on the field as the no-pitch intentional walk, but it's already having a big effect on day-to-day roster construction and the way teams approach injuries.
On Monday, for instance, the Nationals put young star shortstop on the 10-day DL with a mild right hamstring injury that, had the 15-day DL been in place, they probably would have just tried to wait out.
"I think baseball did one of the best things they've done in a long time to cut the DL from 15 days to 10 days," Nats manager Dusty Baker told reporters.

MLB has actually changed its disabled-list methodology many times since the list was first introduced (and very rarely utilized) in 1915. But the 15-day format has been the standard since 1990.
This change, which was negotiated into the new collective bargaining agreement during the offseason, figures to have a big impact in two areas:
1. The tweener
An injury, like Turner's, that is serious enough to cost a position player several games but not so serious that he's going to be out for multiple weeks.
2. The manipulation of the starting-pitcher schedule
As far as tweeners are concerned, the shift to the 10-day DL seems to make sense for both player and team alike. The player doesn't have to try to play through nagging or minor injuries in an attempt to avoid missing two full weeks of games, and teams aren't left shorthanded as often when short-term injuries present themselves.
"Given how long the season is and how much of an emphasis we place on recovery and good medical care," said Indians general manager Mike Chernoff, "I think this will have a lot of positive benefits."
According to research by Jeff Zimmerman at FanGraphs, only 14 percent of position-player disabled list trips in the past 15 seasons ended in exactly 15 days. That amounts to basically just one such DL stint per team per year.
Now this could be construed as evidence that the shorter stays will impact only a small percentage of the injury population. And from that perspective, it's no big deal. However, that 14-percent figure could also be viewed as proof that teams have been very careful about using the DL only for serious and not short-term situations.
Playing shorthanded, as the Mets did last summer while waiting out ' quad injury, or the Nationals did when was having neck trouble, has not been uncommon, but it is uncomfortable when the game is late and close and the bench has little, if anything, to offer.
"I think if a guy has something you think is a seven-day thing," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said, "when you're weighing that, you're like, 'I can go eight days without this guy or three days.' If we think he's going to miss five, six, seven days, with the 10-day DL, you may [put him on the disabled list] right away and instantly get another player."
As Cubs manager Joe Maddon put it, "If you know it's going to be 10 days and you'll get him for that other five, you'll go ahead and do it. That and the [adoption of] the seven-day DL for concussions [in 2011] were good moves."
What's less clear -- and certainly more sensitive, given the strategy involved -- is how much teams will use the 10-day DL to play with pitchers' schedules.
At the time the new CBA was announced, MLB.com's Mike Petriello noted that a team with an off-day anywhere in a given 10-day window could have incentive to use the DL to basically skip the fifth starter and add an extra arm to the bullpen or a body to the bench. A spot starter could take the pitcher's place for that turn, and this would give the manager that more roster flexibility. And given the wear and tear on starting pitchers, there's usually enough arm soreness somewhere to justify a DL stint, particularly if it's for just 10 days.
Teams like the Dodgers or Cubs, with discernible rotation depth that bleeds into the bullpen, are especially well-equipped to play that little roster game. And this could become even more of a talking point in 2018, when additional off-days will be added to every team's schedule.
Because of the sensitivity of the subject, executives surveyed about this strategy asked not to be named but acknowledged there are ways to turn the 10-day DL into a competitive advantage.
"It does allow us some more flexibility around getting a rotation arm off the active roster for a short period," one said. "But I think that is less about using his spot to beef up the bench or bullpen and more about getting a fatigued starter a one-turn break without having to worry about where the roster spot for a spot starter is going to come from."
A five-day reduction might not seem like much. But it's probably enough to keep the transaction wire hopping even more than usual.