Perhaps the moment that best summed up the 2023 Angels was the first inning of their game on Sept. 7, when Luis Rengifo was swinging a bat in the on-deck circle.
Rengifo left the game and was later diagnosed with a ruptured biceps tendon, adding his name to a mind-boggling list. The Angels placed 34 players on the injured list this season, a total of 42 times, which was the third-highest total in the majors.
Although General Manager Perry Minasian and former Manager Phil Nevin went out of their way to say that the Angels still should have withstood the injuries better, there is no escaping the fact that the injuries played a large part in their disappointing 73-89 record.
Minasian said Tuesday that searching for an answer to the injuries would be a part of his “autopsy” of the entire organization.
“We have to try,” Minasian said. “One of the biggest things, if you look at our season from a trajectory standpoint, is when we were healthy, we were a pretty competitive club. … We’ll take a deep dive into all the medical and ask ourselves why and what can we do to prevent that and go from there.”
Assessing the staff
Minasian, however, just completed an overhaul of the staff prior to last season, hiring five new people.
The Angels have three athletic trainers, led by Mike Frostad, who is in his second year in the organization. Matt Biancuzzo also joined the Angels last year, while Eric Munson just completed his seventh year. Longtime head athletic trainer Rick Smith, who has been with the Angels in various capacities since 1978, also still assists at home games.
Head strength and conditioning coach Matt Tenney joined the Angels in 2022. Assistant Adam Auer just completed his fifth season working in the majors with the Angels, after being in the minors.
The Angels also have two physical therapists – Marc Ocegura and Robbie Williams – who each joined the organization in 2022. Massage therapist Yoichi Terada has spent 13 years with the Angels.
Angels staff members are not permitted to talk to the media.
The players are, though, and they agree that the training and strength and conditioning staff is not the problem.
Five veteran players – all questioned because they had the reference point of being with at least two other teams – were asked to assess the Angels’ training and strength and conditioning staff. They were each offered anonymity so they could speak freely.
All five said the Angels’ staff was, at worst, the same as other places they’d played, and at best, even better.
“Honestly, when it comes to the training staff and the medical staff, I think it’s probably better than a lot of places I’ve seen and heard,” said outfielder Randal Grichuk, who is with his fourth big-league organization. “So (the blame) is definitely not there.”
Left-hander Tyler Anderson (six teams), infielder Brandon Drury (seven), catcher Chad Wallach (three) and outfielder Brett Phillips (five) agreed with Grichuk’s assessment.
“I think they’re good actually,” Anderson said. “The strength coaches are good. They do a really good job of communicating with the training staff.”
Drury added: “Strength and conditioning and medical has been awesome this year. If you look back at our injuries, it has nothing to do with anything in the gym, anything you could do in the training room.”
Assessing the injuries
Injuries, of course, can’t be assessed without acknowledging their differences. Someone getting hit in the face by a pitch (Taylor Ward) is nothing like a pitcher blowing out his ulnar collateral ligament (Shohei Ohtani) or an outfielder straining his oblique (Jo Adell).
The latter category, the soft tissue injuries, would seemingly be the most preventable.
The injured list database at FanGraphs includes descriptions for each transaction, allowing the soft tissue injuries to be filtered out from the impact injuries or the pitcher arm injuries.
Start with all oblique, calf, hamstring, groin, lat, abdomen and quad strains, and then add neck and back injuries that include the words “strain” or “tightness.” Using that standard, the Angels had 12 of those injuries this season, which was tied for fifth most in the majors. The average was 7.6 per team.
In 2022, which was the first year for the current medical staff together, the Angels had only four, which was tied for 22nd in the majors. The average was 7.0. In 2021, the Angels had 11, tied for 11th most. The average was 9.8.
Among those soft tissue injuries, the most perplexing were the oblique injuries. The Angels tied for second in the majors with five oblique injuries in 2023. They had only one in 2022 and none in 2021.
The caveat with the other soft tissue injuries, however, is those descriptions are likely going to be attached when an injury is, say, exaggerated for the sake of roster management. If a pitcher without options needs a break, either because of workload or performance, it’s easy to find some “hamstring” or “groin” tightness.
At least five of the Angels’ injured list placements this year were mostly about roster management, and all were given soft tissue descriptions, a source said.
In terms of all injuries, the Angels had the third most this year, but it hasn’t been a trend. In 2022, the Angels ranked 20th in the majors in total injured list uses, with 29. The major-league average was 32.7. The Angels were also below average in 2021, with 33. The major league average was 40.7.
So what about this year?
“It happens,” Wallach said. “Injuries are part of the game. You see it with every team every year. Some teams are healthier than others, but unfortunately injuries are part of the game.”
Assessing the roster
One theory is that the Angels simply have more older players. They ranked seventh in the majors in terms of oldest average position players, according to Baseball-Reference. The Angels pitchers, who were healthier, were the ninth youngest.
The Angels used the injured list for pitchers 18 times, which was just about the major-league average of 16.6 in 2023. And that includes the roster-management “injuries.” The Angels were below average in pitching injuries in 2022 and 2021.
All of this might also just come down to two individuals: Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon.
Trout, 32, suffered a calf injury that cost him most of the season in 2021 and a back injury that knocked him out for five weeks in 2022. Trout said he “hired a lot of people” to develop a new training regimen for him to keep him healthy in 2023. The Angels also had a strict routine of days off for Trout, in particular avoiding having him play following long flights, because those were times he’d been hurt before.
It all seemed to work. Trout said he felt as good as he had in years. Then he broke his hand.
Trout’s rehab from a fractured hamate took longer than expected. It was a matter of pain tolerance, and Trout said he was in too much pain.
Rendon, 33, had hip surgery in 2021 and wrist surgery in 2022. He suffered a bone bruise on a foul ball this year. There was a discrepancy among the doctors as to whether Rendon had a bone bruise or a fracture, but the treatment would have been the same.
Trout has played 49% of the Angels’ games and Rendon has played 30% of the games over the last three seasons. Their combined salaries were more than $70 million each season.
“There’s no secret here; we need Mike Trout and we need Anthony Rendon,” Minasian said. “We need those guys to play more. They know that. It’s something that we’ve talked about. They’re going to go in the offseason and they’re going to do everything they can in their power to be ready to go next year. They understand what they mean to this club, and how productive they can be on and off the field.”