Nic Civale is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and former NCAA Division I Baseball player. He combines his knowledge of anatomy and physiology with that of baseball mechanics to provide expectations for injured players. Utilize The MLB Injury Report to make the most of your fantasy baseball off-season.
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Off-Season Injury Report: Fernando Tatis Jr.
What is a Labrum?
Fernando Tatis Jr. can make the news doing anything. Certainly, his play on the field warrants the hoopla, and we all love the highlights. Over the past few days, we’ve seen a spike in Tatis news because of his decision to forego a labrum repair surgery on his left shoulder. We probably all know that guy or gal who says they could have played college ball if they didn’t tear their labrum in their senior year… It’s a fairly common injury to overhead athletes. But today, we take a closer look at a labrum. What is it? Why is it important to baseball-specific activities, and why does is there such a high incidence when it comes to injury?
To oversimplify the function of the labrum, we can call it a “socket extender.” Imagine a ball and socket joint in your head. The socket is cupped like a bowl, and the ball fits into the bowl with varying degrees of stability based on size. The two major ball and socket joints in the body are the hip and the shoulder. The hip is a much more secure joint. The socket is much bigger in relation to the ball, so there is more stability to tolerate greater forces. The shoulder, however, has a much smaller socket. if you want a visual without going to google and typing in “GH joint anatomy,” imagine you just scooped a big scoop of ice cream and placed it into a small bowl. Imagine 75% of the ice cream is visible above the rim of the bowl. That’s what the shoulder looks like. The socket is so much smaller than the ball, that it relies on the labrum to increase its surface area. The labrum acts like extenders to the sides of the socket (bowl), so there’s less likelihood for the shoulder (ice cream) to fall out.
The Labrum Tear
Problems arise when the labrum is torn. Partly because it is very painful, but also because you lose the additional stability that was once available to you when your “socket extender” was healthy and intact. Therefore, a torn labrum equals pain and instability. Both lead to compensation and altered mechanics, which can even further exacerbate the injury.
Fernando Tatis is dealing with a labral tear in his left arm. Back in Spring Training, Tatis apparently aggravated the injury while making a backhand play at shortstop. Not much was thought of this injury initially because it was on his non-throwing arm. We usually associate labral tears to throwing, but I would hypothesize that this injury was related to long-term effects related to his swing. Tatis produces a powerful one-handed swing, and with an increased emphasis on bat speed in today’s game, the 22-year-old’s left shoulder has already taken a beating. The shoulder must rapidly slow down the 31 oz bat in a short amount of time, after making contact with the ball. The tissue of the shoulder, including the labrum, and surrounding tendons, ligaments, and muscles must take the responsibility of maintaining shoulder stability in this motion. Remember the socket for the shoulder joint is not very big, or very deep. This makes it a more difficult task for the labrum.
Another major muscle in slowing down the bat comes from the biceps. This muscle causes elbow flexion and prevents hyperextension of the joint. It is a muscle in which great force and control are required during the follow-through phase. Interestingly enough, the long head of the biceps muscle attaches to the anterior portion of the labrum. Increased load from the biceps muscle can also lead to labrum injury.
Rehab and Next Season
Fernando Tatis will head into next season with an entire offseason of rehab and rest. He is certainly going to draw interest and close examination from all fantasy managers and fans of the game. Any swing and miss, slide, or diving play in the field is likely to increase the blood pressure of millions of people! Surgery is always an option, but there is no guarantee surgery is a sure fix either. That is something many baseball players need to contemplate. A labrum surgery repairs the damaged area, but the player still needs to go through the healing process and physical therapy.
Understanding the anatomy of the shoulder, we get a better idea of all that can be done to help him. Tatis will spend an offseason with his physical therapists working on scapular stability and biceps and shoulder mobility and stability. With time to heal and strengthen the surrounding areas, Tatis will likely head into next season with more shoulder stability than ever. Another adaptation he has already made to his game is the two-handed finish to his swing. Tatis limits the strain and torque on the labrum and the biceps by doing this. Clearly, it hasn’t slowed down his production, and I would only imagine he’s going to keep this style.
Planning for 2022
Fernando Tatis Jr. will be a fixture in draft prep discussions throughout the entire off-season. I haven’t seen too many people dropping him out of the top-5 picks, but as February draws nearer, don’t be surprised to see discounts emerge. My advice; take the risk. Tatis is young, athletic, extremely coordinated (which matters in any joint rehab, and motivated. The Padres are also motivated to get this right. They have 340 million reasons not to be hyper-aggressive with Tatis’ rehab, and they will make sure they are putting a healthy product on the field.
For more help in getting ready for the 2022 fantasy baseball season, check out Corbin Young’s deep dive into the breakouts seasons of Nathan Eovaldi and Ranger Suarez.
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