On the surface, the Yangervis Solarte non-roster signing appears to be little more than a low risk, high reward signing intended to provide depth on the infield; but, that’s not exactly the ceiling. Sure, Solarte has never been an All-Star player, but in the first three seasons of his career (2014-2016) and spanning 1549 plate appearances, the third baseman/second baseman slashed .271 / .332 / .419 with 39 home runs, good for a 109 OPS+. In the following two seasons (age 29 and 30), his most recent, he hit .271 / .332 / .419 with 35 home runs and an 87 OPS+.
On the surface, Yangervis Solarte’s age-29 and age-30 seasons look like the end of his statistical prime, and they very well could represent that, but they were also two seasons in which he suffered debilitating oblique injuries. Is the key to Yangervis Solarte’s success in 2019 simply a pair of healthy obliques?
There’s nothing simple about physical health for a pro athlete, of course. They’re paid millions of dollars in large measure because of how they maintain their bodies. Their bodies are their money-makers. Oblique strains, however, seem to be the cost of doing business in modern baseball. They’re very common these days, and their effects are noticeable. Here’s a FanGraphs piece from 2011:
LA Dodgers head trainer Stan Conte told the NY Times in April that he felt the increase in the injury was due to the fact that players, more than ever before, are transitioning too quickly from off-season mode to spring training to regular season games, and the large abdominal muscles simply break down. He notes that, since 1991, one-third of all oblique injuries have occurred in April.
Solarte strained his left oblique in June 2017 with the Padres and his right oblique last August with the Blue Jays. Remember how just a few sentences ago you read how he was a below league average hitter the past two seasons? Something interesting about that:
Solarte Pre/Post Oblique Strains, 17-18
A few caveats here:
- Solarte has a career BAbip of .270, which means it’s more than “bad luck”, his hit tool isn’t great. He hits for power and he doesn’t strike out much, but he’s an infield popup monster — was tied for the highest infield popup rate in baseball in 2018 — and has hit into 39 double plays in the past two seasons combined.
- His injury last year came so late in August that the pre-injury/post-injury split feels a lot more like small sample size noise however before we condemn him entirely, consider that he was switching leagues, switching coasts, and switching lifestyles (California for Canada) and playing in perhaps the toughest division in baseball. He still hit 17 home runs.
- Strains are a fancy way of saying “tear” — muscle is being torn when it’s strained. Although MLB.com quotes Conte in another context in their article on oblique strains to say that most hitters “recover” from this type of injury in about 27 days, every body is different.
But if the Giants’ training staff could just figure it out, there might still be that useful player from 2014-2016 in there. In the case of 2017, the oblique injury created a stark contrast in Solarte’s season, to the point that the Padres deemed him expendable. Maybe it is simply a matter of different training programs and diet? Back to that FanGraphs piece:
The most interesting theory, however, comes as a result of the more stringent MLB Drug Policy. While players are no longer taking illegal steroids, they are turning to the dietary supplement creatine, which is both legal and ubiquitous in MLB. Sports physician Lewis Maharam told the NY Daily News in April that creatine can help build lean muscle and improve explosiveness, but the supplement also adds water molecules to muscle fibers, which can cause the fibers to separate, which in turn, leads to muscle tears and strains.
If you’re thinking it’s a long shot, this same 2011 piece also mentions oblique injuries to Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Zimmerman, and Evan Longoria, who missed all but two games in April. More recently, Juan Lagares talked about what contributed to his strain in 2017 in this nice MLB.com article, which also mentions Jorge Soler and Edwin Encarnacion’s oblique strains. And if you do a Google search right now, you find these players battling the same injury to start their Spring Training:
- Todd Frazier
- Jarrod Dyson
- Roman Quinn
- Royce Lewis
Now, I’m not suggesting that Yangervis Solarte will be as good as any of those players if he’s fully healthy, but I am saying that this is what you all wanted — you didn’t want the Giants to sign Bryce Harper, you wanted the team to rebuild. So, rather than sit around and watch paint dry, I’m taking a good hard look at one of Farhan Zaidi’s lottery tickets and I’m telling you, this ticket might just be a winner.
A fully healthy Yangervis Solarte back in the National League, back in the NL West where he did most of his damage, can very likely be a solid league average hitter this season. Statcast offers this hopeful note:
If you can’t read that for some reason, it’s a list of batters similar to Solarte based on his batted ball profile: Adam Jones, Adam Frazier, Jurickson Profar, Didi Gregorious, and Austin Dean. That’s a range of young to older and average to above average players, exactly the kinds of players the Giants need during this rebuild. On paper, Yangervis Solarte is already the perfect 2019 Giant.