What TJ Friedl’s wrist fracture means

What TJ Friedl’s wrist fracture means

During the home radio broadcast of the Reds first 2024 spring training game, the club’s veteran announcer and former major league player Jeff Brantley offered his opinion of the team’s roster. He commented that the front office had done a good job building quality depth. Brantley cautioned, however, the one area of weakness was centerfield. He was concerned about what the Reds would do if TJ Friedl was unavailable.

The 28-year-old Friedl had led the Reds in WAR in 2023, as calculated by FanGraphs. His 4.4 fWAR outpaced Matt McLain (3.2) and Andrew Abbott (2.2), who were second and third. While also playing excellent outfield defense, Friedl hit .279/.352/.467 with 18 home runs and 27 stolen bases. His run production (wRC+) was 116, or 16% better than league average.

Brantley was worried that not only would an injury to Friedl subtract the team’s most valuable player from 2023, but he saw no obvious medium- or long-term replacement for Friedl on the current roster.

Welp.

TJ Friedl was removed from the game Saturday with an apparent wrist injury. Friedl’s right wrist had bent backwards as he dove for a ball in the outfield. Initial x-rays were negative but a follow-up MRI revealed a more serious condition.

The bad news broke late last night when it was reported the Reds outfielder had sustained a “non-displaced fracture of his right distal radius.”

“non-displaced distal radius fracture”

First, the basics. A bone fracture is an interchangeable medical term for a broken bone.

We humans have two long bones in our forearms that run parallel from the wrist to the elbow. The radius is a bone on the thumb side of your arm. The ulna bone is on your pinky side.

Graphic: The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons

Distal is a word that describes a location. It means farther away from the center, or body in this case (think “distant”). A distal fracture of the radius means that it’s near the wrist. The opposite of distal is proximal which in this case would mean a fracture near the elbow.

Non-displaced means the fractured bone remains in alignment. A displaced distal radius fracture usually requires surgery, which lengthens recovery time. Research shows a small (7-8%) number of non-displaced fractures become displaced within the first two weeks.

Graphic: Coastal Orthopedics

Distal radial fractures (DRF) are common. They account for 20% of arm/leg fractures and the radius is the most frequent broken bone type in our arms. The fractures almost always occur about an inch from the wrist, when a person tries to brace from a fall with an outstretched hand, rolling the wrist backward. Just like with TJ Friedl.

Each MLB season, a couple injuries occur that are categorized as “wrist fracture” but not “wrist surgery,” although some of those are to bones other than the radius.

Friedl’s prognosis

Most people with non-displaced DRF are treated non-surgically, which is the course the Reds are following with Friedl. Standard practice is a cast for a total of six weeks with two three-week intervals.

According to the Cambridge University Hospitals: Total time in splint or cast is six weeks when there is no surgery.

The time it takes for the bone to heal is variable based on the type of fracture. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons: “Most distal radius fractures take 3 months or so to heal before you are able to return to all activities, and full recovery from these injuries can take up to 1 year. Vigorous activities, such as skiing or football, may be resumed between 3 and 6 months after the injury.”

Similar injuries: Jay Bruce and Adam Duvall

Reds fans may remember Jay Bruce fracturing his right wrist in a similar fashion, diving for a ball in the outfield.




That was July 11, 2009. Bruce returned to play September 14, a few days more than two months later.

Former Reds outfielder Adam Duvall suffered a similar injury to Friedl’s just last season playing center field for the Boston Red Sox. Duvall went on the IL on April 9 and returned exactly two months later on June 9.

 

If all goes as expected, in about three weeks, doctors will take TJ Friedl’s cast off to do more imaging. He’ll likely be refit for a new cast to wear another three weeks or so. The Reds will announce Friedl is expected back in 6-8 weeks. A six-weeks return date is April 27, heading into the last weekend of the month. Eight weeks would push the date to May 11.

Replacing Friedl’s bat

The Reds’ offseason acquisitions weren’t splashy, but they did raise the team’s floor by improving its depth. Despite what seemed like a clear need for some outfield depth, that was the one area left unaddressed, save for adding Bubba Thompson off of waivers (twice). And no position had shakier depth than center field.

Without Friedl, the Reds will likely turn to a platoon of Will Benson and Stuart Fairchild to cover center. Benson, a left-handed hitter, should start against right-handed pitchers. Fairchild, a right-handed batter, should start in center field against southpaws.

The Reds should get decent offensive production from Friedl’s replacements.

Benson was going to be a regular against right-handed pitchers anyway, whether in left field, right field, or as a designated hitter. He hit a robust .297/.389/.549 in 285 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers last year. Benson’s 147 wRC+ ranked 14th among all hitters with at least 250 plate appearances against righties, though it should be noted that he’s likely due for some BABIP regression (.422).

Fairchild was also in line to get significant playing time against left-handed pitchers even before Friedl’s injury. Fairchild was a slightly below average hitter against left-handers in 2023 (92 wRC+) but is slightly above average for his career (102 wRC+). His expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) tells a similar story: he was a bit below average against lefties last year (.311) but slightly above average for his career (.329). Strikeouts are Fairchild’s biggest issue at the plate (27.1 K% in 2023), particularly struggling against breaking balls and off-speed pitches. He had a 46.6% whiff rate on non-fastballs last year, the ninth-highest rate among hitters who swung at 150 or more pitches. Still, although Fairchild may not mash lefties, but with decent power and strong eye at the plate, he shouldn’t be a liability unless the swing-and-miss concerns get out of hand.

Neither Benson nor Fairchild are as disruptive as Friedl on the base paths. After all, Friedl was fifth among all MLB players in FanGraphs’ base running metric (BsR) last season, using his speed to leg out bunt hits, extra bases, and steals. But both Benson and Fairchild have excellent speed (88th and 92nd percentile, respectively) and grade as above-average baserunners.

Replacing Friedl’s glove

The Reds will miss Friedl’s bat, but it’ll be more challenging to replace his defense. Friedl ranked in the 85th percentile in fielding run value (7) last year, per Statcast.

Between Benson and Fairchild, the latter has more center field experience. Benson has mostly played corner outfield in his professional career, appearing in 105 games in center field (14 at the MLB level). Fairchild was drafted as a center fielder and has logged more games there than left and right field.

Benson and Fairchild’s defensive metrics should be taken with a grain of salt, as neither player has a large sample size of data at the MLB level. But the metrics available grade Benson as below average in left field and roughly average in right field. His overall fielding run value was negative (-2), placing him in the 34th percentile. It’s not likely that Benson will suddenly become an above-average defender at a more demanding position.

Fairchild had a positive fielding run value last year (3), placing him in the 69th percentile. According to outs above average (OAA) and defensive runs saved (DRS), Fairchild was above average in right field. The metrics are split on his defense in left field (-1 OAA, 2 DRS) and center field (0 OAA, -3 DRS). In terms of covering ground, Fairchild gets solid jumps, gaining 0.6 feet of ground above average last year. That’s the same amount as Friedl, although Friedl has the edge in initial reaction and burst and Fairchild has the edge in route efficiency. Benson struggles across the board, with his jumps ranking 1.5 feet below average in 2023.

In short, Fairchild should be able to hold his own defensively and Benson is a significant question mark.

Who takes Friedl’s playing time? 

The other elephants in the room: How does the rest of the outfield line up, and who is the Reds’ fifth outfielder now?

Against righties, Benson will be flanked by Spencer Steer in left field and Jake Fraley in right. Fairchild will come off the bench. Pretty simple.

Steer will also start alongside Fairchild against lefties. But the third outfielder is now a question mark. Friedl was expected to be the everyday center fielder regardless of who was pitching for the opponent, partly because of his excellent defense and partly because he held his own at the plate against southpaws last season (157 wRC+, albeit with a .425 batting average on balls in play). Benson and Fraley have struggled versus lefties, but Friedl’s injury could force manager David Bell to give them more opportunities against southpaws.

Jonathan India has been taking reps in left field. On Sunday, he made his second spring start at the position. If India starts in left field against southpaws, that would presumably bump Steer to right field. While Fairchild is a solid defender, that outfield alignment could give the Reds significant issues. Dating back to his time at the University of Florida, India has never played the outfield. Steer played one game in the outfield before 2023, and most of his playing time has come in left field, with only three appearances in right. From an offensive perspective, however, that’s probably the Reds’ best option against left-handers as things currently stand.

Who takes Friedl’s roster spot?

Friedl’s injury also opens up a bench spot that will likely be occupied by someone who can play outfield. Nick Martini can play both corner outfield spots and is on the 40-man roster, although he wouldn’t be a solution against left-handed pitchers since he hits left. Non-roster invite Tony Kemp can play left field, but he’s also a lefty hitter. Josh Harrison, another non-roster player, is an infielder by trade, but he does have 78 career games in left field and 71 in right. Still, giving a weak-side platoon role to a 36-year-old with a declining bat and minimal outfield experience — with poor defensive metrics to boot — isn’t exactly an inspiring option.

(Update: Per The Athletic’s C. Trent Rosecrans, Harrison has elected free agency after being informed he would not make the team. Additionally, the Reds announced that they’ve optioned Kemp to minor-league camp on Monday.)

The Reds could also give another look to the aforementioned Bubba Thompson, who was recently sent to minor-league camp. He’s a poor hitter (65 wRC+ in 241 plate appearances), but he’s at least a true center fielder with elite speed. The other minor-league outfield options have limited experience above Double-A. Rece Hinds and Blake Dunn have yet to play in Triple-A, while Jacob Hurtubise has just 36 games under his belt in Louisville.

What about acquiring a new player?

When asked if the Reds could turn to an external option, President of Baseball Operations Nick Krall had this to say last night:

“We’re still looking if we can fill it internally. Maybe there is an external [option]. Maybe somebody doesn’t make a roster that fits. We’re looking at that across the board. It’s not just for this.”

The outfield free-agent market has started to run dry. Duvall (Braves), Michael Taylor (Pirates), and Tommy Pham (Padres, reportedly) have been scooped up in the last week. Robbie Grossman is the most intriguing option remaining. Grossman played for the World Series champion Texas Rangers last season, posting a 102 wRC+ in 420 plate appearances. A switch-hitter, the 34-year-old has performed significantly better against lefties than righties in his career (126 vs. 94 wRC+). Grossman’s defense has never been a strength, however, and declined further last year (-5 OAA, -9 DRS). Still, Grossman makes quite a bit of sense for the Reds among the available options.

Should the opportunity present itself, the Reds could bring in a player who is cut by another team before Opening Day. Per FanGraphs’ Roster Resource, some notable outfielders who are out of options and not projected to make their team’s 26-man roster:

  • Jordan Luplow (Phillies): Career 124 wRC+ vs. LHP, takes walks, lots of strikeouts, mediocre defense, mostly corner OF
  • Kyle Garlick (Diamondbacks): Career 115 wRC+ vs. LHP, plate approach issues, subpar defender, corner OF only
  • Jake Marisnick (Angels): Strong defender in CF, poor hitter
  • Albert Almora Jr. (Diamondbacks): Same as Marisnick
  • Trayce Thompson (Mets): Passable defense at all three OF spots, has pop but massive strikeout issues

There’s not much to get excited about among these names, but there’s always a chance the Reds could capitalize on a surprise cut or pull off a trade.

Conclusion

There’s no getting around the conclusion that TJ Friedl’s injury is a significant blow to the Reds chances of getting off to a fast start in 2024. But as wrist fractures go, that his is non-displaced and was diagnosed quickly are both positives. The few parallels we’ve seen in the majors point toward Friedl being out two months, missing the first six weeks of the 2024 season. Also on the outlook plus-side, Jay Bruce and Adam Duvall continued to hit for power after returning from their similar injuries.

All that said, keep in mind the normal uncertainties and variability with early injury diagnosis and recovery.

Featured image: Reds Facebook

Matt Wilkes

Matt Wilkes got hooked on Reds baseball after attending his first game in Cinergy Field at 6 years old, and he hasn’t looked back. As a kid, he was often found imitating his favorite players — Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, Sean Casey, and Austin Kearns — in the backyard. When he finally went inside, he was leading the Reds to 162-0 seasons in MVP Baseball 2005 or keeping stats for whatever game was on TV. He started writing about baseball in 2014 and has become fascinated by analytics and all the new data in the game. Matt is also a graduate of The Ohio State University and currently lives in Columbus. Follow him on Twitter at @_MattWilkes.

6 Responses

  1. Tom says:

    Terrific breakdown from nearly every facet.

    What about batting order? Friedl was also the leadoff hitter by default.

    Does this mean India gets the nod to set the table? Or do the try McClain?

    • Matt Wilkes says:

      Thanks, Tom! My initial guess was that India will get the first crack at it, but it’s notable that McLain led off yesterday and India batted sixth. Bell may have tipped his hand on what he’s planning there.

  2. Brian Van Hook says:

    Great work, guys. I’d go with India at leadoff, just for the experience factor. Though I’m not sure it matters much.

  3. Michael says:

    Jacob Hurtubise played 36 games and had 137 PA in AAA last year. Over that month plus he had a slash line of .390/.537/.460. His minor league profile is extremely similar to TJ Friedl.

  4. Brian ⚾ says:

    Thanks for the update Matt!

  5. Gerald Harrah says:

    What about Elly De La Cruz? Five tool player who stands at 6’5″ seems logical.