November 21, 2011
The Season in Injuries: AL Central
Division: American League Central
WARP lost Divisional Ranking (Overall Ranks—Best to worst):
Kansas City Royals
On the pitching side of things, two injuries cost the Royals the most. In early May, Bruce Chen strained the latissimus dorsi muscle near the back of his shoulder. He missed 44 games as a result, and a shade over 0.43 WARP. Kyle Davies missed even more time, a total of 56 games following two different stints on the disabled list for shoulder impingement and resulting inflammation, but his absence did not cost the team as much, only 0.36 WARP. These two injuries cost the Royals 27 percent and 22 percent of the team TAWL, respectively.
Overall, the Royals are likely to be near the top consistently because of their relatively low level of high-WARP talent. But the Royals also have an excellent medical staff and superior roster construction from a health standpoint, as evidenced by their low number of injuries.
Most of the teams near the top of the TAWL list are teams that did not make the playoffs and didn’t have players who would be close to the top of the MVP or Cy Young award lists. The Tigers broke that mold. They were ranked number three overall, in large part because of their amazingly low pitching total. None of the pitching injuries cost the team more than 10 percent of its TAWL—not even Joel Zumaya’s season-long injury. Zumaya underwent surgery in early May to replace a screw from an earlier surgery after several months of inflammation in the area. Zumaya missed the entire year but cost the Tigers only 0.2 WARP. Al Aburquerque missed a total of 53 games throughout the season because of a concussion and elbow inflammation but managed to cost the Tigers only 0.1 WARP.
The Tigers’ hitters were a little more pedestrian in terms of health. Carlos Guillen, Victor Martinez, Brennan Boesch, Brandon Inge, and Magglio Ordonez accounted for over 70 percent of the team’s total. Carlos Guillen missed most of the year recovering from microfracture surgery in his knee, but he also dealt with wrist soreness and a strained calf. As a result, 0.4 WARP vanished into thin air. Victor Martinez also missed games as a result of multiple injuries, but the main injury was a groin strain that cost him 15 games. To show how much more valuable Martinez was than Carlos Guillen, Martinez’s injury cost the Tigers only .005 WARP less than Guillen did in just one-seventh the amount of time.
A thumb injury and resulting surgery kept Boesch out of the lineup for 37 games in the regular season. While it wasn’t quite as costly as the ones mentioned above, it still meant that the Tigers had 0.2 WARP less than they would have had otherwise. Ordonez was the last of the prominent walking wounded, as his ankle gave him problems throughout the year.
Despite injuries to the players above, the Tigers managed to win 95 games and finish 15 games above the second-place Indians. It’s unlikely that the Tigers will repeat their extraordinary success in keeping their pitchers healthy, and thus they are probably going to slide down this list in 2012.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox have had great success in keeping their players healthy for several years. According to TAWL, they ranked third in the division and fifth overall in 2011. Amazingly, only four White Sox pitchers missed time with injuries. The injuries to Jake Peavy hit the White Sox the hardest, as he missed 51 team games or about 10 starts. In the beginning of the year, Peavy missed almost six weeks because of shoulder tendinitis and then strained his right groin about a month later. John Danks strained his right oblique at the end of June and missed 18 games. Between those two pitchers, over 1.0 WARP was lost.
The hitters suffered more injuries, but they were not as costly as the ones to the pitchers. The two most costly injuries were to Carlos Quentin (shoulder sprain) and Ramon Castro (fractured hand surgery), who between cost less than 0.4 WARP total. Paul Konerko’s eight games missed totaled 0.2 WARP lost, a rate much higher than either Quentin’s or Castro’s.
The Indians return us to the general trend of a higher number of injuries—they ranked 26th in terms of number of DL trips—with a decent TAWL ranking of 12. As one would expect, injuries to Shin-Soo Choo cost the Indians the most. Between surgery for a broken thumb and multiple oblique strains, Choo missed over 70 games and lost 1.9 WARP, which was the second-highest WARP lost for a hitter in the major leagues. This accounted for over 53 percent of the team’s TAWL. Other significant injuries included Travis Hafner’s foot and oblique strains, and Grady Sizemore’s recovery from last year’s knee surgery and this summer’s sports hernia surgery. These two players accounted for another 1.0 WARP lost, bringing the total for all three up to 2.9 WARP and 81 percent of the team’s TAWL.
With such a high percentage of the TAWL going to the hitters, it’s clear that the pitchers were healthier. Josh Tomlin (strained elbow) was the unfortunate pitcher who lost the most WARP on the pitching side, but it was only 0.2 over 35 team games. The only other pitcher to lose more than five percent of the team’s TAWL was Carlos Carrasco, who dealt with elbow troubles for a while before undergoing Tommy John surgery in mid-September.
And now we come to the Twins, the worst team in the majors according to TAWL, hitter TAWL, and number of disabled list moves. Joe Mauer was the hitter who cost the team the most, by far. Between his lower leg fatigue, pneumonia, and neck stiffness, Mauer lost 2.4 WARP, which represented a quarter of the Twins’ TAWL.
You don’t get to be dead because of one injury, though. Denard Span’s trouble with a concussion and post-concussion syndrome put the Twins in the hole for another 1.6 WARP. Justin Morneau’s troubles with a concussion of his own, along with his neck surgery, put the Twins in the red for another 1.0 WARP. Jason Kubel’s sprained foot cost him the majority of his 0.7 WARP lost. Jim Thome also got into the mix by racking up 0.6 WARP lost of his own with an oblique strain.
Of course, the pitchers weren’t impervious to injuries of their own. Minnesota ranked 26th in pitcher TAWL, not exactly something to be proud of. With injuries to Scott Baker (strained elbow), Kevin Slowey (shoulder inflammation and strained abdomen), and Francisco Liriano (shoulder strain and inflammation), the Twins lost 2.5 WARP, which set them further back in the standings.
The Twins lost the most according to TAWL, but their health problems probably didn’t make a difference in who reached the playoffs. In our next installment, we’ll go over the teams in the AL East, where we’ll see how great an impact injuries can have on and off the field.
Corey Dawkins is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @CoreyDawkinsBP