May 29, 2012
Attending to Center Field
Whether an injury to a key player is considered devastating or galvanizing depends on what happens to the team next. Results dictate narrative.
The Diamondbacks and Dodgers both started strong, at least in part due to the play of their respective center fielders. Chris Young was hitting .410/.500/.897 with five home runs when he separated his right shoulder while crashing into a padded wall while making a catch in the fourth inning of an April 17 game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Arizona lost that contest, 5-4, bringing their record on the young season to 7-4.
Young missed the next month, during which the Diamondbacks went 10-18. Was Young's absence the reason for their demise? Well, the team hit .253/.326/.370 and averaged 3.8 runs per game. Those aren't great numbers, but neither are they horrible—the National League as a whole is hitting .250/.317/.392 and averaging 4.1 runs per game in 2012. However, it is a drop from those first 11 games, when the Diamondbacks were at .237/.321/.414 and averaging 4.7 runs per contest. But these are small samples, and Young was producing at an unsustainable level. It's possible that Arizona would have slumped even in Young’s continued presence.
The pitching was less stellar (4.38 ERA)—worse than when Young got hurt (3.65) —but still not horrendous (3.81 for NL this year). And although the absence of Young's glove in center field may have been a contributing factor, ultimately the guys on the mound are responsible for preventing runs.
The other problem is that Young hasn't been the player he was pre-injury since returning from the DL on May 18. He is 3-for-28 with a double, no walks, and 8 strikeouts. Then again, the team is 5-4 since Young returned, although the usual small-sample caveats apply.
Overall, the difference between the Diamondbacks with and without Young is striking: