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November 9, 2012

Collateral Damage

2012 Year-End Injury Summary: NL Central

by Corey Dawkins and Stephani Bee

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This was the last season of the NL Central’s six-team division, but it still represented the best and some of the worst in baseball in TAWL.

Division: National League Central

WARP lost Divisional Ranking (Overall Ranks—Best to worst):

  1. Pittsburgh Pirates (1)
  2. Houston Astros (3)
  3. Chicago Cubs (5)
  4. Milwaukee Brewers (17)
  5. Cincinnati Reds (20)
  6. St. Louis Cardinals (23)

Pittsburgh Pirates
Total Adjusted WARP Lost (TAWL): 0.70
Number of DL trips (Days): 13 (707)
Number of DL & DTD trips (Days): 39 (764)

I was less surprised that the Pirates performed so well in the TAWL rankings than I was by their performance on the field. Pittsburgh was the best team in baseball in TAWL in 2012 after coming in ninth in 2011, which strengthens the notion that the Pirates’ front office and administration is finally making noticeable improvements. The club ranked fifth in the number of DL stints used and third overall when factoring in DTD injuries.

Neil Walker’s herniated disc was the most costly hitter injury. He missed 28 games and 0.18 TAWL. Andrew McCutchen had the only other hitter injury that registered over five percent of the team’s TAWL. He missed three games due to an illness and a sprained wrist, but those maladies cost 0.08 TAWL, or 11.3 percent of Pittsburgh’s TAWL.

The pitchers also fared well. Jeff Karstens had the costliest pitcher injuries; he dealt with a sore pitching shoulder and a strained hip flexor muscle over the course of the year. He missed 76 team games, which cost 0.22 TAWL, or 31.8 percent. Chris Leroux’s strained right pectoral muscle from spring training caused him to miss 82 games, which was worth 0.20 TAWL, or 29.2 percent. A.J. Burnett’s recovery from facial surgery to repair an orbital fracture that occurred in a bunting drill in spring training was the only other pitching injury to contribute more than five percent of the team’s TAWL. Though he only missed 13 team games, Burnett’s absence was worth 0.1 TAWL, or 13.6 percent.

Houston Astros
Total Adjusted WARP Lost (TAWL): 0.73
Number of DL trips (Days): 18 (755)
Number of DL & DTD trips (Days): 60 (867)

Unlike the Pirates, the Astros’ third overall TAWL ranking is deceiving because of the relative rankings in DL stints and days missed. Houston ranked 18th in DL stints and 24th when day-to-day injuries were factored; the team just did not have enough projected high-WARP players on the roster to make a difference.

Jed Lowrie’s injuries were the costliest for Houston, at 85.9 percent of the team TAWL. He sprained his thumb and suffered from a relatively uncommon peroneal nerve injury in his lower leg after spraining his ankle, causing him to miss 59 team games. Those injuries led to a 0.63 TAWL for Lowrie, which was worse than his 2011 contribution. Justin Maxwell’s flip-flopping decision on whether to have surgery on loose bodies in his left ankle caused him to miss 18 games. However, because he was not expected to be a significant contributor, his TAWL was only 0.07, or 9.6 percent. Jose Altuve dealt with multiple strains in his groin, thigh, and lower abdomen over the course of the year. None of them were severe, and he only missed 11 team games, but he had a TAWL of 0.06, or 8.61 percent.

The pitching side was not much better. Bud Norris sprained his left knee and dealt with blisters, causing him to miss 29 team games and costing him 0.23 TAWL. Wilton Lopez sprained his right elbow and will have to be very careful moving forward if he wants to avoid Tommy John surgery. He missed 30 team games and had a 0.15 TAWL. Francisco Cordero’s sprained right toe and shoulder soreness likely contributed to his ineffectiveness, and the injuries led to him missing 34 team games and cost 0.06 TAWL.

Chicago Cubs
Total Adjusted WARP Lost (TAWL): 1.77
Number of DL trips (Days): 14 (812)
Number of DL & DTD trips (Days): 29 (854)

A new front office took over the Cubs in 2012, but the team’s numbers actually worsened in terms of DL stints and DTD injuries. Ranked fifth overall in TAWL, the Cubs were ninth-best in DL stints but first overall when you factor in the DTD injuries. Chicago did not have many high-WARP players, and injuries plagued the few they did have.

Geovany Soto had a sore back and needed knee surgery in May to fix a torn meniscus, causing him to miss 31 games. This represented a TAWL of 0.28, or 15.7 percent of Chicago’s total. Ian Stewart developed a bone fragment in his left wrist that caused a nerve to become inflamed and required surgical repair. He missed 101 games overall, giving him a TAWL of 0.22, or 12.4 percent of the Cubs’ total.

Matt Garza missed a start in May because an illness, but the stress fracture in his right elbow really cost him. He missed 78 team games, leading to a TAWL of 0.80, or 45 percent of the Cubs’ total. Ryan Dempster’s strained quad and strained latissimus dorsi caused him to miss 32 team games. Combined, Garza’s and Dempster’s injuries led to a TAWL of 0.41, or 23.5 percent.

Milwaukee Brewers
Total Adjusted WARP Lost (TAWL): 3.67
Number of DL trips (Days): 10 (803)
Number of DL & DTD trips (Days): 41 (888)

The Brewers led baseball with the fewest DL stints. However, those DL stints were for key players, which led to Milwaukee being ranked 17th in TAWL.

Alex Gonzalez’s ACL surgery cost him 135 games, leading to a TAWL of 1.52, or 29 percent of the Brewers’ total. Jonathan Lucroy, who needed surgery to fix a fractured bone in his right hand, missed 51 games and had a TAWL of 0.35, or 9.4 percent. Ryan Braun produced over a five percent TAWL (0.21 TAWL) even though he missed just six games.

Shaun Marcum missed 61 team games because of a strained and tight elbow, which led to a TAWL of 0.70, or 18.9 percent. Chris Narveson missed most of the season after undergoing rotator cuff surgery in May and had a TAWL of 0.66, or 18 percent.

Cincinnati Reds
Total Adjusted WARP Lost (TAWL): 4.54
Number of DL trips (Days): 12 (754)
Number of DL & DTD trips (Days): 40 (848)

Though the Reds ranked in the bottom third of MLB in TAWL, they did well overall. Cincinnati ranked second in DL stints and eighth in days missed. However, injuries to key players led to extended absences.

Not surprisingly, the player with the highest TAWL is Joey Votto, who required two surgeries on his right knee. His meniscus and loose body surgeries caused him to miss 50 games, worth a TAWL of 1.90, or 41.8 percent of the Reds’ total. Scott Rolen’s chronic shoulder and back problems led to 44 games missed and a TAWL of 0.42, or nine percent.

The two biggest injuries on the pitching side came before the season even started. Ryan Madson was an early member of the 2012 TJS club and missed the entire season. This led to a TAWL of 0.90, or 19 percent. Nick Masset’s shoulder soreness was eventually diagnosed as a torn capsule and required surgery in September. This produced a TAWL of 0.61, or 13.5 percent.

St. Louis Cardinals
Total Adjusted WARP Lost (TAWL): 5.15
Number of DL trips (Days): 17 (881)
Number of DL & DTD trips (Days): 66 (967)

The Cardinals ranked 23rd overall in TAWL and 15th in DL stints and days missed. They were 29th in injury counts when factoring in DTD injuries but maintained their 15th overall ranking in days missed.

Lance Berkman’s legs failed him in 2012, as a lingering calf strain and an arthritic knee with meniscal tears eventually required two surgeries. He missed 121 games as a result and lost 1.43 TAWL, or 27.6 percent. Rafael Furcal dealt with minor injuries throughout the year, but his sprained right UCL hurt the most (no pun intended). All told, he missed 37 games, leading to a 0.56 TAWL, or 10.9 percent. Jon Jay separated his right shoulder and dealt with lingering soreness for a while afterwards, missing 40 games but posting just a 0.51 TAWL, or 9.9 percent.

Chris Carpenter dealt with shoulder soreness and was eventually diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Though he returned in the last half of September, he missed 150 team games and produced a TAWL of 1.29, or 25 percent. Jaime Garcia dealt with a labrum injury and rotator cuff tears. He missed 72 games in 2012 and posted a 0.80 TAWL, which is 15 percent of the Cardinals’ total.

Summary
The Pirates have improved to the point where they are the best in baseball in TAWL and near the top in the traditional metrics of DL stints and days lost. Other top teams in the NL Central, specifically the Cubs and Astros, faced injuries to their best players, but because they were not expected to have a significant number of high-WARP players, they are still high in our rankings. The Cardinals faced major injuries to their stars for the second year in a row and stayed near the bottom of the division in TAWL, yet they, again, overcame those injuries to make it to the playoffs.

In the next installment, we will look at the AL Central, which traditionally holds one of the healthiest teams in the business. 

Corey Dawkins is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Corey's other articles. You can contact Corey by clicking here
Stephani Bee is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Stephani's other articles. You can contact Stephani by clicking here

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