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November 18, 2011
The Season in Injuries: AL West
Division: American League West
WARP lost Divisional Ranking (Overall Ranks—Best to worst):
Seattle continued its run of futility and finished with one of the worst records in the major leagues again in 2011. Injuries compounded the problems Seattle faced with an already thin and underperforming roster, although in light of their other weaknesses, their health problems didn’t have the power to change the overall outcome for Seattle and probably won’t for several years. The pitching injury that cost Seattle the most was the one suffered by David Aardsma. Despite the time he missed during his recovery from hip surgery and subsequent Tommy John surgery, his absence still did not cost the Mariners more than 0.5 in WARP the entire year. Erik Bedard and his recurrent knee injuries caused him to miss about 30 days for the Mariners, and about 0.3 WARP. Beyond that, there were no injuries on the pitching staff.
The injuries to hitters ended up costing them as much or more than the pitching injuries. Between the gastrointestinal issues and the oblique strain that Franklin Gutierrez suffered, 64 player games disappeared, taking with them 0.9 WARP, the most lost by any player on the team. Chone Figgins and his hip flexor saga theoretically cost the Mariners another 0.7 WARP, though they couldn’t have been too sorry to see him sidelined. Brendan Ryan suffered two injuries that individually did not contribute much to the TAWL but combined cost 0.4 WARP. An underlying bulging disc in his neck limited him down the stretch, as did the sprained shoulder he sustained in a collision with another player in early August.
The Mariners are unlikely to contend anytime in the near future, and the injury fallout isn’t likely to improve. There were in the top 11 overall in terms of number of players placed on the disabled list, and seventh overall when including the day-to-day injuries.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Angels did extremely well in number of injuries and overall days missed, yet ended up 13th overall in terms of TAWL. When this happens, one or two injuries always end up costing the majority of WARP. This is what happened with Kendrys Morales in 2011. Still recovering from the broken leg he suffered during his memorable (and painful) celebration in May of 2010, Morales has undergone multiple surgeries and may never be the same player again. His WARP lost was at 1.8 in 2011, far and away the most on the Angels.
The remainder of the Angels' injuries in 2011 did not cause a significant drop in WARP. The most costly injury on the pitching staff was Scott Kazmir’s low back strain, which cost the Angels only 0.3 WARP. (In reality, it was probably even lower than that, considering his recent track record. Vernon Wells’ groin strain and Erick Aybar’s oblique strain both cost less the Angels less than this.
When evaluating how effective the medical staff was and how much injuries affected the team, context matters. There is no way that the medical staff could have prevented what happened last year to Morales, and the trainers certainly couldn’t prevent the continued issues this year. If we remove Morales’ injury from the equation, the Angels come out near the very top of the WARP lost and time lost lists, to go along with the 10th-best record in baseball and the sixth-best record in the American League. If Morales is able to make any sort of contribution next year, the Angels should qualify as one of the healthiest teams.
The Rangers saw a number of season-long injuries (or something close to it) in 2011. Brandon Webb, Omar Beltre, and Mason Tobin all missed over 145 games. Despite the length of the injuries and the names associated with them, the WARP lost was minimal and may even have benefited the team to some small extent. The Rangers enjoyed the continued success of C.J. Wilson but were pleasantly surprised by Matt Harrison’s and Alexi Ogando’s efforts, as well. Several members of the bullpen were productive throughout the season once Tobin went down.
That’s not to say they didn’t suffer any injuries at all. Scott Feldman (knee surgery), Tommy Hunter (groin strain), and Darren O’Day (hip surgery) all missed significant amounts of time and totaled WARP losses of close to two. The hitters, meanwhile, didn’t suffer injuries that lasted as long, but their absences were just as—if not more—costly in wins.
In mid-July, Adrian Beltre suffered a hamstring strain and missed 37 games as a result. During that time the Rangers lost 1.3 WARP, which is nothing to sneeze at. Josh Hamilton’s fractured humerus cost him 35 games, though he didn’t surrender as much WARP as Beltre’s injury (0.9). The inability of Nelson Cruz to shake his hamstring troubles was apparent again throughout the summer. The damage this time was 30 games and 0.8 WARP lost.
The Rangers did not end up needing those 5.5 wins they lost due to injuries, since they won the division by 10 games. The number of wins lost is unlikely to be as high in 2012, considering the unusual injury to Josh Hamilton, but he could always suffer a different injury, as could others.
For whatever reason, the A’s cannot cure their pitchers of the injury bug. This goes back a decade, to the days of the Big Three—Barry Zito (the only one healthy), Tim Hudson (oblique strains), and Mark Mulder (forearm strain, femur stress fracture). This year, their pitchers had the highest WARP lost in the majors by far, almost a full win higher than that of the next-highest team. Injuries to Dallas Braden (shoulder surgery), Brett Anderson (Tommy John), and Andrew Bailey (forearm strain) were the major blows to a pitching staff that saw numerous other injuries throughout 2011.
The injuries to position players did not cost the team as much; in fact, none of them was over seven percent of the total TAWL lost for the Athletics. Josh Willingham (Achilles), Coco Crisp (numerous small injuries), and Daric Barton (shoulder surgery at end of year) were the only hitters to account for over 0.25 WARP lost in 2011. The other injuries to hitters had even more minimal impacts.
Things might not get much better on the injury front for the Athletics in 2012. Braden is supposed to produce in 2012, but there’s no guarantee that he’ll be back in time for Opening Day, and Anderson will certainly miss some time as he recovers from his July 2011 Tommy John surgery.
You can find all individual team and TAWL rankings here.
Corey Dawkins is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @CoreyDawkinsBP