November 28, 2011
The Season in Injuries: AL East
Division: American League East
WARP lost Divisional Ranking (Overall Ranks—Best to worst):
Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa Bay can’t match the money being doled out in New York and Boston, so the Rays have instead built themselves up the hard way, drafting and developing their own players. In order for a team to accomplish this, both a good front office and a good medical staff have to be in place.
Tampa Bay is the only team to rank in the top 10 in all categories: TAWL, hitter TAWL, pitcher TAWL, number of injuries, and number of days missed. That consistency is a major reason behind the team’s success. Two injuries cost the Rays the most en route to their exciting wild-card finish. Evan Longoria strained his left oblique early in the season and missed essentially the entire month of April. His WARP lost during this time was 1.1, which makes his 6.5 WARP season even more impressive. None of the other injuries to batters affected the outcome as significantly as Longoria’s; in fact, only John Jaso’s oblique strain approached the 0.2 WARP level.
Clearly, Longoria is the most valuable hitter on the team, but the Rays have valuable pitchers as well. For the most part, the starting rotation stayed healthy, with Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis being exceptions. From early May to mid-June, Niemann missed time due to a strained muscle in his back. His WARP lost as a result was 0.5, second overall on the team to Longoria. The remainder of the injuries, including those to Wade Davis (strained forearm), Alex Cobb (shoulder surgery), and Kyle Farnsworth (elbow inflammation) combined for less than 0.3 WARP lost.
Toronto Blue Jays
Immediately, one can see the difference in the sheer number of days missed between Tampa Bay and Toronto. The Blue Jays were able to avoid major injury to their best hitter, Jose Bautista, but they did suffer a few injuries that really cost them. Rajai Davis missed a significant amount of time between a sprained ankle and a torn hamstring, and the Jays missed out on 0.7 WARP as a result of his 60 games missed. It seemed that Yunel Escobar was never healthy after dealing with injuries to his thigh, ankle, wrist, hand, and elbow and sustaining a concussion. All of the injuries did a number on his total WARP, as he lost almost 0.6 on the year. Bautista did miss some time on the year (six games) because of neck spasms and tightness, which cost the Blue Jays 0.2 WARP.
Injuries to the Toronto pitchers did not cost the team nearly as much as the ones to the hitters. None of the injuries cost more than nine percent of the team’s TAWL, and only one cost more than 0.25 WARP. That injury was to Brandon Morrow, who missed time to recover from forearm inflammation early in the year. Those 17 games missed cost them more than Jon Rauch’s 44 lost or Jesse Carlson’s full season on the sidelines.
Right behind Toronto in TAWL and in the division standings were the Orioles. It seemed that each week was going to be the week that Luke Scott underwent surgery on the labrum tear in his shoulder, but his season finally ended on July 26th with surgery to repair the torn labrum performed by Dr. James Andrews. Just by looking at the games missed, Scott’s injury cost the Orioles 1.3 WARP, and that doesn’t even factor in the decreased productivity when he was able to play. Scott’s injury also accounted for almost 38 percent of the team’s TAWL.
Last season was the first to feature MLB’s 7-day disabled list solely for concussions, but unfortunately for Brian Roberts, his concussion cost him much more time than that. After suffering the injury on a head-first slide in Boston in May, he just did not have the exercise tolerance needed in order to return. Once his exercise intensity reached a certain level, his symptoms would return. Clouding the long-term outlook is the fact that his symptoms from the concussion in 2010 reportedly lasted several months. His latest concussion cost the Orioles 0.7 WARP, while injuries to Derrek Lee (wrist fracture, oblique strain) and J.J. Hardy (oblique strain) cost the Orioles a little over 0.9 WARP.
The injuries to the pitchers did not affect the Orioles nearly as much as they did the hitters. None of the pitching injuries cost the team more than 10 percent of its TAWL, but the oblique strain to Brian Matusz cost the team the most at 0.3 WARP. Other players injured include Jake Arrieta (elbow surgery), Zach Britton (shoulder strain), and Jason Berken (elbow soreness).
New York Yankees
The Yankees finished the regular season with the most wins (97) in the American League, but they certainly did not finish near the top of the TAWL standings, ranking 20th overall. Almost one-third of the team’s 5.2 TAWL was the result of Alex Rodriguez’s knee surgery. That injury cost him 55 games and the Yankees a total of 1.50 WARP. Derek Jeter also uncharacteristically ended up on the disabled list this year with a strained calf and missed a total of 21 games. While the Yankees didn’t end up needing it, his absence still cost the team 0.3 WARP.
Surprisingly, injuries to the pitchers cost the Yankees more than the hitter injuries did. Led by Joba Chamberlain and his Tommy John surgery, injuries to the pitchers resulted in a TAWL of 3.1, 25th-worst overall. While Chamberlain’s injury cost 0.9 WARP, the shoulder fatigue and inflammation that Phil Hughes suffered from earlier in the year resulted in 0.8 WARP lost. The only other pitching injury to cost the team more than 10 percent of its TAWL was Pedro Feliciano’s surgery to repair his rotator cuff and capsule. Of note, Rafael Soriano missed 69 games as a result of elbow inflammation but cost the team less than 0.5 WARP.
Boston Red Sox
Injuries don’t just affect the players, they affects everyone associated with a team. For proof of that, you don’t have to look any further than what happened with the Red Sox this year. The difference between the Rays and the Red Sox in TAWL in 2011 was over 5.5 games, and as we all know, the Sox were eliminated from the playoffs on the final day of the regular season. All rumors of clubhouse dissension aside, injuries played a crucial role in their historic collapse.
Let’s start with the hitters and Kevin Youkilis. Youkilis fought injuries to his back and groin which were eventually diagnosed as a sports hernia on his left side. Youkilis had surgery for the sports hernia shortly after the season, but his absences cost the Red Sox 1.3 WARP. J.D. Drew suffered shoulder impingement, fractured fingers, a strained hamstring, and even vertigo over the course of the campaign. His injuries also resulted in the Red Sox losing 1.0 WARP. Injuries to the shortstop and third base duo of Marco Scutaro (oblique) and Jed Lowrie (shoulder) cost the team close to another win. Carl Crawford lost 0.74 WARP to a hamstring injury, although Red Sox fans might disagree considering how he looked throughout the season.
On the pitching side, things were not much better. The most costly ailment from a WARP lost perspective was the stress fracture to Clay Buchholz’s back. The 1.1 WARP surrendered as a result was more than the 0.7 WARP lost due to from Daisuke Matsuzaka’s Tommy John surgery in June. Josh Beckett’s sprained ankle and illness cost the Red Sox almost 0.5 WARP, while Bobby Jenks’ biceps strain and pulmonary embolism contributed another 0.4 WARP lost. Jon Lester’s latissimus strain resulted in 0.3 WARP lost, and John Lackey’s three weeks on the shelf also cost the team 0.3 WARP (another one Sox fans might have a hard time believing). That 0.3 WARP doesn’t tell the whole story, since Lackey’s balky elbow likely played at least some part in his horrendous performance when he was on the mound.
The American League East reveals exactly how prominent a part injuries can play in separating the winners from the losers. Tampa Bay made the playoffs in large part because of the team’s ability to keep its players on the field, while the Red Sox missed the playoffs in large part because of their injuries. That’s as strong an argument as any for teams to invest heavily in their medical staff.
Corey Dawkins is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @CoreyDawkinsBP