Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Injury Bug

If you listen long enough to any casual baseball conversation, a team's losing season is always attributed partly to the injury bug. These dreams of what might have been are often legitimate to a certain extent because with a grueling 162-game schedule, absolutely every team faces a number of injuries. But how can we compare and contrast the injury fortune or misfortune of different teams? How can this even be measured so we know which fans are just making excuses, and which fans have a valid point?

-Should we just list off important players from memory, listing who got hurt last year? Heck no.
-Do we tally up DL stints? Maybe, but some DL stints last for months and some only a few weeks.
-What about tallying up the total number of DL days for each team? You're getting warmer.
Should we check Baseball Prospectus and hope they already did the leg work for us? Absolutely!

Corey Dawkins and Ben Lindbergh wrote a series of columns for BP called "Collateral Damage." They used WAR projections for each player who went on the DL, and calculated the number of days each player missed. This allowed them to determine how much value each team lost to injury throughout the course of the 2011 season ("WARP lost" is their name for the calculation). Unfortunately, these heated "Injury Bug" discussions are going to be a lot shorter in the future now that we have this data. Here at The Hottest Stove, all we have left to do is check out a few highlights from BP's "WARP lost" team rankings and discuss the implications for the coming year:

Some teams had a high number of injuries and were successful despite their bad fortune. Barring major roster changes, we would expect these teams to stay successful and possibly get even better if their luck evens out in 2012.
  • The St. Louis Cardinals dealt with more injuries than 25 of the 30 teams in 2011, and still were able to sneak into the playoffs on the final day. None of the other teams in the top 5 in WARP lost were above .500.
  • The Philadelphia Phillies dealt with a high number of injuries as well, and rode their starting pitching to 102 wins. They'll keep bolstering their roster through free agency and although their players are aging, they seem to fill roster holes pretty effectively during the year.
  • The Texas Rangers also dealt with some key injuries throughout the summer months last year, but got incredibly hot once these pieces returned. The Rangers came within one strike of a World Series championship......twice.
Some teams had their actual talent level masked by high injury totals to key players. Expect a bounce back if these teams are healthy in 2012.
  • The Minnesota Twins were awful in 2011, but who can blame them with injuries to just about everyone. They lost more value to injury than any other team, and by a wide margin. And you know, the Twins without Mauer and Morneau are a little like a mule with a spinning wheel. (He doesn't know how he got it, and darned if he knows how to use it....) Here's the short list of DL stints: Mauer, Morneau, Liriano, Baker, Kubel, Span, Slowey, Thome, Young, Nathan, and Nishioka. The AL central is wide open, and I wouldn't be shocked if the Twins are in the mix next year despite their terrible results in 2011.
  • The San Francisco Giants will take a big step forward in 2012 and put themselves back atop the AL West. If they add a few decent bats, continue to pitch well, and get healthy, 2012 could be a great year for this group. The Giants (6th highest WARP lost) had a high number of injuries, while the Diamondbacks had relatively few injuries (4th lowest WARP lost total). Even though some of this is due to the age of the two rosters, look for a regression and for the AL West to be taken by San Francisco.
Some teams just aren't very good, and it wasn't because of injuries. The WARP lost total is very low on teams where the starters on the roster are very similar to replacement level.
  • The Astros lost the least value of any team in the majors to injury, but this is partly due to the lack of value on their roster. No resurgence is in sight until they draft well and bring in more talent via trade/free agency.
  • The Cubs lost surprisingly little value to injury in a year where they underachieved. Many expected good things from this roster last year, but even with luck seemingly on their side they couldn't get the job done.
  • The Oakland Athletics didn't put much value on the field last year, so they didn't lose much to injury. The moneyball theory is excellent, but if every team is using it AND paying more for quality players it is hard to expect good results.

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