Impact of injuries on AL contenders
On Saturday, the Yankees placed CC Sabathia on the disabled list due to elbow inflammation. Prior to this season, the 31-year-old lefty had only served two stints on the DL over an 11-year span, but now he’s serving his second in as many months, and his first ever for an arm problem. Both the pitcher and the team believe the issue is minor and that he’ll be able to take the ball on August 24, the first day he is eligible to return, costing him just two starts. Then again, minor is a relative term for a pitcher in the first year of a five-year, $122 million deal as the ace of a team with a $210 million dollar payroll, particularly one with over 2,500 career innings under his amply-sized belt.
Though they haven’t been affected to quite the same extent as the Red Sox, who have lost 12 of their 13 highest-salaried players to at least one DL stint this year, the Yankees have dealt with more than their share of injuries. As he did back in July, Sabathia joins fellow starter Andy Pettitte on the disabled list; the 40-year-old lefty is out until September due to a broken fibula. Also out until September are Alex Rodriguez (fractured metacarpal) and Brett Gardner (limited to nine games thus far by a bone spur in his elbow), with the latter likely limited to a pinch-running role if he returns. Meanwhile, starter Michael Pineda went down in spring training with what proved to be a torn labrum, and closer Mariano Rivera was lost for the season in May due to a torn ACL.
In all, the Yankees rank third in the majors in player games lost to the disabled list, according to the injury accounting at Baseball Prospectus:
|Rank||Team||Games Missed||Percent of Payroll Lost To Injury||% Rank|
Only the Red Sox and Padres have lost more player games due to DL stints than the Yankees, but where those two teams have lost the highest percentages of their payroll as well, the Yankees rank a middle-of-the-pack 17th in that category; by comparison, they’ve gotten off rather light, particularly given their huge payroll and aging core of players. For all of their injuries, they’re half a game shy of the AL’s best record.
Despite high rankings in terms of games or dollars lost via the DL, several other teams have continued to contend for playoff spots as well. Here’s a rundown of the major injuries that the AL contenders — teams above .500 (sorry, Boston) — have dealt with and will continue to deal with as they head down the stretch; we’ll follow with the NL shortly. The teams are listed according to their rankings above.
New York Yankees
Record: 67-47, first in AL East (five games ahead)
For the moment, rookie David Phelps will fill in for Sabathia. The 25-year-old righty has three big league starts under his belt while pitching primarily out of the bullpen, posting a 2.42 ERA while striking out an eye-opening 9.7 per nine. The team signed 38-year-old free agent Derek Lowe on Sunday but they plan to use him out of the bullpen and he was pummeled for a 5.52 ERA with Cleveland this year, including an 8.77 mark over his last 10 starts. Meanwhile, the Yankees have been successful in papering over the loss of Rodriguez, with their fill-in third basemen (Eric Chavez, Jayson Nix and Casey McGehee) combining to hit .367/.394/.767 with six homers in 66 PA. Less successful has been the work of the recently-acquired Ichiro Suzuki to fill in for Gardner and the briefly sidelined Nick Swisher; he has hit just .269/.300/.373 despite starting his pinstriped career with a 12-game hitting streak.
Impact going forward: Medium. Despite the production of Rodriguez’s replacements, the Yankees’ division lead has fallen from eight games to five during his absence, and the team needs timely returns from Sabathia and Pettitte in order to field a playoff-caliber rotation.
Record: 62-53, third in AL East (5 1/2 games out); lead race for second AL wild card spot by half-game
Baltimore has already lost leftfielder Nolan Reimold and second baseman Brian Roberts for the season, with perpetual DL candidate DH Nick Johnson unlikely to return as well. On Friday, DH Jim Thome hit the DL due to a herniated disc; he likely won’t be back until mid-to-late September given the need to refrain from baseball activity for at least 30 days. The team’s biggest blow thus far, however, has been the loss of Jason Hammel, who posted a 3.54 ERA and 8.7 strikeouts per nine before undergoing surgery on July 16 to clean up his right knee; the team is hopeful he could return in early September. Luckily, the O’s have gotten sub-4.00 ERAs from July rotation additions Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman.
Impact going forward: High. Baltimore is currently sitting in a Wild Card spot, and its ability to maintain the smoke-and-mirrors act would be helped significantly by strong returns from Hammel and Thome.
Record: 61-53, second in AL West (6 1/2 games out), half-game out in wild card race
Oakland lost third baseman Scott Sizemore for the season due to a torn ACL back in spring training, and they have yet to satisfactorily replaced him. The team’s hot cornermen have hit just .197/.244/.339, bad enough to merit a spot on the Replacement Level Killers, and on Saturday, Brandon Inge demonstrated that his best trick is the ability to reset his own dislocated shoulder. Their rotation, which ranks second in the league with a 3.84 ERA, has weathered many losses to injury. Dallas Braden hasn’t pitched all year due to shoulder and groin problems, Brett Anderson is only now nearing a return from Tommy John surgery, Brandon McCarthy just came back following a seven-week absence due to shoulder soreness and the team hopes that rookie A.J. Griffin, who posted a 2.42 ERA through eight starts, will be back by month’s end following a shoulder strain.
Impact going forward: Medium. You can’t have too much pitching, and the returns of McCarthy and Anderson could bolster the team’s unlikely playoff bid.
Tampa Bay Rays
Record: 62-52, second in AL East (five games out), lead AL wild card race by one game
Tampa Bay is riding a six-game winning streak that has coincided with the return of Evan Longoria from a 14-week absence due to a hamstring injury, during which the team went just 41-44 and produced a mere 3.85 runs per game. The losses of Matt Joyce and Luke Scott to various ailments during that span didn’t help either; the latter (who has hit just .225/.279/.438) is nearing a return from a three-week absence due to an oblique strain, hoping he can recapture the 10-game tear that lifted his OPS 87 points before he went down. The rotation has made do with the loss of Jeff Niemann to a fractured fibula; out since May 15, he’s hoping for a return later this month, which could bump Alex Cobb (4.32 ERA, but just a 3.29 FIP) aside.
Impact going forward: High. Longoria is just 6-for-23 since activation and has yet to play the field, but his return alone could be worth 1.5-2.0 wins above what his fill-ins would have provided, the equivalent of a blockbuster trade deadline acquisition.
Record: 61-54, second in AL Central (two games out), one game out in AL wild card race
The biggest injury to affect Detroit’s season has been the loss of Victor Martinez to what was initially believed to be a torn ACL, which triggered the signing of Prince Fielder. While the former Brewers slugger has mashed (.310/.400/.512), the team’s designated hitters have not (.254/.284/.382 mainly from the eternally disappointing Delmon Young). V-Mart has a chance of returning from microfracture surgery sometime in September, though as of July 31, those odds were 50-50 at best. The lineup just saw the return of leftfielder Andy Dirks from a two-month absence due to a strained Achilles tendon; he has hit a sizzling .338/.385/.506. The rotation was supposed to have received a boost at the deadline via the acquisition of Anibal Sanchez, but he’s been rocked for a 7.80 ERA through three starts; meanwhile, rookie Drew Smyly, who went down in early July due to an intercostal strain, has returned to action at Triple-A Toledo to offer some rotation depth.
Impact going forward: Low. The additional depth is nice, but the Tigers have made it this far with their patches. That said, manager Jim Leyland would do well to mothball Young in favor of rookie outfielder Quintin Berry (.274/.354/.376), who has filled in ably for Dirks and Austin Jackson.
Los Angeles Angels
Record: 60-55, third in AL West (eight games out), two games out in AL wild card race
As harsh as it sounds, the Halos’ biggest injury this year — the loss of Vernon Wells due to a torn thumb ligament that required surgery — turned out to be beneficial, as he was rendered superfluous by the emergence of Mike Trout. Wells has since returned, but has hit just .234/.267/.409. In the rotation, Dan Haren missed less than three weeks due to lower back issues that pushed his ERA towards 5.00; he’s back now, and had made three strong starts before being knocked around by the Mariners on Saturday. The team’s shaky bullpen, which ranks 12th in the league with a 3.87 ERA, is coping with the loss of co-closer Scott Downs due to a shoulder strain at the end of July; he has begun throwing bullpen sessions and is hoping to return later this month.
Impact going forward: Medium. Since Downs went down, the Angels have fallen four games in the standings, slipping into third place in the AL and out of the Wild Card Spot; their bullpen has been lit for a 5.91 ERA this month.
Record: 67-46, first in AL West (6 1/2 games ahead)
The Rangers rank third-to-last in days lost to the disabled list, but that ranking will climb as the season continues. In a four-day span in late July, the team lost both Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz to season-ending elbow injuries that required surgery. At various times, they’ve also weathered the losses of Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando as well, stretching their rotation depth to the limit, though both are now back in action. Having weathered the six-week absence of the surprisingly productive Mitch Moreland (.286/.338/.521), their lineup’s biggest concern going forward is the loss of Mike Napoli to a left quad strain. He hit the DL on Saturday and could miss the rest of the month, placing the focus squarely on the newly-acquired Geovany Soto, who has gone just 5-for-26 since being acquired from the Cubs at the trading deadline.
Impact going forward: Medium. With or without the acquisition of Ryan Dempster, the Rangers’ rotation has been shaky enough to put a third straight trip to the World Series in question.
Chicago White Sox
Record: 62-51, first in AL Central (two games ahead)
The Sox have been bitten by the injury bug harder than the ranking suggests; the team is tied for second in the AL in the number of starting pitchers they have used (11). The biggest injury has been to John Danks, who recently underwent surgery to repair a torn shoulder capsule after being limited to just nine starts and a 5.70 ERA. Meanwhile, Gavin Floyd and Philip Humber have both missed time and seen their effectiveness dwindle due to elbow troubles. The lineup has been particularly healthy, with their biggest injury the bulging disc of unproductive third baseman Brent Morel; his woes triggered the acquisition of Kevin Youkilis, who has hit .252/.371/.504 with 10 homers in 167 PA since arriving in late June.
Impact going forward: Low. Floyd has largely been effective since returning, and despite battling minor ailments of late, so has Youkilis.
Thanks to Dan Turkenkopf of Baseball Prospectus for data assistance.