Calculating the impact of injuries on the Yankees' season
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The Yankees have a steep hill to climb to reach the playoffs, entering the final week four games out of a wild-card spot with seven left to play. As if they needed one more obstacle, they'll be without CC Sabathia for his final start on Wednesday. Via their official Twitter account, the team announced that the ace lefthander is being shut down for the remainder of the year due to a Grade 2 hamstring strain that would require eight weeks to heal. That leaves either Phil Hughes or David Huff to start in his place on Wednesday.
Sabathia is just the latest big-name Bronx Bomber to land on the disabled list this season. While he won't wind up missing a great deal of time due to the injury, the terrible production the Yankees received in place of so many players who did has been the difference between their playing into October versus going golfing or hunting instead. As this is a fitting time for a postmortem of New York's season, consider the following. (Note: Wins Above Replacement data is via Baseball-Reference.com's metrics.)
A torn tendon sheath in his right wrist limited Mark Teixeira to 15 games in which he hit just .151/.270/.340, a performance 0.4 wins below replacement level. Signed in the same winter as Sabathia was, he had averaged 4.1 WAR in his previous four seasons in pinstripes and gave New York 3.9 WAR last year, about four and a half wins better than what he produced in 2013.
In other words, a typical season from Teixeira would have been enough to put the Yankees in wild-card territory even amid all of their other woes. Instead, Yankees first basemen as a group hit just .230/.295/.399, with 72 percent of that playing time going to Lyle Overbay, who contributed all of 0.2 WAR via defense that was slightly above average.
Derek Jeter was limited to 17 games and −0.7 WAR in and around four trips to the DL in the wake of last fall's ankle fracture. That's about three wins less than last year's performance, which was stellar at the plate (.316/.362/.429 with a league-leading 216 hits) if not afield (-18 Defensive Runs Saved) en route to 2.2 WAR. From 2009-2012, he hit .304/.366/.414 while averaging 2.9 WAR, though that value is propped up by 6.6 WAR in the first of those years. His average over the previous three was just 1.6 WAR, still 2.3 wins better than this year.
Yankees shortstops hit only .232/.291/.320 with Eduardo Nunez playing about 44 percent of the time and Jayson Nix 28 percent of the time; via DRS, the former was a whopping −28 in all of 74 games at short, a performance that ranks below even the worst of Jeter. Those two players, who also factored into the third base mess, have been worth −2.0 and 0.8 WAR, respectively.
Alex Rodriguez has hit .253/.353/.440 with seven homers in 42 games, numbers that bear a fair bit of resemblance to last year's .272/.353/.430. His performance was worth 0.4 WAR, down from 2.3 last year and 3.6 per year from 2009-2012. At a difference of two or three wins, his full season — assuming the Biogenesis saga played out in the same way, with due process deferring any decision on his suspension into the offseason — wouldn't have been enough to put the Yankees in the playoffs himself, but it certainly would have helped.
As for Kevin Youkilis, who was signed to cover A-Rod's absence at third while filling in at first base and designated hitter, he played just 28 games and hit .219/.305/.343 before going on the DL and eventually undergoing back surgery. His performance was worth −0.2 WAR, down from the 3.6 per year he averaged during his effective but injury-riddled stretch from 2010-2012, and even from the 1.6 he provided last year. Instead, a total of 10 Yankees third basemen have hit .228/.293/.331, almost as bad as their shortstops.
Curtis Granderson was slated to swap places with Brett Gardner and wind up in leftfield, but instead he has bounced around all three outfield positions. Two lengthy trips to the disabled list have limited him to just 55 games, and he's hit a disappointing .234/.321/.422 with seven homers. His performance has been worth 1.2 WAR, down from the 4.3 per year he averaged from 2010-2012 — a three-win difference. With the flatlining Vernon Wells taking 43 percent of the playing time, New York's leftfielders as a whole have hit .238/.292/.406 with 27 homers — a performance that includes Alfonso Soriano's astounding .295/.358/.624 with 17 homers in 44 games since being acquired on July 26.
Signed to serve as a platoon DH against righties, Travis Hafner was limited to 81 games and hampered by problems in his right shoulder, the same one which has been part of his long, slow demise over the previous five seasons. He hit just .205/.300/.384 with 12 homers, a performance worth −0.1 WAR. It's not as though the Yankees could have expected much from him, given that he averaged just 86 games and 1.1 WAR from 2008-2012, but had others such as Jeter, Rodriguez and Youkilis been healthier, they would have limited Hafner's exposure here. As it was, the DH spot as a whole, filled by Hafner 45 percent of the time and no other Yankee more than 12 percent of the time, was the offense's weakest, with a cumulative .190/.274/.312 line — weaker even than the .215/.293/.302 their catchers hit.
Until Sabathia's injury the Yankees have been relatively healthy here. Four pitchers have made at least 28 starts for New York this season with Sabathia's 32 leading the way. Sabathia ends his season with a career-worst 4.78 ERA in 211 innings. While he hadn't missed a turn all season prior to the injury, he struggled due to diminished velocity in the wake of offseason surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow. Had he pitched to his capability, it probably would have been enough to elevate the Yankees to a playoff spot singlehandedly, even with all else that went wrong. His performance this year was worth just 0.2 WAR — which are based upon actual runs allowed instead of peripheral statistics via Fielding Independent Pitching. By bWAR's measure, he averaged 5.5 WAR from 2009-2012, his first four seasons with the Yankees. Give the Yankees five extra wins and they'd be 87-69 , half a game ahead of the Rays and a full game ahead of the Indians, the two actual wild-card leaders.
Even without Sabathia's performance-related decline, typical seasons from the injured position players above -- Teixeira, Jeter, Rodriguez, Youkilis, Granderson and Hafner (and admittedly, I've used different timelines for some to illustrate "typical" based upon their general career arcs) could have been worth a total of around 16 WAR:
Teixeira (4.1) + Jeter (1.6) + Rodriguez (3.6) + Youkilis (1.6) + Granderson (4.3) + Hafner (1.1) = 16.1
Instead those six players were worth a total of 0.2 WAR. Had all of them been healthy, the Yankees probably wouldn't have obtained Wells (0.5 WAR), Soriano (1.5) or Mark Reynolds (0.8 split largely between first and third base), to say nothing of short-timers from the waiver wire such as Reid Brignac, Ben Francisco, Alberto Gonzalez, Travis Ishikawa, Brent Lillibridge, Thomas Neal and Chris Nelson (cumulative WAR: −1.9), none of whom finished the season with the team. Nor would New York have exposed Nix (0.8), Overbay (0.2) or rookie David Adams (-0.2) to the extent that it did. Total all of those players up as the injury replacements for the aforementioned group and you get 1.7 WAR; add that 0.2 from the injured ones and the total is 1.9 WAR.
Thus, the net loss given those injuries looks to be about 14 wins. That's without going back to consider the decline of Sabathia, the ongoing disappointment of Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain, the overexposure of Ichiro Suzuki in rightfield (.260/.297/.343 and 1.4 WAR in 143 games), the late-season injury to Brett Gardner (out since Sept. 12) or the step down from Russell Martin (4.3 WAR on playoff-bound Pittsburgh) to Chris Stewart and Austin Romine at catcher. Fourteen more wins would make the Yankees a 96-win team. That would put them 1 1/2 games ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East standings at this juncture. Of course, all of that is ideal world dreaming, and few teams are ever lucky enough to survive seasons under such conditions. The Red Sox, as strong as they are, would be in even better shape had Clay Buchholz not missed three months or closers Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey suffered season-ending injuries, for example. But had most of what went wrong with the Yankee players above instead gone right, it's fair to say they would be holding onto a playoff spot, and could have challenged for the division title. Had even a few of those things gone right, they'd be at the head of the wild-card race.