PHOENIX — There are a few teams every baseball season particularly troubled by a rash of injuries. It’s nothing new; it just happens.
This year, the Diamondbacks are one of those teams, having at different times been without their starting second baseman, closer, each of their projected starting outfielders and multiple infielders.
Despite the injuries, the D-backs have remained competitive, sitting just half a game out of first place in the NL West after a win Wednesday. Through the aches and pains, they have turned to a mantra manager Kirk Gibson has popularized the past couple seasons: Deal with it.
“I think every team has to do that,” Gibson said. “We prepare for that in spring training. We talked about it in case things happened.”
Things did happen. From Cody Ross (calf), Willie Bloomquist (oblique) and Adam Eaton (elbow) going down in spring training to Jason Kubel (quadriceps), Aaron Hill (hand) and J.J. Putz (elbow) getting hurt during the season, the D-backs have faced an unusual number of medical challenges through the season’s first 41 games.
While it’s impossible to quantify the production the D-backs have lost with certain players out, it is possible to measure how much potential production they have lost compared to other teams in the majors with the help of the “man games lost” statistic.
Man games lost measures total games “lost” — as in, not played — due to injuries, days off, suspensions, personal reasons and simply not entering a game (think relievers and bench players). As of Wednesday, the D-backs ranked fourth in the majors behind the Dodgers, Reds and Pirates, teams also saddled with significant injuries already. Because they have not been on the active roster yet this season, Bloomquist and Eaton are not included in that count.
Because players just getting a day off or not entering a game are counted, the specific number of man games lost doesn’t reveal much — it’s a little too inclusive. But because each team is measured the same way, those extraneous games should roughly cancel out and leave the games lost to injury as the true determinant.
Through Wednesday’s game, the D-backs have lost 174 games to injuries, not including issues that did not require a trip to the disabled list. Here’s the breakdown: Bloomquist (41), Eaton (41), Hill (29), Kubel (28), Ross (16), Didi Gregorius (11, concussion), Putz (8). In theory, each of those games is a lost opportunity for each player to contribute, although each player would not have played in every game. The impossible part is determining what the players would have done in those games, but we can get a general idea with the help of projections.
Using the ZiPS projections found on Fangraphs.com, which make predictions based on three or four years of weighted player averages, we can see how players’ production over the course of the season may be impacted by an injury. Below are rough estimates, based on preseason projections, of player production through 41 games alongside actual totals and the difference.
Rough estimates of players’ production without injuries through 41 games, based on ZiPS projections, and their actual production so far. (Notes: P = Projected, A = Actual. *Gregorius did not begin the season in the major leagues)
Again, the projections are purely that — guesses based on data and certain assumptions — and it’s important to note there are many variables that impact production, such as lineup configurations, hot and cold streaks, etc. The projections could have ultimately been way off in one direction or another, but they provide at least of a sliver on insight into what time lost to injury can do to a player’s season, which ultimately affects his club.
However, those individual losses are at least partially made up for by replacement players. For the sake of the argument, let’s look at Hill as an example. He was extremely close statistically to where the ZiPS projections would put him through the 10 games he played before getting hurt. Had he not been injured and had his production stayed relatively the same, Hill would have around 19 runs, 20 RBI and five home runs right now.
Instead, with replacements Cliff Pennington, Martin Prado and Josh Wilson all spending time at second base, the position as a whole has produced 18 runs, 12 RBI and five home runs — RBI being the obvious difference between what the D-backs have gotten and what they might have gotten with Hill.
The same statistical comparison can be done for each position with an injury, and similar results will emerge, though not in center field, where Gerardo Parra, A.J. Pollock and others have collectively surpassed Eaton’s projected production to this point.
That’s the variable in this premise. Injured players can, of course, return and make up for lost time, but the important thing for the D-backs has been the contributions replacement players have provided, many of them above expectations.
Prime among those contributors have been Gregorius (playing shortstop with Pennington moved to second base), outfielders Pollock and Parra and interim closer Heath Bell. Gregorius has been a surprise spark plug offensively and defensively, Pollock is third on the team with 15 RBI and leads the NL with 14 doubles, Parra has been his usual versatile self and Bell has earned five saves since Putz went on the DL.
“If you have backups or depth guys that get nervous or don’t look at it as an opportunity, then obviously the team is going to suffer for it,” Pollock said. “You just try to hold your own and give your team a good chance to win.”
Gibson credited those players’ readiness to step in and contribute at a moment’s notice, as Pollock had to do on more than one occasion last season while coming to the majors for just a game or two.
“Just because you don’t leave with the club for the regular season doesn’t mean you don’t have to have an understanding you’re going to maybe have an opportunity to have a very important role in our task,” Gibson said. “They’re very diligent in their preparation for that day.”
The D-backs have also gotten more production than expected from third baseman Eric Chavez and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who has played in all but one game this season. Even so, Goldschmidt can appreciate the contributions of teammates in place of injured players.
“We knew we had a lot of depth in spring training,” Goldschmidt said. “We just didn’t know we’d have to use it so quickly. Guys have stepped up. Guys that maybe thought they were going to be in the minor leagues or not have as big of a role.”
The D-backs will continue to lose potential production with each game the currently injured players miss, and there will undoubtedly be more injuries over the next 121 games. But obviously, they won’t let injuries be an excuse, and so far they aren’t letting it be too much of an impediment.
“We’re no different than any team,” Pollock said. “Teams are dealing with injuries all the time. Whether you have all your injuries at the beginning of the year or the end of the year, teams are going to deal with it.”