In theory, one would think Thursday was a good day for the Texas Rangers.
Ace Yu Darvish took the mound for an afternoon affair in Detroit. A few hours later, Texas enjoyed a 9-2 win over maybe the best team in baseball. The win drew the Rangers one game shy of .500 with a 23-24 record, but the victory was an afterthought because Thursday brought other, bigger-picture news.
Prince Fielder was scheduled for season-ending surgery on a herniated disc in his neck, and Jurickson Profar re-injured his shoulder. Fielder is getting a second opinion, but it’s almost a lock the first baseman will have surgery and is done for 2014, while Profar looks like he’ll be a non-factor this season. And this didn’t establish a new pattern — it continued an old one.
It’s not even Memorial Day, and the Rangers have been devastated by the injury bug. Almost no position has been left untouched, and it seems like every week brings a new ailment. It’s hard to say when everything started — left-hander Derek Holland injured his knee in the offseason — but spring training was unkind to the roster … and the season’s been the same.
There’s a sense that these Rangers are cursed, and though, eventually, they’ll have talent back and healthy at some point, it seems like the year is a lost cause with the Rangers too short-handed.
What’s the approximate impact of all the injuries they’ve experienced?
Every team in baseball goes through injuries, but the Rangers have had it particularly bad. Sometimes the stat is presented as “days lost to the disabled list,” but that can be misleading. For example, reliever Pedro Figueroa is out for the year after Tommy John surgery, but the Rangers aren’t going to miss him too much.
Another approach is to calculate salary paid to players on the DL, but that, too, isn’t precise. Let’s try something by tooling around with player projections, and see if we can estimate the win impact of the injuries the Rangers have already had to deal with.
Two favored projection systems at FanGraphs are ZiPS and Steamer. Both use historical data to try to predict future production, and this will be the basis of this attempt, where it focuses on projected Wins Above Replacement (WAR).
It’ll be helpful to give an example. What would be the impact of being without Fielder for the rest of the season? Averaging ZiPS and Steamer equates about 2 WAR. That is, a healthy Fielder would be expected to provide 2 WAR over the duration. Now, the Rangers won’t get that. They’ll have a replacement, but the replacement will be worse.
How about left-hander Matt Harrison? It looks like his season and career are in jeopardy with back problems. If he’s done for 2014, the impact is about 1.9 WAR.
Holland is still rehabbing and while he’s approaching a return, he will have missed about half the season, which could’ve been worth roughly 1.6 WAR. Losing lefty Martin Perez to Tommy John surgery? Something like 1.1 WAR.
There have been other injuries, too. Third baseman Adrian Beltre missed 15 games on the DL. Right-hander Tanner Scheppers, who started four games this season, got hurt and will come back as a reliever. Catcher Geovany Soto got hurt and forced the Rangers to go with J.P. Arencibia a bit too much, and Soto’s absence will have been worth about a projected 0.8 WAR.
Lefty Joe Saunders is hurt. Ace Darvish missed a start. Lefty reliever Joseph Ortiz is hurt. Outfielder Engel Beltre is hurt. Third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff is hurt. Outfielder/first baseman Jim Adduci is hurt. Figueroa’s hurt. Infielder Donnie Murphy is hurt.
Putting it all together equals an impact of about 10.5 WAR. The Angels’ Mike Trout was worth 10.4 WAR last season, so it’s kind of like, in total, the Rangers are without a full-season Mike Trout.
Now, things aren’t that simple. Injured players get replaced, and they don’t always get replaced by replacement-level players. For example, right-hander Nick Tepesch is now starting, and seems like a close-to-equivalent substitution. The same can’t be said for righty Scott Baker, who is now in the rotation. With Profar out, the Rangers will try to make something of prospects Rougned Odor and Luis Sardinas.
The injuries have cut into starters and depth. Plus, the Rangers have no clear alternative to Fielder.
So the team’s in a lot of trouble. FanGraphs’ preseason projections had the Rangers winning at a .534 clip. Now, they’re projected to win at a .492 clip, which is seven games worse on a 162-game scale — and the preseason projection included Profar, Soto and Holland being hurt. So that doesn’t capture the full extent of the injury impact.
The Rangers, now, still aren’t a bad team, but they might be an average team. At the start of the offseason it looked like they could be contenders for the World Series. The team signed Shin-Soo Choo before Holland busted his knee.
Often, people will over-estimate the impact of one player getting hurt. The best player in baseball is worth nine or 10 wins over a full season, and that’s the best player in baseball. Every other player is worse, and most injuries are shorter term.
But with the Rangers, it’s a bunch of individual injuries adding up, and the pile now of missing talent is enormous. The impact might still be widely over-estimated, in that the Rangers still project OK, but they’re short-handed and facing a playoff-race deficit, which is why they have such dwindling playoff odds.
As obvious as it might seem for the Rangers to make a play for free agent Kendrys Morales, they might decide it’s just not worth their money in a season that looks increasingly lost by the day. Morales isn’t a great overall player, and the Rangers would have to wait another few weeks to get him without sacrificing a draft pick. The Mariners might end up signing him first.
”We have been dealing with a number of injuries, but we feel like if we can weather the early storm, we’re going to have guys coming back in waves as the season progresses.”
This has turned into the storm of the decade. It’s not losing Prince Fielder that cripples the Rangers. It’s everything. Injuries only really devastate when they pile up, but the top of the Rangers’ pile now is well out of view.