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Injuries may cost the Yankees the AL East title

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The Yankees have suffered a number of high profile injuries this season.

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Injuries are a part of sports, and they can be incredibly difficult to predict. There’s a certain element of luck in a team’s disabled list every season, and often that “luck” can be the difference between a winning campaign and an unsuccessful one. One of the reasons why we’re likely to never see a dynasty such as the 90s Yankees again is those teams’ unprecedented ability to avoid long term, catastrophic injury.

That hasn’t been the case for the 2018 Yankees. With the movement of Didi Gregorius to the 10-day disabled list on Tuesday, the team lost another one of its core players for an indeterminate amount of time. Even if Didi’s recovery is exactly on track with the DL timing, he’ll still miss at least 11 games in the meantime. Add that to the player games lost by some of the team’s other stars, and it casts a pretty dark shadow on the season as a whole.

To date, the Yankees have seen a significant injury to their best player, Aaron Judge. He’s been out for more than a month with a fractured wrist. Jordan Montgomery was shelved less than a quarter of the way into the season with Tommy John surgery, making just six starts in 2018. Gleyber Torres missed 16 games with leg trouble, and that injury may be costing him the 2018 Rookie of the Year Award. Gary Sanchez has battled so many injuries this season that it’s tough to make any kind of evaluation of his performance at all. Plus, Masahiro Tanaka, missed five starts with dual hamstring strains.

All teams lose players to injury, but the players the Yankees have lost are on a magnitude higher in terms of importance than most. The best comparison is the way the Angels have lost Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani and Justin Upton for extended periods of time this season, and those injuries may be the biggest factor in the team falling out of the Wild Card race. While the Yankees are probably going to finish with one of the Wild Card slots, it’s not crazy to think that injuries to their stars have been a huge factor in the current AL East deficit.

I prepared a table showing what the Yankees have lost in those six stars, basing it off the time missed and their projected fWAR for the full season at the time of their injury. For Sanchez, I averaged his projected fWAR with last season’s, as I said above that it’s impossible to properly evaluate what’s become a lost season for him.

All told, the Yankees have lost between five and six wins from these players. Projected WAR isn’t a perfect metric; it doesn’t carry directly over to seasonal win totals. But with the Yankees eight games back of the Red Sox, those 5.5 wins would be a huge boost, bringing the division race close enough that the next series in the Bronx would have a whole lot more weight to it. With Judge, Gregorius and Sanchez still hurt, that lost fWAR grows every day.

The reinforcements that have filled the gaps for the injured stars have also hurt the Yankees. Shane Robinson, Luke Voit and Kyle Higashioka are all the definition of replacement-level plauyers. Ronald Torresyes is a fine bench piece, but not a starter in the MLB and certainly not a borderline All-Star like Didi. Austin Romine, who has received the bulk of starts in Sanchez’s absence, has completely cratered in the second half. After posting a promising 122 wRC+ in the first half, he’s all the way down to a 59 in the second, with a 1.3% walk rate.

For all the praise heaped on Romine, his full season offensive production is exactly the same as Sanchez, 99 wRC+, with about half the power. The Dodgers were hit hard losing their best player in Corey Seager, but managed to replace him with Manny Machado. The Yankees have been fielding replacement-level or worse players in a third of the lineup.

The pitching staff has fared somewhat better since the trade deadline. While both Tanaka and Montgomery were on the DL together, their starts were being handled by Domingo German, Luis Cessa and Jonathan Loiasiga. Johnny Lasagna more or less held his own, while the former two were sub-replacement level. That’s been rectified to a point with the acquisitions of J.A. Happ and Lance Lynn, but that time lost earlier in the year still counts for a whole lot.

This running count doesn’t include injuries to the relief corps, since reliever fWAR isn’t a great metric and we don’t know the extent of David Robertson’s “shoulder tenderness”, nor do we know how long Aroldis Chapman will be om the shelf after officially being sidelined yesterday. It could be that those two are back in no time, or they too could see DL time and add to the list of major Yankees injuries.

The loss of star players to injury isn’t an excuse, and it doesn’t forgive critical failures this season like being swept in four games at Fenway Park, or playing .500 ball against the Baltimore Orioles. The reverberations of injury still play a huge role in the season, though. It’s hard to imagine the Yankees struggling to score more than two runs in 12 innings against the Marlins if Judge, Sanchez and Didi were all healthy and in the lineup at the same time. Maybe the lost WAR wouldn’t exactly equal an AL East deficit of three or four games. It would, however, make the race much closer — and much more interesting — with two series remaining against the Red Sox.