At the dawn of the 2019 season, the New York Yankees were betting favorites to win the World Series. Yet, the following players comprise 20 percent of their active roster:
- RHP Luis Cessa
- RHP Jonathan Loaisiga
- LHP Stephen Tarpley
- OF Mike Tauchman
- 3B Giovanny Urshela
Such a relatively anonymous roster wasn’t the intention, of course, but no team has suffered more injuries this season than the Yankees. They currently have 11 players on the injured list; no other team has more than nine (Pittsburgh Pirates). However, it’s not just quantity they’re missing, but quality as well.
Here are the six injured position players:
- 3B Miguel Andújar
- OF Jacoby Ellsbury
- SS Didi Gregorius
- CF Aaron Hicks
- OF Giancarlo Stanton
- SS Troy Tulowitzki
The five injured pitchers include:
- RHP Dellin Betances
- RHP Ben Heller
- LHP Jordan Montgomery
- LHP CC Sabathia
- RHP Luis Severino
That’s a lot of star power on the shelf!
Some of these injuries were known before Spring Training even began, such as Gregorius and Montgomery. Others were more-or-less inevitable based on health track-records, like Ellsbury and Tulowitzki. However, there are a few surprises as well, such as Stanton and Andújar. Some of these players will return quickly (Sabathia should be back within a week), but they’ve had to clear a much larger injury hurdle than anyone else so far.
The Yankees’ extensive list of maladies begets the question: who’s better, the healthy players or the injured?
We’ll get to the comparisons shortly, but there are a few issues to sort out. First, to state the obvious, the injured players are in fact injured. We have to compare them at their healthy best.
Secondly, eleven players don’t make a full team, especially when five are pitchers. We’ll need to figure out an average value per player on the IL and active roster.
Third, exactly what is the best way to compare players? By past performance, Ellsbury, Sabathia, and Tulowitzki carry advantages. Present value favors Stanton and Hicks, while the future is brightest for Severino and Andújar. The fairest way to measure the players against each other is by looking at all three: past, present, and future.
To evaluate past performance, we’ll simply add up career fWAR for each player on the IL and active roster.
- Active Yankees (25 players): 161.6 career fWAR, 6.5 average per player
- Injured Yankees (11 players): 229.9 career fWAR, 20.9 average per player
Even with less than half as many players, the injured Yankees win this category easily. Sabathia’s 66.2 fWAR is nearly double any other player’s. Stanton (39.0), Tulowitzki (38.2), and Ellsbury (30.2) carry weight as well.
The only active player with more than 30 fWAR is Brett Gardner (33.2). Four players actually have negative fWAR for their careers: Tyler Wade (-1.1), Tauchman (-0.9), Urshela (-0.7), and Clint Frazier (-0.5). Heller (-0.2) is the only negative player on the IL.
Injured players have an inherent advantage with regards to past performance. When established veterans are hurt, their roster replacements generally come from the minor leagues. Few, if any, players with 30 or more fWAR would accept a minor league assignment out of Spring Training. Regardless, it’s a clear victory for the injured Yanks.
Advantage: IL Yankees
The 2019 season is still too new to evaluate present performance. Furthermore, most of the injured players haven’t yet taken the field this year for self-evident reasons. The best elevator of present performance is probably 2018 fWAR.
- Active Yankees (25 players): 33.5 fWAR in 2018, 1.3 average per player
- Injured Yankees (11 players): 26.6 fWAR in 2018, 2.4 average per player
While the active Yankees compiled more total fWAR last season, their IL counterparts had a higher average. Three actives cleared 3.0 fWAR: Aaron Judge (5.1), James Paxton (3.7), and J.A. Happ (3.0). It’s worth noting that none of them spent the full 2018 season in the Bronx; Judge suffered his own IL stint, Paxton was a Seattle Mariner all year, and Happ was traded from the Toronto Blue Jays mid-season.
Four of the five best Yankees by fWAR from a year ago are currently injured, including Severino (5.5), Hicks (4.9), Gregorius (4.6), and Stanton (4.2). That’s an absurd, irreplaceable amount of talent missing from the roster.
Just as with past performance, there is an advantage for the IL players here as well. Minor league roster replacements were probably minor leaguers for most of last year, too. This brings down the per player average. Nevertheless, the quartet of injured stars worth 4.2-5.5 fWAR seal this category for the hospital ward.
Advantage: IL Yankees
In the absence of a crystal ball, we’ll refer to Dan Szymborksi’s three-year ZiPS projections, which are found on the FanGraphs player pages.
- Active Yankees (25 players): 120.3 fWAR ZiPS projection, 4.8 average per player
- Injured Yankees (11 players): 71.3 fWAR ZiPS projection, 6.5 average per player
Given the advanced ages of injured Yankees Sabathia, Ellsbury, and Tulowitzki, this should have been the active team’s best category. However, the injured players average 1.7 higher projected fWAR over the next three years.
Severino (14.7) and Stanton (14.5) swing this category into the IL’s favor, with strong contributions from Hicks (9.8) and Gregorius (9.8) as well. The actives are led by Judge of course (14.4), followed by Gleyber Torres (11.8), Paxton (10.1), and Gary Sanchez (9.9).
In the end, the active players are done in by a sextet of players projected for less than 2.0 fWAR over three years. In fairness, four of them are relievers, but two of the IL players are bullpen residents as well (Betances and Heller).
Advantage: IL Yankees
By any measure, the injured Yankees are better than the players currently wearing pinstripes. If the team can stay afloat in the playoff race while all these players heal, they could make good on those World Series odds after they return.
Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. In addition to BtBS, he writes at www.OffTheBenchBaseball.com. Tweets @depstein1983