As we’ve discussed many times in the last eight months or so, The 2016 Cardinals have been built around depth. The hope was two-fold: Matheny would be able to rest his starters that were possibly fatigued down the stretch in 2016 (mostly Matt Carpenter, Kolten Wong, and Jhonny Peralta), and also, the team would be able to fade injuries better than most teams by having better backups than the average team.
The conclusion to the story of the Cardinals’ 2016 season has yet to be written, but at this point we can mostly evaluate how the team has responded throughout the year to their various injuries. Luckily, most of the heavy lifting has already been done for us, by ManGamesLost.com. This awesome website tracks how many games each player has missed on the DL, as well as some of their own stats based around their DL records.
ManGamesLost has their own version of missed WAR from injured players, though I’m not sure exactly how they calculate it. Either way, I wanted to calculate WAR missed using the public projections released before the beginning of the year. As per usual, those projections will be Fangraphs’ depth chart projections. Those projections average the rate stats of the two best public projections, Zips and Steamer, while using writer-maintained playing time estimates. I also wanted to look at the amount of salary the team has paid to players on the DL.
Lastly, I also wanted to look at the replacements for the injured players, and see how small they could keep the gap between value provided by the starters and replacements. First, we’ll look at the starting rotation. I couldn’t decide whether to include Lance Lynn in this discussion. He was lost for the year before the Hot Stove season even began. I decided to include him, but I certainly can understand the argument for not doing so. Anyway, here’s the casualties suffered to the rotation and the cost in salary and expected production:
Note: Steamer didn’t bother projecting Lynn’s 2016 season, since he was already lost for the year. So his projected WAR is only from Zips
Of course, if you don’t include Lynn then the Cardinals have barely missed any WAR. Considering the average starting pitcher has a 40% chance of a DL trip in any given season, the Cardinals' rotation had a pretty average year in terms of injuries if you don't count Lynn.
Let’s look at how the replacements performed according to Fangraphs’ version of WAR:
Since I included Lynn as an injury, I had to include Leake as a replacement. He of course provided most the replacement innings. Looking past that though, Luke Weaver and Alex Reyes have both been fantastic replacements. Though this includes some performance since Wacha and Leake have returned, Weaver and Reyes have been more valuable than Wacha and Leake’s projected missed performance. Certainly can’t ask for more than that.
It bears pointing out that we can't just directly compare WAR missed to the WAR the replacements provide, as Weaver and Reyes both have pitched in situations where they're not just replacing injured starters. That is a common theme throughout this article. However, knowing how players who weren't projected as starters have performed let's us know how the team has held up when dealing with injuries.
Now let’s turn our attention to the bullpen.
Man, who else forgets sometimes that Jordan Walden is even in the Cardinals’ organization? Here’s a reminder just in case. The method here inflates Rosenthal’s value lost as his stock has dropped since the beginning of the year.
The Cardinals didn’t miss out on too much production in the pen unless you actually counted on Walden to pitch this year. That’s good because they didn’t get much out of the replacements:
Zach Duke leads the charge here, though he’s a mid-season trade acquisition, not someone that was depth going into the year. Reyes indeed helped stabilize the pen in between starts. I had some hope that Miguel Socolovich and/or Samuel Tuivailala would prove themselves cromulent relievers this year, but that hasn’t materialized. Mike Mayers and Jerome Williams have covered about 17 more innings in the bullpen than I would have guessed at the beginning of the year, and they haven’t been pretty.
The infield situation has been very fluid this year, with a lot of people missing time:
*Note: Peralta’s opening day projection was actually 1.1 WAR, because he was only projected to get 280 PA due to his injury. So I doubled his projected WAR*
Diaz is under-rated here, as he was projected much worse at the start of the year than now. Pena, of course, has missed a ridiculous amount of time. 1.8 missed wins isn’t a catastrophic amount (though every win counts this year), but the infield replacements have done great:
Diaz of course is the headliner, with a first half performance that eventually got him into the All-Star game thanks to Matt Carpenter’s injury. Jedd Gyorko is right behind him though, and Greg Garcia is right behind him. Besides the fact that Jhonny has contributed -0.8 wins, the infield picture has vastly improved.
Of course, we can’t contribute all of the WAR of these players as just coming from replacing injured players. Gyorko was playing over Kolten Wong most the season rather than in replacement of an injured player. Diaz did most of his damage in replacement of Peralta though, as did Garcia in replacement of Diaz. Fryer’s fun but short run was in replacement of Pena.
And lastly, the outfield:
I chose to include first-baseman/corner-outfielder Brandon Moss in the outfield as the infield situation was already really crowded. The outfield has been pretty quiet on the injury front. The injury to Tommy Pham is standard operating procedure. And the replacements:
Most of Jeremy Hazelbaker’s playing time came not in place of an injured starter, but in place of a struggling Randal Grichuk. Tommy Pham is included as his playing time did see an increase when Holliday and Moss were out. Hopefully Harrison Bader can improve on these numbers next year.
The rotation hasn’t had to deal with many issues this year, but when they have, Weaver and Reyes has more than picked up the slack. The bullpen has dealt with a ridiculous amount of injuries, and Duke and Reyes have been the only improvements.
On the infield, the breakout of Aledmys Diaz and the comeback of Jedd Gyorko have made up for a missing (and now ineffective) Jhonny Peralta. They also did about as well as you can expect in place of the team’s best position player. The outfield has been relatively healthy, which is good because the replacements haven’t done so hot.
Overall, here’s the salary and expected WAR lost to the DL:
For context, Cot’s contracts has the Cardinals’ opening day payroll at $145.5M, and the only significant change in that came from acquiring Zach Duke and his $5M salary roughly two-thirds of the way through the year. That puts the percentage of payroll that went to players while on the DL at around 19%, which seems high, but not near as bad as it can be. My method for determining WAR missed comes to 7.8 WAR. I was not able to do this for every team, but ManGamesLost’s calculation, which comes out very close, puts the Cardinals at 5th most WAR lost. To be honest, maybe it’s just my memories of 2015 talking, but 2016 has seemed kind of tame in terms of injuries.
Maybe it has to do with the replacements. Aledmys Diaz, Jedd Gyorko, Greg Garcia, Alex Reyes, and Luke Weaver all have filled in admirably and were in the organization at the start of the year. Zach Duke has been very helpful as well, though he really doesn’t fit the purpose of this exercise, which was to assess how well the team was able to prepare for injuries in the off-season. Based on these results, I would say the team’s accumulation of depth has worked out great, and John Mozeliak and company deserve kudos for an under-rated off-season. It wasn't perfect by any means, but the team may very well only be in the playoff hunt because of how well they've shrugged off a slew of injuries.