Monday, November 15, 2004

Looking Back: Injuries and Absences 

In my first look back at the 2004 Diamondbacks' season and how it made its way to a 51-111 record, I talked about the vagaries of luck. Today I'll discuss an only slightly less random occurrence, injuries, along with its cousin, absence. Unfortunately, this discussion revolves around the D-Backs' four biggest stars -- Randy Johnson, Luis Gonzalez, Richie Sexson, and Steve Finley.

Now, if you thought that the D-Backs were best by injuries this year, you'd be right. Will Carroll estimated that the D-Backs lost more games to injury -- more than 1,800 -- than any other team. Now, if the D-Backs had lost 12 Brandon Lyons instead of just 1, the D-Backs might have ended up with more than 51 wins. But they didn't.

Let's start with the most depressing fact first -- The 33-win collapse from 2003 to 2004 came in spite of Randy's recovering from an injury-depleted 2003 to a Cy Young-caliber 2004. So, yes, Randy went from just 6 Win Shares in 2003 to 25 Win Shares in 2004, a net gain of 19 Win Shares, or about 6 wins. In other words, if Randy had had the same year in 2004 as he had in 2003, the D-Backs would've won 6 fewer games. (Note: all 2003 Win Shares stats are from here and the 2004 Win Shares are from the Hardball Times' stats page.)

Next, let's move to Luis Gonzalez. Gonzo had a pretty decent 2003, but a fair-at-best injury-depleted 2004. He dropped from 24 to 12 Win Shares, a net loss of 12 Win Shares, or 4 wins. I recognize that it's possible that Gonzalez would've declined in Win Shares from 2003 to 2004 even without injury due to the natural decline of age, but aside from beginning-of-the-year projections, there's no way of knowing that for sure. For the purposes of these studies, I'm going to assume no significant decline or increase in production from one year to the next.

Finally, Richie Sexson. Thanks to Richie's labrum, he declined from 26 Win Shares in 2003 to just 3 in 2004, for a net loss of 23 Win Shares, or about 8 wins. There was little to suggest in Richie's few games with the team that he was going to have a monstrously good or bad year.

So, what you have is 56 Win Shares from those 3 players in 2003 and 40 Win Shares from the same players in 2004. A net loss of 16 Win Shares, or about 5 wins.

Now, what I haven't talked about is the other 1,600 or so games lost to injury. I'm basically going to cover the rest of the team in future segments, but it seems fair to say that even though the other players lost to injury were essentially interchangeable, at some point, losing the equivalent of 10 players for the whole season will have an effect. I don't remember injuries being a significant factor in 2003 (aside from Johnson and some problems with Schilling).

Finally, no discussion of absences would be complete without a discussion of Steve Finley. Now, looking at Finley does highlight some of the shortcomings in Win Shares. Look at these two lines:
With AZ -- 104 games, VORP: 23.8, OPS: .828, AB/HR: 17.6, AB/K: 7.8
With LA -- 58 games, VORP: 12.0, OPS: .815, AB/HR: 17.2, AB/K: 7.5

Now go ahead and guess how many Win Shares each line was worth.

9. Each.

Looking at those two lines, I can't see any conclusive difference between them. In most categories, Finley's totals with the D-Backs were a little less than twice his totals with the Dodgers. (With the exception of RBIs -- he had just 48 with the D-Backs but 46 with the Dodgers. If that isn't an illustration of the anemic D-Back offense, I don't know what is, even if Finley did lead off for a few games.) Yes, Dodger Stadium is less of a hitters' park, but still…

In any case, Finley's trade can be viewed as costing Arizona 9 Win Shares, or 3 wins. As for the other trades, it's not worth the effort. Elmer picked up a couple Win Shares in LA, but that's just noise.

So, add up the 5 net wins lost to injury by the Big 3 and 3 wins due to Finley's departure, and that's 8 wins. Add those to the 54 non-luck-adjusted wins (see the first entry), and that takes this team to 62-100, or a 22 wins shy of the 2003 level. In my next reviews, I'll be looking at the rest of the team.

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