The Blue Jays have sustained a number of injuries during the 2017 season and the ailments vary from concussions to finger blisters to knee problems. As of August 11, the Blue Jays had placed 23 players for a total of 1,064 days on the disabled list.
That sounds like a lot of injuries but is it a valid explanation as to why the 2017 Blue Jays season has been so disappointing? Or is it a convenient excuse? Let’s investigate these questions by first looking at some comparative data and then examining if other teams have dealt more successfully with injuries.
What does a bear joke have to do with baseball injuries?
What is the connection between a widely known bear joke and baseball injuries? Well, let’s start with the joke. Two friends, let’s call them Mike and Lorne, were walking in the woods one day when they saw a bear. As the bear approaches them, Lorne stops to put on the running shoes that he had placed in his back pack. Mike says to Lorne, “Why are you putting running shoes on? Don’t you know that you can’t outrun a bear?” Lorne replies, “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you!”
The discussion of 2017 Blue Jays injuries reminds me of the bear joke. Nobody wants a face-to-face encounter with an aggressive bear just like no team wants to sustain injuries. However, similar to Lorne’s understanding that his speed vis-à-vis Mike was key, we should consider the number of injuries incurred by the 2017 Blue Jays relative to other MLB teams, particularly AL East teams.
Have the Blue Jays suffered more injuries than other teams?
First, a brief word regarding the data presented in this article. The information was sourced from Spotrac.com and two units of measurement are used: days on the Disabled List (“DL”) and dollars spent on players while on the DL.
Dollars spent is worth examining because it can provide some information regarding the quality of the players on the DL that the number of days does not. However, dollars spent can be misleading if the player’s salary greatly exceeds their contribution (see Homer Bailey) or their production is much greater than their salary (hello, Aaron Sanchez). Therefore, both units should be considered when determining the impact that injuries have had on a team’s performance. The 2017 data presented is as at August 11 and is for all of MLB. The team with the most days on the DL or the most dollars spent on players on the DL would rank #1; the team with the fewest would be #30.
So far in 2017, the Blue Jays have the 6th most days on the DL and they rank 10th in terms of dollars spent on players on the DL. The split for pitchers and batters is as follows: pitchers – 18th in both days and dollars; batters – 1st in days and 4th in dollars.
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How do the Blue Jays injuries compare to the other AL East teams?
In terms of days, the 2017 MLB rankings are as follows: Tampa (1); Boston (4); Toronto (6); Baltimore (22); and New York (25). When it comes to dollars spent on players on the DL, the order changes a little: Boston (7); Baltimore (8); Toronto (10); New York (11); and Tampa (14).
The 2016 MLB rankings for days on the DL are as follows: New York (8); Tampa (9); Boston (18); Toronto (23); and Baltimore (29). When expressed as dollars spent on players on the DL, the order is New York (2); Tampa (7); Toronto (18); Boston (23); and Baltimore (28).
With respect to days on the DL, the 2015 MLB rankings are as follows: Toronto (2); Boston (8); Tampa (11); New York (20); and Baltimore (23). When it comes to dollars spent on players on the DL, the order is New York (4); Toronto (11); Boston (15); Tampa (25); and Baltimore (26).
Why have teams with similar or worse injury records performed better than the Blue Jays?
There is no question that injuries have had a negative impact on the Blue Jays performance in 2017. Had Donaldson and Travis played almost all the games to date, not to mention a healthy Sanchez leading the rotation, the Blue Jays would very likely not be cellar dwellers. Of course, this assumes that the other AL East teams would have the same injuries as they have had so far. However, baseball is not a science experiment where you can hold one variable constant (injuries to AL East competitors) and then adjust another factor (the degree of Blue Jays health). All teams suffer injuries and some cope with those ailments better than others.
I would cite three reasons as to why other teams, despite similar or worse injury records, have fared better than the 2017 Blue Jays. They are as follows:
- better depth;
- superior overall talent; and
Better depth and talent
Red Sox pitchers have accumulated the 5th most days on the DL. In terms of innings pitched, you would have to go down to their 7th reliever (Scott) and 8th starter (Wright) before you hit a pitcher with a negative fWAR. For the Blue Jays, their 6th starter has a negative fWAR (Bolsinger) and their 6th reliever (Grilli) has a negative fWAR.
The Rays batters rank 2nd in days on the DL and 9th in terms of dollars spent on players on the DL. Tampa’s top 19 position players (minimum 10 plate appearances) have a combined fWAR of 17.5; the Blue Jays comparable is 6.9.
Both the Red Sox and Rays have performed better than the Blue Jays despite having similar or worse injury records in 2017. This is partly due to depth, more so in the case of Tampa, and also because of better overall talent (see Sale and Kimbrel). The blue elephant in the room is, of course, the Dodgers: they are #2 in days on the DL and #1 when dollars on the DL are considered. The Dodgers have a winning percentage in excess of 0.700, by far, MLB’s best record. Superior depth and overall talent can certainly clear the injury hurdle.
Luck certainly plays into a team’s ability to recover from injuries. Consider Ryan Goins in 2015. When Reyes and Travis were felled by injuries, the Blue Jays had Goins in the wings. So the Blue Jays were fortunate not only because they had adequate positional depth but Goins responded with his best fWAR of his career. Perhaps there is the 2017 version of Ryan Goins in our midst; we just need time to pass before we know who it is.
The Bottom Line
Injuries have certainly had a negative effect upon the 2017 Blue Jays. However, the impact of injuries on the postseason hopes of the Blue Jays has been overstated. Other AL East teams have been afflicted with similar or worse injury issues and they have performed better than the Blue Jays. Injuries are certainly a part of baseball. Nonetheless, MLB teams can address that risk in many ways, including building adequate depth and acquiring better talent. Let’s hope that Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins reach the same conclusion and do not fall prey to the notion that a reversal of the 2017 injury misfortunes is the cure for the Blue Jays disappointing 2017 season.