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How much did injuries affect the Nats this year?

Sep 24, 2013, 12:00 PM EDT

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ST. LOUIS — There will be plenty of opportunities, now that the Nationals officially have been eliminated from playoff contention, to dissect this disappointing season and try to figure out why it produced the result it did.

Were the Nats done in by an unproductive lineup? Shoddy defense? An unbalanced bullpen? The weight of expectations?

All surely were factors, but let’s start today with one factor that hasn’t always been at the forefront of the discussion: Injuries, particularly those suffered by the club’s brightest young star.

Bryce Harper brought up the subject himself following last night’s loss to the Cardinals when asked what could have been different this season.

“I wasn’t there for a month,” Harper said, citing his time on the DL with a left knee injury. “I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I’m a game-changer or anything like that, but we’re a great team and me being in this lineup is huge. I’ve got to try to be in this lineup every night.”

Now, that statement can come across as just a wee-bit cocksure, but there’s also an element of maturity in there as well. Yes, Harper is calling himself a “game-changer,” despite him trying to insist he’s not. But he’s also acknowledging that he needs to do a better job keeping himself healthy enough to stay on the field through a full season.

In other words: Quit running into walls, and quit trying to play through injuries that are more severe than you want to admit.

Fact is, the Nationals really did suffer as a result of Harper’s injuries. When he has played this season, they’ve gone 63-51. When he hasn’t, they’ve gone 21-22.

The Nats were a 90-win with Harper. They were a 79-win team without him.

Now, the disparity isn’t entirely because Harper. There were other factors that contributed to losses while he was out, and there were other factors that contributed to wins while he was healthy.

In fact, injuries to two other key regulars proved just as significant.

The Nationals’ record when Jayson Werth plays is 69-56. When he doesn’t play, it’s 15-17.

The Nationals’ record when Wilson Ramos plays is 46-28. When he doesn’t play, it’s 38-45.

Finally, the Nationals’ record when Harper, Werth and Ramos ALL have been in the lineup: 33-20. (That’s a .622 winning percentage, equating to 100 wins over a full season.) Their record when none of the three has been in the lineup: 3-8.

Obviously every team has to deal with injuries every season. And the good ones overcome them, just as the 2012 Nationals did. The lack of production off the bench this year certainly hurt when any of those three regulars had to miss time due to injury.

But it is interesting to note — and quantify — just how much injuries played a role in the Nationals’ disappointing season. And to wonder what might have been had Harper, Werth and Ramos simply spent more time on the field and less time on the DL.

  1. joemktg - Sep 24, 2013 at 12:55 PM

    1) And it would be interesting to note and quantify the injury factor with other teams and how it played a role in their seasons. With that, you can compare and contrast.
    2) “The lack of production off the bench this year certainly hurt when any of those three regulars had to miss time due to injury.” So how did the Yankees stay in it for so long?

    • bowdenball - Sep 24, 2013 at 1:23 PM

      Because their bench players produced at a reasonable level?

      Kind of seems like you answered your own question in the quote before you even asked it.

      • joemktg - Sep 24, 2013 at 1:58 PM

        Yanks had a mish-mosh of players in and out: bench players, call ups, trades, etc. It was more than just the bench with which they started. They morphed at a much higher degree than the Nats. Agile Development, Agile Marketing…now Agile Roster Management. Yanks were agile, Nats were not.

      • bowdenball - Sep 24, 2013 at 4:21 PM

        What?

        I honestly have no idea what point you’re trying to make. And considering that the Nats have a better record than the Yankees at the moment with half their payroll, it might actually be the worst argument I’ve ever heard.

    • naterialguy - Sep 24, 2013 at 3:23 PM

      Hell Yankees din’t do any better than the Nats. noyt sure what point you’re pressing

  2. Jw - Sep 24, 2013 at 12:55 PM

    Injuries weren’t the problem. They had virtually the same number of missed games in 2012 by Harper, Werth and Ramos. (Harper missed those games while he was in the minors.) The difference in 2013 is that no one stepped up to replace the guys that were out, like they did in 2012.

    • bowdenball - Sep 24, 2013 at 1:10 PM

      Exactly right. The injuries were the problem only because Suzuki, Moore, Bernadina and Lombardozzi were so bad when they replaced those three guys.

      I can only blame Rizzo so much for this. Moore and Bernadina in particular seemed like they would be decent or even good replacements based on their career minor and major league numbers. Sometimes guys just have terrible years for reasons unknown, and unfortunately it happened every Nats bench player in the same season.

      • adcwonk - Sep 24, 2013 at 1:53 PM

        Another line of proof that leads to the same conclusion:

        Bench players in 2013:
        Lombo .259
        TyMo .220
        Shark .178
        Tracy .184
        Hairston .245

        Bench players in 2012:

        Lombo .273
        Shark .291
        TyMo .263
        Ankiel .228
        Nady .157
        Tracy .269

        That’s a pretty big difference.

        (One might be tempted to use PH batting average as a proxie for the bench. This year, .210 with 17 RBI’s; last year .288 with 26 RBI’s. While that is admittedly a small sample size (225 PA’s or so), it reflects the above)

        Now, conversely, if one did a comparison of the first-stringers, I don’t think we’d see much of a difference overall. (But I don’t have the energy right now)

      • bowdenball - Sep 24, 2013 at 4:23 PM

        Yup. And when you use wRC+ or OPS or some other statistic that accounts for walks and power in addition to hitting, the difference is even more striking. T-Mo and Bernadina in particular went from above-average MLB starter numbers to well below replacement level.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Sep 24, 2013 at 4:17 PM

      Jw, I’m in agreement. This is why I have said the bench cost he Nats dearly. In 2012 Bryce stepped in as a X Factor. Rendon stepped up in 2013 but not as impactful as Bryce.

  3. laddieblahblah - Sep 24, 2013 at 12:56 PM

    Detwiler’s injury really hurt, since the Nats had little depth there. Ryan played, but with a balky shoulder for most of the season. Zim’s balky shoulder hurt the Nats on defense as well as on offense. Espinosa’s poor play may have been, at least in part, due to a shoulder injury which was not surgically corrected. La Roche’s poor play in mid-season was not due to injury, but was probably affected by a loss of 20 lbs due to medication he was taking.

    And that’s before you even get to Werth, Harper and Ramos. If healthy, this team is imposing.

    There are holes to fill, and Rizzo knows what they are.

    The position players are solid, with the exception of ALR, who really had a down year, and who is not getting any younger. That is the one position that may have to be upgraded. The middle of the defense – Ramos, Rendon, Desi and Span is plus, everywhere. All of them, except for Span, can hit with power, and all except Ramos can run. The corner OFers are plus defenders, as well, with power and OBP to go along with that. When healthy, Ryan is one of the best all-around players in MLB. La Roche is the only weak link in that lineup.

    The top 3 starters are set. There will be a new No. 5 guy, and Rizzo has to back up Detwiler next year. Maybe Solis or Purke will be ready by mid-season, and Robbie Ray is now showing how good he can be. Rizzo will address those problems as his first priority.

    The pen was erratic. Rizzo will do something there, too. NatsJack says there are many talented young relievers in the Nats organization.

    No major overhauls are necessary. The Nats will probably be favored to win the NL East, again, next year. I expect a new manager to have them ready on opening day, and for him to come north with the players who will give him the best chance to win, whoever those players turn out to be.

    The new manager will be key. He will have the tools to win, and, IMO, he should play to win. Davey did not always have winning as his first priority. The guys all say he is a player’s manager. That was his greatest strength, as well as his fatal weakness. Win the game first. There is always time and opportunity to stroke the egos later.

    • adcwonk - Sep 24, 2013 at 1:58 PM

      Agreed.

      But here’s a question to throw out to folks: how does one go about getting a good bench? I mean, if a player is decent enough, he can be a starter on the Marlins, Houston, whatever.

      So how easy is it to get a player that’s good enough to be a good bench player, but not good enough that he won’t prefer to be a starter on a team that in 2013 really sucked offensively?

    • adcwonk - Sep 24, 2013 at 2:10 PM

      But disagree with one part: “That was his greatest strength, as well as his fatal weakness. Win the game first. There is always time and opportunity to stroke the egos later.”

      I think what many fail to appreciate, is that sometimes by _being_ a player’s manager, you get the best out of the players. E.g., when Desmond and Espi were pressing, Davey told them both: you guys are my starters, don’t stress. He boosted both of them. It worked in Desi’s case, it didn’t in Espi’s case.

      But also a “players” manager is someone who is completely straight with the players, and treats the players like professions. That is what works for most players.

      And, finally, I’m not generally a big critic of any manager’s style, because different styles work for different managers/coaches. The best example (if I could use a football one) is Tony Dungee. My father-in-law is a big Bucs fan, and I remember him telling me that the biggest criticism of Dungy was that he was too laid back, never yelled, etc., and therefore could never take the Bucs to the next level. We all know how that ended: Dungy eventually got fired, then got hired by the Colts, where, in 7 years he had 4 1st place finishes and a Super Bowl ring. Dungy couldn’t act like a Ditka. And he shouldn’t. I wouldn’t work for him. And Ditka couldn’t act like a Dungy, it wouldn’t work for him. Davey is Davey, and it works well. You don’t take four different teams to the playoffs and win Manager of the Year in two different leagues (and finished 2d in M-of-Year four times), top 10 W/L Pct all time (for post 1900) when you have too many fatal flaws.

  4. tcostant - Sep 24, 2013 at 1:45 PM

    I was able to take part in an excellent full season ticket offer that the Nationals offered in the Mezzanine Section that was B2G2 (Buy Two Get Two) in 2013. This program sold out and the Nationals are no longer offering plans in this price range for 2014, except for renewals. I’m looking for a couple of new partners and will pass all those savings on to my group. Looking for anyone willing to take 10 games or more.

    Email me if interested at my id adress with hotmail dot com after if.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Sep 24, 2013 at 2:47 PM

      Wish I could say yes, but the commute would be difficult.

    • Section 222 - Sep 24, 2013 at 2:52 PM

      Feel free to put up the details (like what section your tix are in) along with your contact info in the new NIDO Bulletin Board:

      http://prettyfrickenbueno.wordpress.com/whos-going/his-her-ni-bbs/

      That way the info will outlast this post, and periodically remind folks here, with a link, if necessary. And delete it when you want. Good luck.

    • tcostant - Sep 24, 2013 at 3:32 PM

      Tickets are in Secition 202 Row H, here is a link to my craiglist ad:

      http://washingtondc.craigslist.org/nva/tix/4079335336.html

  5. adcwonk - Sep 24, 2013 at 2:44 PM

    ALR should bunt against the shift! (Yeah, I know, some of us have been saying that for a while. But here’s from another source)

    http://joeposnanski.blogspot.com/2013/09/a-bunt-to-believe-in.html

    • Eugene in Oregon - Sep 24, 2013 at 2:51 PM

      Not so much because of a shift, but did you see the bunt double that one of the O’s got yesterday? Got it between and beyond the P and 1B, but 2B had gone to cover first. Ball rolled slowly into RF, player rolled triumphantly into second. Not something you could replicate easily or otherwise count on, but a fun play to watch.

    • Section 222 - Sep 24, 2013 at 2:55 PM

      Cano had a fantastic bunt double against the shift a week or two ago. ALR, your mission this off season is to learn to do that. Do it consistently and the shift will be no more, which will mean you’ll get more hits. Do it successfully 1 of 3 times and you’re ahead of the game BA and OBP wise.

    • Section 222 - Sep 24, 2013 at 2:59 PM

      Just saw that Posnanski’s article links to the Cano bunt. Worth a look if you haven’t seen it:

      http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/mlb-big-league-stew/robinson-cano-beats-red-sox-shift-bunt-double-171538695–mlb.html

  6. Section 222 - Sep 24, 2013 at 3:44 PM

    As far as injuries hurting the Nats, I’d rank them: 1. Harper (just look at his April numbers) 2. Ramos (still has started less than half our games) 3. Detwiler (only 13 starts, none since July 3) 4. Zim (defense and offense subpar until August) 5. Espinosa (no comment) 6. Werth (but boy did he come back strong).

    How this compares to other teams I just don’t know. My impression is that lots of very good teams dealt with significant injuries. Certainly this is true of the Braves, Dodgers, and Yankees. None of our starters except for Ramos were sidelined for more than half a season.

    • adcwonk - Sep 24, 2013 at 4:10 PM

      It’s quite possible that Harper was hurt pretty much all year until Sept or so — after last year I was expecting a solid .300 from him this year.

      I think he would have done that if not for the injury — my evidence is:

      1. When he hit that wall, he was batting .303
      2. In Sept he said he’d been playing all year injured; and
      3. over his last 30 games, he’s been hitting .323

      My point being — we didn’t just lose him for the month of June, we lost the *full* Harper for July and August, too.

      • Steady Eddie - Sep 24, 2013 at 4:56 PM

        Correction — entering the April 30 game when he hit the wall for the first time, in Atlanta, Harper was hitting .356. The damage from that alone was so dramatic that he lost 53 points off his BA in 12 games.

        Granted, BAs can swing pretty quickly that early in the season, but he was already badly bruised and impaired by the first wall collision. He’s done better this month but still doesn’t have consistent power off his left side to drive the ball at all as he did. And his running is not nearly the threat it was in terms of putting consistent pressure on fielders to make quick snags and throws from anywhere.

        He’s been significantly impaired since April 30, which makes the accomplishments he has made all the more remarkable.

        Hopefully he can heal up fully over the winter, and resume being the player he was in April (but maybe with an even better eye and plate discipline that he’s had to learn even more playing hurt.

      • JamesFan - Sep 24, 2013 at 6:58 PM

        Don’t make excuses for him. He is having huge trouble with slow breaking stuff. He does not recognize breaking balls down. He’ll learn, but this is not about injuries.

      • Steady Eddie - Sep 24, 2013 at 7:50 PM

        Harper’s performance this year is”not about injuries”? You’re nuts.

  7. Baseballswami - Sep 24, 2013 at 3:49 PM

    This team came out of spring training playing defense that was not sharp, and I am not talking about Zim’s shoulder( which was also a factor). The whole team came up from Fla looking not quite ready and not clicking. The bullpen had no lefties, still had HRod and was not very solid in general. There were tons of things that contributed, including a manager who is starting to lose a step.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Sep 24, 2013 at 4:04 PM

      Hard to argue the Dodgers came out looking sharp.

      I think the Nats were flat for the first half, and then panicked a bit in July, and the Braves, being experienced in this sort of thing, took advantage when they could. Or maybe it WAS all Rick Eckstein’s fault.

      • natsfan1a - Sep 24, 2013 at 4:39 PM

        Speaking of the Braves and their experience, here’s hoping that their early October exit experience repeats. What?

    • David Proctor - Sep 24, 2013 at 4:28 PM

      I think almost half of Ian Desmond’s errors came in the first 2 weeks of the season. Bizarre.

  8. slidell2 - Sep 24, 2013 at 6:50 PM

    In 2012, I saw LaRoche casually flip a hard bunt between 3rd and Short against the shift. So he knows how to do it. Why he doesn’t, I don’t know.

  9. JamesFan - Sep 24, 2013 at 6:56 PM

    No excuses. Every team has injuries and many in the playoffs had more than the Nats. No whining about ump and all that. The heart of the order did not deliver until September when it was too late. Our first baseman hit .240 and did not drive in runs. DJ stayed with a strike out machine at second for way too long. The pen let too many get away, and the team made far too many errors and fundamental mistakes.

    That’s the reality.

  10. Joe Seamhead - Sep 24, 2013 at 7:37 PM

    Injury factor? Ramos, Zimmerman, Harper, etc. but never underestimate how much the knucklehead Mattheus cost us.

  11. letswin3 - Sep 24, 2013 at 8:22 PM

    Duke and Henry cost us dearly for, what, 2 or 3 months. Danny and ALR had years that would get a player in AA sent down to A-ball. Zim’s shoulder affected both his hitting (early in the year) and his throwing all year. And if you dont think that Harper was affected nearly every day since he ran into that wall, you must be on a different planet (hell, he was still limping like crazy just 7 or 8 games ago). Add the absence of Ramos into the equation, coupled with Davey’s frequent inability to get a pitcher out of there until one or two batters too late, and you have a recipe for decreased production. The old “wait till next year” phrase is on my lips right now……dump ALR for what you can get (replace him with Moore, Zim or a player to be traded for), add a starter to replace Haren, replace some of the bench and get the guys relatively healthy….if it “ain’t broke” (and it ain’t) , just spuce it up a little, and let the new manager do his thing.

  12. Joe Seamhead - Sep 24, 2013 at 9:14 PM

    Zimmerman will not play first base next year. Highly unlikely it will happen in 2015 either.

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