Bad Injury News for Ryu and Tatis Jr. Alters Divisional Races

Fernando Tatis Jr.
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Two major bits of unpleasant injury-related news hit the headlines on Tuesday afternoon. First, the Blue Jays announced that Hyun Jin Ryu, a key cog in the rotation, would undergo elbow surgery that would result in him missing the rest of the entire 2022 season. Over in the NL West, a scheduled CT scan revealed that Fernando Tatis Jr. had not seen enough healing in his wrist to allow him to start swinging a bat. Both of these injuries are of the type that could impact the divisional races.

For both Ryu and the Jays, his sore elbow is a major hit. Jay Jaffe has already touched on the impact to Toronto’s rotation from the loss of Ryu. In his case, there were clear signs of something being not quite right leading up to his initial trip to the shelf. Per Jay:

This is already Ryu’s second trip to the injured list this season. After lasting just 7.1 innings over his first two starts and allowing a total of 11 runs, he landed on the IL on April 17 with what was described as forearm inflammation. Upon returning to the Blue Jays on May 14, he fared somewhat better, yielding just six runs (five earned) in 19.2 innings over four starts, but his average four-seam fastball velocity decreased by about one mile per hour from outing to outing, from a high of 90.3 mph on May 14 to a low of 87.6 on June 1 — a troubling trend.

Back then, the timetable was reported to be at least multiple weeks. Full Tommy John surgery would obviously end Ryu’s 2022 campaign, but we’re far enough into the season that even repair of a partially torn UCL wouldn’t allow him to return in the fall. If he should require the full surgery, his 2023 season would definitely be in peril, with only a late-season return being feasible. He’s a free agent after the 2023 season, too, so there’s a very real possibility that he’s played his last game in a Jays uniform.

I wouldn’t characterize it as good news, but Ryu’s previous Tommy John surgery was a long time ago, undergone in 2004 when he was still in high school, meaning he got most of a professional career out of his first surgery before a possible revision procedure. Unfortunately, in one study, less than half of pitchers needing a second procedure returned to pitch at least 10 games.

For a pitcher, the only “good” time to have Tommy John surgery is in retirement. It’s a particularly bad time for the Jays as well. As I wrote about last week, this is the middle of the best two-week period for the Jays to gain ground on the Yankees. Toronto has mostly done its part, winning six of nine against the Orioles, Tigers, and Royals, but New York has continued to win as well; the Jays have actually lost two games in the standings over that stretch, making their task even more difficult.

Ross Stripling, who has done yeoman’s work in a swing role this year, will continue to fill in for Ryu. With Nate Pearson still out from a case of mono that has sidelined him for months, Toronto’s depth has become perilously thin. With 38 games remaining with the playoff-relevant AL East teams (sorry, O’s), without an addition to the roster, the Jays may be an injury away from having Bowden Francis or Casey Lawrence making high-leverage starts down the stretch. My hope is the Jays seize the moment and start trying to pry Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle, or Frankie Montas away from their current employers.

Thanks to the performance of the Yankees, Toronto’s divisional probability dropped off this week even before the news that Ryu was going to miss the rest of the season, going from 29.4% on the morning of June 7 to 20.8% on June 13. Without Ryu, that drops even further, to 17.6%. Toronto needs to start trimming games from New York’s lead soon, or a month from now, the playoff path may only be a wild card spot.

The news for Tatis isn’t quite as bad but is certainly unwelcome. When he originally fractured the scaphoid bone in his left wrist before the season, it was believed that he would be able to return after a three-month absence. With June already halfway done and Tatis not yet even being allowed to take swings, the hopes for that three-month return have been dashed. If the Padres have any indication how long this setback pushes his return back, they’re not talking, so we have that dreaded phrase “no timetable.”

As important as Ryu is to the Jays, Tatis is even more crucial to the Friars. Projected with the second-best ZiPS WAR of any player coming into the season (and first if you assumed he played as many games as Juan Soto, the leader), Tatis is a major part of that offense. The Padres may have the third-most wins in baseball and be in a tie with the preseason favorite Dodgers, but the run scoring hasn’t been the team’s elite part; San Diego only ranks 13th in the league in runs scored and 21st in wRC+ through Wednesday morning. Even with the Dodgers losing Walker Buehler, they project as the superior team, so every week the Padres have to go without Tatis, their chances of defeating the boys in blue decline.

If Tatis had been able to come back tomorrow, ZiPS, because of the Buehler injury, would now favor San Diego in the divisional race (45%) over Los Angeles (37%) and San Francisco (18%). If the worst should happen and Tatis misses the entire season, then the projection becomes Los Angeles at 48%, San Diego at 28%, and San Francisco at 24%. Basically, the Padres lose 5% every month Tatis is gone, the Dodgers get 3%, and the Giants get 2%. Tatis’ actual IL time remains firmly in To Be Determined status.

There’s never a good time for injuries. But for the Padres and Jays, losing the services of Ryu and Tatis come at particular inopportune moments. Both underdogs are a little more underdog than a few days ago, but where there’s a positive magic number, there’s hope.

Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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1 year ago
Reply to  Dan Szymborski

My understanding is that a starting pitcher who isn’t vaxxed wouldn’t miss more than one start unless they are in the AL East (including Toronto, obviously). For example, if he went to the Mariners or Angels, they probably wouldn’t have to worry about it, right? He might miss one start, but wouldn’t that be it unless they faced Toronto in the playoffs?

Of course it’s a good idea to have vaxxed players just so you don’t have more guys end up on the COVID-19 list for longer periods of time. But every team would have that issue if they had Mahle.

Aside from all that, Mahle is interesting because he’s quite a bit younger than either Montas or Castillo, so he’d be a candidate for an extension. Teams with young cores like the Mariners or White Sox might be decent landing spots for him even if they’re not playing that well right now.

1 year ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

While I think you’re right about the relative number of games that Mahle would miss I think Dan is specifically talking about trade targets for the Jays so it’d be a far higher impact.

1 year ago
Reply to  jonah-pride

Yeah for the Jays it would be brutal. It’s not worth it at all for them.