It looked as though Gleyber Torres’ number was up. One by one, from late March onward, the Yankees had sent every member of their expected 2019 starting lineup to the injured list at some point except Torres. From Didi Gregorius’ ulnar collateral ligament and Aaron Hicks’ back on March 28, through Miguel Andújar’s labrum, Giancarlo Stanton’s biceps, Gary Sánchez’s calf, Aaron Judge’s oblique, Luke Voit’s abdominal muscle, and Brett Gardner’s knee, injuries caused all of them to drop like flies. Multiple waves of reinforcements, the likes of Troy Tulowitzki, Clint Frazier, Kendrys Morales, Cameron Maybin, and Edwin Encarnación, met similar fates. When Torres left Tuesday night’s game against the Orioles in the middle of the third inning due to what was described as “core pain” — his second early departure in three nights — and returned to New York for testing, an IL stint appeared to be a foregone conclusion.
The Yankees had even gone so far as to summon infielder Thairo Estrada from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to Baltimore while Torres received an MRI, but he wasn’t needed. Via manager Aaron Boone, “[Torres] went through a battery of tests today and everything checked out OK. MRIs, testing again for a sports hernia, any strains, and everything turned out to be negative. Looking at him as day to day. I think he’s upbeat, he feels good, so he’s on his way back now, and he’ll travel with us to Toronto.”
The 22-year-old Torres has built upon a strong 2018 rookie campaign that itself included a 20-day stint on the disabled list for a right hip strain. His numbers — .281/.347/.505 with 23 homers, a 120 wRC+, and 2.3 WAR — are a near carbon copy of last year’s; he’s one homer shy of his total and his wRC+ is identical, while his WAR is already higher in 18 fewer games. He made the AL All-Star team for the second straight season, and even with a modest slump to start the second half, his line conceals slight improvements in his strikeout and walk rates as well as his defense. In the time between Tulowitzki’s calf strain and Gregorious’ return from Tommy John surgery, he more than held his own in a 64-game stint covering shortstop.
Torres has played a team-high 105 of the Yankees’ 114 games. He survived a couple of smaller injury scares, missing four games in May due to a bruised right elbow after being hit by a pitch and a couple in early June due to a sore left shoulder, the origin of which was unclear. He left Sunday night’s win over the Red Sox in the eighth inning due to the onset of this “core issue.” Via Yahoo Sports’ Mike Mazzeo, earlier in the game he had appeared to be running to first base with some amount of discomfort. He went to the hospital for tests, but according to the New York Daily News’ Kristie Ackert, Torres said that doctors had ruled out a sports hernia via ultrasound. He played all nine innings of Monday’s game against the Orioles in Baltimore, but he departed mid-game on Tuesday night, just after striking out in his 11th straight plate appearance without a hit.
Aside from Torres, infielder DJ LeMahieu and backup catcher Austin Romine are the only Yankees position players who have spent the entire season on the active 25-man roster. LeMahieu, whose 102 games played is second on the team, missed four games in late July and early August due to a low-grade groin strain but has thus far avoided the IL. Gio Urshela, whose 93 games ranks fifth on the team (Gardner, with 99, and Voit, with 94, are between the two), has been healthy all season aside from assorted bruises, including a scary one that occurred when he fouled a ball off his left shin during Sunday’s game, causing him to sit on both Monday and Tuesday. The only time he wasn’t on the 25-man roster was at the beginning of the season; he played two games at Triple-A before joining the Yankees.
For as banged up as the Yankees have been — and their litany of injuries includes the season-to-date losses of Luis Severino and Dellin Betances (both of whom are working towards returns) plus three trips to the IL for CC Sabathia and one apiece for James Paxton and Domingo Germán — they own the AL’s highest winning percentage (.658, 75-39). All the more remarkably, they’ve done that while leading the majors in terms of total players, days, and dollars lost to the IL. Via data from Sportrac:
A couple of caveats here: when I clicked through to audit the Yankees’ totals, I initially counted only 24 different players (totaling 31 stints), with slight discrepancies in the totals of days and dollars as well, discrepancies that appear to relate to Encarnación, who isn’t listed on either of the Sportrac’ pages for the Yankees or the Mariners, from whom he was acquired (for pitching prospect Juan Then) on June 15. The fact that those two teams and the Rays — who were involved in the December 2018 three-team trade that sent Encarnación to Seattle in the first place — are all paying parts of his salary might be causing some glitch on the site, and it certainly muddies the accounting waters; I’ve based his figure above on the $8 million share being paid by the Yankees. I also noticed that Sportrac’s meter was still running on Tulowitzki, who announced his retirement on July 25, and have adjusted his totals (based on a $555,000 minimum salary) downward. Here’s the individual breakdown of the breakdowns, including the team’s 17 active IL stints:
|Dellin Betances||RP||Shoulder||60-day||3/28 –||133||$5,184,074|
|Jacoby Ellsbury||CF||Foot||60-day||3/28 –||133||$15,118,243|
|Ben Heller||RP||Elbow TJS||60-day||3/28 –||133||$396,872|
|Jordan Montgomery||SP||Elbow TJS||60-day||3/28 –||133||$426,664|
|Luis Severino||SP||Shoulder||60-day||3/28 –||133||$2,860,165|
|Giancarlo Stanton||DH||Knee/Biceps||10-day||4/1 – 6/18, 6/26 –||122||$17,053,770|
|Miguel Andújar||3B||Shoulder||10-day||5/13 –||121||$401,720|
|Troy Tulowitzki||SS||Calf||60-day||4/4 -7/25||114||$340,176|
|Greg Bird||1B||Foot||60-day||4/16 –||114||$735,528|
|Jonathan Loaisiga||RP||Shoulder||60-day||5/13 –||87||$262,218|
|Jake Barrett||RP||Elbow||60-day||5/23 –||77||$229,768|
|Didi Gregorius||SS||Elbow TJS||60-day||3/28 – 6/7||72||$4,548,384|
|Aaron Judge||RF||Oblique||10-day||4/21 – 6/21||62||$228,098|
|Kendrys Morales||DH||Calf||10-day||6/13 –||56||$3,612,896|
|Aaron Hicks||CF||Arm/Back||10-day||3/28 – 5/13, 8/4 –||51||$1,645,158|
|Cameron Maybin||RF||Calf||10-day||6/22 – 7/26||35||$104,440|
|CC Sabathia||SP||Knee/Heart||10-day||4/3 – 4/13, 5/23 – 6/2, 7/28 –||33||$1,419,363|
|Gary Sanchez||C||Groin/Calf||10-day||4/11 – 4/24, 7/24 –||29||$104,429|
|Domingo Germán||SP||Hip||10-day||6/8 – 7/3||26||$80,730|
|James Paxton||SP||Knee||10-day||5/4 – 5/29||26||$1,198,652|
|Luke Voit||1B||Hernia/Abdominal||10-day||6/30 – 7/13, 7/31 –||22||$67,804|
|Clint Frazier||OF||Ankle||10-day||4/25 – 5/6||12||$36,336|
|Brett Gardner||LF||Knee||10-day||7/22 – 8/2||12||$483,876|
|David Hale||RP||Back||10-day||7/31 –||8||$23,872|
|Edwin Encarnación||DH||Wrist||10-day||8/3 –||4||$301,887|
Sportrac’s injury data only goes back to the start of the 2015 season, but for the five-season period, only the 2015 Nationals (2,098 days), ’17 Mets (1,997 days), and ’16 Rangers (1,892 days) have lost more player-days. Only those 2017 Mets ($62,720,693) and last year’s Mets ($87,322,487) and Yankees ($63,862,970) have paid more salary to injured players. Prorating the current Yankees’ totals for the 186-day season yields $79,525,661, but some of those players currently injured are likely to return, and the IL typically isn’t used in September. Who knows what else could befall the players, but it certainly appears possible for them to wind up first in days and second in dollars lost for the 2015-19 stretch.
Both the 2016 Rangers and last year’s Yankees made the postseason in spite of their numerous wounds, and this year’s Yankees have a 99.9% chance of doing the same. That’s in large part due to the work of the aforementioned reinforcements, whom general manager Brian Cashman scared up on the cheap, at least aside from Frazier (.283/.330/.513, 116 wRC+, 0.3 WAR), who came over in the 2016 Andrew Miller trade and has languished at Triple-A since the arrival of Encarnación (.238/.327/.497, 112 wRC+, 0.6 WAR) in mid-June. Urshela (.319/.363/.547, 136 wRC+, 2.2 WAR) was purchased from the Blue Jays last August 4, while Maybin (.327/.406/.540, 150 wRC+, 1.5 WAR) arrived from the Indians — a team whose outfield production has been the bane of their existence — via the same route on April 25. Outfielder Mike Tauchman (.294/.372/.554, 141 wRC+, 2.0 WAR) was acquired from the Rockies in a trade for lefty reliever Phillip Diehl on March 23. Morales (.177/.320/.242, 61 wRC+, -0.4 WAR) arrived from the A’s via a trade for a player to be named later on May 14. Not all of those moves have worked out — Morales drew his release on July 2, and Encarnación has scuffled somewhat before also landing on the IL — but together, they’ve combined to hit .289/.357/.515 with a 129 wRC+ and 6.2 WAR in 1,140 PA. That’s above-average production from the equivalent of two full-time position players — 3.5 WAR per 650 PA — where backup-caliber work could have been expected. Throw in what LeMahieu has done (.335/.384/.531, 140 wRC+, and a team-high 4.1 WAR), which includes the AL’s highest batting average, and well, it adds up.
Given that the Yankees have opened up a season-high 10-game lead in the AL East, an IL stint for Torres would probably be the more prudent course of action and would certainly not affect the team’s chances of winning the division. Now he’s just one more player whose aches and pains the team must monitor, and while there’s been good news on that front — Stanton resumed light baseball activity on Wednesday, and Severino is scheduled to throw off a mound for the first time in months on Friday, with Betances perhaps following on Monday — the possibility of surgery and a six-week absence still looms for Voit. The closest thing to certainty appears to be that no matter who’s wearing the pinstripes, these Yankees will find a way to keep rolling through the remainder of the regular season.
Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.