Gleyber Torres is the Yankees’ Last Man Standing

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:

Injury Days and Dollars, 2019
Team Players Days Dollars
Yankees 25 1,765 $56,657,112
Mets 19 796 $36,598,651
Red Sox 13 755 $28,739,515
Phillies 24 1,170 $27,935,804
Mariners 19 1,062 $27,003,552
Angels 23 1,121 $26,483,333
Giants 9 454 $24,400,831
Dodgers 21 587 $23,176,023
Cardinals 16 907 $22,955,517
Orioles 13 622 $21,405,982
Indians 16 870 $20,162,037
Tigers 15 827 $19,353,173
Nationals 20 898 $18,746,621
Cubs 16 835 $17,852,703
Astros 11 659 $15,443,022
Pirates 22 1,273 $14,468,553
Diamondbacks 13 893 $13,834,818
Royals 9 632 $12,101,801
Braves 13 398 $10,718,950
Rockies 17 556 $10,672,024
Brewers 16 749 $10,153,209
Reds 13 360 $10,094,754
Padres 16 1,307 $10,005,258
Athletics 15 871 $9,790,808
Jays 16 980 $9,339,291
Rangers 16 1,019 $8,258,057
Twins 16 365 $8,144,341
Sox 14 676 $8,063,586
Marlins 16 795 $5,971,154
Rays 19 839 $5,146,544
Total 491 25,041 $533,677,024
SOURCE: https://www.spotrac.com/mlb/disabled-list/cumulative-team/
Data through August 6.

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:

Yankees Lost to Injury, 2019
Player Pos Body Part List Dates Days Dollars
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
Total 1748 $56,865,123
SOURCE: https://www.spotrac.com/mlb/disabled-list/cumulative-player/new-york-yankees/
*Encarnación’s data was missing from the Sportrac page. All data through August 6. Yellow shading indicates IL stint is still ongoing. TJS = Tommy John surgery.

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.

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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.

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London Yank
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London Yank

Tauchman in particular has been incredible both defensively and offensively. He’s riding an unsustainable babip, but his walk rates are good and he has been making consistent hard contact. His robbed HR the other night against Baltimore is also worth a watch for anyone who hasn’t seen it.