Trades Aren’t the Only Way to Upgrade: Injured Players Who Could Have an Impact in the AL

The trade deadline is upon us, but as I was thinking about the deals that could get done between now and Friday, I kept looking at the Baseball Prospectus Injury Ledger, since quite a few contenders have some very good players waiting in the wings. So today I wanted to take a look at the most impactful players who are currently on, or just off, the injured list for AL contenders as the trade deadline looms; I’ll follow it up with a look at NL contenders later this week.

There are players on these lists who could make or break their teams’ ability to make it to the postseason, and there are players who may not make it off the IL in time to help, which leads me to some important caveats. First, injuries are not all created equal, and players have setbacks all the time. These are projections that can and will shift.

Second, I don’t have a crystal ball; I used our playoff projections and only included teams that had at least a 30% chance of making the playoffs. That means the Blue Jays, who were in the first draft of this piece, ultimately just missed; our odds currently have them at 27.5% chance to make the playoffs. For any Blue Jays fans who are annoyed by this, I get it. That said, they were both borderline in terms of playoff odds and in terms of the most impactful players returning; only Danny Jansen and Alek Manoah would have pinged on this list.

Finally, having a 30% shot at the playoffs doesn’t mean you have players sitting on the IL who can push you over the top. Chad Pinder isn’t going to be the hero of Oakland’s season, which is no shade to either. But if the A’s are going to compete in the second half, they probably need to focus on the trade market, like they did Monday night in adding Andrew Chafin to their bullpen.

With those caveats in mind, I took our preseason WAR projections combined with the IL stay information from Baseball Prospectus to calculate the amount of WAR each contending team lost due to player injuries in 2021. It’s obviously not perfect; for example, if our preseason projections missed a breakout, that player would be undervalued in these tables, as would the impact of their injury. However, it’s still a useful proxy for understanding what contending teams are missing.

AL Playoff Contender Odds & Injured Player WAR
Team FG Playoff Odds WAR Lost % of WAR Lost
Red Sox 96.3% 2.10 5.97%
Athletics 38.3% 2.30 6.71%
Astros 97.8% 3.80 9.11%
White Sox 99.4% 3.80 10.70%
Yankees 42.0% 5.50 11.11%
Rays 84.2% 3.60 11.18%
SOURCE: Baseball Prospectus
Playoff odds and projected WAR from FanGraphs. Length of IL stay from Baseball Prospectus.

It’s immediately noticeable that some of these teams are much healthier than others. The Red Sox and Athletics have both made it through their season with relatively little WAR lost. The Rays, on the other hand, have taken the heaviest hit, with the Astros close behind and the White Sox and Yankees sitting somewhere in the middle.

American League East

Red Sox: 62–39, 96.3 Playoff Odds%

The Red Sox are sitting in the catbird seat in one of the most competitive divisions in baseball. They are also on the cusp of of one of the biggest possible player returns if Chris Sale’s recovery stays on track. He is scheduled to make his fourth rehab start on July 31 at Triple-A Worcester after striking out nine batters over 3.2 innings in his last rehab start at Double-A Portland. Our rest-of-season projections have him as the biggest impact starting pitcher likely to return for the second half, with 1.2 WAR over 46 innings and eight starts. That’s the same amount of WAR that Boston’s most valuable pitcher to-date, Nathan Eovaldi, is projected to add to the team over the rest of the year.

On the position player side of the equation, Boston awaits the return of Christian Arroyo, who suffered a hamstring injury on July 19. Arroyo has put up a 114 wRC+ and .342 wOBA so far, good for 1.3 WAR over 170 plate appearances. He’s also been a plus defender up the middle for the Red Sox in limited playing time, ranking in the 86th percentile in outs above average according to Statcast. Our projections have Arroyo regressing a bit when he returns, with a 98 wRC+ and .318 wOBA over 129 plate appearances.

Rays: 60–41, 84.2% Playoff Odds

Most of the Rays position players on the IL won’t be critically important adds down the stretch, though they did get Manuel Margot back on Tuesday; our projections see him adding 0.6 WAR over 134 plate appearances.

The bigger impact would be if Tyler Glasnow and Chris Archer return healthy in the second half. Our projections are less optimistic about Glasnow returning in the short-term, projecting him for only two more regular-season starts to a tune of 0.3 WAR. Prior to hitting the IL with a UCL sprain in mid-June, Glasnow was putting together a Cy Young-caliber season, with a 2.66 ERA and a 2.76 FIP over 88 innings pitched, good for 2.5 WAR. Unsurprisingly, the Rays took a 4.1% hit to their playoff odds the day Glasnow went on the IL, then followed that up with a seven-game losing streak that dropped their chances all the way to 44.7% on July 3. Tampa Bay has turned things around since then and currently holds playoff odds of 84.3%; the real value of getting Glasnow back would be his ability to anchor the Rays’ rotation in October.

Archer is a bit more of a wild card. On the IL since April 11 with forearm tightness, he was impressive in his last two rehab starts, throwing three innings, allowing two hits and striking out four on July 23, then throwing 3.2 innings of one-hit ball Tuesday night in Triple-A Durham. We currently project a healthy Archer to contribute 0.6 WAR over 43 innings down the stretch, which puts him among the top three pitchers possibly returning in the second half in 2021.

Impact of Pitchers on the IL – ROS
Player Team IP ERA FIP WAR
Chris Sale Red Sox 46 3.29 3.13 1.2
Chris Archer Rays 43 4.31 4.15 0.6
Tyler Glasnow Rays 14 3.41 3.19 0.3
Luis Severino Yankees 36 3.81 3.91 0.6
Corey Kluber Yankees 21 4.01 4.08 0.4
José Urquidy Astros 40 4.55 4.63 0.4

Yankees: 52–47, 42.0% Playoff Odds

The Yankees’ starting rotation has not lived up to expectations beyond Gerrit Cole’s starts and Corey Kluber’s early-season heroics. Enter Luis Severino, who threw 38 pitches in a simulated game at Fenway Park on Saturday and looks to begin a rehab stint this week. Our projections have Severino throwing 36 innings for 0.6 WAR if he can make it back without any issues.

Severino’s injury was built into the Yankees’ 2021 expectations, but Kluber’s was not. He threw 53.1 excellent innings before being shut down with a subscapularis muscle strain. The recovery timetable was optimistic, with Kluber hoping to start a throwing program in mid-June, but has gotten progressively delayed. He’s now expected to return to the rotation in September rather than August. Kluber could add 21 quality innings and 0.4 WAR according to our projections, though he’s running out of time to get there.

On the offensive side of the ledger, the Yankees’ injuries have ranged from season-ending, in the case of Aaron Hicks‘ wrist, to repetitive, like the ailments that have kept Luke Voit off the roster for 78 days and counting. They’ve also had two COVID outbreaks that have taken out significant portions of their roster in May and again after the All-Star break, despite being one of the first teams to reach the 85% vaccination threshold. One of the players finally off the COVID IL is Aaron Judge, who is projected for 242 plate appearances with a .381 wOBA and  2.1 WAR, the highest rest-of-season projection for position players in this article. You can see the complete list below:

Impact of Position Players on the IL – ROS
Player Team PA wOBA wRC+ WAR
Aaron Judge Yankees 242 .381 145 2.1
Alex Bregman Astros 194 .374 143 1.7
Eloy Jiménez White Sox 208 .365 135 1.1
Luke Voit Yankees 218 .351 129 0.9
Yasmani Grandal White Sox 107 .346 121 0.9
Luis Robert White Sox 137 .332 113 0.9
Aledmys Díaz Astros 88 .320 107 0.3
Manuel Margot Rays 142 .311 101 0.6
Christian Arroyo Red Sox 127 .318 98 0.5
Kyle Higoshioka Yankees 75 .297 88 0.4

AL Central

White Sox: 60–41, 99.4% Playoff Odds

The White Sox are dominating their division despite losing two of their biggest boppers to the IL for the vast majority of the season. Eloy Jiménez tore a pectoral muscle in spring training but rejoined the team in Kansas City on Monday and put on a show in his second game back on Tuesday night:

The other major blow that Chicago suffered this season was losing Luis Robert to a hip flexor strain. Thanks to the struggles of the rest of the division, though, the White Sox hung on despite that, and their reward is that Robert could rejoin the team as early as mid-August; he was medically cleared to resume baseball activity in late June. He began his rehab assignment at High-A Winston-Salem late last week and was transferred to Triple-A Charlotte last night.

Robert and Jiménez are hugely impactful players; it’s unlikely the White Sox could acquire similar talent in the trade market. We project Jiménez for 1.1 WAR, a 135 wRC+ and a .365 wOBA over 208 plate appearances for the rest of the season. Additionally, we project Robert for 0.8 WAR over 137 plate appearances with a 113 wRC+ and .332 wOBA. Robert has also demonstrated elite defensive skills in centerfield in his career, where he was in the 97th percentile in outs above average according to Statcast in 2021.

The White Sox are also looking forward to the return of Yasmani Grandal, who was having one of the weirdest seasons in MLB history before he had surgery for a torn tendon in his knee on July 7. However, that unorthodox .388 OBP and .188 batting average split still added up to a 135 wRC+ and a .249 ISO. We project Grandal to add 0.9 WAR over 107 plate appearances with a .346 wOBA when he returns.

AL West

Astros 61–40, 96.8% Playoff Odds

The Astros are dominating despite not having third baseman and 2019 MVP runner-up Alex Bregman, who has been on the IL since June 17. Our rest of season projections have Bregman as the second-most impactful player likely to return before the end of the season after Judge, with 1.7 WAR for the Astros over 194 plate appearances down the stretch. He began a rehab assignment in Sugar Land this week. In addition to Bregman, utility man Aledmys Díaz rejoined the team on Monday and is projected for a 107 wRC+ and .320 wOBA as a part-time player across 88 remaining plate appearances.

On the pitching side of the equation the Astros are looking forward to the return of José Urquidy, who threw a sim game on Wednesday as part of his rehab from shoulder discomfort in late June. Urquidy is projected to add 40 innings and 0.4 WAR over the rest of 2021.

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1 year ago

Just a heads up, the Sox AAA affiliate is in Worcester, not Worchester

1 year ago
Reply to  kevinm

No it isn’t, it’s in Charlotte.

Antonio Bananasmember
1 year ago
Reply to  MikeS

Wrong Sox. Charlotte is the ChiSox.

The Red Sox and White Sox fans should clarify by spelling it how they say it.

“Sawx” for Boston
“Sahx” for Chicago.

1 year ago
Reply to  Sara Sanchez

Super easy mistake to make! Or you could just go with “Woostah” every time