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

Joey Gallo is a Yankee, Eduardo Escobar is a Brewer, and Starling Marte will finish his season in Oakland. It’s already been a fast-paced trade season, and there are still a lot of deals that could be done before Friday’s deadline. But as I noted in a piece on Wednesday that looked at the most impactful players on the IL for American League contenders, there are top-flight pitchers and hitters who are not going to be traded but are waiting in the wings. Today I want to look at the NL side of things.

As a reminder, I calculated team injury impact to date this season by looking at the injury ledger data from Baseball Prospectus to determine each team’s injury impact to date in FanGraphs WAR compared to preseason projections. Additionally, while most of the teams I identified as contending had at least one impactful player on the IL, one did not; I’ll still spend some time on the Padres, but they will need to look to the trade market for reinforcements.

Finally, the cutoff for contending is defined as having playoff odds greater than 30%. I’m sure that will frustrate some Philadelphia and Atlanta fans who believe their teams still have a chance to chase down the Mets. For what it’s worth, the Braves are hoping that Ian Anderson and Drew Smyly can return to throw meaningful innings and that Travis d’Arnaud will return to catch them. The Phillies have zero projected position player WAR on the IL at the moment, although starting pitcher Zach Eflin’s return from the 10-day IL should bolster the rotation.

With those caveats in mind, let’s take a closer look at the impact injuries have had on the National League so far in 2021:

NL Playoff Contender Odds & Injured Player WAR
Team FG Playoff Odds WAR Lost % of WAR Lost
Dodgers 99.4% 6.8 13.4%
Giants 94.4% 3.3 13.3%
Brewers 93.1% 2.4 7.1%
Padres 89.4% 4.7 10.3%
Mets 75.7% 7.8 17.7%
SOURCE: Baseball Prospectus
Playoff odds and projected WAR from FanGraphs. Length of IL stay from Baseball Prospectus.

No contending team has lost as much projected player value to injury in 2021 as the Mets. That 17.7% is substantially higher than the Dodgers and the Giants, who are clustered around 13%, and all three of those totals top the highest team in the AL (the Rays at 11.2%). On the flip side, the Brewers have been remarkably healthy this season. We’ll talk more about how that has helped them pull away in the NL Central below. First, let’s take a closer look at the NL West.

National League West

Dodgers: 62-41, 99.4% Playoff Odds

The Dodgers have the top two position players by rest-of-season WAR on the sidelines: 2020 MVP Mookie Betts (who landed on the IL with hip inflammation on July 22) and Corey Seager. Betts has accumulated 2.9 WAR over 374 plate appearances with a .374 wOBA and a 138 wRC+; our projections have him adding an NL-leading 1.9 WAR over 207 plate appearances when he returns. Seager has been out nearly three months with a broken hand, including a setback earlier this month. He’s currently working out at the Dodgers’ spring training complex, and it’s unclear if he’ll need an additional rehab assignment. Our projections have Seager with 1.7 WAR over 199 plate appearances going forward.

Those aren’t the only All-Stars out for the Dodgers; they’re also down Clayton Kershaw, who hit the IL with elbow inflammation on July 4. Thankfully for Los Angeles, he threw a three-inning sim game on Tuesday and should return soon. Our projections see him making 10 starts and throwing 60 innings over the final stretch with a 3.18 ERA and 3.28 FIP.

Below are the rest of the NL’s most impactful pitchers on the IL sorted by rest-of-season WAR:

Impact of Pitchers on the IL – ROS
Player Team IP ERA FIP WAR
Jacob deGrom NYM 56 2.34 2.21 2.1
Clayton Kershaw LAD 60 3.18 3.27 1.4
Carlos Carrasco NYM 49 3.20 3.25 1.1
Noah Syndergaard NYM 19 3.47 3.37 0.4
Dinelson Lamet SDP 11.6 3.45 3.32 0.2

Giants: 63-38, 94.4% Playoff Odds

One of the risks of an older lineup like San Francisco’s is injury, and the Giants have had their fair share of those in 2021. Before I get into specific players, it’s worth noting that all of these players (except Tommy La Stella) were having resurgent campaigns, and that our projections think all of them (again, minus La Stella) will regress. I’m normally confident in those projections, but in this instance, it seems at least possible that they are missing something about the Giants’ veteran players.

Evan Longoria sprained his shoulder during an infield collision on June 6 and is on the 60-day IL until at least August 5 but has been cleared to resume baseball activities. He was amid a resurgent campaign with a .380 wOBA and 141 wRC+ across 186 plate appearances but is projected for a wOBA of just .320 and only 0.5 WAR when he returns.

Two and a half weeks after they lost Longoria, the Giants placed Brandon Belt on the IL with a knee sprain. The first baseman, who began a rehab assignment at Triple-A Sacramento on Tuesday, has a .374 wOBA and 1.1 WAR in 201 plate appearances, though he’s projected for a .343 wOBA and 0.6 WAR when he returns. He’s a bit behind San Francisco’s other veteran Brandon, Brandon Crawford, who was activated off the IL on Thursday. The 34-year-old had put up a 3.3 WAR season with a .381 wOBA before he an oblique injury suffered two weeks ago sidelined him.

Buster Posey is not on the injured list as of this writing, but the longtime backstop was pulled from last night’s game after a foul tip to his face mask “rang his bell.” He has been putting up numbers that rival his 2012 MVP season, admittedly with fewer plate appearances, with a .408 wOBA and 159 wRC+. Here’s the complete list of NL impact position player stats, sorted by rest-of-season projected WAR:

Impact of Position Players on the IL – ROS
Player Team PA wOBA wRC+ WAR
Mookie Betts LAD 207 .374 138 1.9
Corey Seager LAD 199 .367 134 1.7
Buster Posey SFG 162 .334 111 1.3
Christian Yelich MIL 194 .367 129 1.2
Francisco Lindor NYM 134 .337 115 1.0
Brandon Crawford SFG 171 .318 101 0.8
Brandon Belt SFG 158 .343 117 0.6
Gavin Lux LAD 153 .318 102 0.6
Evan Longoria SFG 121 .320 102 0.5
Tommy La Stella SFG 111 .324 105 0.4

Padres: 59-45, 89.4% Playoff Odds

The Padres are a lot healthier than either of their divisional foes, with no position players currently on the IL. Their rotation and bullpen also appear to be among the healthiest in baseball. It is possible that Dinelson Lamet could make some meaningful appearances down the stretch, but likely not many; we project him for 17 innings out of the bullpen and rotation with a respectable 3.45 ERA and 3.32 FIP.

National League Central

Brewers: 60-42, 93.3% Playoff Odds

In a year full of injuries, the Brewers have been one of the healthiest teams among contenders, with only 7.1% of their total projected WAR lost so far this season, and have a rotation that’s been mostly untouched by sprains and strains. As you can see below, only the White Sox had a smaller percentage of total projected WAR lost among pitchers:

Pitcher IL WAR
Team Div WAR IL WAR % WAR Missed
CHW AL 18 0.7 3.66%
MIL NL 16.1 0.7 4.36%
HOU AL 13.3 1.2 9.15%
OAK AL 13.7 1.3 9.77%
LAD NL 20.7 2.1 9.90%
SFG NL 11.9 1.4 11.43%
NYY AL 21.4 2.5 11.72%
BOS AL 14.2 1.7 11.91%
SDP NL 21.1 2.9 13.57%
NYM NL 22.6 4.5 19.71%
TBR AL 14.1 2.8 19.86%

As the Brewers scour the trade market, the hope is that Christian Yelich will come back as something closer to his 2018 MVP form. He’s still been an above-average hitter, but his .335 wOBA and a 108 wRC+ are a far cry from 2018’s .422 wOBA and 167 wRC+. He’s currently on the IL after a breakthrough COVID test, his second stint there this year; he spent 14 days there with a lower back strain in May. Our projections see Yelich with a .367 wOBA, a 167 wRC+, and 1.2 WAR, which would be a big boon to the Brewers if it materialized.

National League East

Mets: 54-47, 75.7% Playoff Odds

No team in contention has weathered as many injuries as the Mets as a percentage of projected WAR, but when you look at the names on top of the list of players currently sidelined, you begin to get an understanding for why our projections don’t think anyone in the division will chase them down when they get healthy.

Jacob deGrom was otherworldly with a 1.08 ERA and 1.22 FIP over 92 innings before forearm tightness shut him down. Even if he regresses a bit, as our projections think he will, he’s still the most valuable pitcher on the IL. He’s scheduled to throw a light bullpen session on Thursday, and assuming he comes out of that with no issues, we project he’ll throw 54 innings for a 2.34 ERA, 2.21 FIP and 2.1 WAR the rest of the way.

The Mets should also see Carlos Carrasco for the first time this season over the weekend; he’s scheduled to start on Friday against Cincinnati. Carrasco has not pitched in 2021 after suffering a hamstring strain at the end of spring training and a sore elbow suffered while rehabbing. If he can stay healthy, the projections have him at 49 innings worth 1.1 WAR with a 3.20 ERA and a 3.25 FIP.

There is also a decent chance the Mets will still see Noah Syndergaard this season even after he underwent Tommy John surgery last summer and suffered a setback in a rehab start in May. Syndergaard threw a bullpen session on Tuesday, and while his role is up in the air, our projections have him throwing 19 innings between the bullpen and the rotation with a 3.47 ERA, 3.37 FIP and 0.4 WAR.

On the position player side of things, Francisco Lindor landed on the IL with an oblique strain on July 17, which will keep him out into August. He’s struggled relative to his past performance but had seemed to be heating up in June and July, with a .329 wOBA in the former month and a .429 mark in the latter. If that version of Lindor returns in August, it would be better than most of the position players the Mets could add through a trade, though our projections have him putting up a more modest .337 wOBA with a 115 wRC+ across 134 plate appearances for the rest of his season.

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1 year ago

No one quite understands what’s going on with the Giants. fasten your seat belts and hold on, a black swan may be landing in the post season.

1 year ago

Feels like BALCO 2.0… I think these SF geezers (Posey, Crawford et al) have found a new drug.