Impact of injuries minimal

Injuries to key players like Garciaparra, Pettitte or Prior doesn't necessarily add up to more losses on the field.

Originally Published: May 4, 2004
By Alan Schwarz | Special to ESPN.com

Forgive my lack of hard data on this, but a team losing a key player to injury usually doesn't do that much harm in the short run. This does make sense: If we assume that adding a superstar free agent can add only five to eight wins over the course of a season, losing an integral player for a month should cost just one or two wins, tops, and often nothing at all.

Anecdotal evidence for this can be found all over the current major league standings. The Cubs have been fine without Mark Prior; the Red Sox are in first place without Nomar Garciaparra and Trot Nixon. Even if their replacements play poorly -- and in Boston's case, they clearly have -- four weeks can be pretty inconsequential. Rather, it can actually have the unexpected benefit of allowing young players -- such as Minnesota's Lew Ford and Colorado's Matt Holliday -- to get playing time and prove surprising worth.

With that in mind, here is a look at the 2004 season's most notable 15 injuries: five that took place during spring training, and 10 that came during the season. For each player we look at how long he's been out, his team's record without him, his replacements, expected return, and effect on the club. You'll be surprised at how often the injury, however alarming at the time, really hasn't appeared to have mattered much at all.

Injuries during spring training

Mark Prior
Mark Prior remains about a month away from returning.
1. MARK PRIOR, rhp, Cubs

Injury: Inflammation in Achilles tendon and elbow.

Team record without him: 15-10.

Replacement(s): Sergio Mitre.

Expected return: Early June.

The Cubs have been oddly clandestine about Prior's status all year, but the absence of arguably their best pitcher hasn't been devastating in the short term. It made room at No. 5 for Sergio Mitre, who has pitched pretty much as could be expected -- 1-1, 4.43, helping the Cubs beat the Pirates and Reds. The Cubs have played well without Prior every five days (also without lefty reliever Mike Remlinger, expected back within two weeks), but his being out another full month would probably start to undercut their main strength of rotation depth.

2. JOSE REYES, 2b, Mets

Injury: Pulled hamstring.

Team record without him: 10-15.

Replacement(s): Ricky Gutierrez, Joe McEwing.

Expected return: Unknown.

Reyes initially hurt his leg running the bases March 14, but has tweaked it several times since, including Thursday in a Class A rehab game. No one knows when he'll return. His absence from the Mets' lineup is more harmful than just inserting disastrously poor offense from Gutierrez (.464 OPS) and McEwing (.436); Reyes put a charge into this team as a rookie last summer, and his not playing casts a pall. His continued problems have become even more infuriating than confounding.

3. NOMAR GARCIAPARRA, ss, Red Sox

Injury: Achilles tendinitis.

Team record without him: 15-10.

Replacement(s): Pokey Reese, Cesar Crespo.

Expected return: Late May or early June.

This injury, incurred when Garciaparra was hit in the heel with a ball in the Sox's first spring-training game, initially was supposed to sideline him only a few days. But now it looks like a minimum of two more weeks, probably three or four. Reese and Crespo's combined sub-.500 OPS (Reese normally would share time with Mark Bellhorn at second) has helped drag the Boston offense to the middle of the pack in the AL after it led the loop in runs last year.

4. TROT NIXON, rf, Red Sox

Injury: Mild herniated disk.

Team record without him: 15-10.

Replacement(s): Gabe Kapler.

Expected return: Within a week.

Kevin Millar has shared right-field duties, but it's primarily Kapler who has gained playing time with Nixon's season-long absence. He has not produced: just a .496 OPS in 21 games, with a double his sole extra-base hit. Back problems are of course dangerous, so it's unlikely that Nixon will produce quite his .975 OPS of a year ago, but his return, along with Garciaparra's, would make Boston's lineup lethal again.

5. JON LIEBER, rhp, Yankees

Injury: Pulled groin.

Team record without him: 14-11.

Replacement(s): Jorge DePaula, Alex Graman.

Lieber returned to beat Kansas City on May 1. No one is shedding any tears for the Yankees' losing their No. 5 for a month, but his absence exposed their thin rotation. Lieber's three starts went to Jorge DePaula (who lost and wound up needing a ligament transplant), Alex Graman (who pitched poorly in a Yankee win) and Javier Vazquez on three days' rest, and he pitched well but lost 2-0 to Boston. It's clear in New York that if any other starters go down, no help at all is around to fill in.

Injuries since Opening Day

Chipper Jones is hitting .325 since the All-Star break with 19 RBI.
1. CHIPPER JONES, lf, Braves

Injury (dates missed): Strained hamstring (April 20-present).

Team record without him: 7-7.

Replacement(s): Dewayne Wise.

Expected return: Later this week.

Jones originally hurt his leg on April 11, missed two games, and then exacerbated it April 18 and had to be carted off the field. (It was his first trip to the DL in eight years.) Wise has not been very effective in his place, batting .250 with five runs scored in the 12 games since. After losing much of their offense last winter, the Braves need Jones to return fast and bolster a middle of the order that's suspect without him.

2. PRESTON WILSON, cf, Rockies

Injury (dates missed): Torn knee cartilage (April 13-present).

Team record without him: 9-9.

Replacement(s): Matt Holliday.

Expected return: June.

The Rockies' outfield already had a major hole with right fielder Larry Walker out since spring training with (yet another) injury, this time to his groin. But when Wilson's sore knee finally evidenced torn cartilage after one week, right fielder Jeromy Burnitz took over in center, left fielder Kit Pellow moved to right, and Holliday slipped into left. Holliday has hit well (.365-3-9 in 15 games) and will probably create problems for Pellow when Wilson comes back, which could be as early as June after initial fears had him missing the remainder of the season.

3. JOE MAUER, c, Twins

Injury (dates missed): Torn knee cartilage (April 7-present).

Team record without him: 13-9.

Replacement(s): Henry Blanco.

Expected return: Mid-May.

Mauer's knee injury, which came early in the second game of the season, popped a balloon that had him winning a Rookie of the Year award before he even made his major league debut. His absence looked even worse when replacement Matt LeCroy pulled a rib-cage muscle the next day and went on the DL himself. Blanco has hit competently in their stead -- a .766 OPS -- which could be just about what Mauer would have done. (The kid's only 20, folks.) In fact, Mauer's sitting out five weeks or more could wind up a blessing: He might retain more stamina for the stretch drive, when the rookie would have had every right to wither.

4. ANDY PETTITTE, lhp, Astros

Injury (dates missed): Strained pitching elbow (April 7-28).

Team record without him: 11-7.

Replacement(s): Jared Fernandez, Brandon Duckworth.

The Astros lost Pettitte after one start, but didn't necessarily feel much effect: They won all three games he would have probably pitched. Not that Fernandez and Duckworth threw well -- they didn't, particularly the knuckleballing Fernandez -- but Houston was clearly not hurt in the standings by his absence. Pettitte returned to beat the Pirates on Thursday.

5. CLIFF FLOYD, lf, Mets

Injury (dates missed): Strained right quadriceps (April 12-present).

Team record without him: 7-12.

Replacement(s): Shane Spencer, Eric Valent.

Expected return: Later this week.

Losing Reyes was bad enough for the Mets; Floyd's going down left them without one of their few credible middle-of-the-order hitters. It forced New York to play platoon right fielder Shane Spencer in left and more often than just against lefties, but has that hurt? Spencer has posted an .872 OPS as a left fielder and a .978 OPS against right-handers, a performance the Mets would have taken from Floyd. If Spencer continues that kind of production when Floyd returns soon, the lineup could look stronger than before he got hurt in the first place.

6. TORII HUNTER, cf, Twins

Injury (dates missed): Strained hamstring (April 7-24).

Team record without him: 9-6.

Replacement(s): Lew Ford.

You're always going to miss a Gold Glove center fielder when he's out for 15 games. But you miss him a lot less when his replacement, in this case Ford, bats .391-3-17 in his stead. Minnesota's last position player to be cut in spring training, Ford not only lit up the club during his time in center, he forced Ron Gardenhire to start him at DH and left when Hunter returned.

7. RAY DURHAM, 2b, Giants

Injury (dates missed): Strained left knee (April 28-present).

Team record without him: 4-1.

Replacement(s): Edgardo Alfonzo.

Expected return: Early June.

It's still early, but this one could hurt the Giants. Alfonzo now moves to second base full-time and puts Pedro Feliz at third; the deteriorating Alfonzo is batting a mystifying .221-0-6 this year, and Feliz hasn't been very productive, either (.722 OPS). Moreover, while Durham's .338 on-base percentage out of the leadoff spot this season was no great shakes, he has been a credible table-setter for Barry Bonds. Getting no one on base for Bonds is like giving Eric Clapton a kazoo.

8. DMITRI YOUNG, dh, Tigers

Injury (dates missed): Broken right leg (April 7-present).

Team record without him: 11-13.

Replacement(s): Greg Norton, Craig Monroe.

Expected return: Late May.

Figure this out: The Tigers, no great lineup to begin with, lose perhaps their top offensive force in the season's second game with a nasty broken leg. This leaves Rondell White and Bobby Higginson shifting to DH more often and creates more at-bats for Norton and Monroe than the Tigers had planned. Norton and Monroe post OPSes of .403 and .616, respectively. So what happens? Detroit leads the AL with 152 runs through Monday. Bizarre.

9. CARL EVERETT, Expos

Injury (dates missed): Shoulder (April 15-present).

Team record without him: 4-14.

Replacement(s): Juan Rivera, Ron Calloway.

Expected return: Late May.

The Expos would be more entertaining with Chita Rivera and Cab Calloway in right, for sure, and certainly haven't scored many runs with Juan and Ron (combined OPS: .480). The Expos' offense was already shaky with Nick Johnson starting the season on the DL with a sore back, and Everett's going down after a hard slide took away what little hope they had left. Add to that pair the loss of promising pickup John Patterson from the rotation, and the wobbly Expos have been simply knocked out.

10. GARRET ANDERSON, cf, Angels

Injury (dates missed): Upper back stiffness (April 22-present).

Team record without him: 9-2.

Replacement(s): Chone Figgins.

Expected return: Mid-May.

You'd think that the serious back concerns around Anaheim would have involved Vladimir Guerrero, but Anderson's neck and back issues caused great concern. The good news is that recent tests suggest they're nothing serious. In the meantime, Figgins has played quite well, temporarily turning the Angels into more of a running team. Figgins, batting .354 overall, has eight stolen bases and four triples in his 16 games.

Alan Schwarz is the senior writer of Baseball America and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. His first book, "The Numbers Game: Baseball's Lifelong Fascination With Statistics," will be published by St. Martin's Press in July.

Alan Schwarz is the senior writer for Baseball America. His book, "The Numbers Game: Baseball's Lifelong Fascination With Statistics," can be ordered on his website, www.alanschwarz.com.