Wednesday, October 9, 2013

2013 Storylines Review: The Walking Wounded

(Exhibit A.  Courtesy of The NY Daily News)

Injuries.  Nothing can kill a team's chances for success faster than injuries.  Every year you know going in what players are going to perform well, what ones aren't, and you can reasonably anticipate a handful of players having better seasons than usual and a handful having worse.  What no manager ever knows is how injuries are going to affect his team, when they're going to strike, and how long they're going to last.  The Yankees, to a certain extent, bucked that trend in 2013 by heading into the season with a well-known collection of injuries: Jeter's ankle, A-Rod's hip, CC's elbow, Mo's knee.  And that was just the tip of the iceberg.

In my "Walking Wounded" preview post in March, I pointed out that "the Yankees' main backup options for their injured regulars are injury risks in their own right" and said, "If the Yankees are going to be a player in the postseason race in 2013, they're going to have to find a way to overcome these injury hurdles."  They never did and more than anything that could be the reason they finally fell out of the postseason race in late September.

While that Mount Rushmore of injured All Stars didn't completely crumble in their comeback attempts, the never-ending series of setbacks to Derek Jeter's ankle and expansion of the injuries to his leg muscles was more than enough to cover everybody.  Jeter's attempt to make it back for Opening Day sputtered before it even got going, as he suffered a second ankle fracture in Spring Training that shelved him for a few more months.  By the time he was "healthy" enough to play again, the team was so strapped for shortstop production that they rushed him into the lineup without a full MiL rehab stint and that's when the muscle problems started.  The quad, the calf, and eventually the ankle again.  It was a lost season for Jeter - just 17 games played and 73 PA - that brings into question what he'll have left next year.

When Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson went down with their injuries in ST, the plan was to tread water until they came back to the lineup.  That plan also got scrapped quickly as Teix's attempt to heal his tendon sheath injury with rest and rehab didn't work and he, like Jeter, suffered a season-ending setback in mid-June.  Granderson returned from his forearm fracture in early May only to have his pinkie broken by another errant pitch just 8 games into his comeback.  That put him back on the DL until August and really put a strain on the offense.  The Yankees planned to have Jeter and A-Rod miss time.  They didn't plan on Teix and C-Grand missing as much as they did, and those 2 injuries ended up being far more devastating.

Moving down the list, we make a quick pit stop at the all too predictable injuries to the old replacement players.  Kevin Youkilis lasted all of 28 games before his back problems put him out for the year and Travis Hafner's effectiveness faded in May when his shoulder started to act up.  That left 2 more holes in the middle of the batting order that, by the time the summer rolled around, the Yankees were unable to patch up.  Add on top of those Francisco Cervelli's broken hand and subsequent setbacks, Andy Pettitte's back problems, Joba Chamberlain's oblique, Boone Logan's elbow, David Phelps' forearm, Ivan Nova's triceps, Brett Gardner's oblique, Austin Romine's concussion, Eduardo Nunez's knee, Vidal Nuno's groin, CC Sabathia's hamstring, and the other regular bumps and bruises that everybody else accumulated and it was a constant revolving door of DL trips.  The amount of money the Yankees had on the DL at one point was staggering.

It wasn't all bad news though.  Mariano Rivera showed no ill effects from his 2012 ACL injury and pitched well in his final year.  For all the things that did go wrong for him this season, CC's elbow held up just fine.  And Alex Rodriguez looked somewhat rejuvenated when he did return to the field in August from his hip surgery.  There was lower body strength back in his swing and the results were there until more muscle tweaks stripped him of that strength.  If you want to take a really optimistic stance, you can say that Michael Pineda making it back to pitching in live games and finishing the season healthy was a plus, even if he didn't throw a single Major League pitch.

But overall the 2013 season was a mountain of injuries, a mountain too high for the Yankees to climb.  Every time they seemed to be taking a step or 2 towards getting healthier, somebody else went down the next day.  The team never once put its projected Opening Day roster on the field and they easily led MLB in total time spent on the DL.  It's the position the Yankees put themselves in with their roster construction strategy and in the end they reaped what they sewed.

In the unpredictable world of sports injuries, the Yankees had a more predictable situation in front of them than most in 2013.  They knew they were old, they knew they were beat up, and they knew they didn't have want to spend the money to help those things.  They did what they did to address it and ended up suffering the effects of a pretty predictable outcome.  Most teams would have been hard pressed to contend with the number of injuries the Yankees dealt with in 2013.  Given the shape their roster was in for the majority of the season, it's practically a miracle that the Yankees contended for as long as they did.

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