The 2017 season has been one of many surprises, both good and bad. The Nationals have been absolutely decimated by injuries, but a few not-so-big names have stepped ably into their place. At 73-47, the Nationals are on a 99-win pace and hold a comfortable 14-game division lead. But if they hadn’t had their major injuries, would they be on a 106-win pace? Or if their bench hadn’t stepped up, would they be on their way to 87 wins? Let’s break down all these surprises and see if we can’t figure out the impact they’ve had on this team.
The list of major injuries is long, but it starts with Adam Eaton. Acquired in the offseason for a king’s ransom of pitchers, Eaton lived up to his price tag in April, slashing .297/.393/.462 over 23 games before tearing his ACL. FanGraphs rated him as a six-win player in 2016, albeit on the strength of some unbelievable (and perhaps unsustainable) corner outfield defense. But on the year, Nationals CFs have posted a 104 wRC+ and 1.2 runs saved on defense. While Eaton has a 125 wRC+, he was meaningfully below average in center. Having him around probably makes the Nationals about one win better for a full season.
Next up is Trea Turner. Despite not quite hitting like his absurd 2016 self, Turner was on pace to be a four- or five-win player (per FanGraphs) thanks to his sublime baserunning and very good defense at shortstop. But an errant Pedro Strop fastball fractured his wrist on June 29th, sending him down for coming on two months now. But Wilmer Difo has been fine at the plate and better in the field, making Turner’s absence a wash.
Jayson Werth was expected to only miss a few days when he fouled a ball off his foot on June 3rd, but he has been out nearly 80 days as of today. He was his usual self before the injury: Productive on offense, especially when it comes to getting on base, but defensively lackluster. There has been a rotating door in his absence: Behind Werth’s 185 plate appearances, five players have registered between 40 and 100 plate appearances in left. Collectively, they (Werth included) have rated about a win below average. Since Werth had been on track to be a league-average starter, we’ll say that’s another lost win.
There have also been quite a few shorter-term or less impactful injuries, such as those suffered by Koda Glover, Stephen Strasburg, Joe Ross, and Michael Taylor. And that’s not even mentioning the effect of recent injuries to stars like Bryce Harper and Max Scherzer and other contributors like Ryan Madson, Enny Romero and Brian Goodwin. But since the Nationals have only lost two or three wins to injury based on our accounting above, can we really say they’ve been so unlucky?
So many players have stepped up massively to compensate for the injured. Difo has hit .344/.410/.467 since taking over as the starter at shortstop. Taylor put up a 107 wRC+ taking over for Eaton, and Goodwin was above-average in center while Taylor was injured (before getting hurt himself, of course). Adam Lind has hit .304/.351/.497 while dabbling in left field for the first time since 2010. Matt Albers went from a Spring Training non-roster invitee to posting a 1.93 ERA and almost 10 strikeouts per nine innings. Even Edwin Jackson has posted a 2.92 ERA in 37 innings replacing Strasburg and Ross. While the impact of these players is hard to quantify, since they have no replacements to be compared to, it seems pretty fair to say the Nats would not have a 14-game division lead with the 2015 team’s bench.
Despite the absolute deluge of injuries they’ve endured, the Nationals have probably only been a little unlucky as far as player performance and heath. With Strasburg, Werth, and Turner set to return relatively soon, the Nats can breathe a sigh of relief as they enter September with a playoff spot all but assured and their top contributors returning to peak form. But if any of them experiences a setback, or if the injuries to Scherzer or Harper turn out worse than expected, then the Nats will have to hope for a bit more luck to get anywhere in the playoffs.Tags: Adam Eaton, Adam Lind, Brian Goodwin, Edwin Jackson, Jayson Werth, Matt Albers, Michael Taylor, Nationals, Nats, Trea Turner, Washington Nationals