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Injured Infielders and Their Replacements

Later this evening Troy Tulowitzki will make his return from the DL after missing a little over a month with a chipped bone in his left wrist. It’s always tough for a contender to lose one of its stars. This goes especially for infield stars, since it’s tougher for teams to find replacements who can even remotely approximate the star’s production. A few contenders have faced the issue this year, and a few of them have gotten lucky with the replacement.

Injured: Troy Tulowitzki

Before his injury Tulowitzki was hitting .306/.375/.502, a beastly line for a shortstop. Even better, he’d recovered from a slow start and was hitting .308/.390/.545 since May 1. When he hit the DL in the middle of June Clint Barmes, who had been manning second base, slid over to shortstop. That left Jonathan Herrera, a 25-year-old who started the year repeating AAA for the third season, as Tulowitzki’s ultimate replacement. It was probably a stretch to expect much from a career .282/.347/.367 minor league hitter.

Yet Herrera has performed his task admirably, hitting .321/.377/.382 in Tulowitzki’s absence. The power isn’t there, of course, but he’s been getting on base at a rate equal to Tulowitzki’s season to date. Sure, that’s on the power of a .369 BABIP, but that doesn’t matter much when we’re talking about replacement performance. Herrera did all the Rockies could have asked. They still missed Tulo, but not as much as expected.

Injured: David Freese

The Cardinals took a gamble by handing their starting third base job to a 27-year-old rookie, but there were indicators that David Freese was ready for the show. His lowest SLG in the minors was .489, and that came during a stint in A+ ball in 2007. He jumped right to AAA after that and had little trouble adjusting. His overall minor league line was .308/.385/.532, and while he didn’t hit quite that well during his first 270 PA in 2010, his .296/.361/.404 line was certainly a productive one.

Perhaps his ankle injury was bothering him for a while. Freese was, after all, hitting .318/.386/.460 heading into June, but then his numbers, especially power, fell off. He hit the DL retroactive to his last appearance, June 27, to be replaced by Felipe Lopez, whom the Cardinals signed at a bargain rate late in the off-season. Since June 28 Lopez is hitting .312/.373/.441, or a close approximation of Freese’s early season numbers. He’ll have to keep it up, too, as Freese will miss even more time after dropping a freeweight on his toe.

Injured: Dustin Pedroia

On June 1 Dustin Pedroia had hit a low point. After a strong first month he slipped in May, and started June with a .254/.331/.445 line, hardly the stuff of a 2008 MVP award winner. But then he repeated his 2007 laser show, hitting .384/.461.640 from June 2 through 25. In that last game, though, he fouled a ball off his foot and fractured it. He’s been out ever since, making him just another in a long line of injured Red Sox. You’d think they’d have trouble finding adequate replacements.

Bill Hall has been the man most frequently summoned to handle the keystone in Pedroia’s absence. From June 26 through yesterday, though, Hall wasn’t getting the job done. In 83 PA he has hit just .227/.289/.480, hardly the stuff the Sox have grown used to out of that position. Last night the Sox turned to Jed Lowrie, though that doesn’t seem all that encouraging an option. Hall, at least, hits for power. It’s a tough call as to whom the Sox missed most, Pedroia or Victor Martinez. I suppose it has to be Pedroia, though, because Martinez is back behind the plate.

Injured: Chase Utley

This year has not been a Chase Utley year. Sure, his numbers place him above most second basemen, but his BA, OBP, and SLG are all down a bit from what he has produced in the past five years. A knee injury might have contributed to that. So might have his right thumb. He tore a ligament in it, which is why he currently sits on the DL. Still, a diminished Utley is still better than most other second basemen, nevermind an in-house replacement. The Phillies really had no way to salvage this one.

The main man in Utley’s stead has been Wilson Valdez. Unsurprisingly he’s hit much like, well, Wilson Valdez. In the 73 PA he’s accumulated since Utley’s injury Valdez has hit .224/.268/.373. What makes matters worse is that Valdez has been called on frequently this season. He filled in for the injured Jimmy Rollins after the Phillies had seen enough of Juan Castro, and then took Placido Polanco‘s spot for two games before he had to slide over to second and replace Utley. It’s tough for a team to win when they’ve given a player with a 66 OPS+ more than 200 plate appearances before the trade deadline.

Injured: Mark Teahen

Losing a middling player like Mark Teahen might not seem like a big deal, but there is a reason that the White Sox traded for him this past off-season. They had few options at third base and Teahen represented an upgrade. He didn’t disappoint much with his .255/.340/.387 line, mainly because it was tough to expect more. He’s been hurt for quite a while now, and when he comes back he might find himself out of a job.

The Sox have started two players in his place. First is the 43-year-old Omar Vizquel. He was brought in to back up most infield positions, though with Teahen’s injury he has played the majority of his games, 41, at third. He’s hitting .301/.371/.374 as the replacement third baseman, and will probably continue to see time there even after the nominal starter returns. It’s unlikely that at age 43 Vizquel starts every day, and matters get complicated because his bat is better from the left side, the same side Teahen hits.

The Sox have also used rookie Dayan Viciedo, though without nearly the effectiveness of Vizquel. Recalled subsequent to Teahen’s injury, Viciedo i just 13 for 49 with no walks and four extra base hits when filling in at third. Chances are he’s the odd man out once Teahen returns.