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Lowrie and Encarnacion: Injuries and Projections

Over the past few days, Eno Sarris has been rolling out our consensus ranking for players at various positions. To create my rankings I used ZiPS rest of season stats to compile my rankings. The only time I changed my ranking was because of expected time lost on the D.L. For some players who are having a good 2012 season (Josh Reddick, Jed Lowrie, Allen Craig, Edwin Encarnacion and Trevor Plouffe), my rankings are lower than most people expected. Today, I am going to look at one cause for a player to be out performing his projections: injuries.

Note: I will be looking at lack of past playing time and a measurable change in talent for the other two causes for a player out performing there projections.

Injuries and how they relate to player performance are one of the few last few frontiers in sabermetric studies. This off season, in two separate studies, Mitchel Litchman (MGL) and myself looked at how injuries affect a hitter’s performance. In MGL’s study, he looked at players who went on the DL and how they performed. He found that hitters under performed their SLG in the year of the injury, but the rest of their traits stayed constant. In my study, I looked at players who played through injuries without going on the D.L. and found the same conclusion. In the year after the injury, the player exceeded their projected power numbers.

In my article for FG+, I highlighted 5 hitters (Chris Young, Adam Dunn, Andre Ethier, David Wright and Jason Heyward) who were expected to out perform their projected power because of injuries in 2011. Here is each player’s projected 2012 SLG from ZiPS and their actual 2012 value:

Name: Projected SLG, 2012 SLG, Diff
Young: 0.435, 0.401, -0.034
Dunn: 0.429, 0.502, +0.073
Ethier: 0.447, 0.491, +0.044
Wright: 0.447, 0.563, +0.116
Heyward: 0.427, 0.497, +0.070

On average this season, these 5 players are seeing an increase in the SLG by 54 points. Lowrie and Encarnacion fall into this same situation for 2012.

Encarnacion lost time because of injuries 5 different times last season (wrist, toe, back, left shoulder x 2). He just could not keep himself healthy all year. His 2010 and 2012 power numbers look similar, even though he was also hurt in 2010.

Year: PA, HR, ISO
2010: 367, 21, 0.238
2011, 530, 17, 0.181
2012: 356, 23, 0.293

Besides only missing 3 days for a bruised hand, he has been healthy so far in 2012.

Lowrie only had one main injury in 2011, a sore left shoulder that never seemed to fully heal. Here are all the various instances when he missed games because of the injured shoulder.

May 31, 2011: Missed 1 game (left shoulder injury)
June 9, 2011: Missed 2 games (shoulder injury)
August 8, 2011: Missed 45 games (sore left shoulder)
September 6, 2011: Missed 2 games (left shoulder injury)
September 19, 2011: Missed 4 games (sore left shoulder)

Like Encarnacion, Lowrie had a productive 2010 season that mirrors his 2012 season.

Season: HR/FB%, ISO
2010: 11.4%, 0.240
2011: 4.8%, 0.129
2012: 11.9%, 0.207

2010 and 2012 are almost mirror productions in the power department. He significantly produced better in those 2 seasons than in his injury plagued 2011 season.

Another way to verify if a player is losing any power is to look at their average flyball and home run distances at baseballheatmaps.com. Here are the average distances for the two players:

Year: Average Distance (ft)
2010: 293
2011: 279
2012: 291

Year: Average Distance (ft)
2010: 298
2011: 268
2012: 282

In both cases, it can be seen that the hitters had suppressed power for the 2011 season. This lower power level led to their projections being suppressed for the 2012 season.

I don’t just use projections as a hard and fast evaluator of talent, but for these power rankings, they are an unbiased approach to get an idea of how players similar to current player have performed in the past. With no known projection systems incorporating injuries into their values, fantasy owners have to do a little leg work and try to find the group players who may have their projections lower than their actual talent levels. They can then buy low on these players.