The So What? How Injuries Shape NL East (6/7/18)

By Mark Dankenbring @MarkDank


MLB So What? How Injuries Could Help Shape the NL East


The NL East is shaping up to be a lot more competitive in 2018 compared to last year, as the Nationals were at least 20 games clear of the other four teams by season's end. They join the NL Central as the only two divisions with three teams at or above 32 wins thus far, so the race should hopefully stay close as the season progresses. The Nationals are still the clear favorite, but the Braves and Phillies have made enough noise with their youth that Dave Martinez and his club will have to look over their shoulders the rest of the way. The Mets looked like they were gunning for another division title after their 11-1 start, but their wins have disintegrated as the injuries continue to pile up. The Nationals have had their fair share of injuries in the early going as well, but have a deeper roster and a more talented pitching staff that can make up for some of those absences. At the end of the day, injuries in baseball are always going to be a factor. But just how much could they impact the division race in the NL East? We'll take a look at the injury riddled Mets and Nats, as well as a Braves team who lost Ronald Acuna to a knee injury that looked much worse than the actual damage, but was a firsthand lesson that crucial players can be taken away at any moment.

All other teams are assumed to have our current expectations on health when not featured.

Washington Nationals

Healthy (Daniel Murphy, Howie Kendrick, and Adam Eaton playing rest of season)

Washington - 94.0 wins, 78% division, 15% wild card
Atlanta - 87.7 wins, 19% division, 44% wild card
Philadelphia - 81.4 wins, 2% division, 11% wild card
NY Mets - 76.5 wins, 1% division, 2% wild card
Miami - 61.2 wins, 0% division, 0% wild card

Not Healthy (no Murphy, Kendrick and Eaton for rest of season):

Washington - 92.6 wins, 72% division, 17% wild card
Atlanta - 87.9 wins, 23% division, 40% wild card
Philadelphia - 82.0 wins, 4% division, 14% wild card
NY Mets - 76.8 wins, 1% division, 3% wild card
Miami - 61.6 wins, 0% division, 0% wild card

The trio of Murphy, Kendrick, and Eaton would add 1.4 wins to the Nationals and bump their playoff chances up to 93% if they were healthy the rest of the way. 1.4 wins seems somewhat low considering we're adding three starters back, but we have to take into account their replacements when looking at the disparity. Washington would still be the favorite by nearly five wins without these players, largely thanks to Juan Soto filling in for Eaton and Wilmer Difo filling the hole at second behind Murphy and Kendrick (Kendrick also plays LF). The Nationals would obviously prefer to have their starters out there for the remainder of the season, but it may not be all that crucial considering they're still 72% likely to win the division and 89% likely to make the playoffs without them. Since they have solid replacements and strengths elsewhere (mainly starting pitching), the offense can stay afloat on the backs of Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon, who are both elite major league hitters. Washington still has the talent to take home the NL East crown without Murphy, Kendrick, and Eaton, so Nationals fans should be patient for their return and allow the players to be 100% when they take the field once again.

One more interesting thing to note is how the rest of the division gains some fractional wins if that trio is out. We may think wins are independent of one another when looking at different teams, but in a division where every team plays each other at least 18 times a season, there is clearly some correlation between teams. In this case, the Phillies would benefit the most from Washington's injuries, as they add 0.6 wins to their total and 5% on their overall playoff chances.

Atlanta Braves

Healthy (Ronald Acuna playing rest of season):

Washington - 92.4 wins, 66% division, 22% wild card
Atlanta - 88.7 wins, 29% division, 40% wild card
Philadelphia - 81.7 wins, 4% division, 13% wild card
NY Mets - 76.9 wins, 1% division, 3% wild card
Miami - 61.4 wins, 0% division, 0% wild card

Not Healthy (no Acuna for rest of season):

Washington - 92.7 wins, 73% division, 18% wild card
Atlanta - 87.5 wins, 26% division, 34% wild card
Philadelphia - 81.7 wins, 4% division, 13% wild card
NY Mets - 76.8 wins, 1% division, 3% wild card
Miami - 61.7 wins, 0% division, 0% wild card

The Braves are awfully glad Acuna avoided major injury to his knee as it buckled when lunging for first base, especially considering he's worth 1.2 wins for the rest of the season. The 20-year old is slashing a respectable .265/.326/.453 on the season and is filling a left field position that's been underwhelming and in flux since Justin Upton's departure after the 2014 season. Acuna's health would add nearly 10% to Atlanta's postseason chances and put them on the precipice of a 90-win season. Their 40% chance to make the wild card would put them second behind the Brewers in our current projections, with their 88.7 wins being more than three clear of the Cardinals (85.4) and at least five games ahead any team in the NL West. Even if the Braves can't upset Washington for the division title, they have a great shot at a wild card berth with Acuna healthy the rest of the way.

New York Mets

Healthy (Todd Frazier, Yoenis Cespedes, Juan Lagares, Wilmer Flores playing rest of season):

Washington - 92.4 wins, 71% division, 18% wild card
Atlanta - 88.0 wins, 26% division, 39% wild card
Philadelphia - 81.4 wins, 3% division, 11% wild card
NY Mets - 77.5 wins, 1% division, 3% wild card
Miami - 61.4 wins, 0% division, 0% wild card

Not Healthy (no Frazier, Cespedes, Lagares, Flores for rest of season):

Washington - 92.6 wins, 71% division, 19% wild card
Atlanta - 88.5 wins, 26% division, 41% wild card
Philadelphia - 81.8 wins, 3% division, 12% wild card
NY Mets - 76.3 wins, 1% division, 2% wild card
Miami - 61.4 wins, 0% division, 0% wild card

Once again, we have a smaller number than anticipated when adding four guys back, as the Mets pick up 1.2 wins on their expected total and add just 1% in expected playoff chances. When adding these four players back, the Mets retain their fourth-place projection and are still nearly four wins behind Philly for third. In all honesty, those 1.2 wins are almost all from Yoenis Cespedes and Todd Frazier, as Wilmer Flores and Juan Lagares aren't every day starters and are mainly used as platoon players. I was still a little surprised Cespedes and Frazier were worth just 1.2 wins, but Cespedes has been struggling with health and defense the last few seasons, accumulating just 2.3 WAR since the beginning of 2017. Frazier has been better, adding 3.1 WAR in 2017 alone while still sitting third among Mets' position players in WAR this season despite missing 25 games. Overall, it's looking like the Mets won't be in contention even after their hot start, so adding these players back into the fold shouldn't matter one way or the other to their playoff chances.