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Overrating Baseball Injuries

   by Al McMordie - 07/04/2011

Sports bettors can get fired up about injuries. Even line makers can get fired up and adjust a number when, for example, Albert Pujols, Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez might not be in the lineup. I say relax and proceed with caution. More often than not, an injury to a player, even a star, doesn’t make that much difference, especially if it’s for just one or two games.

Most teams have bench players who can come in and do an adequate job for a regular in the infield or outfield and even at the plate. For example, the Red Sox lost starting shortstop Jed Lowrie twice this season, including now, but they have infield Marco Scutaro to throw in there. He’s been very good, hitting close to .300, and was their starter a year ago, doing a fine job. Over the course of a long season he might break down and need a break, but for short stints he is more than adequate to step in as a starter for a while and the team won’t be any worse off.

Eduardo Nunez, a career .255 hitter, has stepped in for Jeter in the Yankee lineup and hitting over .290. Granted, Jeter is a far better player, but Nunez has been good enough and the Yankees really haven’t suffered offensively while on a nice winning streak in June. New York has a winning record both home and away and is no. 2 in baseball in runs scored, third in on-base percentage. The Yankees are also 111-52 in their last 163 games as a home favorite.

You have to remember that even star players don’t go 3-for-4 every night with three RBI. Baseball is a game of failure, as .300 hitters make an out seven out of every ten plate appearances. That’s a lot of outs, especially when you realize players get roughly four at bats per game. Pick up today’s newspaper and check out the box scores. I bet you can find more than one star offensive player who had a 0-for-4 night.

You may recall when the Yankees lost shortstop Jeter with a serious shoulder injury in the first game of 2003. That didn’t stop the Yankees much as they rolled to another division title. Much was made of the Red Sox trading away star shortstop Nomar Garciaparra in 2004, but they got hot a few weeks after the trade and rolled to their first World Series title since 1918.

Granted, the St. Louis Cardinals have been in an offensive slide since star slugger Albert Pujols went out. Pujols is the type of guy who does have a significant impact, sitting right in the pivotal No. 3 or 4 hole in the batting order. His loss puts more pressure on everyone else to pick things up.

Still, there is far more to the Cardinals story than just the Pujols injury, as they have been hit hard all season by injuries. No Adam Wainwright, an ace pitcher out for the season after elbow surgery; the $17 million a year outfielder, Matt Holliday, was a non-factor for a month with a quad injury, while 3B David Freese has been out with a broken bone in his hand since May 2 and was red-hot when he went out.

In addition, rookie reliever Eduardo Sanchez is on the DL, they lost their best bat off the bench, Allen Craig, twice to the DL, lost their best utility infielder, Nick Punto, to the DL, as well as starting 2B Skip Schumaker, on the DL for a while, and valuable backup catcher Gerald Laird, out since May 22. Even manager Tony La Russa missed two series because of an extreme case of the shingles! The real question is: How come the Reds and Brewers aren’t running away from the Cards? Keep in mind the Cardinals are still 8-3 in their last 11 home games against a right-handed starter and 8-3 in their last 11 games as a favorite.

And those are extreme examples, where players are lost for several months. Most of the time, you’re dealing with players just sitting out one or two games. What I find is that many sports bettors hone in on the fact that David Ortiz or Josh Hamilton is out of the lineup one game, so that affects how they perceive the game. I’m saying: Don’t panic. Almost all teams can survive when a key positional player sits down. Even betting numbers can be altered – sometimes significantly – when a star happens to be resting or injured. Sports bettors have to be patient and understand this as, overall, it usually makes less of a difference than you might think. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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