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Injuries Don’t Excuse How Bad This Twins Team Has Been


The 2021 Minnesota Twins have been one of the most disappointing teams in franchise history but it’s all due to injuries, right? While this team has had to navigate through a lot of their players being unavailable, so have most other teams in the league. Let's dig into the numbers.

The Twins haven’t been the most injured team in baseball. They’re not even in the top five. In fact, they’re barely even in the top 10. If you’re interested in looking at the data, it’s available at spotrac. In terms of number of players who have been or are currently on the Injured List, the Twins are tied for 10th in baseball. Here’s a look at the rankings:

TEAM PLAYERS
1. Giants 26
2. Blue Jays 25
3. Padres 23
4. Mariners 22
5(t). Astros 21
5(t). Rays 21
7(t). Dodgers 20
7(t). Brewers 20
7(t). Cubs 20
10(t). Mets 19
10(t). Twins 19

Change the metric to days spent on the IL and the Twins are even lower down on the list. They rank 23rd at 360 days. There are four teams with more than 700 combined days on the IL. And you know what? It hasn’t prevented any of them from having winning seasons. Two of the top four teams are in first place (the Rays and Giants) and the other two have winning records ( the Padres and Blue Jays).

TEAM Days
1. Padres 943
2. Rays 748
3. Giants 732
4. Blue Jays 718
... ...
23. Twins 370

Switch the focus to dollars spent on IL players and the Twins are 21st at just over $6.2 million. And, again, the top-four teams in terms of dollars spent on IL players all have winning records (the Astros, Mets, Yankees and Dodgers).

Even right now, with the Twins having 11 players currently on the IL, the team isn’t in the top five. Yes, the Twins have had a ton of injuries, but almost every team in the league has been dealing with similar situations this season. The health of this team isn’t a "get out of jail free" card for those who were in charge of building and managing a winning Twins club in 2021.

The Twins played their 60th game last night, which is as many as they played last season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the team’s number of players and days on the IL from the past five seasons. These are full-season numbers, so the 2017-19 data represents the full 162-game season. 

TWINS PLAYERS DAYS
2021 19 360
2020 14 389
2019 19 629
2018 18 1,052
2017 15 1,026

And now that same information for the entire league.

MLB PLAYERS DAYS
2021 488 14,350
2020 456 13,313
2019 574 49,279
2018 585 34,126
2017 530 31,300

We’re less than 40% through the season. This is pretty crazy.

Why? Consequences from last year’s mostly lost season, probably. That sounds like an easy explanation, but I’m not smart enough to find anything better than that (hint, hint: looking for some help here from all you lovely people of the Twins Daily community). 

If we go back further and compare this era to previous ones, I found the explanation Patrick Reusse offered up interesting.

This may have been said with tongue in cheek — sometimes the tone of Reusse’s Tweets can be tough to gauge — but this seems like a legit reason to me. Some people may read that Tweet as "old man mad at new technology" but I think he has a point. In prior eras, the training staff didn’t have much to go on. They had to depend on players self reporting accurately, and they’re almost always going to push to stay on the field.

That’s not to say it was necessarily better in the good ‘ol days. Just different. I would just like to see the best players on the field as close to 100% as much as possible. Can’t somebody just go into the settings and turn injuries off?

Are things going to keep getting even more extreme going forward? Again, I’m not smart enough to figure that out. Hopefully the 2020 hangover is to blame and things deescalate next season.


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Its one thing to have production drop off from starter to replacement, but the sloppiness is quite another.  Sure, they have lost games because they simply don't have talent that the other team does.  But more often then not, they're losing because the beat themselves by errors or otherwise sloppy play.  Little things in close games get amplified and result in losses, sometimes in blowout style.  That's not due to injury.  The injuries only explain a small portion of what this season has become.

I don't mind losing, sometimes the opponent is just better.  But it drives me nuts when a team beats itself.  Even more so when its done as often as this team does it.

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Interesting article, Tom. Thanks.

I have lots of thoughts running through my head, but for now, can you explain the theory that 2020 has had any effect on 2021 injuries? 

 

As I read your data, 2021 isn't unusual in terms of the number or length of IL stays. Am I reading that wrong?

 

And why would fewer games played in 2020 lead to more injuries in 2021 anyway? If, for example, Rocco's habit of giving players more time off has benefits, then shouldn't shorter seasons also lead to more health in the future, rather than less? 

 

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I think after the pandemic interruptions injuries are up in practically all sports. May it be related to disruption of pre-season rutines? I follow soccer quite a bit (forgive me) and it has been terrible. And football pretty much the same.

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7 minutes ago, adjacent said:

I think after the pandemic interruptions injuries are up in practically all sports. May it be related to disruption of pre-season rutines? I follow soccer quite a bit (forgive me) and it has been terrible. And football pretty much the same.

The data doesn't support that at all.

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I get the Twins haven't been the most injured but firstly I wonder if that includes COVID & Concussion lists. My understanding is these are not IL stints because they don't require 10 days out. (It could well include this information I'm just not sure)

Secondly, Its all well and good having injuries but no team has lost their superstar for a five weeks of the season. Imagine where the Blue Jays would be if Vladdy Jr had been out. The record without Buxton isn't that much worse but that was during a period where the Twins got hot and includes, but also he played through injury for a bit. Then you have Garver who was getting hot or Maeda looking bad after playing through injury (I'm really hoping thats the reason he was bad).

 

If it was utility guys or bullpen arms each having minimum IL stints then fine but the Twins have seen key players gone and then their replacements banged up too. Put it this was- Willians Astudillo has remained stubbornly healthy all year to add his skillset of comedy defence, the clutch ability to pop out, and whatever blackmail he has over Rocco to keep getting into the lineup. 

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9 minutes ago, BritishTwinsFan said:

I get the Twins haven't been the most injured but firstly I wonder if that includes COVID & Concussion lists. My understanding is these are not IL stints because they don't require 10 days out. (It could well include this information I'm just not sure)

Yes, stays on the COVID-19 and concussion IL are included in these numbers. 

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Line-up construction? Dismal. Hey, it's nice to have players play multiple positions. But nicer if you actually have players that can play a position. You construct a team that also gives you different skills, especially back-up/replacement players. Speed, defense, putting a ball in play, hitting a fly ball, taking a walk. Like a bullpen. Lights out closer. Someone who can strike people out. A groundball pitcher (if your defense can handle such things). The Twins were totally unprepared for starting a 10th inning with a runner on second, both in moving the runner towards home themselves and also keeping there from a pitching standpoint. It is nice to have a starter (or two) who can potentially stop a losing streak. That works better if they can pitch at least five innings, preferably six (sometimes), throwing things against the wall and seeing what sticks, giving guys games off for no particular reason (you are hired to play ball). Right now the clubhouse has to be a mess. Same old same old game after game after game. A dozen in the hole is a deep hole to climb.

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38 minutes ago, AceWrigley said:

The data doesn't support that at all.

I don't believe you're reading that right.  The 2021 data is for 40% of the season and the other seasons are for the entire year.  At least that's how I'm reading it.  Is that right @Tom Froemming?

If so, not only are injuries up, but they are up at a ridiculously high rate both for the Twins and the league as a whole.  (Which jives with other articles I've read)

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Fangraphs analyzed this a few days ago:

https://blogs.fangraphs.com/the-twins-are-running-out-of-time/

Quote

The injuries have affected the team, but they only explain part of the win shortfall. To get a rough idea of this, I went back to what the ZiPS-projected record for each team at this point would be after the games of June 3, then re-did the projection with the preseason projections for players while reflecting the actual distribution of playing time.

 
AL Central Roster Shortfalls vs. Projected Roster
Team Projected Wins At This Time Projected Wins with Actual Rosters Difference
Chicago White Sox 30.7 29.6 -1.1
Minnesota Twins 31.5 28.1 -3.4
Cleveland 26.3 27.3 1.0
Kansas City Royals 26.7 26.2 -0.5
Detroit Tigers 24.2 25.1 0.9

With perfect knowledge of who played so far this season, ZiPS would have expected the White Sox to be in first place rather than the Twins. But even with this very specific advanced knowledge of the future given to us by the Ghost of Memorial Days Yet to Come, we’d still expect the Twins to be in second place. Now, this methodology can’t be perfect — roster decisions aren’t only based on injuries, and injuries can also affect performance — but three missing wins isn’t nine-and-a-half wins, so a lot in there has to be simple underperformance.

 

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1 minute ago, TheLeviathan said:

I don't believe you're reading that right.  The 2021 data is for 40% of the season and the other seasons are for the entire year.  At least that's how I'm reading it.  Is that right @Tom Froemming?

If so, not only are injuries up, but they are up at a ridiculously high rate both for the Twins and the league as a whole.  (Which jives with other articles I've read)

That's correct. Those are all full-season stats in those. I'm going to add a clarification right now.

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Roco Baldelli knows more about baseball in the first five minutes of each day than I have accumulated in all of my fading life, but I cannot understand why he brings in a young man to make his MLB debut in the 8th inning versus the Yanks with the game still up in the air. Injuries to key players have kept this Twins team from finding a team mojo, but in a critical (they're all critical now) game versus the Yanks with lots of momentum at stake, Baldelli seemingly throws in the towel. And why start Austidillo at third in such a momentum game? Is that what the metrix are telling Baldelli?  Was it necessary to rest Donaldson?   

 

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2 minutes ago, Grasslander said:

Roco Baldelli knows more about baseball in the first five minutes of each day than I have accumulated in all of my fading life, but I cannot understand why he brings in a young man to make his MLB debut in the 8th inning versus the Yanks with the game still up in the air.

Welcome to Twins Daily!

Jax came in for the 9th, not the 8th, and with a 2 run lead and only 3 more outs left, the generic Yankees win probability at that point was 93%. And that doesn't factor in that the Twins 6-7-8 hitters were due up in the 9th, or that Chapman would have come in (rather than Wandy Peralta) if the deficit had still been 2 runs. Opposing batters are only hitting .097/.214/.194 against Chapman this year, for an OPS of .409.

Would have been nice to keep it close and make the Yankees use Chapman, of course, but Jax getting his feet wet against the weaker part of the Yankees order could outweigh that. At least it gave us some information about Jax's readiness.

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24 minutes ago, spycake said:

Welcome to Twins Daily!

Jax came in for the 9th, not the 8th, and with a 2 run lead and only 3 more outs left, the generic Yankees win probability at that point was 93%. And that doesn't factor in that the Twins 6-7-8 hitters were due up in the 9th, or that Chapman would have come in (rather than Wandy Peralta) if the deficit had still been 2 runs. Opposing batters are only hitting .097/.214/.194 against Chapman this year, for an OPS of .409.

Would have been nice to keep it close and make the Yankees use Chapman, of course, but Jax getting his feet wet against the weaker part of the Yankees order could outweigh that. At least it gave us some information about Jax's readiness.

Yeah, last night was a good example of how we as fans view win “probability” versus the actual win probability of a situation. That was a low leverage situation in the ninth. 

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The story that isn't told here that is interesting to me is that, in reality, injuries aren't up that much.  If we take the number Tom showed for 2021 of 14,350 days, and divide it by .37 (as we're about 37% of the way through the season), we see that the league is on pace for 38,784 IL days.  That is vastly down to 2019 (over 21%), and just 13.7% above 2018.  Conversely, the Twins are on pace for 973 IL days, up 55% to 2019, but actually below both 2017 and 2018.

This makes me wonder--is part of why the Twins won 101 games in 2019 because they were able to avoid the IL?  The Twins reduced their IL days in 2019, at the same time as IL days in the rest of the league exploded.  Now that they are back to being league average in IL days, they're back to being non-competitive.

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I find it amusing how people dig up, invent, or otherwise use sometimes obscure analytics and stats to explain away poor play and try to convince us they aren't playing that poorly.  They have a lot of injuries yes but they weren't playing well with a "full" team.  The Twins problems to me seem simple:. No offense, no defense, no pitching.  The fact that the FO keeps signing reclamation pitching with the hopes they may rebound compounds the problem.

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Sorry - there is a big difference between the 8th and 9th innings. Nevertheless, the point I would make is that while the metrix might reveal that the Twins' chances of winning at the point Jax entered the game were slim, what is your strategy? Do you stay competitive and do what you can do to try and win the game or do you throw out a genuine first timer and see what he can do?  I prefer the former, especially in a two-run game.  What do you think Twins' players thought when they watched Jax enter the game? ...That the team was going to fight it out to the bitter end?  Every game is critical, and every "next" inning is the most important inning of this season. I'm growing weary of the metrix myopia. So what about Chapman. Competitive athletes wanna take their best shot at anyone.  Also -- This injury situation is confounding, as everyone on here knows.  I watched Willie Mays play baseball and witnessed his career as a young fan. Did he play with great intensity? During his career he played in nearly every single game. The year the schedule expanded to 162 games -1962, I think- he played in all 162 games.  Mays was a special athlete, to be sure, but nowhere as fit and strong as nearly all major leaguers today.  Mays was not alone in his generation in playing nearly every game of a season. Some argue that NOT playing nearly every day makes you vulnerable to injury.  As a newbie to this board, I apologize for rattling on so long. 

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6 minutes ago, Whitey333 said:

I find it amusing how people dig up, invent, or otherwise use sometimes obscure analytics and stats to explain away poor play and try to convince us they aren't playing that poorly.  They have a lot of injuries yes but they weren't playing well with a "full" team.  The Twins problems to me seem simple:. No offense, no defense, no pitching.  The fact that the FO keeps signing reclamation pitching with the hopes they may rebound compounds the problem.

Who did that? Who has used any stats to show they aren't playing poorly? I'm genuinely curious, because I'd love to see that.

Look, the problem is the pitching. And somehow the defense. 

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13 minutes ago, Whitey333 said:

I find it amusing how people dig up, invent, or otherwise use sometimes obscure analytics and stats to explain away poor play and try to convince us they aren't playing that poorly.  They have a lot of injuries yes but they weren't playing well with a "full" team.  The Twins problems to me seem simple:. No offense, no defense, no pitching.  The fact that the FO keeps signing reclamation pitching with the hopes they may rebound compounds the problem.

This article is actually arguing the opposite of what you're saying.  They're not losing because of the injuries.  And it's not trying to convince you that they're a good team.

When was the last time this team played with a "full team"?  They were 5-2 the first week of the season, and that was probably as close to healthy as they've been since.  

That's not to say that they've played well, however.  Even the healthy players have underperformed.  So, as the article is stating, injuries are not the prime reason for the poor play.

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17 minutes ago, Grasslander said:

Sorry - there is a big difference between the 8th and 9th innings. Nevertheless, the point I would make is that while the metrix might reveal that the Twins' chances of winning at the point Jax entered the game were slim, what is your strategy? Do you stay competitive and do what you can do to try and win the game or do you throw out a genuine first timer and see what he can do?  I prefer the former, especially in a two-run game.  What do you think Twins' players thought when they watched Jax enter the game? ...That the team was going to fight it out to the bitter end?  Every game is critical, and every "next" inning is the most important inning of this season. I'm growing weary of the metrix myopia. So what about Chapman. Competitive athletes wanna take their best shot at anyone.  Also -- This injury situation is confounding, as everyone on here knows.  I watched Willie Mays play baseball and witnessed his career as a young fan. Did he play with great intensity? During his career he played in nearly every single game. The year the schedule expanded to 162 games -1962, I think- he played in all 162 games.  Mays was a special athlete, to be sure, but nowhere as fit and strong as nearly all major leaguers today.  Mays was not alone in his generation in playing nearly every game of a season. Some argue that NOT playing nearly every day makes you vulnerable to injury.  As a newbie to this board, I apologize for rattling on so long. 

The only bullpen arms that didn't pitch last night were Robles and Duffey, who both had pitched the last two games.  Granted, with a day off sandwiched between them.  I imagine that Rocco was trying to keep some arms available for the remainder of the series with the backend of the rotation starting the next two.  Given the low level situation, it only made sense to use Jax in the 9th.

He, as well as all of us, know that this week is going to be pretty hard on the pitchers.  It makes sense to save two of your better arms in that scenario.

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