2008-09 Phillies Knocked On Wood

Jeff Zimmerman (@JeffWZimmerman) at Beyond the Box Score has done some fantastic studies of injuries using a now-defunct database. Fortunately, he has uploaded a spreadsheet of his own which I will use as the basis for some of my observations about the Phillies and injuries.

As recently as 2007, during the short-lived Freddy Garcia era in Philadelphia, fans were mocking Pat Gillick and others in the front office for the epic failure of a trade with the Chicago White Sox. Not only did the Phillies trade former first-round draft pick Gavin Floyd (along with Gio Gonzalez) to acquire Garcia, but they did not require him to take and pass an MRI examination.

Why is that important?

On June 6, the Phillies were in Kansas City for an inter-league game against the Royals. Freddy Garcia started the game and was out before most fans could settle into their seats. He could only record five outs in between allowing nine base runners, six of whom scored, on seven hits and two walks. Shortly thereafter, Garcia was placed on the 60-day disabled list with labrum and rotator cuff problems which required surgery.

After the loss that night, the Phillies dropped to one game over .500 at 31-30 and appeared headed for another typical Phillies season in the 2000′s: 85+ wins but no playoffs, this time thanks to a rash of injuries. In ’07, the Phillies dealt with injuries to Garcia, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, Jon Lieber, Tom Gordon, and Brett Myers.

How quickly things change. The Phillies, of course, would clinch the NL East division on the last day as the Mets dropped their final game at home to the Florida Marlins. The Colorado Rockies steamrolled over the Phils in the NLDS en route to a World Series appearance, but the Phillies were nonetheless rejuvenated.

In 2008, the Phillies avoided the injury bug in a magical season that culminated in the franchise’s second World Series championship and first since 1980. Perhaps the biggest factor in that was the collective avoidance of the injury bug. Seven of the eight regulars logged at least 400 at-bats, four starters started at least 30 games, and four relievers appeared in 70 or more games.

Similarly, in ’09, when the Phillies returned to the World Series but lost to the New York Yankees in six games, the team tip-toed once again around the injury bug. Seven of the eight regulars logged 500 at-bats or more this time around. The team, overall, was healthy enough to earn the Dick Martin award from Baseball Prospectus:

[...] this isn’t a fluke. The Phillies three-year and five-year averages for both days and dollars lost to the DL are among the many reasons this team is taking home the trophy this season. In just the third year after taking over from long-time trainer Jeff Cooper, Sheridan’s staff is a relatively new one, but it’s already considered one of the best in the business.

[...]

As Sean Engelhardt’s graphic so clearly shows, the Phillies are doing more than keeping players healthy—they’re saving their team and adding wins and dollars to the bottom line. In fact, for many teams, it could be the difference between making the playoffs or not.

Jeff’s spreadsheet contains the injury-related data for all 30 teams dating back eight years to 2002.  The data pertinent to the Phillies:

Team Year Salary Lost Total Salary Salary % DL Days DL trips
PHI 2002 $7,550,278 $57,954,999 0.13 441 6
PHI 2003 $2,915,917 $70,780,000 0.04 455 10
PHI 2004 $10,138,333 $92,919,167 0.11 470 11
PHI 2005 $14,868,982 $95,522,000 0.16 354 7
PHI 2006 $12,777,778 $88,273,333 0.15 569 8
PHI 2007 $19,693,256 $89,428,213 0.22 884 15
PHI 2008 $5,859,611 $97,879,880 0.06 736 9
PHI 2009 $11,879,018 $113,004,046 0.11 570 10

Only the 2002-04 Phillies rival the 2008-09 squads in terms of injury cost relative to payroll, and those earlier teams didn’t have anywhere near the caliber of players. Considering the players the Phillies have had the last two years, it makes the feat all the more impressive.

How important is staying healthy? I used Jeff’s data to create a scatter plot comparing each team’s win total from 2002-09 with its corresponding % of salary lost to injury.

It may seem common sense, but it is also fleshed out by the data. Win totals are negatively correlated with % of salary lost to injury, or in other words: better teams stay healthy. The Phillies have done a good job of that this decade, but especially during the past two years, considering that in 2008, 6 of the 8 regulars were between 27 and 29 years old and 4 of the 6 starters were between 23 and 27 years old.

When people look back on the Phillies of the late two-aughts, many will fondly remember the power of Ryan Howard, the all-around game of Chase Utley, and Brad Lidge’s perfect season. However, what shouldn’t be forgotten is the team’s health, due in some part to luck, some part to the effort of the players to stay in good shape, and in some part to the diligence of the team’s training staff. Health has played a significant role in the recent success of the Phillies.

An example of the converse would be last year’s New York Mets. They used 29 different position players and 24 different pitchers. The ’08 Phillies used 22 and 18 respectively; the ’09 Phillies used 19 and 22 respectively.

Jamie Moyer, Brad Lidge, and J.C. Romero have each had surgery during the off-season but all three figure to be ready by mid-April and healthy for the rest of the regular season, knock on wood. The 2010 Phillies can get back to the World Series for a third straight time — and become the first National League team to accomplish the feat since the 1942-44 St. Louis Cardinals — so long as their key contributors punch in their 500 at-bats, 30 starts, or 50 relief appearances.