One major reason that the Cardinals haven’t looked like themselves in the first half of 2007 is that they quite literally haven’t been themselves: DL stints for 10 different players and a death of another have precipitated near-weekly callups, a rotation of Sikeston outfielders (but no John Rodriguez) and even an irregular signing or two. The All-Star of understatement, Scott Rolen, aptly observed, "This is not the world championship team. You look on the field and you don’t see a lot of guys we had last year."
Indeed, when one looks and sees not Chris Carpenter but Randy Keisler on the mound, not Jim Edmonds but journeyman Ryan Ludwick in centerfield and not Yadier Molina but Kelly Stinnett behind the plate, one wonders how this team could even find itself only five games under .500 and 7.5 back of the first-place Brewers. This isn’t the world-championship team, to be sure.
But hand-wringers and nay-sayers would do well to remember that the 2006 championship team was similarly struck with injuries in the first half of the season, with cogs like Carpenter, Mark Mulder and even The Great Pujols spending time on the DL before the 2006 All-Star break.
But just how much more dire is the injury situation this year? First, we could simply tabulate the total number of days that players have spent on the DL:
That’s a lot of red — 577 days of official injury time to be exact. It’s more than twice the total DL time in 2006 (212 days). But perhaps the 2007 Cardinals have only lost marginal players — how do we compare the impact of the lost players from 2006 to 2007?
Keeping things simple, we merely multiplied the days each player has spent on the DL by his previous-year’s Win Shares (divided by 10 to keep the number low) to come up with a decidedly non-fancy metric that we’ll call "Pain" (as in pain inflicted on the team). The numbers may be a bit inelegant, but the idea is that an 18-WS player who misses 17 days (2006 Carpenter) has about the same impact as a 12-WS player out for 24 days (2007 Eckstein):
So you can see that this year’s spate of injuries has been around 3.5 times as costly as last year’s first-half afflictions. The good news is that, though Kinney, Wilson and Hancock won’t be back, Carpenter, Eckstein and Edmonds all figure to return to action soon.
The 2006 Cardinals healed up just in time for a triumphal playoff run. The 2007 team is poised to do the same. But with a deeper collective wound from their first-half injuries, they’ll have less margin for error in the second half. It’s already off to a good start — after all, Albert Pujols may not have won the Home Run Derby last night, but at least he didn’t injure himself.