The Red Sox are in a weird place right now, and there are two ways that a reasonably-minded person could view this team in this moment. The first is the optimistic way. This person will look at the standings, and see that Boston would be in the Wild Card game facing off against Toronto if the playoffs started today. Exactly one American League team (Cleveland) has a better run differential than the Red Sox. All in all, especially when you consider how things have gone the last few years, this has been a positive first half for the Red Sox.
Then, there is the pessimistic way of looking at this team. Basically, this is the "what have you done for me lately" viewpoint. The Red Sox have looked significantly worse in June, particularly over the last couple of weeks. Just watching the team play, it is clear that there is something off about them right now, and there are a lot of underwhelming players in key roles. On the pitching side, much of that has to do with consistent underperformance forcing the Red Sox to cycle through the depth chart. On the offensive side, it is because the team can’t catch a break on the injury front.
Now, it’s always really easy to blame failure on injuries, and the common retort to this is that every team suffers through injuries. When you follow one particular team more closely than others, it’s easy to think your favorite team is suffering worse than the others. The reality is that the grind of a baseball season is about getting through these injuries. On the other hand, that’s not exactly fair. Some teams really are hurt by injuries more than others; these things aren’t created equally. The Red Sox are dealing with the loss of Brock Holt, Blake Swihart, Ryan Hanigan, Chris Young, Carson Smith, Pablo Sandoval and Josh Rutledge, which has cut significantly into their depth. That seems like a lot! Still, I thought it would be valuable to look at whether or not it really was compared to the rest of the league.
There isn’t one easy way to check on this, as there are many factors at play. The thing about the Red Sox’s injuries is that they are coming to players who serve similar roles. They’re not necessary losing their best players, just ones that are in the same spot on the depth chart. So, in essence, this is about quantity more than it’s about quality. Well, if we look at this as strictly being about quantity, the Red Sox aren’t particularly unique in their injury issues. According to Sportrac, Boston has sent eleven players to the disabled list. Eight teams in baseball have sent more players to the DL than that this year, including the Rockies who have sent a whopping 18 players. Furthermore, five other teams have sent exactly 11 players to the DL, and when you add in the Red Sox and the other eight teams ahead of them, we’ve now covered essentially half the league. Put another way, the Red Sox have been essentially average in terms of players sent to the DL.
Of course, not every DL stint is created equally. That last way of measuring things counts a 15-day trip the same as it would count a season-ending injury from spring training. So, how about if we measure this in terms of days lost to the disabled list to even things out a bit. This will at least give more credit (for lack of a better word) to Boston for guys like Smith and Sandoval. As of this writing, the Red Sox have lost 468 days to the disabled list in 2016. That seems like a lot! It seems like more than it is, though, as they are exactly in the middle of the league in this area, ranking 15th. Now, I think if we looked at this in another week or two — particularly if there’s another setback in Brock Holt’s recovery — things would look a little more bleak for the Red Sox given Swihart and Young’s injuries. Still, no one can touch the Dodgers, who have lost 916 days to the DL and have carried a quality MLB rotation on their injured list through the entire season.
The final way Sportrac will allow me to look at this is in terms of money. Now, of the three categories they list, this is the least fair way to look at things, just because money does not equal talent. An injury to Mookie Betts would be devastating, but it wouldn’t really register on a list like this. At the same time, it’s a data point. It’s also a data point that plays up Boston’s injury woes. The Red Sox rank ninth in terms of money lost the disabled list, and the reason should be fairly obvious. Pablo Sandoval hasn’t played a single game this season, which is an $18 million player on the shelf for the duration of the season. Beyond him, though, it’s mostly bench players and minimum salary guys. Once again, the Dodgers take the cake in this area, losing $32 million to the disabled list, almost double the amount of the next-highest rated team (Angels).
None of this is a definitive way to look at things, as this is a subjective circumstance. It would be unfair to say injuries haven’t had any effect on the Red Sox this year, but it also would be unfair to say they’ve been hurt more than any other team. This is particularly true since the Dodgers exist, and I think I can objectively say their fans can blame injuries more than any others. Still, the fact that the Red Sox have suffered injuries to similar positions — catchers, outfielders, bench players — matters. They’ve probably been affected a little more than your average 2016 MLB team. At the same time, it hasn’t been that much more than average. At the end of the day, if you’re on the pessimistic side of looking at this Red Sox team, it’s more to do with underperformance than injury.