How Much Will the Victor Martinez Injury Hurt the Detroit Tigers?
Here we go again.
It's only the early part of February, and the baseball deities have already decided to enter d-bag mode for the second consecutive season. With yesterday's news that Victor Martinez will be visiting Dr. James Andrews to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, it's clear they are out to spite us all just like last year.
The recovery time for Martinez won't be known until after the procedure, but this is an injury that could have a significant impact on a team that has a closing window to contend. Let's look at what this potential loss could mean for the Tigers if Martinez is out past Opening Day.
Martinez is No Spring Chicken
Although he was one of the best hitters in baseball last year, Martinez isn't some young pup anymore. He's entering his age-36 season, and this isn't the first time he's had trouble with that left knee.
Back in 2013, Martinez was returning from an ACL tear that had kept him out for the entirety of the 2012 season. His return to the order didn't exactly come with a bang.
Below is a chart of Martinez's splits between the first half and the second half of that 2013 season. wOBA is Weighted On-Base Average, which combines on-base percentage and slugging in a way that properly weighs each outcome based on the expected number of runs it creates.
Uh, yeah, I think I'd accept those second-half numbers. But Martinez's first-half slump was striking.
The big difference here is that Martinez isn't expected to miss anywhere close to the whole season. The smaller difference, which isn't quite as optimistic for V-Mart, is that he is now a full two years older than he was that season. At some point, that's going to catch up to him, even if it didn't in 2014.
After the injury news came out, Steamer dropped its projections for Martinez to be a .308/.375/.483 slash with a .369 wOBA and 16 home runs through 486 plate appearances. Those seem realistic, but they are nowhere near the numbers Martinez posted last year. Unfortunately for the win-now Tigers, they're going to need 2014-Martinez back.
More Reliant on the Offense
It's not just Martinez that's escalating in age for Detroit. Many of their core guys are, which means if they want to reach the World Series, they need to do so now. But they're going to need the offense at full strength to do that.
As John Stolnis wrote back in January, Miguel Cabrera is not going to be the same Miggy Pop that we are used to, even if he does see a slight rebound from his 2014 season. Any up-tick for Cabrera and the addition of Yoenis Cespedes may be nullified if Martinez misses a chunk of time.
This raises a big concern when you consider the team no longer has Max Scherzer or Rick Porcello to make up for a lack of offense. Yes, they've still got a solid top-end of the rotation, but the drop-off is significant.
Justin Verlander saw his ERA leap to 4.54 last year in his age-31 season. This was despite having a 3.74 FIP, so you can expect Verlander's base numbers to improve in 2014. But, again, he'll be 32 at the end of this month. You're not getting the same Verlander that we saw from 2009 to 2013.
Having full seasons from David Price and Anibal Sanchez will certainly help. Price was stupid good last year, and Sanchez is one of the most underrated pitchers in the league over the past five seasons. It's after them where things start to get a little scary.
Alfredo Simon was a strange cookie last year with the Reds in his first season as a starter since 2011. He had a huge split between his ERA and his FIP with a difference of nearly a full run. His 3.44 ERA would not have been sustainable this year even in Cincinnati. With a move to the American League and some regression, Simon would be blessed to touch a 1.0 fWAR. Steamer projects him at 0.4 wins.
If Shane Greene does end up snagging the fifth spot in the rotation, he is at least intriguing. He had a filthy 9.27 strikeouts per nine innings last year, translating into a 3.78 ERA in 78.2 innings with the Yankees. However, the projections don't see that as sustainable. Steamer projects Greene at a 4.60 ERA in 134 innings this year, while Dan Szymborski's ZiPS have him at a 4.48 ERA through 140.7 innings.
When you factor in the struggles of the bullpen, it's pretty obvious Detroit's offense will need to be top-notch again in order to duplicate their success of the past couple of seasons. Losing Martinez for any period of time would certainly lower the chances of that happening, especially if his transition back takes as much time as it did in 2013.
This doesn't mean that the Tigers should no longer be the favorites in the A.L. Central. The Royals are leaning heavily upon bounce-back seasons and will most likely lose James Shields. Both the Indians and the White Sox are going to be intriguing this year, but that doesn't make them more likely to win the division than Detroit. And the Twins are, well, the Twins. Sad face.
At the end of the day, this isn't an injury that is going to sink the Tigers to a 70-win season. It does hurt them significantly, though. If Martinez misses more than the first few weeks, that hindrance is just amplified. With how much emphasis the team has placed on winning right now, their window is closing, and they can't afford to have injuries like this set them back at all.