By the time the 2008 season ended for the Yankees, the team could have been considered among baseball’s walking wounded. According to Baseball Prospectus’ Will Carroll, last year’s Yankee team lost 1460 player days to injuries, and many of the old Yankee corps were trending into the red for 2009. Yet, the Yankees have stayed remarkably healthy, and because of that, they are in a prime position for a run deep into October.
Last year started out on a bad note for the Yankees’ overall health. On the first day of the season, Jorge Posada hurt his shoulder throwing down to second. He would go onto play just 51 games all season, and the Yankees’ catcher spot would never recover. Jose Molina, Chad Moeller and Ivan Rodriguez were inadequate replacements to say the least.
Posada, though, wasn’t the only Yankee to miss time last year. Hideki Matsui made it through just 93 games before his knees gave out. A-Rod hit the DL with a quad strain in late April. Chien-Ming Wang went down with his career-derailing foot injury.
Outside of the time lost to the disabled list, the 2008 Yankees featured its fair share of banged-and-bruised players. As Tyler Kepner details in this excellent profile of Derek Jeter, the Yankee captain battled a lingering quad injury and a hand injury for much of the season. Joba Chamberlain had a shoulder issue, and Andy Pettitte’s arm didn’t last the year. While the 2009 Mets take the injury cake, the 2008 Yankees were no slouches.
This year, though, the story has been entirely different. Alex Rodriguez missed the first six weeks with injury; Jorge Posada missed a few weeks with a hamstring strain; Chien-Ming Wang has been a non-factor all season; Xavier Nady, we hardly knew ye. Outside of those injuries — and just two of them had a long-term impact on this season — Mariano’s sore groin is the most significant pain to hurt the Yankees in recent months.
Now, I don’t mean to downplay Nady’s or Wang’s absence. The Yankees, though, have managed to overcome those problems. Nick Swisher has been one of the team’s most productive hitters this year. In fact, it’s hard to imagine Nady topping Swisher’s numbers. That leaves Wang as the most significant missing piece this year. So instead of missing their starting catcher, number one starter and DH for much of the season, they’ve been short a mid-rotation starter, and that’s it.
Meanwhile, the banged up Yankees haven’t been feeling it this year. While, for example, Paul O’Neill limped to the end of his 2001 season, Jeter, Damon and Pettitte, the guys who always play hurt, have been feeling great. I don’t need to analyze the numbers for us to know that their contributions have all been much greater this year than last. We see it everyday.
In the end, the Yankees’ 2009 success so far has rested primarily on the fact that Darrell Rasner and Sidney Ponson were replaced by CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. The defense, with Mark Teixeira at first and Nick Swisher in right, is far superior too than last year’s. But the Yankees’ medical staff deserves some credit too. It isn’t easy to keep a team of position players mostly all on the wrong side of 30 healthy, and so far this year, Gene Monahan and crew have.