Three more Cardinals injuries ahead this spring?

Those who read this blog regularly are familiar with my interest in looking at the events of the past to suggest what we might see in the future. As I reviewed recent annual St. Louis Cardinals team leaders in terms of games started by position, I noted that oft-injured pitcher Chris Carpenter had led the club in that category just once.

That got me to wondering how many Cardinals players we might expect to open the season on the disabled list. This time of year, we tend to consider the solution to roster battles to be measured in terms of a winner and a loser, decided on the field of play.

There is often another way.

Past years averages suggests four Cardinals will start the 2009 regular season on the shelf. We already know the identity of one, third baseman Troy Glaus, out for a minimum of four to six weeks of regular-season action following shoulder surgery.

Who will join him?

Previous disabled list splits, if repeated, would say three Cardinals hurlers may be joining Glaus over the next month or so. All injuries are not created equal, of course. Another injury to a front-line starter like Carpenter could be a serious blow to 2009 contention hopes.

Of course, past stints on the disabled list have nothing to do with current or future injuries, but historical numbers are what they are – a reflection of what transpired.

Here are the season-opening counts of Cardinals players placed on the disabled list to open each of the last 13 seasons, representing the years Tony La Russa has managed the club.

DL Total Pitchers Hitters Names
96-08 avg 4 2.6 1.4
2008 8 6 2 Carpenter Mulder Clement Pineiro T Johnson Kinney Encarnacion Ryan
2007 3 2 1 Mulder Kinney Encarnacion
2006 2 0 2 Ankiel Bigbie
2005 2 2 0 Lincoln Morris
2004 1 1 0 Ankiel
2003 6 3 3 Carpenter Stechschulte Isringhausen Girardi Torrealba Drew
2002 1 1 0 Ankiel
2001 5 3 2 Stephenson Christiansen Hackman Hernandez Bonilla
2000 2 2 0 Morris Radinsky
1999 4 2 2 Al Benes Morris D Howard Lankford
1998 5 4 1 Al Benes Brantley Morris Osborne Marrero
1997 6 4 2 Barber An Benes Honeycutt Jackson Pagnozzi Lankford
1996 7 4 3 Jackson Morgan Osborne Petkovsek Pagnozzi Gallego Jordan

Note the spring totals have varied from as few as one to as many as eight. Not once in the 13 years were there more position players than pitchers disabled to start the season. Coming into camp, pitching depth was a major concern of mine. This only magnifies it.

On a more encouraging note, while 2008’s eight DL stints to start the season was tops under La Russa with the Cardinals, each of the four previous campaigns began with fewer injuries than the average of four.

Some DL stays are short, while others are extended in nature. Some are to front-liners, while others are to more easily-replaceable reserves.

I know the results on the field are affected by the players in the game, not those on the trainer’s table. Yet I wanted to see if there might be any correlation between the level of injuries and the club’s start.

Rather than stay with the entire season’s results, which may have even less relation to season-opening injuries as time marches on, I decided to look at how the Cardinals began each regular season in terms of winning percentage during March and April.

This table puts the Cardinals’ March-April and full-season records up next to the season-opening DL counts. I included the full-season record to help put the first month into perspective.

March-April # DL players Wins Losses Win % Season %
96-08 avg 4
2008 8 18 11 0.621 0.531
2007 3 10 17 0.370 0.481
2006 2 17 8 0.680 0.516
2005 2 15 7 0.682 0.617
2004 1 12 11 0.522 0.648
2003 6 13 12 0.520 0.525
2002 1 12 14 0.462 0.599
2001 5 12 12 0.500 0.574
2000 2 17 8 0.680 0.586
1999 4 12 9 0.571 0.466
1998 5 16 11 0.593 0.512
1997 6 11 14 0.440 0.451
1996 7 12 15 0.444 0.543

In only four opening months did the Cardinals post a losing record, high levels of injuries or not. Two of them were in La Russa’s initial seasons in St. Louis. That is comparable but not identical to the team’s full season results over the 13 years, a time in which the Cardinals registered ten winning and three losing campaigns.

The final table summarizes the above data by grouping similar seasons in terms of number of DLed players, either above, at or below the average of four. The second dimension is whether the Cardinals won-loss record improved after March-April or worsened.

Cardinals seasons April record < season record April record > season record
Opening DL < average 2007, 2004, 2002 2006, 2005, 2000
Opening DL = average 1999
Opening DL > average 2003, 2001, 1997, 1996 2008, 1998
< less than
> greater than
“average” = 4 DL players

Interpreting the above, the top row shows that in the six seasons where the number of season-opening DLed players was under the average of four, the results were inconclusive. Half the time, the team improved over their April record and three other times, they played worse after the first month.

At the bottom, you can see the six seasons where the quantity of disabled list players to begin the season was above the average of four. In two-thirds of the seasons, four of six, the Cardinals started more slowly for the first month than their full-season record played out to be.

Though a very, very small sample statistically, it might at least suggest there could be something to the idea that large numbers of DL stints may cause a club to get out of the gates more slowly.

It remains unproven however, whether there is actually any cause-effect relationship between high season-opening injury levels to those teams’ relatively tough starts in terms of win percentage or if it is just coincidental.