How much do injuries really affect a team? Just look at the names on the next slides. Jacoby Ellsbury, Derek Jeter, Miguel Cabrera and more. All stars and the centerpieces of their teams. Tons of cash that is sitting on the DL not on the field. The teams can only hope they return, but some of them will not, and some teams are missing the playoffs because they couldn't keep them on the field.
But for the players themselves, how important is it? Andrew Lambo has long been one of the Pirates' top hitting prospects, but things never seemed to come together, largely because of injuries. Coming into the 2013 season, Lambo was at a bit of a crossroads. The team was making a push and the minor league system seemed filled with prospects, both above and below him on the charts.
"I tried to play through things in 2012," Lambo told me last week. "You can't make yourself hit homers, but I can dedicate myself to staying on the field, being prepared, and staying consistent."
The approach worked, letting Lambo stay on the field and—in spite of a spacious home park at Triple-A Indianapolis—lead the minors in home runs.
Of course, the sudden jump from five homers at lower levels to 32 is going to raise some eyebrows. Lambo is essentially the Chris Davis of the minors, and he's heard the questions. Lambo's name made the news in 2010 when he was suspended for 50 games while in the Dodgers system, though it was for testing positive for a drug of abuse rather than a performance-enhancer. Since then he has been tested, both blood and urine, throughout the season, but he knows even that won't quiet many.
"I want to play the game the right way, but there's nothing I can say or do to stop people from asking the question," he explained. "They tested me in Florida (spring training), in the minors, in the majors, but I can't focus on it. I didn't have a goal this season to hit more homers. You can't dictate those. For me, home runs don't feed on themselves. I tried to just stay on the field and do what I do."
Lambo is in Pittsburgh, a role player shifted behind new acquisitions like Marlon Byrd, a player who has himself been suspended for his PED usage.
"He's a great teammate," Lambo said. "Him, (Justin) Morneau, I'm just trying to learn how they prepare, how they handle themselves, the things they do because that's where I want to be."
Lambo wants to play deep into October, but knows he probably won't make the playoff roster.
"I'll just take my opportunities and do what I can do," he said. "There's opportunities for me along the way and I have to take advantage of them."
He'll go back to work in his Southern California base this offseason, hoping to feed off the success of this season. With a stroke tailor-made for PNC Park and a team on the rise, he has an opportunity to stand alongside Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte for a while, but he's going to have to stay healthy, just like any player. I like his chances.
Now, let's look around the league...