There's really only one thing I can say in response to the news that the Tigers have lost Miguel Cabrera to the disabled list for several weeks, but that thing is incredibly obscene and should not be printed. The Tigers have been struggling to play break-even .500 baseball, July is already marching towards August, and now there's a very real possibility the team could miss the playoffs completely this year. The doom cloud is real, and it is impressive. Some people are even asking whether the Tigers ought to chuck it in for 2015 and start selling off expensive pieces that they're going to lose to free agency anyway.
It's tempting to just go ahead and crack open this giant jug of cheap rum and start insulating myself against whatever I'm afraid this 2015 season is turning into, but before we start handing out shot glasses, it's probably the better part of prudence to at least ask the question: exactly how much is losing Miguel Cabrera going to hurt the team?
Ok, yeah, but can we hang some tangible numbers from the theoretical framework of that Wilhelm Scream?
Let's start with the assumption that he's not coming back until at least August 15. The team will play 37 games between July 4 and that date, so that will be our sandbox. The thing we need to know is how much run production the Tigers are losing over those 37 games, and by extension, how many extra losses that represents.
There are a couple of ways to do this, one that relies on advanced stats, and one that has the faint scent of Topps bubblegum and cardboard about it. Neither of them are perfectly accurate, but we're just looking for "close enough."
Approach #1: find out how many times Cabrera either crosses the plate himself, or causes one of his teammates to cross the plate in any given game. We're looking for actual runs here, so we'll take his 54 RBIs, add his 43 runs scored, and subtract his 15 home runs so we don't double-dip. That gives us 82 actual runs, divided by the 77 games Cabrera has played in this year, for a total of 1.06 runs per game.
Yikes. Yeah, I'm opening the rum jug.
Multiply that 1.06 runs per game by the 37 games the Tigers will play sans Miggy, and the Tigers project to lose a total of 39 runs during Cabrera's absence. That equates to roughly four wins.
Approach #2: find out how many weighted runs created (wRC) Cabrera has been worth over the season so far and find the wRC-per-game average. Fangraphs has his wRC for this season's 77 games at 69, or 0.89 wRC per game. That works out to a total of 33 runs created -- or, I guess, not created -- from July 4 until that magical August 15 date. In terms of wins, that's a 3.3 deficit, or "losses," in plain English.
That's the damage, then, somewhere between three and four extra losses. The Tigers are at a win percentage of .513 currently, so at that rate they would project to go 19-18 during that period anyway. Take away the three or four wins that Cabrera would have contributed, and we're looking at either a 15-22 record or a 16-21 record through August 15.
That's not the whole story, of course. These numbers just tell us what kind of a void the Tigers need to fill, and at least some of those missing runs will be supplied by whoever fills in for Cabrera -- probably a bit of Alex Avila, a bit of Andrew Romine, maybe even some Jefry Marte. Avila has been worth 0.35 wRC per game this year, so after all the fancy math is rolled up, that missing 33 wRC becomes a deficit of 20 wRC, or two extra losses. And that assumes Cabrera will definitely be back by August 15, and not need a lot of extra rehab time that drags on closer to September.
The bigger problem, of course, is that July is already counting down, August is coming, and the division race is quickly approaching the home stretch. The Tigers need to be in win-way-more-than-we-lose mode during this period, not how-can-we-minimize-extra-losses mode. But at least now we can give some rough shape to what's coming our way for the next several weeks, and the good news is that it's probably not an "oh crap, they're gonna lose 20 extra games now" scenario.
But keep the shot glasses handy, just in case.