The injury bug has been devastating around the league in 2015 as name players have gone down to maladies major and minor. Now, the first round of players to go onto the DL is ready to come off and get back to their clubs. Whose return will have the most impact? I've arranged them from "meh" to actually important.
Scooter Gennett, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers
Two weeks into the season, Gennett sliced open his hand in the shower after a game and came back to a devastated Brewers team last night. Without Gennett, Jonathan Lucroy, and Carlos Gomez for most of the campaign, the Brewers have been the worst team in baseball.
Gennett wasn't really hitting (.207/.303/.207) before he went down, but his replacements Elian Herrera (.189/.231/.324) and Hector Gomez (.250/.286/.450). Gennett will be a huge upgrade over that pair, but still won't be enough to jump start the Brewers, who are already talking about dealing veterans Matt Garza and Kyle Lohse.
Result: Gennett started at second base last night and went 1-for-3 with a single until Jason Rogers pinch hit for him in the 9th inning. Herrera and Gomez both sat out.
Nick Swisher, OF-1B, Cleveland Indians
The Indians, on the other hand, have not thrown in the towel on 2015, but they've been only slightly better than the Brewers. Swisher is 34 and coming off of, by far, the worst season of his career, but he is probably still a plus bat if only the Indians had a place for him.
The Indians have actually gotten great performances out of Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley, Brandon Moss, and Ryan Rayburn. All of the corners that Swisher could play are full. He will syphon at-bats away from these players, especially Rayburn against righties, but the club's main problems—its exceptional weakness up the middle and its abysmal defense—won't be helped at all.
Result: Swisher started at DH and went 0-for-4. Michael Bourn took the night off, settling for pinch hitting in the 8th inning. Michael Brantley shifted over to center field (further weakening the Indians' defense), while Ryan Raburn played left field.
Greg Holland, Closer, and Luke Hochevar, RP, Kansas City Royals
Hochevar missed all of 2014 after Tommy John Surger, but he should be activated this weekend. The last time he was healthy, he struck out 82 batters and walked only 17 in 70.1 innings, with a 1.92 ERA, as the Royals' primary setup man. This was in the days before the wonder that is Wade Davis (more on him in a second).
While Holland was on the disabled list with a strained pectoral muscle, the Royals have still gone 9-7, and are leading the American League Central by a half-game over the Tigers. In his place, Davis has saved five games in five chances and earned a win, striking out seven batters and walking none in seven innings, and allowing a .360 OPS to opposing hitters. He's amazing.
However, Holland is also one of the most dominant relievers in baseball, with the second lowest ERA (2.16) of any active pitcher with more than 200 innings under his belt. Since 2013, he has saved 97 games in 102 chances, an unbelievable 95 percent conversion rate. His return today will bump Davis back down into a setup role, where he can be deployed more strategically against opposing hitters.
The only reason that adding such a dominant force back to the club won't make more of an impact is simply because it can't. Not only was Davis perfect as his replacement, but Royals relievers as a whole have a 1.08 ERA, with 21 walks and 74 strikeouts in 83.2 innings. Sure, Holland and Hochevar's returns make the corps better, but it's unclear how much it's even physically possible for this bullpen to improve.
Christian Yelich, LF, Miami Marlins
Yelich had a strong season last year, his first full campaign in the majors, hitting .284/.362/.402 and winning a Gold Glove. A back injury clearly affected his performance in the first two weeks, so he was shut down. He should be back on Friday, returning to a Marlins team that is just a game under .500 and is conceivably a Wild Card contender in 2015. He's played two games on a rehab assignment, and gone 1-for-5 with a walk, two strikeouts, and a stolen base.
In his stead, the Marlins have used 41 year old Ichiro Suzuki in left field, and the future Hall-of-Famer has responded well, hitting .293/.341/.360. While that's encouraging, he's hit just .275/.308/.353 over the last four years, and certainly has not improved with age. Ichiro will shift back to the fourth outfielder role, for which he is much better suited at this point, and the Marlins should find both the offensive and defensive production greatly improved with a healthy Yelich, and better positioned to fight for that second wild card spot.