How to Deal with Injuries

Fangraphs’ injury expert Jeff Zimmerman takes an in-depth look at how injuries could impact key fantasy players in 2011, and what you should consider before drafting them.

Concussions – The top two fantasy players that had concussions in 2010 were Minnesota’s Justin Morneau and New York’s (NL) Jason Bay. Truthfully, I expect both of them to play in some fashion during the season, but at what level I don’t know. Players usually see some level of drop-off immediately after coming back from a concussion. Both of these players have had the offseasons to recover. They could produce at pre-concussion levels or not play at all. In terms of fantasy drafts, I would look at where they are ranked according to just their stats and take them a couple rounds later. I see some people not even looking at drafting them due to the unknown effects of the injuries. By using this method, you will be limiting the downside and, if they play for the entire season, you get great value.

DL Stashers – Every year there are several players that are on the DL to start the season but project to find playing time later in the season. These players are usually pitchers coming back from injury and can be stashed on your team’s DL spots to start the season. The best method is to actually draft these players within the last few rounds of the draft and then immediately comb the waiver wire for more pick-ups. A person may need to draft a couple of these players a couple of rounds earlier depending on their their pre-draft rankings because some fantasy teams may be auto-drafting (and the computer will just pick the player based on their pre-determined rank). There is no shame in filling all the available DL spots through this method. During the season, when you have players go on the DL, you may be able to trade others on the DL to another team with spots open or, if you are lucky, there will be a player coming off the DL to take the new player’s spot on the active roster. Here is a list of players that people will be opposed to drafting because they (i.e. the players) are likely to spend significant time on the DL to start the season:

Johan Santana, NYM (NL)
Stephen Strasburg, WAS (NL)
Brandon Webb, TEX (AL)
Chipper Jones, ATL (NL)
Jake Peavy, CWS (AL)

Heroes Needing Sidekicks – Several stars, like Josh Hamilton, can almost be counted on to spend time on the DL during the season. When they are not injured, they are some the best players in the game; but once hurt, they are no longer a productive asset. During draft time, it is not the time to shy away from these players completely, as two players — Rickie Weeks and Hamilton — had healthy seasons last year and helped many fantasy managers to titles in 2010.

The key, in my opinion, is to know what your roster options are going to be before these players go down. You will have two options available, probably determined by what size of the league. If playing in a smaller league (mixed leagues, 12 teams or less), get the next available best player as replacement during the draft. If you draft Hamilton, once it is time to begin filling the bench players, get his replacement with the next available player from any team. In larger leagues where most serviceable players will be taken by the time you begin filling your bench, find the bench player on that team that should be taking the injured player’s place. The key is to have the player already on your team, so other teams can’t try to pick the player off the waiver wire and hold you hostage for the replacement.

Here is a list of several players that have historically spent time on the DL year after year.
Jose Reyes, NYM (NL)
Josh Hamilton, TEX (AL)
Rickie Weeks, MIL (NL)
Troy Tulowitzki, COL (NL)
B.J. Upton, TB (AL)
Justin Upton, ARZ (NL)
Rafael Furcal, LAD (NL)

*Joe Nathan, MIN (AL) – If Nathan has not thrown four or five times in a spring training with no issues, don’t buy the “I am not injured” hype, and draft Matt Capps also.

Lower-Arm Injuries – Several players go into the 2011 with previous injuries to the hand, wrist and lower arm. These injuries have been well-documented as a significant drain to a player’s power because they affect bat speed. The injuries usually take a year to fully recover from. When drafting these players, a person needs to keep two things in mind: (1) the player may underperform his expected power ceiling to begin the season and (2) owners of these players may grow frustrated with them and you may be able to buy low on a player ready to break out. Here is a list of players who either tore or broke something in their lower arm in 2010:

Coco Crisp, OAK (AL)
Jorge De La Rosa, COL (NL)
Andre Ethier, LAD (NL)
Asdrubal Cabrera, CLE (AL)
Tony Gwynn, LAD (NL)
Brandon Inge, DET (AL)
Jordan Schafer, ATL (NL)
Jack Wilson, SEA (AL)
Todd Coffey, WAS (NL)
David DeJesus, OAK (AL)
Alex Gordon, KC (AL)
Ryan Hanigan, CIN (NL)
Victor Martinez, DET (AL)
Kevin Youkilis, BOS (AL)

One exception that I have investigated is Philadelphia’s Chase Utley. Here is a look at some of his 2010 stats:

First Half: .280/.383/.466 with 11 home runs
2nd half: .277/.383/.466 with 5 home runs.
Sept/Oct .306/.420/.491 With 5 home runs

I further looked at his batted-ball distances and they were down to career lows after he came back from his injury, but the numbers then began to return to normal levels. Normally I would caution against expectations that a player would be healthy after a lower arm/wrist/hand injury. However, in Utley’s case, he should be ready to go this season, especially after having an entire winter for the hand to heal. I would have no problems taking him before New York’s (AL) Robinson Cano this year.

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Jeff writes for FanGraphs, The Hardball Times and Royals Review, as well as his own website, Baseball Heat Maps with his brother Darrell. In tandem with Bill Petti, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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