Back from the Dead

Every year, there’s a slew of players that miss the entire season, or close to it, with injury problems. But 2009 was a different year. Not only were there low-level players missing time, but some high=profile players were among them. A Cy Young winner, an Olympic champion, and a couple of All-Stars were all out for most of the 2009 baseball season, but are ready to come back in 2010 and give it another run.

Injured players are always tricky to value on draft day. Chien-Ming Wang leaves a permanent scar in my mind as a player who seemed to be healthy, but was really covering up an injury and rushing back for the ’09 season. Fantasy owners have no way to know this, so injured players will always be drafted lower than their value dictates. If you make the right choice and find an injured player who returns to his previous level of performance, you could find yourself in the top of the standings come year’s end.

Here is a look at some of the top players coming back from a severely shortened, or non-existent, 2009 campaign.

Justin Duchscherer, SP, Athletics

From 2004 to 2006, Duchscherer was an outstanding bullpen arm for the Oakland A’s. In 2007, he hit the DL in May with a right hip strain and did not pitch again for the rest of the season. Duchscherer’s first real season as a big league starter in 2008 put him on the map for fantasy owners. He made an All-Star game appearance and was in Cy Young talks until his hip flared up again and he was forced to miss the last month of the season. During spring training of 2009, Duchscherer went down with an elbow injury and did not pitch in the Majors during the 2009 season. However, most of his issues did not stem from his elbow, but from a bout with depression. He made three rehab starts in late July and early August, so the elbow should be fine going into the 2010 season. He seems to have gotten control of his demons, so another strong season from Duchscherer seems in order. He is a great sleeper candidate going into drafts, as he will give you ace-like production from a late-round pick.

Troy Glaus, 1B/3B, Braves

After a nice first season with the Cardinals in 2008, Glaus missed all but 14 games in the 2009 season. He underwent surgery on his right shoulder in late January and began a minor league rehab stint in July. He stayed in the minors until September, when he was taken off the DL and placed on the big league roster. He didn’t exactly shine in the month of September, making his brief 2009 season a forgettable one. He looks to be completely healthy heading into 2010 and will be holding down the first-base job for the Braves. While he probably won’t have first-base eligibility heading into drafts, Glaus will be able to play at both corner infield spots soon after the season begins, helping his value. A year like he had in 2008 (.270/27/99) isn’t out of the question, but the best bet is that he will regress a bit due to his age (33).

Shaun Marcum, SP, Blue Jays

After his first season as a full-time starter in 2008, Marcum had Tommy John surgery on his elbow and was scheduled to miss all of the 2009 season. However, his progress was well ahead of schedule and there was talk that he may have been ready to return to the big leagues late in the 2009 season. However, he stayed on the sidelines and now appears ready for the 2010 season. In 2008, Marcum started 25 games and compiled nine wins, a 3.39 ERA and a 7.31 K/9. Marcum was a nice surprise in 2008, and he should slip to a nice value pick in 2010 drafts.

Xavier Nady, RF, Free Agent

After playing for the Yankees in the second half of 2008, Nady was forced to battle Nick Swisher for the starting right-field job in New York. He won the job and started for the Yankees during his 2009 season. All seven games of it. Nady went down early with an elbow injury, and ended up having Tommy John surgery in July. Nady thinks he’ll be ready to go to start the ’09 campaign, but that is an optimistic approach. When healthy, Nady hit 25 homers with a .305 average in 2008; however, his average was inflated due to a high BABIP in Pittsburgh, so if he is back to normal, expect it to fall closer to his .280 career batting average. Because his offensive production is only good and not great, couple that with an injury issue, and you have a player to stay away from.

Ben Sheets, SP, Oakland

In what should be a surprise to no one, the oft-injured Sheets missed the entire 2009 season after undergoing surgery on his right elbow. The 2008 season was the first one since 2004 that Sheets made 30 or more starts. His strikeout rate was down to 7.17 K/9 in ’08, which surprisingly was up from his 6.75 K/9 in 2007. Everyone thinks of Sheets as a big strikeout pitcher, but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. However, he doesn’t walk hitters, either, as witnessed by a 1.15 WHIP in his last season of work. Everyone knows Sheets’ injury history and most aren’t scared off by it. Combine that with his lower than assumed strikeout rate and you have a pitcher to stay away from.

Brandon Webb, SP, Diamondbacks

After winning the NL Cy Young award in 2006, Webb finished second in the voting in 2007 and 2008, and seemed primed for another Cy run in 2009. Starting on opening day for the Diamondbacks, Webb left after four innings with soreness in his throwing shoulder. Webb and the team originally thought it was nothing serious, but he ended up missing the entire season and had surgery in early August. Webb pitched at least 200 innings every year since 2004, and has been an absolute workhorse for the D-Backs. If he is truly healthy, he should be in line for another great year due to his outstanding sinker. If he can pitch another full season, 15 wins to go along with a sub 3.50 ERA and 180 strikeouts are more than possible, they are likely. He should be great value on draft day, but his shoulder will always be a concern.

Other notable players like Jeff Francis (SP, COL), Joey Devine (RP, OAK), and Jake Westbrook (SP, CLE) are all good players to take a chance on in deeper leagues, as they will be back for the start of the year or shortly thereafter. Blue Jays pitchers Dustin McGowan and Jesse Litsch are both going to miss the first month of the year or more, so wait to see if they are healthy before picking them up off the waiver wire.

Be smart when drafting the aforementioned players. Know their injuries and protect your roster by drafting dependable players around them. If you get it right, the rewards will be great. If you get it wrong and don’t protect yourself, your team will crumble.

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Zach is the creator and co-author of RotoGraphs' Roto Riteup series, and RotoGraphs' second-longest tenured writer. You can follow him on twitter.
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Justin Duchscherer had one phenomenal year as a starter but if you look peripherals:

6.0 k/9 < league average of 6.9 k/9
BA 0.211 < 0.235 career avg
XFIP 4.22

I wouldn't expect Ace…but you could get a low end 2nd/high end 3rd starter from him late in the draft.

NOTE – I'm not going to challenge his LOB of 77.8 in 2008 since his career avg is 77.4