Recap: First Pitch New York

Yesterday, I attended Baseball HQ’s First Pitch seminar in Saddle Brook, N.J. It was a fun time, so I’d like to thank the speakers and the guys at Baseball HQ who put it together.

I’d like to share a few interesting tidbits from the day.

Hand injuries—Utley, Zimmerman and Weeks

As always, Rick Wilton was a font of injury information. Perhaps the most interesting things I learned were the details behind hand and wrist injuries. Last July, Rick wrote about Chase Utley in a post for THT. If you’ll remember, this was right after Utley suffered a fractured right hand. Rick wrote that “even if he does beat the four weeks, Utley has another hurdle to overcome. Players coming off wrist and hand injuries rarely regain their normal power levels for up to a year after the injury.”

Yesterday, Rick outlined an exact timetable for these types of guys. He said that it generally takes eight to nine months for a hitter to regain 80 percent of his power and 10 or 12 months to regain 100 percent. This has some important fantasy implications for several players in 2008.

Chase Utley
Let’s start with Utley. The eight-month mark was Feb. 27, and he’ll be past nine months by the time the season starts. Because Utley will be just 80 percent to start the season, I’ll mostly be passing on Utley in favor of more reliable hitters in the first round of my drafts. Because of this limitation, all it will take is a little bad luck for Utley to have a poor first-half. If he does, the 12-month mark is at the end of July, which makes Utley a potentially excellent trade target for the second-half.

Ryan Zimmerman
Another guy who figures to be impacted is Ryan Zimmerman. Back in November, Zimmerman broke a bone in his left wrist, forcing him to have surgery. As per Rick’s timetable, Zimm won’t regain 80 percent of his power until July or August.

When you consider how high some people are on Zimmerman—an example is Baseball Prospectus’ Joe Sheehan, who said that “Zimmerman will be a better player than David Wright in 2008″—and the power he stands to lose for 2008, he’s a guy likely to be overvalued at your draft. I’m staying away this year.

Rickie Weeks
Rickie Weeks is another guy to note. Weeks had wrist surgery in the middle of August 2006 and struggled for a good portion of the 2007 season. The nine-month mark came for him in May, but by the end of the month he had to go on the disabled list with wrist tendinitis. At that point, he had just a 34 AB/HR and a 41 percent fly ball rate.

When he came back, he started off slow, but after his first home run on Aug. 24 (right around the 12-month mark), Weeks went on to post an 11 AB/HR and a 46 percent fly ball rate. Granted, this was in just 121 at-bats, but consider this: In September, according to HitTracker, Weeks hit six home runs a true distance over 400 feet, including two that went over 460 true feet. That is monster power. Even considering the small sample size, Weeks is a very interesting guy to watch with a ton of upside for 2008.

I’m not sure if the wrist tendinitis in May of 2007 resets his clock, but even if it does, Weeks would be reaching the 10-month mark right about now, meaning he could have all of his power back now anyway. My guess would be that the tendinitis doesn’t count, since it wasn’t surgery, and because Rick noted that Weeks figures to improve his power this year.

Troy Percival

Troy Percival is currently the closer for the Tampa Bay Rays, but Rick doesn’t think this arrangement will last.

When Percival retired in 2006, it was because he partially tore his right (throwing) flexor pronator muscle mass. Rick noted that Percival never actually underwent surgery to fix this problem, and he feels that Percival could begin having trouble as early as April. Watch the news on Percival very closely. If you hear about him having trouble with his throwing elbow or arm, be aware that an injury could be coming, or that one has already arisen and the Rays are trying to downplay it.

If Percival is available late in your draft, don’t let me stop you from taking him. It might be smarter to take Dan Wheeler or Al Reyes, though. Wheeler is the younger of the two and has the better skills. Reyes closed last year, but he also figures to be a trade candidate. Wheeler isn’t getting drafted in most leagues, but he would make a solid late round choice after all the legitimate closers are off the board.

B.J. Ryan

B.J. Ryan is an interesting guy in that the reports this spring have all been positive, despite the fact that it’s been just 10 months since his Tommy John surgery. It generally takes pitchers 18 months before they’re ready to go, or starting pitchers anyway. I asked Rick about this, and he said that relievers have an altered timetable, which makes sense.

He said not to put much weight into the reports that say Ryan is “ahead of schedule” and “feeling great” and whatnot; these come out every time someone is on the way back from Tommy John. He does feel, however, that Ryan will be okay to pitch at the start of the year. He thinks Jeremy Accardo will begin the year closing and that Ryan will be eased in, taking over a couple of months into the season. His suggestion was to grab both late in a draft and assure yourself all of Toronto’s saves.

Jays manager John Gibbons has said Accardo would be the setup man if Ryan is healthy. Just be sure to keep in mind what Jays brass (which includes Gibbons) was saying about Ryan at this point last year. A stiff back that was “not going to be a problem” turned out to be a sore elbow that would need Tommy John surgery. Who knows if they truly intend to make him the closer out of the gates?

MLB’s Diversity Fellowship Is a Step in the Right Direction
It is not a perfect program, but it certainly counts as progress.

Overall, be careful, but Ryan doesn’t seem to be quite as risky as I had originally suspected.

Early rounds and reliability

Ron Shandler talked about the importance of getting reliable players in the early rounds of drafts. Patrick DiCaprio has talked about this as well lately on his radio show and on Fantasy Baseball Generals, and I couldn’t agree more. In nearly all of my drafts this year, I try to make it a point to get players with stable skill sets in the first two rounds, at the very least.

Using the probabilistic concept of value, risk is built into projections; all possibilities are accounted for and combined into one number. Over time, using these values will give you the greatest gain. If you use this concept, though, and choose players who have a wide array of possibilities, sometimes you will do very well, but other times you will bomb. In competitive leagues, it becomes nearly impossible to make up the necessary value if your first or second round pick does poorly.

In important leagues, it can be a good idea to sacrifice a tiny bit of “value” for reliability. When you take guys with solid skill sets, you know what you’re getting (in relative terms). The drop-off in value from a guy like Ryan Braun to Carlos Lee is quite small, but the benefits from Lee’s stable skill set more than makes up the gap in a league that is competitive and important to win.

In one recent expert draft, I managed to get David Wright, Carlos Lee and Mark Teixeira with my first three picks, all very consistent producers. Having a core like this lays a great foundation for a team and makes it easier to take some risks later on.

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