Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Real-life injuries being a fantasy nightmare

At this time of year, most baseball fans are thinking about their fantasy team rosters as much as the General Managers of real-life MLB teams are thinking about theirs.

Whether it’s a dynasty competition, you’ve already completed a draft already or have one or more to come, there’s lots to consider and Spring Training has a habit of adding a large dollop of confusion into the mix.

My main fantasy competition, the BGB Fantasy League, has its draft this coming week.  I’ve done some mock drafts in preparation and have a good idea of players that I think offer value – and just as importantly ones who I don’t – yet if there’s one thing that you can never fully be on top of it’s this: injuries.

Injuries are a constant source of concern because nobody can truly tell if somebody is about to be out of action. There may be signs in some cases – a loss of velocity by a pitcher, perhaps – but one throw, one swing, one stride can turn a seemingly perfectly healthy player into a Disabled List statistic.

And Spring Training makes that process even more difficult. Everything is geared towards the regular season, so teams understandably are very cautious about any signs of trouble. A slight hamstring tweak that wouldn’t be acknowledged at all when real games are at stake may become a news item and a precursor for a few days’ rest in spring.  What should we brush aside as inconsequential, or start fretting about as an issue that may linger?

Often, none of us can be completely sure.

Certainty can often be seen as a good thing; however in fantasy baseball terms that depends on your competition and draft date.

Just yesterday a potential injury was confirmed as it was announced that Oakland A’s pitcher Jharel Cotton will undergo Tommy John elbow surgery. In fantasy terms, Cotton wouldn’t have figured too highly on draft lists outside of deeper AL-only leagues and I’m using this example more with my A’s hat on (the fact that I wasn’t sure quite what performance he would bring this season doesn’t alter me being gutted that ‘Squeaky’ faces over a year out).  Even so, fantasy owners know he’s out of the equation and can plan around that.=, provided they haven’t used a draft pick on the player already.

With other players, you’re not quite so sure.

The Arizona Diamondbacks’ Zack Greinke made an early exit from his start on Wednesday due to tightness in his right groin.  A leg injury is much less of a concern for a pitcher than an elbow or shoulder problem, and most things point to this being a minor issue, yet Greinke had expressed self-doubts on how he was feeling prior to that start. Maybe it will prove to be more of a problem than first thought?

The same could be said for the Washington Nationals’ Daniel Murphy. He underwent knee surgery in October and at that point no one really thought much of it. He we are on 18 March and whilst he has been taking batting practice and doing some light fielding work, he still hasn’t played a Spring Training game and doesn’t look likely to anytime soon.

Although the Nationals haven’t completely ruled him out for Opening Day, it now has to be a long shot that he’ll be ready in time.

Context is key here and that’s something that can be easily ignored at fantasy draft time. Washington are looking at October and competing for a World Series and whilst they would like to see Murphy out there on Opening Day, it doesn’t really matter if he’s not. Whether it’s a few days or a few weeks, they have enough options to cover the infield early in the season to allow Murphy to take his time with his recovery. The very last thing the Nationals want to happen is to rush Murphy back and then see him break down again.

Any fantasy baseball player from 2017 will know that a cautious approach by MLB teams is now much more likely given the rule change to reduce the minimum Disabled List period down from 15 to 10. The LA Dodgers were one of the more creative users of this last year (other people may find others words to describe it) to give players – pitchers in particular – a bit of rest here and there over the course of the season. I know some fantasy league ‘commissioners’ have changed their Disabled List settings this year as a result where previously there were small limits on how many players you could DL.

One of the many nuggets you will find in the Ron Shandler 2018 Baseball Forecaster is that 58 per cent of the Top 300 drafted players were either disabled, demoted or designated for assignment at some point in the 2017 season. As Shandler puts it:

“Little did you know last March that nearly six out of every 10 players you drafted would be disabled, demoted or DFA’d by year’s end”.

It’s not a case of if injuries or other issues will hit your roster, either real-life or fantasy, but when.  As we scour the Spring Training news for injury updates we all do so knowing that the best we can do is take the latest information then make our educated guesses as to who we may be able to count on and plan for what we may do if a key player goes down.

The only thing we can do is make sure we’ve got the latest injury info to hand when we’re drafting. Injuries are always bad luck for a fantasy owner except for when you make a draft decision not realising that there was a concern about their fitness.

I’m a casual fantasy baseball player so generally don’t feel in a position to offer too much advice to others, but if there’s one bit I can give you it’s to find your favourite fantasy injury news sections, even just the MLB.com one, and make sure it’s accessible when you’re drafting. I’ve made my share of mistakes in the virtual draft room over the years, but this is one I haven’t made and don’t ever intend to.

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