Oh, you don't want that player.
At least you think you don't as you go to grab him on Draft Day and begin visualizing all the red flags popping up around him. You remember the elbow injury that cost him three months of the season. You remember the paltry numbers upon his return. You remember the surgical procedure in early October, the lengthy offseason rehabilitation and the many injuries he suffered earlier in his career. And as you pull your hand back from the mouse, deliberating over your increasingly complicated decision, you can't help but wonder, "If the guy has so many problems, why should I take the risk?"
Risk -- it's a tricky concept. But whenever a player suffers an injury, he suddenly comes attached with it. That inherent risk scares away potential buyers, causing the player's value to slip and slip and slip all the more.
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But it has its advantages. For all the harm a risky player can do, he still has the abilities that gave him so much value in the first place. And if that value slips just enough, with one too many buyers turning the other way, you can take him at the point the reward outweighs the risk.
For those injury risks, this piece assesses the damage done -- not so much to each player's body, but to his value on Draft Day. How much did it fall, or in some cases, how much didn't it rise?
After each player's name, you'll see an approximation for when during a draft the potential reward outweighs the risk -- either in the early rounds (1-5), the early-to-middle rounds (6-10), the middle rounds (11-16), or the late rounds (17+).
So stop the deliberation, put your hand back on the mouse, and click on these players with confidence.
B.J. Upton, OF, Rays (early rounds)
Power -- Upton has it.
|B.J. Upton produced with a bum shoulder. Think of what he can do when healthy? (US Presswire)|
Keep in mind, though, he played the whole year with a torn labrum in his left shoulder -- an ailment that required surgery in the offseason. And by the way he talked after the procedure, he couldn't have played any better.
"It actually feels like there's something there," Upton recently told the Tampa Tribune. "All year it was kind of weak and it kind of felt like it didn't have anything behind it, but since the surgery it's come along and it's definitely getting stronger."
Think of how many factors have to go just right for a major-league player to hit a home run. Now, of all those factors, take away the strength from one of the two body parts actually swinging the bat. Kind of makes you wonder how Upton hit any home runs, doesn't it?
And oh, by the way, even with "nothing there," he still managed to hit seven home runs in the playoffs, guiding the Rays to the World Series. With Upton's shoulder now repaired and his status as one of baseball's best natural talents still intact, the home runs will come -- if not in April, then soon afterward.
Look, you can't exactly wait until the 10th round to draft him, but just his 44 stolen bases last year make him worthy of a fourth- or fifth-round pick in Rotisserie leagues. If you take those exact same numbers and then add 20 home runs to them, think of the bargain you're getting. I probably wouldn't draft him in the second round -- the recovery might cost him some time in April, after all -- but I wouldn't hesitate to draft him soon afterward.
Francisco Liriano, SP, Twins (early-to-middle rounds)
Liriano had the incredible rookie season in 2006. He had the recovery from Tommy John surgery in 2007. He had the sleeper status entering 2008 and hundreds of thousands of Fantasy owners in his back pocket, ready to believe he could recapture the form that allowed him to go 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP and 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings the year of the injury.
He had it and blew it, spending most of 2008 trying to right himself at Triple-A Rochester after a disastrous first three weeks of the season. But the story doesn't end there. He ended up returning in August, looking more like himself with a 6-1 record and 2.74 ERA over his final 11 starts, giving the whole world cause for excitement again.
So now Liriano, an ace-in-waiting, has another year of sleeper status where you can get him much later than his anticipated numbers suggest you should. And while everybody seems to know it, they know it in a way that makes them want to see just how late they can get him, not in a way that makes them want to reach for him early, assuming he'll live up to his potential. Or at least the early results say so. Funny how that works sometimes in Fantasy.
You obviously don't want to get so caught up in the Liriano hype that you draft him among the elite pitchers, because then he only has the potential to underperform, not outperform, his draft value. But if you can get him as your second or maybe even your third pitcher, you might end up having the best staff in your league.
Milton Bradley, OF, Cubs (middle rounds)
|Milton Bradley's numbers are absurd, when he's healthy enough to step in the batter's box. (US Presswire)|
Of course, some people assume he only achieved those numbers because he played in one of the league's better hitter's parks, and his home-road splits certainly seem to support that idea. But those people seem to forget his breakout actually occurred with the Padres -- in perhaps the worst park for hitters -- one season earlier, when he hit .313 with 11 home runs and a 1.004 OPS in 144 at-bats. By that account, his numbers last year had less to do with ballpark and more to do with the natural maturation of a hitter.
So there you have it: great numbers. Now, you want a word to describe his health? Try flaky. Or shaky. Breaky? Doesn't matter. Any word that connotes some measure of "bad" will do the trick. And it's not like he breaks every bone in his body and spends weeks at a time on the DL. It's just that every little tweak or muscle pull throughout the season forces him to the bench. Hey, I don't judge. If it hurts, it hurts.
But come on. For that kind of potential, the mere possibility he stays healthy justifies a middle-round pick. And even if he has his usual injuries, you'll want him active whenever he can play.
Erik Bedard, SP, Mariners (middle rounds)
One year ago, Bedard was in the discussion for third-best pitcher in Fantasy.
It almost sounds like a bad dream.
But should it really? During a season in which he never looked like he wanted to pitch -- one that ended after 15 starts because of a sore shoulder -- he posted some halfway impressive numbers -- ones comparable to his breakout 2006 season, if not his uber-breakout 2007.
The fact remains he's one of only a few starting pitchers who can strike out more than one batter per inning, allow less than one hit per inning, and not walk every single batter in between.
Sure, he has suffered his share of injuries and probably won't win more than a dozen games or so for the Mariners, but for a pitcher with top-10 potential, you could live with a wasted pick in the middle rounds, couldn't you?
Draft him as the fourth man in your rotation and don't look back.
Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals (middle rounds)
One of these years, Zimmerman has to step up his production and swat more than 24 home runs in a season. Otherwise, we might start thinking of him more as a potential bust than a potential sleeper in Fantasy.
But considering he missed two months of last season with a torn muscle in his left shoulder and tried to play through the injury for who knows how much longer, his 14 home runs look pretty good.
Especially when you focus on two months -- the one just before the shoulder injury, May, and the one right after he had a chance to make a full recovery, September. During those months, he hit .290 with 10 home runs and a .514 slugging percentage in 183 at-bats. Sounds like a middle-of-the-order hitter, right? Sounds like the early signs of a breakout, even?
The breakout will come eventually for the 24-year-old, and if not for the shoulder injury, it might have already come. Again, a player with his status as a former top prospect also has the potential to go too early in Fantasy drafts, but if you find yourself choosing between Zimmerman and players like Jorge Cantu and Adrian Beltre, hopefully you know which one to take.
Chris Young, SP, Padres (middle rounds)
Young has always enticed Fantasy owners with his strikeout potential and nearly unhittable stuff. In fact, if anything, his reputation as a bat misser has flown a bit under the radar because of injuries. When you stop and consider his career 1.19 WHIP even though he walks a relatively high 3.3 batters per nine innings, you begin to realize just how rarely hitters make solid contact off him. I mean, Johan Santana -- the best pitcher in Fantasy, I might add -- had a comparable 1.16 WHIP last season, and he walked only 2.4 batters per nine innings.
But alas, those injuries. Forget 200 innings. Now four seasons into his major-league career, Young has yet to reach 180, and some Fantasy owners have apparently lost hope he ever will. With injuries now seemingly a foregone conclusion for the right-hander, his stock has slipped to the point where he now goes off the board in the same territory as Ubaldo Jimenez and Johnny Cueto in some Fantasy leagues -- two far bigger mysteries from a statistical standpoint.
But stop for a minute and consider Young's injury last year. An elbow? No. A shoulder? Not quite. A skull fracture from a batted ball? Ding, ding, ding! He took a page out of Roy Halladay's big book of freak injuries, and his Fantasy stock couldn't have declined more as a result. Seriously, a skull fracture? It won't happen again, people, and even if you assume he'll suffer a more common injury instead, his past status as an early-to-middle-round pick should already account for that risk. The fact his stock continues to drop has no real statistical basis unless you play in a league without bench or injury slots. If Young falls to you after Round 15, take him. He won't hurt you in any category except for maybe wins.
Hank Blalock, 3B, Rangers (late rounds)
In each of the last two seasons, Blalock has posted a higher batting average and slugging percentage than in any of the previous three.
So it goes for a 28-year-old player just beginning the prime of his career. The strikeouts decrease, the production increases, and the batting average stabilizes.
But you probably hadn't even noticed, mostly because Blalock has played only 123 games over the last two seasons.
A hand injury proved the culprit last season ... and a hamstring injury ... and carpal tunnel syndrome. OK, let's face it: He was wreck from start to finish.
Except when at the plate, where he produced numbers befitting of any Fantasy-relevant corner infielder.
Look, the guy has problems with his body, but the Rangers might have finally found the solution by making him their everyday DH this season. After bouncing between third base and first base all of last season, he now won't have to play that field at all, which cuts his risk of injury by 50 percent.
OK, that's a totally made-up statistic, but it has a certain logic to it, right?
If you need a corner infielder late, Blalock will certainly give you the numbers, and you can always cross your fingers and hope he gives you the time.
Here's a quick look at a few more "damaged" players worth noting on Draft Day:
Adam Wainwright, SP, Cardinals (middle rounds): Wainwright compares to Zimmerman and Blalock in that an injury -- his to his finger -- overshadowed a breakout season. He went 5-2 with a 2.86 ERA over the first two months and returned to go 5-0 over his final seven starts. He has the value of a No. 2 starting pitcher but the draft position of a No. 4.
Eric Byrnes, OF, Diamondbacks (late rounds): A forgotten man after a torn left hamstring cost him most of last season, Byrnes is only one year removed from 21 homers and 50 stolen bases and two years removed from a separate 20-20 season. His combination of power and speed makes him an easy call in the late rounds of a Rotisserie draft even if his leg injury could possibly turn him into a different player.
Elijah Dukes, OF, Nationals (late rounds): Dukes is kind of like Bradley with the OPS potential and nagging muscle injuries, only he hasn't quite lasted through a full season just yet. He's young, though, and has the potential to steal a few bases to go along with the home runs. With a late-round pick, he can't possibly disappoint.
John Maine, SP, Mets (late rounds): Before he battled shoulder soreness last season, Fantasy owners lauded Maine as a burgeoning ace with a decent strikeout rate and low batting average against. Now, with him coming off a minor surgical procedure -- nothing invasive -- they don't want anything to do with him. True, the soreness could return, but considering the relative ease of the procedure, it might not bother him again. No sense in avoiding him late.
Kazuo Matsui, 2B, Astros (late rounds): Matsui can't stay healthy. He can't. He has a career high of 410 at-bats. But he also has a .290 batting average and 52 stolen bases over the last two seasons. One of these years, he might just stay healthy, and with his stolen-base potential at one of the weakest positions in Fantasy, he'll make some Rotisserie owner very, very happy. Why not take a flier on him late?
Randy Johnson, SP, Giants (late rounds): Always overlooked because of his age and chronic back issues, Johnson had a mostly healthy season in 2008, making 30 starts for the fourth time in five seasons. He still knows how to pitch, too, compiling a 2.41 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP in the second half. You can get him late -- as in the last round or two -- and he'll probably end up a permanent part of your rotation at some point during the season.
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