Drafting injured players can be tricky. The success of the strategy is largely dependent on your league’s rules. In a single-year format, where all players are thrown back into the pool for next season’s draft, the room for error is much narrower. In a dynasty format, however, where players are kept for X number of years or at an additional premium to the player’s salary of Y dollars, it can be used much more effectively because the chances for success are spread distributed temporally.
For example: An owner in my primary 10-team standard rotisserie league with an auction draft purchased an injured Hanley Ramirez last year for $6. Had he been healthy, he probably would have gone for $25, but his estimated time of arrival in 2013 was uncertain; he actually played his first game April 1, 2013, but appeared in only three more games between then and June 4. This uncertainty greatly reduced his value.
I should re-phrase: the uncertainty greatly reduced his 2013 value. With four days until draft day, I’m realizing now that Ramirez’s value at $6, even in 2013, was immense for the format of our league, because now he will be owned for a measly $9 — all because the owner was willing to plug a hole with a replacement-level shortstop for two months. Now his team is poised to dominate this year with cheap retention prices for Chris Davis and Paul Goldschmidt to boot.
Breaking down the strategy, it makes a lot of sense. Stream someone like Stephen Drew, ESPN’s 18th best shortstop of 2013, for two months while Ramirez heals. Their patchwork stat line would have looked like this:
.302 BA, 80 R, 24 HR, 78 RBI, 12 SB
That is a solid line for a shortstop, regardless of whose name — or names — show up in the box score.
If you fancy yourself a bargain hunter or someone who can spot the late-round sleepers, this strategy makes even more sense: Draft a superstar for less than face value, stash him on the DL and fill the opening with whomever this year’s Jean Segura may be. Even if you can’t find this year’s breakout star, the replacement-level strategy still has the opportunity to be effective.
Upon further reflection, I may take a chance on players such as Cole Hamels and Hisashi Iwakuma whose draft stocks may take a hit. There’s enough pitching depth for me to make their absences painless, and I have a chance to retain them next year at a discount (relative to their expected salaries).
It’s important, though, that the player has already established a high benchmark for himself. In this case, Jurickson Profar wouldn’t be as smart a play here; he wasn’t going for a lot of money (or too quickly off draft boards) in the first place.
The best opportunities, therefore, are found in the best players who are out for two or three months. It’s important to wring out as much 2015 value as possible, but you don’t want to clog your DL all year and hamper your 2014 value too much, or it defeats the purpose. Clearly, one must strike a fine balance.
But, basically, if you see an injured player heavily discounted on draft day, and you’re in a league that rewards bargain hunting, take a stab at him.
Here are some so-called “eligible” players for this injured-player strategy and what I predict their discounts might be:
Hamels, SP, expected to miss a month | $10, three to four rounds
Iwakuma, SP, expected to miss a month | $11, seven to eight rounds
Mike Minor, SP, expected to miss a month | $8, six to seven rounds
Aroldis Chapman, RP, expected to miss 6 to 8 weeks | $9, four to five rounds
Manny Machado, 3B, expected to miss a week, but could miss a month | $3, three rounds
Michael Bourn, OF, expected to miss a couple of weeks, but could be longer | $4, four rounds
Matt Harvey, SP, expected to miss entire year | $18, 12 to 15 rounds
Kris Medlen, PS, expected to miss entire year | $15, 10 to 12 rounds ***DISCLAIMER: may not return to form after second Tommy John surgery
Players for whom the strategy may not work so well:
Mat Latos, SP, will only miss a couple of starts
Homer Bailey, SP, will only miss a couple of starts
Profar, 2B, will miss 10 to 12 weeks but isn’t valuable enough
Jeremy Hellickson, SP, will miss two months but isn’t valuable enough
A.J. Griffin, SP, will miss entire year but isn’t valuable enough
Jarrod Parker, SP, will miss entire year but isn’t valuable enough
Brandon Beachy, SP, will miss entire year but isn’t valuable enough
Players who are wild cards:
Matt Kemp, OF, depends on if you think he’ll return to form
I’ve done most of my analysis thus far on starting pitchers, so I’ll continue the trend. A lot of pitchers broke out (depending on your definition of the term) last year — I counted 13, give or take, amid the top 50 starting pitchers of ESPN’s Player Rater — which is an excellent indicator of how valuable drafting unknown arms can be to a successful fantasy season. Seasons are won and lost on the backs of sleeper picks, and it’s time to acknowledge that sleepers exist outside the top 75-or-so pitchers according to “the experts.” For example, Hisashi Iwakuma was ranked 76th of starting pitchers (263rd overall) in preseason rankings by the ESPN staff. Patrick Corbin and Julio Teheran, the latter of whom had an incredible spring training, did not crack the top 300 players.
But I digress. Not all that glimmers is gold. Likewise, not all breakout stars are true fantasy studs. Let’s look at the 13 players I counted among ESPN’s top 50 starters and assess what their 2014 seasons will look like.
Hisashi Iwakuma: LEGIT
Iwakuma is a borderline breakout candidate — a handful of owners, including me, converted him from streamer to permanent addition to our fantasy rotations in the latter half of 2012. He dominated then, and there was no reason to think he wouldn’t do it again, based on advanced metrics. Anyway, he’s legit, but he benefited from a remarkably low BAbip, so there could be sizable regression to Iwakuma’s ratios. I ranked him 32nd overall heading into 2014, but that’s more a floor than a ceiling.
Jose Fernandez: LEGIT
No need to discuss the matter. Next! Top 10 starter.
Matt Harvey: LEGIT, but…
Harvey just had surgery on his elbow, so don’t worry about drafting him — unless you’re in a keeper league, then make sure he doesn’t slip too far. You don’t need to draft him in the 16th round for him to be valuable next year. He may warrant a 10th-round pick in your keeper league, depending on your keeper rules and the format of your league (number of DL spots, etc.).
Mike Minor: LEGIT
Is this just going to be a list of guys who are all legit? Maybe. Minor is basically the same pitcher he has always been, but he cut down on his walk rate big-time. There’s no reason to think he’ll magically lose control; my projection accounts for it to an extent, so his No. 27 ranking could be an undervaluation.
Clay Buchholz: KINDA LEGIT
Buchholz has always had the skill set. Two problems: he benefited from very favorable BAbip and HR/FB rates, and he has never started more than 26 games in a season. The perennial injury risk coupled with potential regression reminiscent of Kris Medlen between 2012 and 2013 makes him someone not worth banking on again.
Homer Bailey: LEGIT
Bailey is, like Iwakuma, a late-2012 bloomer. I streamed him like crazy as I tried to meet my innings cap in 2012, including his first no-hitter (yes, I’m bragging), so his 2013 breakout is less surprising. I may be among a small crowd who thinks he’s a top-20 pitcher, though, but I don’t mind.
Patrick Corbin: KINDA LEGIT
Corbin is good, but he clearly petered out as the season concluded. I’m inclined to think he’s more the post-All Star Break pitcher than the pre-All Star Break one. I ranked him 36th, which accounts for his upside and downside.
Julio Teheran: KINDA LEGIT
Good, but not as good as he was. He’ll improve, but he’ll also regress, which will, for matters of simplicity, cancel out each other. He’s actually a very god pitcher, but he only earns the “kinda legit” label because I think he’s going to miss expectations for him, which seem to be pretty high right now. (Also, I have a quota to meet. C’mon, people!)
Justin Masterson: KINDA LEGIT
He’s by no means an ace, but he did filthy things with his slider this year. It all depends on how often he uses it and if he’s able to retain its effectiveness next year. Still, he’s not much more than a back-end fantasy rotation kind of guy.
Chris Tillman: NOT LEGIT
The 16 wins are more of a statistical anomaly than anything. He keeps improving his K’s per nine innings, but his value was fueled almost entirely by his win count. I’d be happy for him and his owners if he notched 12 next season.
Travis Wood: NOT LEGIT
It’s not fair to see these pitchers are “kinda legit” or “not legit” because they are all professionals, and damn good ones at that. That said, stat-heads waited all year for Wood’s BAbip to regress. It never did. Doesn’t mean it never will. Also, he plays for the Cubs. He’s simply not worth the bid or draft pick.
Ricky Nolasco: KINDA LEGIT
The peripherals have always been there but he had seemingly suffered from bad luck — until last year, that is. The biggest question is if he’ll be able to replicate it. Yeah, why not? He plays for a good team in a pitcher’s park. The risk still exists, though, that the soon-to-be-31-year-old reverts to his incredibly hittable pre-2013 self.
Keep in mind that “kinda legit” pitchers are still worth drafting. Just try not to overpay too much.
Do research before your draft and find some sleepers of your own. A rookie pitcher always manages to wiggle his way into the Cy Young and/or Rookie of the Year conversation(s) — find one on which to gamble in 2014!
Seattle Mariners pitching prospect Taijuan Walker is getting the nod tomorrow versus the Houston Astros. Ranked No. 5 and 18 by MLB.com and Baseball America, respectively, Walker is fated to be a future ace simply because everyone says so.
In this scenario, “everyone” is probably right. But I’m part of the camp where each member believes it when he sees it. (I don’t know who runs this camp or where the counselors are, but it’s fun and I like it.)
I would love to buy into the Taijuan Walker craze right now, especially with so many talented young rookies making an impact this year and last. But Walker’s Triple-A line is a point of concern for me. Sure, he’s sitting on a 3.61 ERA and an attractive 10.0 K/9. But the WHIP… yikes, the WHIP and that BB/9 rate, man. A WHIP of 1.413 and coupled with more than four walks per nine innings scares me. It makes me think he wasn’t ready to transition to Triple-A, let alone the big show.
In his defense, his WHIP suffers from an inflated .331 BAbip. After adjusting it to his career rate, his WHIP is closer to 1.3 rather than 1.4, and once you consider he’s pitching in the allegedly hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, it would drop under 1.3, which makes it ultimately serviceable. But the walks are a problem for me. The 10 strikeouts-per-nine are flashy, but hitters in the majors are simply better — they will walk more and strike out less, and I think Walker’s slowly-increasing walk rate could spell problems for the young future ace in his first stint in the majors.
I’m not saying he won’t develop into an ace. Even New York Mets phenom Matt Harvey posted a 3.9 BB/9 and 1.32 WHIP during his stint in Triple-A before his call-up. I’m just saying maybe temper your expectations a bit. Don’t be surprised if there’s a prolonged adjustment period — for Pete’s sake, the kid’s 20 years old. And if you’re expecting him to change the landscape of the rest of your fantasy season, odds are he won’t.
But with the way these darned kids are impacting the game these days — and the way Safeco Field plays like a pitcher’s park — I like Walker as a nice sleeper in 2014. Too bad he’s got too much hype to be a sleeper. Maybe if you’re really keen on him, you’ll hope his debut is underwhelming.
Anyway, despite everything I just wrote, I would start pretty much anyone against the Astros these days. So if you’re thinking about streaming Walker tomorrow — my first streamer suggestion of the year! — go for it.
Apologies for the lull between posts. I’ve been entertaining friends and family in my adopted city of Portland, Ore. for the past week — while mourning the fact I will likely miss the playoffs in my head-to-head league because of a tiebreaker. More like a heartbreaker.
I’ll get back to more quantitative analysis in the coming days. For now, here’s more quick stuff.
Brandon Beachy, ATL
For playoff contenders, abandon ship (unless you’ve got space on the DL or you’re in a dynasty league). The guy has been filthy throughout his professional career, so some offseason rest will likely do him some good. Potential top-30 pitcher next year, and that’s being modest.
Marco Estrada, MIL
Is this the same Marco Estrada who humiliated me earlier this year? Part of me wonders if he only likes to turn it on after the All-Star Break. Take a look at his post-ASB numbers the past two years:
2012: 3.40 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 88 K (9.1 K/9), only 7 HR allowed in 15 starts
2013: 1.88 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 21 K (7.9 K/9), only 3 BB allowed in 4 starts
I’m being a bit facetious, because Estrada was quietly good for the entirety of 2012, but he was plagued by the long ball and poor control in the first half of this year. Aside from the flashy ratios, the three walks across 24 innings is particularly pleasing, reassuring, what-have-you. As Papa Roach once eloquently sang, “The scars remind us that the past is real” — and the scars Estrada gave me this year (further deepened every time I remember I watched Hisashi Iwakuma sit in free agency for three starts before getting signed) make it hard for me to trust him immediately. But, again, if I’m a contender, I’m on board. If his amazing post-Break K/BB ratio continues into 2014, I’m buying again.
Dan Haren, WAS
I’m sold on the bounceback… but I’m not, ya know? Haren has been very hittable this year, serving up a ton of home runs, and that trend has continued through the All-Star Break. However, since the Break, he has posted a 2.74 ERA and 0.87 WHIP in seven starts — certainly hard to ignore. But his BAbip is also .225, more than 100 points lower than his first-half mark, meaning his sudden turnaround is kind of a fluke.
Ultimately, fluctuations in HR/FB rates are largely a product of good or bad luck, and Haren’s 2013 rate is the highest of his career, as was his BAbip heading into the Break. His K/BB rate is one of the highest of his career, comparable to his All-Star/Cy Young contender days, and his strikeout rate is the best it has been since 2010. If the Washington Nationals can put 2013 in the past next year, I could see Haren bouncing back quite nicely if he can maintain his progress.
Carlos Martinez, STL
The scouts love him, but he was sent down again by the Cardinals. He may not help much this year, so don’t count on it. I’m wary of his walk rate becoming something unmanageable at the major league level, but his ability to induce outs as well as his high strikeout rate should help suppress any issues his walk rate may cause.
Danny Salazar, CLE
Salazar has become a rather underwhelming option after taking the league by storm in his first handful of starts. As Chris Towers of CBSSports.com noted, the Indians have been very strict with Salazar’s innings. Unless he is incredibly efficient, he won’t eat enough innings to be truly effective — he won’t strike out as many guys, and he may not even reach the five-inning mark needed to qualify for a win more frequently than not, just like has he has done twice in his last three starts. He’s a fashionable option now, but his leash is very short.
Oh yeah, and…
Matt Harvey, NYM
Yikes. Rarely have I muttered an expletive out loud while reading a text message — and I don’t even own him. This has surely freaked out a lot of owners, and I don’t have much solace to offer. He’ll be back next year? The Mets may actually be a force to be reckoned with in 2014?
Let’s look at the big picture, though. If you’re in a standard rotisserie league, you have about 320 innings (of 1,600) left to throw. You’re a contender with a 3.502 ERA and 1.180 WHIP with 1,200 strikeouts. So let’s say Harvey would have thrown another seven or eight starts — say, 48 innings — before season’s end. Here’s how Harvey would affect your numbers:
Before Harvey’s injury (1280 IP): 3.502 ERA, 1.180 WHIP, 1200 K (8.44 K/9)
If Harvey was healthy (1328 IP): 3.456 ERA, 1.171 WHIP, 1251 K (8.48 K/9)
See, we’re so deep into the season that Harvey’s rest-of-season projected impact (based on his current stats) is greatly diluted — only for certain teams in certain leagues will an improvement of half a run earn you multiple points in the standings. And given how few starts pitchers have left, someone who lost Harvey may even have something to gain by playing the hot hand of someone with a 0.708 WHIP over his last seven starts (Haren) or a 7.88 K/9 since coming off the DL (Estrada).
In head-to-head leagues, the story is a little different, but no so much. It is less about the big picture, like in rotisserie, as it is about the current week. It relies much more heavily on small sample sizes, and that’s what the end of the regular season truly is. Quit crying and ride a hot hand. You’ll be OK, trust me!