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How to Approach Injured Players on Draft Day (Fantasy Baseball)

by Michael Waterloo | @MichaelWaterloo | Featured Writer
Apr 24, 2020

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One of the debates that pops up every year within the fantasy baseball community is around the best time to hold your draft. There are two schools of thought here, really: 

  1. Hold your draft as early as possible.
  2. Hold your draft as close to Opening Day as possible.

Neither of these approaches is wrong, and there are pros and cons to both. The earlier you draft, the more values that you can find on players who are “sleepers” or are battling for a regular role on a team. But, in turn, you also run the risk of a player on your team getting injured and having it cripple your chances before Spring Training is halfway done.

If you go with the latter approach, the value on a lot of the players are gone, but you also minimize the injury risk a tad by having an idea of who is already injured and for how long.

The key phrase in all of this so far is minimizing the risk. That’s what you should do when you are drafting your fantasy team.

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With pitchers — and some hitters, of course — there are risks already baked in. When dealing with injured players, always ask yourself, “is the risk worth the reward?”

For instance, look at Chris Sale heading into 2020. He wasn’t throwing right away in Spring Training, but we were told it was because of the flu and not because of anything with his elbow. Then, out of nowhere (but not really out of nowhere if you followed him at all in 2019), Sale popped up with an elbow injury that left his season in doubt.

Even after it was reported that Sale was visiting Dr. James Andrews with a flexor strain, Sale was still going among the top-35 pitchers in drafts, only for it to be a lost season with Tommy John Surgery. 

Not all injured pitchers have that result, though. Look at Clayton Kershaw in 2018. Kershaw was pushed down in drafts, as Dave Roberts said that Kershaw would start the season on the IL with shoulder inflammation. 

Kershaw ended up putting together a good season for fantasy managers — not prime Kershaw numbers, but still good — rewarding those who took a chance on him in drafts.

You’ll often see timelines given for injuries, which, of course, range based on the injury. With those injuries, you need to take them by a case-by-case basis, depending on each player and the severity of each injury. 

If it’s, say, a 4-6 week timeframe, the smart money is to bet on the six-week timeframe, and that doesn’t include a rehab assignment. 

If it’s a soft tissue injury, you also need to be aware that those take longer to heal and can be reinjured very easily throughout the season.

But what if there aren’t timeframes available at the time of your draft? What if the team stays mum about the status of a player beyond the typical coachspeak?

Thankfully, we have a new tool at our disposal. Derek Rhoads of Jag Fantasy Sports introduced an interactive injury database that takes a look at the injuries in baseball dating back to 2014. Within that database, you can look at an injury suffered by a player and how long other players have missed with the same injury. It gives you the total number of players who suffered the injury, the amount of time that they missed, and the average time missed by all of the players. 

Kudos to Derek for the great tool, which can be used during the season, too. 

Another good way to get a feel for the severity of the injuries is to follow some of the many medical experts on Twitter who have an understanding of fantasy sports.

Some of those include:

When it comes down to it, as a fantasy manager, you have to know your comfort level when with risk. Your team is going to deal with numerous injuries throughout the season as it is, so taking already injured players from the beginning of the year could come back to haunt you.

If it’s a dynasty or a keeper league, though, where late-round picks are able to be kept for a value, there’s something to be said, given roster makeup and league settings, for taking an injured player who is missing the year with Tommy John Surgery or is going to miss half of the season recovering from a knee or shoulder injury and stashing them for the year to reap the potential benefits the following season. 

Use the above tools when planning for your drafts to rule out which players you’re comfortable taking a chance on — and those who you are out on to begin with. 

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Michael Waterloo is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Michael, check out his archive and follow him @MichaelWaterloo.

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