First off, I would like to introduce myself to the loyal readers of The Hardball Times. My name is Chris Neault, and I am a licensed Physical Therapist with a background in baseball. I write a baseball injury analysis blog called The Disabled List Informer, which deals with the fantasy baseball implications of the very injuries that are sustained by the players. After having read my blog over a period of time, the management of THT approached me and asked me if I would write for the site—to which I agreed. I am certainly honored to have such an opportunity to be able to contribute to a site with such esteemed and well-respected baseball minds, as well as to inform their assemblage of information-thirsty readers. Now, on to the insight…
Injury Implications for draft day
If you are reading this column, you undoubtedly are addicted to fantasy baseball and have more than likely been catching up on all the latest news pertaining to injuries around the league. Some injuries leave players with a clear prognosis and expected return date, while others are already listed as “out for the season.” In these situations, most fantasy managers can plan their drafts and waiver wire claims accordingly.
The problem is that these situations are becoming less commonplace, as teams are disclosing less and less information in an attempt to avoid a media firestorm, and perhaps to gain a competitive advantage over their opponents. Managers are offering vague explanations of their players’ injuries. GMs are painting optimistic views of the situation, when there really should be no reason to expect anything less than the worst. This is where I come in: to offer you some additional nuggets of information that could mean the difference between a draft day steal and a draft day blunder.
Here are the most noteworthy injuries thus far in the early part of the 2008 season. The players with links have additional analysis at my blog:
Joe Mauer, Minnesota: Left leg injuries galore for this uber-talented backstop. He has suffered injuries to the left quadriceps, left hamstrings, left ankle, and left knee. There is clearly something biomechanically wrong here. Unless Minnesota finds him 100-150 at bats as the DH, look for him to spend one or two stints on the DL with some form of “left lower extremity injury.”
Albert Pujols, St. Louis: Do you really want to spend a first round pick on someone who could spend the season on the DL with one swing of the bat? I wrote back in February that Pujols should be avoided in the first round, and possibly even the second. He has a very involved right elbow, one that includes arthritis, bone spurs, and torn ligaments. This does not sound too promising, despite what Pujols says. The mere presence of bone spurs scares me even more because the rough edges of bone can act like a serrated knife when contacting the ligament (Ulnar Collateral Ligament). Even his Doctors are concerned that surgery could happen. Buyer beware.
Daric Barton, Oakland: He is back playing without restriction, but is coming off left wrist and elbow injuries. He is hitting just .172 this spring, so you have to wonder if he is still struggling with the wrist, which was jammed while applying a swipe tag in June 2007. If it were a minor thing, you’d think he’d be over it by now. Draft only as a bench player in most formats towards the last one or two rounds.
Lance Berkman, Houston: The robust slugger is once again dealing with a strained left oblique muscle. He seems to have this injury every season—each of the past five seasons, to be exact. He has since returned from this injury, but unless he changes his strengthening and conditioning program, he will likely continue to strain this muscle group. When injured, these muscles cannot provide the torsion of the trunk that is necessary to generate significant bat speed, and a lack in power production ensues. I would draft him as you normally would, but have a reliable backup plan if you do decide to draft The Caveman.
Carlos Delgado, N.Y. Mets: Just plain old. I would bet that his “hip flexor strain” is actually an arthritic hip. I mean, how does a 35-year-old first baseman strain a hip flexor if he never runs hard? His right hip is the one we are talking about here: the one that he strides with and needs to rotate his trunk over to the right. What this does is create compression in the joint, leading to wearing away of the articulating surfaces in the hip joint. It is also possible that he is wearing out his labral cartilage. I would expect more of the same in 2007 production in 2008, and perhaps even less. He cannot be relied upon to be your starting first baseman this year, but is a decent plug-in when healthy.
Freddy Sanchez, Pittsburgh: Not much news on Freddy’s right shoulder, except that he is experiencing some pain while throwing. This is the same surgery that he had minor surgery on in the offseason. The good news? He plays second base and has short throws. The bad news? If his rotator cuff is tight or inflamed, he will have trouble with his follow-through as he swings the bat. Since he’s only good for solid batting average, if he cannot swing without pain, he is useless to own. Leave him on the free agent list if you have better options, otherwise draft him in the last 5-6 rounds and stash him away.
Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee: We are all hoping for a breakout season in 2008. Even I had been hyping the promising youngster earlier this year, noting his excellent second half splits. He sustained yet another right hand injury last week after sliding head first and jamming his fingers. He is hitting well under .200 this spring and is striking out at an alarming rate thus far. You have to wonder if we are all guilty of wishful thinking, but at the same time, I really do believe that the majority of his surgery-related maladies are behind him. The talent is there. You gotta believe. He is certainly worth a starting second base gig on your fantasy squad if you miss out on the top two tiers, as his potential is top-five at the position—possibly top-three.
Hank Blalock, Texas: I truly believe that the downward spiral in his production over the past couple of seasons was due to the progression of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, for which he had corrective surgery for. The power will return, now that the nerves of the brachial plexus are not being compressed, and now that the pain is gone. Hank can be taken as, in my opinion, the top deep sleeper of the 2008 draft. Derek Carty agrees. Pencil him in at third base and watch him ascend to the the 30-35 home run plateau once again. 100+ RBIs are not out of the question here, so draft with confidence.
Eric Chavez, Oakland: When you’re dealing with back injuries, especially at a position like third base, where bending at the waist and diving in all directions is paramount, you really cannot expect much success. Such is the case with Chavez, whose chronically hurting low back has continued to hamper his 2008 aspirations. You simply cannot draft him as your starting third baseman, and I am even pondering whether or not he’s worth a bench spot in mixed leagues at this point. He is likely starting the season on the DL.
Andy LaRoche, L.A. Dodgers: The right thumb injury sustained by LaRoche is serious, and will hinder his bat handling skills, even when he returns to action, which is looking like late-July at the earliest. I would forego drafting LaRoche in all mixed leagues, but consider stashing him for NL-only leagues. Keeper leaguers can draft him with confidence, but realize that 2008 is a lost cause.
Scott Rolen, Toronto: Rolen fractured his middle finger and tore his finger nail off on Sunday, after being struck by a batted ball at third base. This injury is nothing major, but it will sideline him for around six weeks. If you are relying on Rolen for your fantasy team in mixed leagues, you should be looking forward to 2009.
Hanley Ramirez,SS, Florida: There is nothing to worry about here. He had shoulder surgery in the offseason, but is raring to go and all signs are positive early on. At the worst, I would expect a dropoff in steals, as he will be hesitant to dive head first in fear of subluxing the shoulder. He is still an elite player at a scarce position, and is absolutely worthy of a top-three selection.
Carlos Beltran, N.Y. Mets: Until recently, he was unable to run at anywhere close to full speed due to offseason knee surgery. He has been playing the field over the past week or so, so perhaps he is making progress. Chances are that when the season rolls around and there is little time to take breaks and recover, that Beltran will experience knee pain. It is a very real possibility that Beltran will land on the 15-day DL once or twice this season. Keep this in mind as you prepare for your drafts. He is likely to run less than in previous seasons, thus limiting his fantasy production.
Curtis Granderson, Detroit: A non-displaced fracture of his right middle finger should be of no concern to you. He will miss four weeks, but then return without restrictions. No surgery is needed here. Draft him as you normally would, and reserve him on the DL for the first few weeks of the season.
Moises Alou, N.Y. Mets: A hernia repair will sideline Alou until early to mid-April at the earliest. We all are familiar with his recovery times from various injuries through the years, so we can almost certainly guarantee an eight-week recovery here. He remains one of the greatest injury risks in all of MLB. I simply ignore that he’s available on draft day, and so should you.
Vladimir Guerrero, L.A. Angels: His sore right knee sounds like arthritis or chondromalacia (an irritation of the cartilage of the kneecap). I would expect this to bother him on and off all season long. He is such a good hitter, and handles the bat so well that I would not expect a huge dropoff in production due to this. The Angels may need to find him some time at DH this season, though, if he continues to complain of this.
Kelvim Escobar, L.A. Angels: Another pitcher complaining of shoulder “inflammation.” He is currently rehabilitating the shoulder, and has resumed throwing this week from 45 feet. There was nothing “structurally wrong” with his shoulder, so you have to assume that the muscles and tendons were merely overworked and needed to get stronger. He is set to return sometime in late May, which limits his fantasy production but also gives you 20-25 starts from a nice upside pitcher with strikeout potential. Anytime he gets close to 200 innings, he is bound for trouble.
Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee: He should be good to go following minor surgery to clean up a lateral meniscus tear in his left knee. He will miss the first couple of weeks of the regular season, but should be set to return without issues thereafter. I would still draft him in the middle rounds, but I would take Lincecum before him. Expect him to miss no more than one to three starts.
Scott Kazmir, Tampa Bay: Kazmir is the prime example of the attempt to “hide” injuries. Manager Joe Maddon has not been very forthcoming in his analysis or information pertaining to Kazmir’s elbow. This is a bona fide red flag, when a manager is overly vague on a player’s health. Combine that with the location of the pain (inner elbow), the nature of the injury (hyperextension of the elbow), the fact that he threw over 3500 pitches last season, and that his most recent start was scratched, and you have yourself a pitcher you cannot rely on as your staff ace. I would not draft him currently, unless in an AL-only league, or a mixed league with three or more DL spots available.
John Lackey, L.A. Angels: Inner elbow pain is not something that you want to have. Lackey logged over 3500 pitches last season, and over 200 innings in four of his six major league seasons. He also has started 32-33 games in each of the past five seasons. With these stats, and his complaints of elbow pain, there is no question that father time is catching up with his elbow. He is bound for the DL to start the season, and if he does not bounce back in the next month, you can be certain that an extended stay on the shelf will be next. Let’s hope for his sake that he does not require Tommy John surgery.
Randy Johnson, Arizona: He is 44 years old, and has a balky low back. If this doesn’t sound inspiring, its because it isn’t. He is going to have good weeks, and bad weeks. At this age, you have to assume the worst, and know that he’ll have more bad than good. If he is forced to the DL for a lengthy period of time, I wouldn’t put it past him to simply retire.
Pedro Martinez, N.Y. Mets: The wily old veteran is throwing well in spring training, coming off a major rotator cuff repair. Expect his innings to be down—well below 200—but it is conceivable that he win 10-12 games with 140 or so strikeouts. He is crafty enough, and smart enough, to know that he can’t throw 100+ pitches every night and expect to stay healthy. He is a better bet to produce fantasy-worthy numbers than Randy Johnson.
Jason Schmidt, L.A. Dodgers: He is pitching through pain in his surgically repaired right shoulder, by the advice of his own trainers. This is simply terrible pitcher management. Though you have to feel badly for Schmidt, you simply cannot draft him.
B.J. Ryan, Toronto: I cannot stress this enough: do not draft him as your top closer. This is a horror show in the making, as the combination of a premature return to pitching with his injury-conducive pitching mechanics is destined to be a formula for a prolonged DL stint, if not worse. Elbow pain at or near the site of the surgery, a mere 10 months after Tommy John surgery is certainly a cause for concern. You have been warned—again.
C.J. Wilson, Texas: Biceps irritation or “biceps tendonitis” is a sure-fire red flag for me when diagnosing injuries to the pitching shoulder. Why? The biceps attaches directly to the labrum, which is an oft-repaired cartilage of the pitching shoulder. Wilson was recently diagnosed with this, which is why I advise caution here. If you draft Wilson, make sure to get either Joaquin Benoit or Kazuo Fukumori.
Brad Lidge, Philadelphia: This past offseason, Brad Lidge had arthroscopic surgery to debride a medial meniscus tear in the right knee in October. This preseason, he is set to have the same knee scoped tomorrow for what appears to be another tear in the same meniscus. When the first surgery was performed, the cartilage on the inner half of the knee was trimmed, shaved down, rested, then rehabilitated.
The fact that the cartilage re-tore so soon following the first procedure tells me one of a few things are possible:
1. he rushed back too soon and was not ready to stress the knee with pitching-specific activities
2. the procedure itself was not “up to snuff”, i.e. there were some loose edges remaining in the meniscus
3. Lidge is predisposed to this particular injury due to his bodily makeup—particularly due to foot or thigh posture, thus placing greater torque on the meniscus.
Lidge should be out for at least six weeks. The fact that the knee became swollen immediately leads me to believe that the tear could be significant. Two meniscus surgeries in a short period of time is not a good recipe for the health of one’s knee going forward. He will always be more predisposed to generalized knee pain, tendonitis, and other maladies of the knee.