Draft strategy: Injury risks can lead to big rewards (Part 3)by Derek Carty
February 11, 2009
Last Wednesday, I discussed why players who are injury risks can be more valuable than most would think. Today, I'd like to discuss a few of the caveats that apply to this approach and then look at some players who we can apply this strategy to in 2009.
A few of these were discussed in the comment section of part two, but they are points I was planning on making (and are important points to make, so kudos to the readers who pointed them out) and deserve a larger forum.
- DL spots: In a league with a limited number of DL spots, a situation may arise where replacing the injured player is difficult because there is no room to stash him. Someone will need to be dropped. This is especially problematic if you have fewer than four or so bench spots.
- Injured but not on the DL: If a player is injured but isn't placed on the real-life DL right away (or at all), he can't be placed on your league's DL. In this case, you end up having to use a bench spot for him.
- Number of risks: The more risky players you take on and the fewer number of DL spots you have, the more likely it becomes that you'll have players getting injured at the same time and either taking up bench, active spots, or needing to be dropped altogether. This is particularly bad in head-to-head leagues, as having several players missing in a given week can cost you the win.
- Deep leagues: In very deep leagues, a replacement level player won't be Mark Ellis; it might be Marco Scutaro (to use commenter Ed Schwehm's example). In very deep leagues, the replacement player won't be a regular or even a platoon player. Here, very little additional value is gained, nullifying most of the benefits of this strategy. Be sure to figure out who is replacement level in your individual league. As commenter mymrbig pointed out, you can mitigate this risk to an extent by drafting the player's likely real-life replacement, that way you'll at least have a regular to plug in.
- Transactions limits: In leagues where you are limited to the number of transactions you can make (I've seen leagues as low as five), the value of a transaction must be included in the analysis and negates some/most of the value derived from this strategy.
- Lag time: A player doesn't usually becomes fantasy DL-eligible the day he gets injured. There will usually be a day or two lag where your hands may be tied and you're taking zeroes. Even if you assume the player hits the 15-Day DL a day late, though, you're still getting 14/15 of the value of the replacement player. If the player misses a larger chunk of time, you get a greater percentage of the value. I think this is a minimal concern.
- Weekly transactions: In a league where you can only add free agents once per week (and you don't have a replacement on your bench), that 14/15 may end up being about 12/15, on average, or 9/15 in the worst cases.
- Not quite this simplistic: So far, I've treated this as though there are two outcomes: 1) player plays to projections and 2) player reaches full upside. There are an infinite number of middle points for both players, though, and if the ceiling of the skills upside player is higher than the injury risk player's (another possibility we've yet to consider), there will be a point where they will have the same value. After that point, the skills upside player will be more valuable. This will, of course, depend upon the two particular players in question.
This isn't an exhaustive list, so if you guys think I missed any other things we need to consider, feel free to comment.
Supplementary strategies and other thoughts
- This strategy can also apply to non-injury risk players who we know will miss a portion of the year for some other reason. An example of this is Matt Wieters, who come March, we may find out will be spending the first month or two in the minors. Drafting him with the intention of benching him until then could prove to be a wise move, especially if his stock drops a bit with the news.
- While we've used a replacement level player in our experiment so far, we may never need to resort to using a replacement level player. Especially in the case of pitchers, there may be players on the waiver wire who are above true replacement level. Or, if you have some bench flexibility, you could plan ahead so that you won't have to use a replacement level player.
The better the replacement player, the more valuable the original player becomes. If it helps, you could think of the bench player as a handcuff of sorts, like many people do in fantasy football (thought it doesn't necessarily have to be the player's real-life replacement, as is usually the case in football).
- It could also be a good idea to spend a pick on a player who is eligible at multiple positions. While I generally don't think players like this hold much extra value — these players should generally be valued at the shallowest position they are eligible at and in the same way any other player at that position would — in this case paying special attention could be a good idea.
In a 12-team mixed league with 23 starting spots and 3 or 4 bench spots, it might be worth spending an 19th or 20th round pick (which are normally spent on starting players) on a Felipe Lopez (or Mark DeRosa, in years past) with the sole intention of benching him. This way, if you're worried about not having enough bench or DL spots, or if you're in a weekly transactions league, this single bench player can serve as your backup for any number of players (assuming, of course, that they don't all get injured at the same time). Be sure to check your league's position eligibility requirements, though.
Here is a list — again, a non-exhaustive one — of players whose value you might want to reconsider if you're planning on using this strategy. You may disagree with some of the names (I don't think I really agree with all of them), but they're just some guys to think about and who some number of people consider injury risks. I'll leave the picking and choosing up to you.
Derek Carty, 23, has also been published by NBC's Rotoworld, Sports Illustrated, FOX Sports, and USA Today. This season, he'll be contributing to FanDuel and will be linking to all of his work at DerekCarty.com. In his three years competing in expert leagues, he has won 2 titles with 4 top three finishes, including a LABR NL title in 2009, making him the youngest person to ever win a major expert league title. Derek is a proud graduate of the MLB Scouting Bureau's Scout Development Program and is a firm believer in the importance of combining stats and scouting. He welcomes questions via e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter.
<< Return to Article