Your Fantasy Baseball DL Analysis For May 10

Replacing injured players seems like a daily routine for Fantasy Baseball players in 2013, as if it is part of the process of setting your lineup each morning. Giancarlo Stanton pulled his hamstring; another infielder suffered yet another intercostal injury (whatever that is); Jason Motte, Gavin Floyd and a few others have already undergone Tommy John surgery.

The rash of injuries in Fantasy baseball made me wonder if the number of injuries are actually up, or if it just seems that way because I’ve had to shuffle lineups on just about every team I own.

So I Scratched the Surface. I took the Major League Baseball disabled list information from the previous three seasons, looking at players who were put on the disabled list through May 7 each season (including during spring training). Here is what the numbers said:

Year Total DL thru May 7 DL after Opening Day
2011 157 83
2012 167 68
2013 186 82

Now, obviously not every DL player is Fantasy relevant and in many ways the disabled list has become an extension of the major league roster, providing clubs additional flexibility. But we do see an 18 percent increase in total DL stints from 2011, and an 11 percent boost in DL injuries from last season. In-season DL injuries jumped 21 percent this season from last, yet are steady compared to 2011. We would say “yes” to the question as to whether there were more injuries this season, but we need to look a little closer.

Looking at the nature of the injuries thus far in 2013, here is what we found when we Scratched the Surface:

Year Elbow Shoulder Back/Neck Oblique/Side/Rib Arm Hand Knee Hamstring Wrist/Ankle
2013 47 35 14 17 10 11 12 12 9

These are the most frequent injuries from this season. The elbow and shoulder ailments account for 82 of the 186 (44 percent), which seems like a huge percentage. So we compared that data with early season injuries from the last two seasons. Here’s what turned up:

Elbow Shoulder Back/Neck Oblique/Side/Rib Arm Hand Knee Hamstring Wrist/Ankle
2011 22 21 14 16 8 10 8 8 2
2012 37 28 11 9 3 7 12 10 10

Well, we were right; the elbow and shoulder injuries are significantly high, and seem to be part of a possible growing trend. In 2011, they accounted for 27 percent of all DL stints through May 7; in 2012 that number was 39 percent of DL-related injuries. All other categories of injury were fairly consistent, though they are generally higher in 2013 overall.

Specifically, we see a 114 percent jump in elbow injuries from 2011 and a 67 percent hike in shoulder injuries that required a DL stint.

Purely speculating as to the reasons for such a jump, we would guess:

  • The World Baseball Classic and/or the longer-than-normal spring training that comes with it could be a factor. I don’t think David Wright swings as hard for a March 10 spring training game as he does when he represents the USA in the WBC; and pitchers (despite pitch counts) air it out in an international tournament when they are more likely to ramp up their intensity in normal spring training action;
  • A new focus on performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) and human growth hormones. In the spring of 2012, there was widespread discussion of Ryan Braun’s possible use and overturned suspension; in 2013 several major league players were speculated to be involved in the Biogenesis Lab scandal. Both stories would logically result in MLB players shying away from any such substance.

We tend to think of PEDs and HGH with “juicing” – Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, etc. But more pitchers than hitters have received suspensions for illegal drug use in recent years.

And, obviously, the majority of elbow and shoulder injuries belong to pitchers. Orel Hershiser told ESPN The Magazine in 2011 “A 32-year-old pitcher using steroids can jump back 10 years in time. A 32-year-old becomes like a 22-year-old, because of the recovery. Plus, he gets the benefit of recovering fast enough to be able to lift weights, so he’s got additional strength and improved recovery between starts.”

If pitchers have been using PEDs in large numbers, and the Biogenesis situation has threatened to reveal several users, this increase in elbow and shoulder injuries would make sense. It is pure speculation, but these numbers give us reason to keep scratching and perhaps take a Deep Dive into the issue of elbow, shoulder and other arm injuries in the majors.

What Does it Mean for My Fantasy Teams?

We’ve been telling you since spring training that pitching is harder to forecast than hitting. When teammates Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum have similar underlying sabermetric statistics from 2012, yet came away with very different results, that alone should tell you that identifying this year’s Cy Young winner is just a crap shoot.

This information tells us:

  • Make sure you have plenty of depth at pitcher. Our strategy in drafts was to wait to draft a starter until James Shields was drafted (maybe 7th or 8th round) as the difference between Shields and Cain is not significant enough to pick one of them in Round 2 or 3. So we told you to get Shields and draft a bunch of starters in the middle rounds. If one of those arms was Roy Halladay, you’re kicking yourself, but you should also have adequate reserve pitchers, or know the names on the waiver wire very well.
  • In trade talks, never be afraid to deal the arms. If elbow and shoulder injuries are skyrocketing, then deal Max Scherzer or Clayton Kershaw to get the stud power hitter or combination of saves and steals you need for your team. As we said, there are comparable but less hyped pitchers out there (see A’s, Oakland) who can backfill your rotation and (almost) replace a stud.
  • Treat pitchers like catchers. Assume each of your pitchers will spend two weeks on the DL this season, and two or three of them will miss a month of more. Changes the way you view assembling a pitching staff. Acting like you will be spared by the injury bug is short-sighted and foolish.

As the bodies mount in the 2013 season, we will continue to look at the numbers and the nature of the injuries to see if there is more to the story. In the meantime, go drop your fourth-string MI for another starting pitcher. When Scherzer feels a tingle in his shoulder Memorial Day weekend, you’ll be glad you did.

Tom would not react well to any substance. Nyquil turns him into Rip VanWinkle as it is. Plus, he’s a one pitch pitcher. It’s called a home run ball.

Photo Credit: Keith Allison