As the calendar has turned and the NFL’s regular season has come to a close, fantasy baseball season is finally approaching full swing. It’s the time of year when many begin their draft and/or auction preparation, fleshing out which strategies have worked in the past and which ones should be nixed. As I start to sketch out some rough personal rankings, the players I always have the hardest time with are those that carry injury risks. Obviously, you don’t want a team full of players that have a good chance of missing significant time. On the other hand, these players can often be had at a discount, and getting a partial season’s worth of their production can be valuable. As always, it’s all about striking the right balance. Here are five injury risks that I’d be willing to assume in 2016.
Maybe it’s because I’m a Red Sox fan, but when I think of injury risks, I think of Buchholz. He’s shown flashes of being an All-Star caliber pitcher, but he’s also never been able to stay on the field. Buchholz has never thrown more than 175 innings, and he’s only reached 170 twice. Last season, he only threw 113 frames, but he was tremendous when he was on the field, finishing the year with a 3.26 ERA, 2.65 FIP, 3.37 DRA, and 77 cFIP to go along with 8.5 K/9. That kind of production is well worth the late-round pick he’s costing now, even in limited innings. Of course, his performance has been nearly as erratic as his health, but there’s good news here. Most of his poor seasons have been the result of unhealthy off offseasons in which he can’t get his full workload in. He’s been able to go through a normal winter this year, and should be back to his good self in 2016.
It wasn’t all that long ago that Wright was one of the most valuable fantasy players in the league, as he put up a .326 TAv just two years ago. However, he’s shown clear signs of age over the last couple of seasons, playing in just 38 games in 2015 due to a back injury. Back injuries are always risks to reappear, especially for players in their mid-30s. However, Wright was a stud when he was able to play last year, producing a .289/.379/.434 line in his 174 plate appearances. Right now, he’s only going to cost the price for a bench piece or a low-end starter depending on the league, and he certainly has the talent to play well above that. There needs to be a backup plan in place, but Wright still has the ability to produce like a starter while he’s on the field. His health will be something to watch as spring training gets under way, but as long as there’s good reports, he’ll be a third baseman I’ll target in many leagues this year.
It seems like it was forever ago, but Myers is only two seasons removed from being the Rookie of the Year and one of the brightest young players in the league. He’s been unable to put together a full season since then, and his performance has left plenty to be desired in that time, but the potential is still there. He was a solid producer in his 60 games in 2015, putting up a .288 TAv with a .173 ISO. The bad news here is that he missed so much time for a wrist injury, something that is notorious for sapping power. I wouldn’t want him as one of my top-three outfielders, but he won’t need to be. Having all of that potential as a fourth or fifth outfielder is well worth the risk that the wrist injury continues to bite him in 2016.
We get back to the pitching pool with quite possibly the most underrated fantasy arm in the league. The concern behind Tanaka is well documented, as there’s legitimate concern he’ll have to undergo Tommy John surgery at some point in the near future. That was a worry through 2015 as well, and while he did miss some time, he still finished as a top-25 pitcher per ESPN’s Player Rater. This is a 27 year old who has struck out nearly a batter per inning in almost 300 career innings, with a WHIP right around 1.00, an ERA around 3.00, and peripherals to back it up. Right now, he’s being taken among players like Jordan Zimmermann and Lance McCullers. If people are still worried about the Tommy John possibility by the time draft season comes around, you should be able to pay SP3 prices for a potential SP1.
Unlike the guys listed above, Lowrie is a name only for those in deep leagues. He’s like Buchholz in this group, in that his injury history is long enough where you have to assume he’ll miss some time in 2016. He’s played a full season just once, and has just one other season in which he reached triple-digit games played. However, at a shallow middle infield position, he can provide solid depth at a cheap price, something that’s not easy to find. Once you get beyond the top-13 or so shortstops, you’re looking at very flawed players. Lowrie isn’t perfect, but he has good power for his position, and draws enough walks to be a strong play in OBP leagues with a little batted-ball luck. He’s not going to be a starter for fantasy purposes, but he’s a good MIF target in deeper leagues if you want to address other positions earlier in drafts.
Thank you for reading
This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.Subscribe now