Choosing fantasy baseball players is a little bit like choosing who to marry. In both cases, we’re making a commitment to somebody while trying to make our best prediction of the future using incomplete and sometimes unquantifiable data. I know, they’re not completely the same. Unless you’re the most polyamorous m’fer around, you’re probably not choosing 50 people to marry one year and then starting all over again a year later. But to each their own. Listen, the point is that we have to engage in some level of risk assessment in both of these situations. Taking this ridiculous analogy one step further, I would say that injury risk is similar to love, in that we know it’s there but we can’t quite measure it. This inability to measure injury risk has led some in the fantasy baseball community to throw up their hands and essentially say that it doesn’t exist, that we’re wasting our time even trying to predict it. That would be like when my 5-year-old daughter spreads her arms really wide, says “Daddy, I love you thiiiiiis much!” and me responding with “Sorry honey, get back to me on that once you’ve done a full regression analysis and are able to provide me with a statistically significant p value.” Seriously though, I don’t need a singular metric to know something to be true. Thankfully, there are super smart people that have done research on this topic and confirmed that there is validity to the idea of certain players being at higher risk for injury. I’m not going to get into the details here but I encourage you to go read this article by Russell Carleton as well as Jeff Zimmerman’s extensive work on the topic over at Fangraphs. Another factor that has made it difficult to assess injury risk has been the tedious process of trying to track down a player’s injury history. Thankfully, Derek Rhoads (@drhoa3) has solved this problem by creating the Injury Timeline Tool, which is a database of every injury that has caused an MLB player to miss time. This tool has made my life easier and I hope to make your life easier by using this data to help you identify some risky players to avoid in the early rounds of your fantasy drafts. For the purpose of this article, we’ll be using the IL day thresholds that Jeff Zimmerman has found to be predictive of an accelerated decline in player performance (120 days for pitchers, 200 days for hitters).

Yu Darvish

Age: 34

Lifetime IL Days: 489

NFBC ADP: 18

There’s no denying that Darvish has been more lights out than all of Texas since the second half of 2019. While I can’t argue against the skills that he’s displayed during that time, I can’t bring myself to invest that high of a draft pick in a 34-year-old pitcher with a history of elbow, neck, and shoulder injuries. One of the elbow injuries I’m referring to is the Tommy John surgery that Darvish had back in 2015. Darvish is now five years removed from going under the knife, which means that he’s outside of the “Tommy John Honeymoon” phase that Will Carroll, formerly of Baseball Prospectus, described in this article back in 2013. Carroll stated that after five years, pitchers become susceptible to the same type of overuse injuries that occurred prior to Tommy John Surgery. Darvish had further issues with his throwing elbow in 2018, suffering a stress reaction that limited him to 40 innings that season. Darvish came back strong to put up 178 innings in 2019, which is essentially what the major projection systems are penciling him in for again this season. I’ll easily take the under on that innings projection. First of all, the Padres have already indicated that they would use a 6-man rotation in 2021. That makes sense, given the fact that San Diego’s rotation is loaded with other high-risk pitchers such as Blake Snell, Dinelson Lamet, and Joe Musgrove. The Padres also have the depth to pull this off effectively, as they can rotate pitchers like Adrian Morejon, Ryan Weathers, and MacKenzie Gore through that 6th rotation spot. Personally, I’d bring Darvish’s innings projection down closer to the ZIPS projection of 150 innings, and that’s without any major injury issues. Even though I expect him to put up excellent numbers while he’s pitching, that reduction in innings obviously takes a huge chunk out of Darvish’s valuation. Taking a risk on a player like Darvish in the second round is the type of pick that can absolutely tank your fantasy team and has the potential to leave you feeling almost as miserable as the citizens of Texas did earlier this month.

Carlos Carrasco

Age: 33

Lifetime IL Days: 465

NFBC APP: 66

I’ve always loved me some “Cookie.” Both the kind that we eat as well as the Mets’ new right-handed pitcher. But see, I’m trying to cut back on sugar as well as older, injury-prone pitchers in 2021, meaning that I’m passing on La Galleta this season. I know people are excited about Carrasco this year because of the trade to the Mets and subsequent upgrade in home ballpark. These are all certainly positives, as well as the fact that Carrasco came back from leukemia and looked very much like the old Carrasco in 2020. While the surface stats from last season look great, Carrasco’s decline in Zone % (a career-worst 40.1%), does raise some slight concern. The relatively low Zone%  led to a career-worst 9.6% walk rate, which doubled Carrasco’s walk rate from 2019. Maybe that’s small sample noise or maybe that’s an indicator of future injury issues, as Jeff Zimmerman has found that a low Zone% can be a precursor to injury. Carrasco is another player that is now outside of his “Tommy John Honeymoon,” as he had the surgery back in 2011. There’s also the “Mets gonna Met” factor that we have to consider. I can just envision Carrasco going on the IL for a minor injury, the organization completely fucking it up, and Carrasco missing the entire season (I don’t really put much stock in that, I just like playing on the angst of Mets fans).  Steamer has Carrasco projected for 174 innings and I’ll be taking the under on that projection as well. The Mets are another team that has depth and will be focused on keeping their pitchers fresh for what they hope is an extended postseason run. I highly doubt they’re going to push Carrasco the same way that the Indians would have, not to mention the fact that all organizations are generally going to be more cautious with pitcher workloads coming off of the shortened season. I don’t think the innings will be there and I also worry about Carrasco experiencing a skills decline in his age-34 season. If you absolutely do need that “Cookie,” I encourage you to fill up on your meat and potatoes first by getting at least one rotation stabilizer like Gerritt Cole or Aaron Nola in the first few rounds, or maybe even following up your dessert with a healthier snack like Kyle Hendricks or Jose Berrios. Personally, I’ll be taking a hitter in this range. However, if I absolutely need a pitcher around this pick, I’d rather go with the younger and healthier one in Sonny Gray.

Salvador Perez

Age: 30

Lifetime IL Days: 364

NFBC ADP: 78

Despite him missing the entire 2019 season due to Tommy John surgery and testing positive for COVID in July, Salvy came back even better in 2020, putting up a .333 batting average with 11 home runs and 32 RBI. The batting average was certainly an outlier for Perez, as it was supported by a .375 BABIP. My one-year-old can probably crawl faster to first base than Sal Perez can run to it, which is my way of saying that Perez is not going to sustain close to a .375 BABIP over a full season. I think it’s also fair to say that Sal Perez’s plate discipline is”not tremendous,” which is another reason why I’m looking at last season as an extreme outlier in the average department. While Perez is only entering his age-31 season, one look at his injury timeline page shows that he’s experienced quite a bit of wear and tear on his body throughout his career. Perez has already undergone left knee surgery, Tommy John surgery, and has missed time with various hand, thumb, wrist, groin injuries. Listen, there’s no doubt that Salvy is a gamer and has shown the ability to play through a lot of these ailments. I just worry about investing that much draft capital in a catcher with that significant of an injury history, especially when I’m taking him at his ADP high-water mark.  If I absolutely need one of the top-tier catchers, I’d rather wait a few rounds for Yasmani Grandal.

Hyun-Jin Ryu

Age: 33

Lifetime IL Days:  558

NFBC ADP: 75

We have the leader in the IL clubhouse. According to Hyun-Jin Ryu’s Injury Timeline, the Blue Jays’ left-hander been on the IL for over 500 days, 300 of which have come as result of injuries related to his left shoulder. Ryu had surgery on his throwing shoulder in 2016, resulting in him missing almost that entire season. Since then, Ryu has missed time with hamstring, groin, and neck ailments, though it’s unclear if those IL stints in 2019 were true injuries or whether  they were cases of “Dodger-itis.” Ryu escaped LA last year, signing a 4-year, $80 million contract with the Blue Jays prior to the season, and actually proceeded to have the first fully healthy season since 2013. Ryu proved to be worth the investment in year 1 of his deal, as he pitched to 2.69 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP in 67 innings for Buffalo…er, Toronto. While there is probably some regression coming for Ryu in terms of his ERA, everything under-the-hood looks pretty legitimate. I don’t doubt that he’s a really good pitcher, I just don’t mess with 34-year-old pitchers with a history of leg and shoulder issues, especially when they pitch in the AL Beast. Throw in the fact that the Blue Jays look like they’ll be playing their games in hitter friendly venues in Dunedin and Buffalo and I’m completely out y’all. I’d personally rather wait a couple rounds and take a chance on a player with similar risk but, in my opinion, higher upside in Joe Musgrove.

Byron Buxton 

Age: 27

Lifetime IL Days: 204

NFBC ADP: 115

Check out my deep dive on Buxton here.

Feel free to leave comments below and tell me why you agree or disagree with these early-round fades. As always, thanks for reading!

 

 
  1. Speaking of avoiding early risks…

    2 big ones that stand out to me are …

    Bellinger…member when his arm fell off on live tv?

    And

    Mondesi…lifetime sub .300 OBP… now we get saves early? When did they get a face???

    • Wake Up says:
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      *Steals*

    • Grey

      Grey says:
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      re: Cody — That was six months ago from Opening Day, no?

      Not drafting Mondesi in a OBP league is fine by me

    • Zeus says:
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      Damn Mondesi is closing too? Drafting that sob #1

      #winning

    • Torres

      Torres says:
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      Yeah I agree, I’m out on both of those guys.

  2. Now I’ve seen everything STEALS GOT A FACE at Razzball!

    according to your Player Rater he is worth $24.2 … $25.3 coming from Steals

    that’s right that means he is giving you negative value in…

    Runs
    HRs
    RBI
    AVG

    with the only value coming from Steals

    So go ahead and throw out the OBP comment if it was too complicated for you…

    If we are just talking Risk…early Risk at that…the two you chose are two of the riskiest.

    I’m not even saying don’t draft them…but you can’t argue the huge risk.

    • NUX says:
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      He’s gonna run though. We know everything else with him isn’t that great. But you’re prob not getting 60 SBs from anyone else this year. He’s the only guy doing that.

      I get what you’re saying about not taking speed early, SAGNOF etc. But that mattered alot more when there were more guys later who would steal. If you ignore SBs, you’re gonna fall behind in that category. And have a harder time nowadays than back in 2010 or so when guys were still stealing bases.

      Taking him at the end of the 2nd round isn’t for everyone, just like taking SPs in the first isn’t for everyone. Plenty of diff ways to win. I prefer to take my risk with this guy who is giving us something that no one else is doing, over taking an ace early.

      Not super confident that I’m sure what the point is that you’re making though. Is it about risk in general. Or injury risk? Or just that he goes against the SAGNOF bible?

      • NUX says:
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        Also, Hi Torres! Dig this post, keep up the great work bruthaman

        • Torres

          Torres says:
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          Personally, I’m out on Mondesi. I wasn’t taking him before the Benintendi trade but I’m definitely out now, as it looks like he’s going to be hitting in the bottom third of the order. I don’t want to spend that much draft capital on a guy who’s going to be a negative in 4 out of 5 categories.

          Appreciate the kind words Nux, thanks for reading.

  3. Harley Earl says:
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    I’ve had Ryu on three different teams the last two years. He’s done me right. I’m not abandoning him during the peak years of his career out of fear of an injury.

    Losers play scared. If Ryu gets hurt, that’s just the breaks and I’ll work around it. Drafting scared is a sure way to finish anything but in first place. This advice is terrible.

    • Torres

      Torres says:
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      You keep doing you

    • 183414 says:
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      Agree with you. Avoid Darvish and wait until Musgrove ?
      Ryu is the riskiest, but not a word on Scherzer, Kershaw, Snell ?
      I don’t believe that Darvish throws 150 innings without an injury. I also don’t believe Darvish throws once every 7 or 8 days, since teams average 6 games a week.
      Ryu pitched where last year ?
      Safe is for losers. Do you want to win a league or an overall.
      If Kansas City hits Benintendi at the top of the order and Mondesi at the bottom of the order, the mgr. should be fired. 25 year old stud v. a meh outfielder.
      They acquired a completely ineffective Benintendi for Frenchy Cordero. Surprised Kansas City didn’t offer Boston Mondesi since he’s such a 1 tool player.
      I’ll keep doing me and take the risks, which exists just about across the board.

      • Torres

        Torres says:
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        1) No, I’m definitely not advocating that you avoid Darvish and just wait for Musgrove. If you’re going pitcher in the second round, I’d prefer younger and healthier guys like Giolito or Nola.
        2) I’m also out on Scherzer and Kershaw. Frankly, I just didn’t have enough time to write those guys up (maybe a future article). I do like Snell this year though, I feel like the risk is worth the potential upside with him moving from the AL East to the NL West. He’s also significantly younger than those other guys.
        3) If the Padres use a 6-man rotation, Darvish’s innings will be reduced. You’re also likely not getting any 2-start weeks from him.
        4) Ryu pitched for Toronto last year but oddly enough, half of his starts came against the NL East. I’m not banking on him putting up that same performance over a full season, if he can even stay on the field.
        5) Sure, your strategy is going to change some depending on the format you’re playing. But I think there’s a misconception that in order to win an overall, you need to go full YOLO and shoot for the moon. I think that’s a losing strategy. I agree that you need to take some risks but I’d rather take those risks later in the draft.
        6) Mondesi has a career .284 on-base percentage and a career 81wRC+, compared to Benintendi’s .353 OBP. and 108 wRC+. Just because you like Mondesi for fantasy and he steals a lot of bases doesn’t mean that makes sense from a real baseball perspective.
        7) Yep, risk exists across the board but the whole point of the article is that we can use past injury data to give us a better sense of players that are especially high -risk.

        With all that being said, thanks for reading and thanks for your comment.

        • Harley Earl says:
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          I will. You keep playing scared.

          • Harley Earl says:
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            The more I read your answers, the more I realize you play for third and fourth place. You don’t play to win.

  4. Smitty says:
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    I’d actually love to have Darvish, Carrasco and Ryu to start my staff

    • Harley Earl says:
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      This guy doesn’t have a clue!

      • 183414 says:
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        I can’t say that he doesn’t have a clue, but his argument for Benintendi over Mondesi from a real baseball perspective is what doesn’t make sense.
        Everyone on this site plays fantasy baseball for real money.
        Real baseball perspective is revealed by who the RedSox got for Benintendi. Mondesi , in september alone, won myself and many other fantasy mgrs. a lot of money, by producing in 1 month what Benintendi can only dream of producing.
        This is a fantasy baseball site. Real baseball perspective can be found by watching mlb tv, when using the Shredder as which players are the best in baseball. Pure junk.
        Mondesi, a year younger than Benintendi, has exhibited the same power and run production over his short career. Probably will develop more power, and certainly for our fantasy purposes, is a stud, whether Rob Silver agrees or not.
        No one said that we should justify risk throughout our drafts, but to limit risks only to the end of the draft is not how I won an overall online championship, or the numerous leagues that I’ve won. Whether or not you risk drafting Mondesi in the 2nd or 5th rounds (not that you’re getting him there) still is a risk that you’re willing to take in the front end of a draft.
        I’m much more reluctant to draft a pitcher with a very recent history of injuries, not with a pitcher who has apparently been injury free for some time.
        Ryu pitched against the east division last year. Arguably the toughest division in baseball. His consistency has been off the charts. Darvish would have won the Cy Young in most other years. We’re not exactly talking Sale or even Strasburg here.

        • Torres

          Torres says:
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          Honestly, I couldn’t care less what the Royals do with their lineup, I’m just interested in figuring out what they’re most likely to do. There’s been plenty of speculation that Mondesi will hit near the bottom of the lineup with better OBP options like Santana and Benintendi there this season. Thankfully, we’ll have more clarity on that pretty soon.

          You seem to really like Mondesi and I understand why. There are really good fantasy players who like him this season and there are really good players who want nothing to do with him. He’s just not going to be a target of mine. Best of luck this year and congrats on that online championship.

        • Smitty says:
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          Agree with the Champ

    • Torres

      Torres says:
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      I hear ya Smitty, those three are all really good pitchers. But based on what we know about age and injury risk, I’m willing to fade them and try to find younger pitchers with less of an injury history who I think can provide me with similar production. There’s obviously risk across the board but I do think we have an ability to slightly mitigate that. Thanks for the comment and thanks for reading.

      • Smitty says:
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        OK don’t get me wrong I love young players, especially good young arms. Sometimes you hit on a dude who comes along like say a Lincecum – jackpot! Bellinger is a good example of risk in ’21, just off shoulder surgery. Some are scared off, others will grab him. Same with Mondesi. It’s all good

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