Okay, first off, I want to say I am taking the COVID-19 outbreak very seriously. Please, wash your hands, don’t go anywhere you don’t need to go, etc. I won’t pretend to be a health professional, but I will still urge you to take proper precautions. But, all that being said, we don’t have to live in the dark and be sad, baseball-less mopes. Fantasy baseball is still alive and well! There are still drafts to be had!
I’m sure everyone reading this knows this by now, but we have no sports at all for the next few weeks at least. Probably longer. Every professional and collegiate spring sport has suspended or canceled operations. The NBA took the plunge Wednesday night after the Utah Jazz had two players test positive – Rudy Gobert and Emmanuel Mudiay. Turns out Donovan Mitchell is sick, too. On Thursday, the rest of the sports world followed suit. On Thursday, everyone else followed suit.
The MLB is delaying the start of Opening Day at least two weeks. So at the earliest, we’ll have baseball on April 9. Many of you have probably taken part in a multitude of fantasy baseball drafts. I’m still slogging through a RazzSlam draft that feels like it’s been going since the Swine Flu had everyone in a tizzy. But if we do indeed have a delayed start to the season, this kind of…helps drafts? Anyone who plays fantasy baseball knows the history of guys like Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Andrew McCutchen, etc. Studly McDudleys who look so sexy on your roster but all too often have “DTD” or “IL” next to their name (shoutout to the “DL” – RIP).
How exactly will this help fantasy baseball drafts? A delayed start means, guess what, recovery time! And no – or at least less – lost playing time when things get rolling again. So, the purpose of this article is to shed light on the Stantons and Judges of the world, whom you could draft later and still reasonably expect a “full” [read “delayed”] season’s worth of production from. Or, at the very least, a good return on the price you paid. But that’s only if you draft soon. These guys could climb back up draft boards in a hurry. I won’t be highlighting every draftable player who’s injured, obviously, but I will be looking at the stars who should benefit from this turn of events.
Current ailment: strained calf
ETA: questionable for Opening Day
Let’s kick things off with the artist formerly known as Mike. Giancarlo Stanton strained his calf during practice on February 25, putting his availability for the start of the season in question. Last season he played just 18 games, hitting three dingers, driving in 13 and posting a .403 OBP. Not bad for just 18 games. It’s encouraging as well that he played almost every single game the prior two seasons, including that 2017 we all remember when fell juuuuust short of 60 homers. In NFBC leagues (the same platform as RazzSlam), Stanton is going somewhere in the No. 60 overall range (sometimes as high as 21st, sometimes as low as 170th). Makes sense – it’s pretty certain if he’s healthy he’s a ginormous bat. It sounds like his calf is progressing nicely. There’s not enough Statcast data to work with from last season, but even with 2018 being a “down” year by his standards, the metrics were still excellent. Not to mention 2017 was totally bananas. So if Stanton can get back to 2017 or even just 2018 form, you’ve got a nice little bargain for 2020.
Current ailment: stress fracture in ribs
ETA: April 15 at the earliest
Another Bronx Bomber is on the shelf, but his ADP is already quite a bit higher than his counterpart’s. Aaron Judge has gone as high as No. 13 and as low as No. 177, but is averaging around 36th overall. In 2019, Judge played 102 games. He slashed .272/.381/.540, belting out 27 HR and 55 RBI. For funsies, we can pace that out to 162 games and we get 43 HR and 87 RBI. So the homers actually look pretty good, but that’s not a ton of RBI from a slugger. But metrics! Dude was in at least the 96th percentile in like everything: exit velocity, hard-hit percentage, xwOBA, and xSLG. He was even 80th percentile in xBA and 79th in sprint speed. If outs above average were a fantasy thing (maybe they are, I dunno) then he’d be elite there, too (94th percentile). In short, dude still crushed last year. Imagine a healthy Yankees lineup, mashing at its full potential. It’s pretty scary, honestly. Judge’s ribs have apparently been an issue since, like, September or something when he dove for a ball. Like Stanton, progression is going well, and he’s been cleared to workout again. One step at a time, people. As far as a 2020 outlook goes, it wouldn’t surprise me too much to see an Opening Day well past his April 15 ETA. That could very well mean a fully healthy Judge to start your season off right.
There are several other Yankees on the mend right now with questionable statuses for Opening Day. Rather than singing them all out like I did Stanton/Judge, let’s just knock out all the notable ones at once. James Paxton has a back issue and is projected to come back around mid-May. Back issues are pretty scary to me as far as pitching goes. It’s just such an unnatural thing for the human body to do, and your back is super important for like everything you do (speaking from experience, here). But if we’re talking an extended delay, mid-May might not be too far into the season at all. Paxton is a beast when he’s firing on all cylinders. You know, a double-digit K/9 for three straight seasons with 38 wins in that time despite missing some starts each year. An ERA/FIP no worse than 3.86. Enough on Paxton, you get the idea. Another guy who’s a-hurtin’ is Gary Sanchez. He also has a back issue and is questionable for the start of the season. He figures to be fully healthy once things start up, I’d imagine. Zack Britton is questionable for Opening Day with a bruised wrist. That one is no biggie, really. It’s just nice he’ll likely have extra time to get totally ready. Britton is a nice handcuff to have if Aroldis Chapman ever falters or gets hurt, but in leagues where holds count, Britton is a good option in his own right (29 last season).
Current ailment: recovery from knee surgery
ETA: out until at least April 14
Now to the artist currently known as Mike. Indians ace Mike Clevinger went all kinds of ham last season, bursting onto the scene as a bona fide fantasy baseball badass. He’s really been very good for a few years now, but it feels like no one was really paying attention. Clevinger’s ADP sits at 30th overall but ranges anywhere from 14th to 85th. If you’re one of the lucky ducks snatching him toward the latter end of that range, then, well, I’m honestly hella jelly. Sunshine (that’s his nickname according to Baseball-Reference) went 13-4 in 21 starts last season. He had a 2.71 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP. One of the best strikeout pitchers in the league, too, whiffing 33.9% of batters while walking only 7.4%. Make no mistake, Clevinger was simply one of the best. It’s a bummer he only got 21 starts, but he was lights-out in the second half – 16 starts, 11 wins, and 129 Ks in 101.2 innings. April 14 is when he could be back, according to CBS Sports. So if we have an April 9 Opening Day (or later), thennnnn you do the math.
Current ailment: lat strain
ETA: April 7 at the earliest
If Justin Verlander heals on time, then he won’t miss any time at all! Hallelujah for his owners. I’m still a little iffy on whether he can replicate last season’s insanity, but maybe that’s just me. Ole Reliable’s (I guess that’s my nickname for him now) ADP sits around No. 13, but he’s fallen as far as 61st in NFBC leagues. The Opening Day Delay news essentially means that, assuming JV does what did again, you can feel comfortable drafting him pretty early. Now, I’ll leave the drafting SPs early strategy talk for later, but the fact remains he’s going pretty early. Last week, I would have told you to steer well clear of paying that price, but I suppose if he’s going to be healthy from the get-go and you want to pay for a top-end starter, he’s a pretty safe bet. Verlander posted a career-best 5.5 H/9 last season to go along with a cool 300 strikeouts. Oh yeah, he also won 21 games. The man can still throw a baseball, but he’s also 37 years old, so just keep that in the back of your brain.
Current ailment: mysterious “side ailment”
ETA: questionable for the start of the season
Ah, yes, another ace will have time to get in tip-top shape. Max Scherzer just keeps on keepin’ on. His name is always one of the first SP names off the board, and so far in 2020 it’s no different – he’s going around 16th overall. Man, does this guy need some extra rest. Back problems lingered for August and September of last year, and then there was that whole getting scratched for Game 5 of the World Series but putting his game face on for Game 7 thing. Like Verlander, Scherzer ain’t getting any younger. At 35, last season showed that age just might be creeping in a bit. Scherzer himself has said his current injury is a fatigue issue rather than an actual injury, so that’s good news. And again, the extra rest time certainly won’t hurt. Here’s to hoping for a healthy 2020 for Mad Max, except for when my opponents inevitably have him (just kidding, I hope he’s healthy forever).
Current ailment: shoulder surgery recovery
ETA: questionable for the start of the season
Here’s an interesting one. Byron Buxton has been hyped for, like, decades now. And sometimes he’s lived up to it. But most of the time he’s been hurt. Buxton hasn’t played more than 100 games except for one single time when he played 140 in 2017. It wasn’t all that great of a season, but the power/speed combo can’t be ignored. He got 87 games under his belt in 2019, slashing .262/.314/.513, hitting 10 homers and stealing 14 bags. My favorite not-all-that-helpful thing to do is pace stats out to a full season (which is extra not-helpful since Buxton has never given us one). But still, just play along, please – 2019 Buxton would have been an 18-HR/26-SB guy. How many guys did that last season, you ask? Precisely seven had at least 15 HR and 25 SB. If you want to get nitpicky, then filtering out to at least 18 HR and 26 SB, then you’re left with just four. Four! If you’re willing to assume a healthy Buxton – who now has extra time to get extra healthy – can give you a full season, then you have yourself a mighty fine value, my friend. Buxton is going around 158th overall.
PSA: Chris Sale
Current ailment: bad news bears with that elbow, I fear
ETA: who knows
I’m adding him just to make it very clear that all of this most certainly does not help Chris Sale become a bargain. Please do not hold hope that he’ll miraculously be ready to throw again any time soon and carry your fantasy team to the Promised Land. What’s going on with that elbow absolutely terrifies me, and I wouldn’t wish an auto-picked Sale on my worst enemy (it happened to me because I’m a scrub and fell asleep and missed a pick). It boils down to whether or not he can throw without pain again. At the moment, they’re calling it a flexor strain, and after some rest (about a couple weeks), he can start throwing again. If there’s no pain, maaaaaybe we’re looking at a May/June debut. But if there is pain…oh boy. That means it’s probably Tommy John time. Ruh roh. I’d just steer all the way clear at this point. Let someone else take that risk.
There are so many other injured bargains waiting to be drafted, you say? You’re right. Guys like Shohei Ohtani, Adalberto Mondesi, just to name a few. Or two. I’ll dive into those guys (and more) sometime next week! I’m a high school English teacher in a rather large district, and I’m willing to bet my next heavily-taxed paycheck that I’ll have a lot of time for writing on my hands in the coming days. It’s getting messy out there, y’all. Please, remember to wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. Leave that booger that’s bothering you alone.