For better, for worse: Players poised to avoid, fall to injuries

Publish date:

Throughout baseball's history, injuries have been an unfortunate part of the game and have ranged from the catastrophic to the downright absurd. Pitcher John Smoltz once burned his chest attempting to iron a shirt -- a shirt he was still wearing. Former St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Vince Coleman missed the 1985 World Series because he was accidentally rolled up in the automatic tarp machine during a rain delay. These are but two examples of what seem like countless injuries, and while they may appear humorous, injuries are no laughing matter.

Until the late 1980s, Major League Baseball maintained a 10-day and 20-day disabled list. As the frequency of injuries increased, this arrangement proved largely inadequate. Today, baseball has a 15-day and 60-day DL. Often, even the expanded guidelines seem insufficient. In 2009 there were 466 instances of players appearing on the disabled list, an average of 15.5 players per team. All told, the combined number of games missed totaled 25,976.

To play fantasy baseball is to face injuries; overcoming the adversity of injuries is one of the keys to victory. Success in fantasy baseball demands that owners be part fan, part statistician, part fortune-teller and part physician. Knowing how to prepare for injuries is an essential element in devising a winning approach to the game.

Players who seem to have shaken the injury bug are For Better; those players with lingering injury concerns are For Worse ...

Tim Hudson, SP, Atlanta Braves. This two-time All-Star and former 20-game winner has started just 29 games over the past two seasons, during which time he's also undergone Tommy John surgery. Needless to say, it's been a trying time in the life of Hudson. The good news started in late 2009, when he came back sooner than anticipated, starting seven games for the Braves in September and October. He pitched at least five innings in every outing en route to a 3.61 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. While he may never approach 20 wins again, a 13:1 spring K/BB ratio and 1.93 ERA indicate Hudson is feeling well and poised for a bounce-back season in 2010.

Francisco Liriano, SP/RP, Minnesota Twins. After missing all of 2007 and most of 2008 following Tommy John surgery, last season was supposed to be Liriano's comeback. It wasn't. His 8.0 K/9 suggests he still holds promise, but inconsistency and an inability to pitch deep into games showed Liriano was never close to 100 percent, eventually requiring a DL stint. Months later, a strong showing in the Dominican Winter League with a 1.20 ERA and 13:4 K/BB in 15 IP showed that a little rest may have been all his arm needed. His performance was bolstered by his early spring training results. A 16:1 spring K/BB is further indication that he may be inching closer to re-establishing the dominant form he showed in 2006.

Justin Duchscherer, SP, Oakland Athletics. After missing all of 2009 with an elbow injury as well as a diagnosis of clinical depression, "The Duke" finally made it back to the mound, tossing four shutout innings in a spring training game on March 22. Even though Duchscherer had a minor nerve procedure performed in February, manager Bob Geren said he expects Duchscherer to be ready for Opening Day 2010. While that may be the case, prospective owners will want to exercise caution in starting Duchscherer out of the gate, as he's never started more than 22 games in any major league season. Even when he's "healthy", he always seems to be on the verge of more pain, but with a $1 Average Auction Value (338.68 ADP), he offers great profit potential.

Josh Hamilton, OF, Texas Rangers. This is not to suggest that Hamilton isn't capable of being a productive player. His 32 HR and 130 RBI during the 2008 season showed that he possesses All-Star abilities, when he's on the field. His 2009 season was informative for an altogether different reason. His 89 games played showed that there is obvious reason for concern when it comes to Hamilton's ability to stay healthy. He had surgery to correct a sports hernia and missed time due to a pinched nerve in his lower back. Already this spring, he's missed time after being hit with a pitch, as well as registering a DNP due to dental work. If the Tooth Fairy can keep Hamilton from the field, how is he going to react when his ailing back flares up again?

Alfonso Soriano, OF, Chicago Cubs. Soriano totaled 40 home runs and 40 stolen bases in 2006, one of just four players in the game's history to accomplish the feat. That is to say he was once a great fantasy player -- was. Since then a series of leg injuries have all but zapped him of his speed and stripped him of his fantasy viability. He's averaged just 120 games over the past three seasons with his overall production in steady decline. In 2009, 89 players hit at least 20 home runs, but with his .240 AVG and just 64 runs and 55 runs batted in, Soriano may have been the least valuable of the lot. His fortunes aren't rising with reports from Cubs training camp indicating that he's not yet fully healed following offseason knee surgery. While it's possible that he could bounce back, it's far from likely.

Brandon Webb, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks. Over the four seasons leading up to 2009, Webb averaged 231 innings pitched and 17.5 wins, and was the benchmark for reliability. However, Webb registered just one game started (a six earned-run affair) for the Diamondbacks before missing the remainder of the season with a shoulder ailment of undetermined origin. Even an August surgery couldn't pinpoint the exact cause of the problem, and early spring reports suggest that pains persist for the one-time Cy Young Award winner. Webb's already expected to miss the early part of the 2010 season, but if his symptoms of nebulous origin continue to linger, his production will suffer greatly. While he may eventually return to form, his current ADP (148.76) seems a bit optimistic.