Wainwright injury demonstrates risk of sudden jump in workload
Most of you needed no warning. You are veterans of this fantasy game. And Adam Wainwright certainly didn't want to have to be the one to deliver it for you, 2011-style.
But we have been smacked in the face with it. Reality check: Pitchers come with some big-time inherent risks in fantasy.
The No. 2 pitcher in SI.com's initial rankings is out for the season now that he needs Tommy John surgery. The No. 17 overall player in the initial Top 300 is rendered completely useless.
Hopefully, you are not one of his keeper-league fantasy owners or you already held your draft.
He was the third pick of Round 2 in SI.com's early February mock draft, the fifth consecutive pitcher selected when Roy Halladay cracked the position at No. 11 overall.
And now he will score as many fantasy points this season as one of us, or your grandmother, whether or not she is still with us.
Hitters just aren't as likely to snap an elbow ligament or tear a shoulder. They just don't put the torque on their bodies pitchers do. It makes every pitcher you select, even Mr. Perfect Roy Halladay or King Felix Hernandez, just one bad twist or break away from rendering your early round pick a big, fat bust.
One of SI.com's final fantasy baseball preview stories hadn't posted yet. It was coincidentally The Busts still to come. And check out the previously written entry by yours truly for the St. Louis Cardinals:
"RHP Chris Carpenter tends to be more productive than his draft position because of his advanced age and injury history, but he does fall in the veteran version of the Verducci Effect (named after SI's Tom Verducci: Pitchers who have an unusually large increase of innings from one year to the next, tend to be at risk for breakdown). He jumped 42 1/3 innings from 2009 and he missed almost all of '08 and '07 after yet another Tommy John surgery. It takes guts to expect another major injury to an ace this potentially dominant, but Carpenter has been squarely in the risk pool his entire career.
"Dishonorable mention: Adam Wainwright hasn't had the significant injuries Carpenter has, but he has seemed in-human with his workload in recent seasons. It has to make you wonder if turning 30 this year could make him hit a wall. GM Billy Beane warned us of pitchers with high workloads at the age of 30. We tend to believe a pitcher who proves he can handle it year-in, year-out is conditioned to remain healthy, but big-time fantasy aces go bust every year."
Why couldn't this story have posted a day or two earlier?!
In all seriousness, we wish it wouldn't have been so. Wainwright was one of the favorites to win the NL Cy Young and carry Albert Pujols and the Cardinals through a pretty thrilling three-team race in the NL Central with the defending champion Reds and dramatically improved Brewers.
Now the Cardinals have to turn to one of Kyle McClellan, Ian Snell, Lance Lynn, P.J. Walters, Brian Tallet or Miguel Batista to fill the No. 5 starter's spot behind ace Carpenter, No. 2 Jaime Garcia, No. 3 Jake Westbrook and perhaps No. 4 Kyle Lohse (if healthy).
McClellan is arguably the best positioned to step forward, but he faces the dilemma Wainwright faced, fearlessly, years ago, moving from being a full-time reliever to a full-time starter from one season to the next. Frankly, it was something Wainwright took far too lightly.
(I usually try to leave "I" out of my stories, but I have to use it here):
Wainwright was rather blasé when I pressed him in spring '07 about handling a heavy workload without building up his arm to handle it. He was moving from the closer's role in '06 and through the postseason to being a full-time starter for the first time in the major leagues.
His response was along the lines of, uh, I can handle it. No sweat. I am indestructible. Are you kidding me?
Petulance can get you.
He was like a new teenage driver that takes daddy's vette up to 140 m.p.h. on the highway -- or a new crotch-rocket rider who pops wheelies doing 80 -- without fear of mortality.
His innings total jumped from 75 to 202, smashing well past the Verducci Effect parameters of any more than 50 more are dangerous. Then he came down with an injury in '08, being limited to 132 innings, before posting inning counts of 233 and 230 1/3 each of the past two seasons.
Beane was right, unfortunately: Pitchers with a history of high workloads turning the age of 30 (which Wainwright will do this year) are dangerous.
But, honestly, all fantasy pitchers are dangerous. Just remember your wrongs from your Wainwrights on draft day.
Assuming Lohse is healthy after his own forearm nerve decompression surgery -- and the Cardinals stick by their early words, they will not pursue free agent Kevin Millwood -- McClellan is our pick to serve as the No. 5 starter out of camp.
He has merely been a 70- to 75-inning reliever each of the past three seasons, though. He will have the Verducci Effect to overcome himself, but he could win double-digit games as a back-end starter and late-round pick if he can get up to 160-plus innings.
Lynn is the elite prospect and former first-round pick with the highest ceiling long term, but he probably could use more time in Triple-A to open the season. His 4.77 ERA and 21 homers in 164 innings are a bit high, even if his strikeout rate and batting-average against looks plenty major-league ready.
The Cardinals will be a better team if Lynn can step forward and win the spot, though, with McClellan remaining closer Ryan Franklin's setup man. Franklin needs the help and Jason Motte isn't quite as polished as McClellan to set up.
Snell is a reclamation project, Walters has mediocre stuff and Tallet and Batista are journeymen better suited for long relief and spot starts. None of these guys yet have any significant fantasy value compared to the sleeper McClellan and Lynn are -- especially in NL-only formats.
• Brewers catcher Jonathan LuCroy is out for opening day after surgery to pin a broken pinkie. A broken bone tends to heal in 4-to-6 weeks, but the surgery leads to atrophy and will require a longer rehab timetable. George Kottaras and Wil Nieves will be the Brewers backstops to start the season. Kottaras has some pop in his bat.
• Brian Roberts is dealing with a sore neck, a scary proposition for a middle-infielder who was rendered mostly useless last season. His age and chronic spinal issues -- even if unrelated -- should move him down your draft boards. He probably shouldn't be higher than 10th at the second-base position.
• Miguel Cabrera should move out of the top five after his issues with alcohol resurfaced last week before he reported to camp late.
• Vicente Padilla is out of the No. 5 starter's mix for the Dodgers after nerve transposition surgery in his right (throwing) elbow. He was a longshot to fill a spot behind Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Hiroki Kuroda and offseason signee Jon Garland anyway.
• Injury-risk sleeper Justin Morneau is facing live pitching, a great sign if you're going to take the shot on him among the top 10 fantasy first basemen this spring. He will be held out of early spring games, but is on track of opening day at this point.
• The Yankees are considering Freddy Garcia their No. 4 starter going into the exhibition season, with Ivan Nova, Bartolo Colon and Sergio Mitre battling for the No. 5 spot. If you had to guess now, it will be Garcia and Nova rounding out the rotation. Whither Joba Chamberlain.