The hardest thing for me to predict in Fantasy Baseball is when a player is going to fail, especially because most of the time this happens due to an injury. The bottom line when planning for the upcoming Fantasy draft is getting a feel for a player’s direction. As great as a player’s 2016 stats may look, it is very difficult to repeat an elite season, particularly when a player lacks pedigree or resume.
Most seasons, a good portion of the top starting pitchers fail to live up to expectations. The two pitchers with the most injury risk headed into 2017 are Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka. I’m excluding David Price since most Fantasy owners should already understand his downside based on his spring flare with his left elbow and a trip to Dr. Andrews.
SP Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates
Cole has an elite arm with high upside, but he’s coming off a pair of injuries in 2016 (triceps and elbow). For the most part, he pitched well in 2016 except for his last four starts of the year (17 runs and 41 base runners over 21.2 innings). Cole has a winning resume over his short career in the majors (47-30 record with a 3.23 ERA and 538 Ks over 579.1 innings) and is discounted in drafts (ADP of 113 in 15-team leagues). Last season, he had a drop off in fastball velocity (95.9) with three straight years of regression. In addition, his K rate (7.6) fell by 1.1 Ks per nine innings from 2015. I know it’s tough getting off elite arms with upside, but a triceps issue paired with an elbow injury could lead to Tommy John surgery. I would pay close attention to his success or failure in spring training before adding him to your Fantasy roster.
SP Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees
Tanaka is a very good major league pitcher. After three seasons, he has a 39-16 record with a 3.12 ERA and 445 Ks over 490 innings. In 2016, he threw a career-high 199.2 innings while making 31 starts. Over his first two years in New York, Tanaka missed about 20 starts with a partial UCL tear in 2014 and a right elbow surgery after the 2015 season. Last season, he battled a right forearm issue in September. Tanaka has great command (1.5 walks per nine in his career), but his K rate (7.4) regressed for the second straight season (9.3 in 2014 and 8.1 in 2015). His AFB (92.0) was a career-low in 2016. His stats look great on paper, but there are plenty of signs for a potential lost season.
SP David Price, Boston Red Sox
For those of you that didn’t follow the Price news in early March, he was scratched from his first scheduled start with a left elbow injury that required a pair of MRIs. It was reported that he didn’t have any structural damage. Rest was required and Boston hopes to have him on the mound in the next couple of weeks. Price did throw on the side on March 11th, which is a positive sign. The “scare” of his injury will lead to a free fall in his value in most drafts. It’s a real tough call on his status as Fantasy owners really need more info. His fastball did lose life in 2016 and he also served up more home runs. This combination points to downside risk. Proceed with extreme caution and don’t pay full price of his injury risk.
OF David Dahl, Colorado Rockies
I’ll be in the minority on this one. Dahl is an attractive upside player who has an ADP of 96 in 15-team leagues. As great as he looks, he will be hitting below the middle of the Rockies’ starting lineup. He suffered back issues in early March suggesting he’ll miss some time in April. Dahl has a history of being injured in the minors. Last year was his only season with over 400 at-bats in his career. He has upside for sure and he may very well play at a high level when on the field. I would much rather own him as a backend outfielder with a favorable price point. Inside of the top 10 rounds in 15-team leagues requires him to be a special player in 2017.
IF Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs
Don’t get me wrong with Baez, I like his upside and he does qualify at second base and shortstop in 2017. He has an ADP of 121 in 15-team leagues in early March. Fantasy owners continue to draft him as though he has a starting job. The Cubs will surely give him at-bats, but there is no way he’ll be in the lineup every day without an injury or job change. Ideally, I’d like to see Baez find his way to centerfield as that’s Chicago’s weakest link in their lineup. Sometimes these types of situations work out during the year. I’d like to own Baez, but I can’t draft him as though he’s going to get 500+ at-bats.