Managing Pitcher Injuries in 2022 Fantasy Baseball

All right, here’s the actual title: Contingency Exegesis, or How I Learned to Love the Fact that Jacob deGrom is Already Hurt. No, nononnono, I don’t mean it like, I like that he’s hurt. Rather, it’s the kind of mindset that I now get to enter where I consider the other 1,000 other possibilities that I didn’t take in the draft that I love. I didn’t draft deGrom [goes and checks Fantrax] anywhere this year. Or Max Scherzer. Of course, I didn’t — I either got Corbin Burnes in round 1 and then waited until round 972 for SP2, or I got Shane Bieber in round 4 and then got Kevin Gausman in round 7. In the cosmic scheme of things, these are all just happenstance draft decisions. There are trillions of ways you could draft a roster. You could draft a fantasy baseball team every minute from now until the sun goes black and still not draft the same team [stares at all those hypothetical drafts with Seiya Suzuki in the 1.01]. Regardless of how much I behave like Carl Sagan, us fantasy baseballers down here on this pale blue dot are basically done with draft season. A bunch of you are already in the black hole of fantasy sports because you chose Jacob deGrom as your SP1 (and if you drafted him as your SP2, you’re clearly reading this website for the sexy Greinke images and not the articles). So! Let’s talk about what to do when the inevitable happens: your favorite pitcher gets hurt. Or the sun goes black. One of those things will happen below. Don’t hold me to a high standard.

Assess the Damage

Sometime in the second Obama administration, a massive hail storm went through my town. I pulled my car into the garage just in time to avoid all the bumps and bruises. I thought the event completely done with and out of mind, replaced by visions of random nacho toppings that I could enjoy. Ah yes, the vegetarian meat would be delicious on top of Cool Ranch Doritos. Then one day my neighbor pulled me aside one day and asked who I was using to replace my roof. “You mean my beautiful pristine roof that is a mirror image of Notre Dame?” I said. My neighbor told me to call my insurance agent on the double, and sure enough, I had a complete roofing/siding overhaul completely paid for by the good people at Farmers. [ba da dum dum DUM!] Thanks to that hail storm, my house got an upgrade to just about every external facing surface. If the damage hadn’t happened, I would have continued staying the course with white vinyl siding that the previous owner picked out in the Reagan administration.

Pitchers are kind of similar: we all think they’re beholden to look the same year after year, but in reality one seemingly mundane event can change everything. A pitcher can look completely fine for multiple games and then they’re tired or there’s a blister or a hangnail or a shredded tendon. Sometimes it’s the butterfly effect: one managerial move made to win one game affects a pitcher for the rest of the year. For example, leaving Kenta Maeda in for 130 pitches in an effort to get a no-hitter, and then he got tired, changed his mechanics, was bad for a month or two, changed his mechanics again, and then 6 months later he got Tommy John surgery. Sometimes it’s more immediate: MLB announced the substance ban for pitchers, and in the span of three games, Tyler Glasnow’s changed mechanics earned him a trip to Dr. Freeze. Same injury, different timelines. Either way, it was time to look for a new pitcher for your fantasy team.

Truth is, only like 20 starters make it through a MLB season without getting some sort of injury that causes them to miss a game. You know how many starting pitchers started at least one game in 2021? 397. Sure, some of them were openers and some of them were prospects getting their cup of coffee, and each of these categories of players are basically useless for your fantasy team. Let’s find, as the French would say, players more valuable. I haven’t spoken French in a solid 20 years so somebody let me know if La Parisiennes are still saying that.

Let’s adjust the filter: how many pitchers started 1/3 of the 2021 season? 191. That’s a full fantasy 10-team draft and most of a 12-team draft worth of players, just filled with starting pitchers who started more than 10 games. So, we’ve established that there are tons (that’s the imperial measurement for pitchers) of players who have a fair amount of games started. And how many starters made it through, say, 90% of the season unscathed? If we use 33 games started as the lead marker, then a total of 41 pitchers made 90% of their starts (30 games started or more). As I alluded to last week, this cohort included luminary fantasy stalwart starters like JA Happ, Jordan Lyles, Dallas Keuchel, Chris Flexen, Cole Irvin, Kyle Hendricks, and the immortal ZACH DAVIES. Zach Davies had a 5.45 ERA and 1.60 WHIP. Welcome to your fantasy savior, Zach Davies!

Sometimes the damage is what you see: Jacob deGrom’s shoulder is hurt. My roof was pulverized by hail.

And sometimes the damage is what you never bother to look at in the first place. Sometimes, what your fantasy team actually needs is the impetus for you to find a new player because you weren’t looking in the first place. You thought, “Kyle Hendricks — slow and steady wins the race!” And if you just let Hendricks run out there every game like you did in 2017-2020, you would have missed the likes of Nestor Cortes, Zach Thompson, Tanner Houck, Ranger Suarez, and so on.

So, when there’s an injury, we say a quiet word of hope for the real-life player to heal. Then, we take this as a moment to learn about who else is out there. This is the mindset I was talking about some 10,000 words ago. If we could only open our eyes and embrace chaos rather than settling in for the ride.

Evaluating streamers

Many MLB player injuries require fantasy managers to figure out a Plan B for about 2 weeks. Sometimes, we end up losing Tyler Glasnow to obvious injuries (Tommy John surgery), Jacob deGrom to nebulous injuries (is it his forearm or elbow or shoulder or), or Shane Bieber to alleged injuries (Biebs: “Put me in coach.” Coach: “You’re hurt. Oh look, we’re below .500, now you can play.). Regardless of what’s causing a top pitcher to miss time, the solution is the same: us fantasy players need to go fishing and see if we can catch something good in the stream.

There are the really easy fishing spots that fantasy managers can use for a few weeks, and that spot is called “find the pitchers that other people hate.” Yeah, the marketing department in my brain really sucks but y’all have been cool with SAGNOF for a decade so whatever. ENYWEHY. German Marquez played a full season last year and was available in basically all leagues all year because people fear Coors Field. The thing is, Coors Field isn’t a launching pad every day. Even Cape Canaveral can’t be a launching pad every day. While fantasy managers feared the Rockies, Marquez finished 2021 as SP51 on the year (your full-year fantasy SP4). Sure, there were blowups, but Gerrit Cole had blowups too. Marquez had a streak in the middle of the year where he went 60IP with a 1.94 ERA, 9.10 K/9, and 2.97 FIP. Sounds like that would have been useful for a two-week stint or longer, right?

So, the first route for streamers is to take the player who is right in front of you all the time. German Marquez, Rich Hill, Zack Greinke, Wade Miley, Marco Gonzales, Aaron Civale, Zach Plesac, and Kyle Gibson are fine fill-ins for two to three week fill-in work. These guys are boring and dull and do you have any idea how many times Zack Greinke has wound up in the top 10 and top 20 pitchers by the force of sheer will and a full season of 8 K/9?

But say you’re in an important league, and you’re already down Jacob deGrom for a few weeks months, and you 100% for sure know that Kyle Gibson and Zack Greinke aren’t going to save your team. I agree — Greinke could easily end up with 220 IP and 3 wins with that Royals bullpen behind him. What should we do? Well, you could trade, or you could look for the diamond in the rough. Personally, I love looking for diamonds.

It’s time to find the boldest, most dangerest pitchers out there. Last year, we found that dangerous man in Robbie Ray (drafted as SP120, finished SP7). In 2020, it was Dinelson Lamet (remember him?). Lamet was SP53 in pre-season and finished as SP7. In 2019, it was Jack Flaherty (drafted as SP66, finished as SP8). In 2018, it was Miles Mikolas (drafted as SP115, finished SP12). In 2017, it was almost Robbie Ray again! But Luis Severino (ADP SP141) who stole the show to finish ahead of Ray at SP8. Alright, enough with the passive voice.

We can find a top 10 pitcher just hanging out there on the waiver wire. Sure, sometimes it’s the Hyun-jin Ryu – Marco Gonzales – Miles Mikolas – Adam Wainwright types who just play on winning teams and 8 K/9 their way to glory. Finding those guys are easy enough: sort by IP and pray they don’t turn into Wade Miley. But it’s better to try and find those high K/9 type players — the Robbie Ray, Dinelson Lamet, Jack Flaherty types — that can burst onto the scene and propel your team forward regardless of format or Win count.

If you’re already hurting for starting pitchers and looking for contingencies, take a dart throw on these guys. If they work out, your team might be saved. If they don’t work out, you were probably gonna lose anyway and it’s best to come to terms with that sooner than later.

In short, five pitchers who are all basically undrafted in typical fantasy leagues — and two of whom who are undrafted in many industry leagues — and you can go get them right this moment. In fact, if you drafted Kyle Gibson, drop him and go get any of the above guys. You already know what Kyle Gibson’s upside is: snorefest. Ynoa had a higher strike rate than most of the top starters, including Brandon Woodruff, Carlos Rodon, Lucas Giolito…and Robbie Ray. Only difference is, Ynoa punched a bench in the middle of the 2021 season. Bet he doesn’t do that again in 2022.

So let’s wrap up: All is not lost if you’ve lost a pitcher. In fact, losing a pitcher may be the best thing for your fantasy team because now you’re aware of the other great options out there. You can almost always get by for a few weeks using the old standby veteran pitchers. But eagle-eyed managers can also get a full, one-for-one replacement if they work hard enough and work fast enough early in the season. To be honest, 2022’s Contingency Plan probably isn’t even on my list above. Maybe MacKenzie Gore figures himself out, who knows. The best we can do is keep playing, and see if we can stay in the game long enough to find the player that will help our team.

Let us know who your contingency plan is down in the comments! Have an awesome week everybody!

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