Draft strategy: Injury risks can lead to big rewards (Part 3)

Last Wednesday, I discussed why players who are injury risks can be more valuable than most would think. Today, I’d like to discuss a few of the caveats that apply to this approach and then look at some players who we can apply this strategy to in 2009.


A few of these were discussed in the comment section of part two, but they are points I was planning on making (and are important points to make, so kudos to the readers who pointed them out) and deserve a larger forum.

  1. DL spots: In a league with a limited number of DL spots, a situation may arise where replacing the injured player is difficult because there is no room to stash him. Someone will need to be dropped. This is especially problematic if you have fewer than four or so bench spots.
  2. Injured but not on the DL: If a player is injured but isn’t placed on the real-life DL right away (or at all), he can’t be placed on your league’s DL. In this case, you end up having to use a bench spot for him.
  3. Number of risks: The more risky players you take on and the fewer number of DL spots you have, the more likely it becomes that you’ll have players getting injured at the same time and either taking up bench, active spots, or needing to be dropped altogether. This is particularly bad in head-to-head leagues, as having several players missing in a given week can cost you the win.
  4. Deep leagues: In very deep leagues, a replacement level player won’t be Mark Ellis; it might be Marco Scutaro (to use commenter Ed Schwehm’s example). In very deep leagues, the replacement player won’t be a regular or even a platoon player. Here, very little additional value is gained, nullifying most of the benefits of this strategy. Be sure to figure out who is replacement level in your individual league. As commenter mymrbig pointed out, you can mitigate this risk to an extent by drafting the player’s likely real-life replacement, that way you’ll at least have a regular to plug in.
  5. Transactions limits: In leagues where you are limited to the number of transactions you can make (I’ve seen leagues as low as five), the value of a transaction must be included in the analysis and negates some/most of the value derived from this strategy.
  6. Lag time: A player doesn’t usually becomes fantasy DL-eligible the day he gets injured. There will usually be a day or two lag where your hands may be tied and you’re taking zeroes. Even if you assume the player hits the 15-Day DL a day late, though, you’re still getting 14/15 of the value of the replacement player. If the player misses a larger chunk of time, you get a greater percentage of the value. I think this is a minimal concern.
  7. Weekly transactions: In a league where you can only add free agents once per week (and you don’t have a replacement on your bench), that 14/15 may end up being about 12/15, on average, or 9/15 in the worst cases.
  8. Not quite this simplistic: So far, I’ve treated this as though there are two outcomes: 1) player plays to projections and 2) player reaches full upside. There are an infinite number of middle points for both players, though, and if the ceiling of the skills upside player is higher than the injury risk player’s (another possibility we’ve yet to consider), there will be a point where they will have the same value. After that point, the skills upside player will be more valuable. This will, of course, depend upon the two particular players in question.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, so if you guys think I missed any other things we need to consider, feel free to comment.

Supplementary strategies and other thoughts

  • This strategy can also apply to non-injury risk players who we know will miss a portion of the year for some other reason. An example of this is Matt Wieters, who come March, we may find out will be spending the first month or two in the minors. Drafting him with the intention of benching him until then could prove to be a wise move, especially if his stock drops a bit with the news.

  • While we’ve used a replacement level player in our experiment so far, we may never need to resort to using a replacement level player. Especially in the case of pitchers, there may be players on the waiver wire who are above true replacement level. Or, if you have some bench flexibility, you could plan ahead so that you won’t have to use a replacement level player.

    The better the replacement player, the more valuable the original player becomes. If it helps, you could think of the bench player as a handcuff of sorts, like many people do in fantasy football (thought it doesn’t necessarily have to be the player’s real-life replacement, as is usually the case in football).

  • It could also be a good idea to spend a pick on a player who is eligible at multiple positions. While I generally don’t think players like this hold much extra value — these players should generally be valued at the shallowest position they are eligible at and in the same way any other player at that position would — in this case paying special attention could be a good idea.

    In a 12-team mixed league with 23 starting spots and 3 or 4 bench spots, it might be worth spending an 19th or 20th round pick (which are normally spent on starting players) on a Felipe Lopez (or Mark DeRosa, in years past) with the sole intention of benching him. This way, if you’re worried about not having enough bench or DL spots, or if you’re in a weekly transactions league, this single bench player can serve as your backup for any number of players (assuming, of course, that they don’t all get injured at the same time). Be sure to check your league’s position eligibility requirements, though.


Here is a list — again, a non-exhaustive one — of players whose value you might want to reconsider if you’re planning on using this strategy. You may disagree with some of the names (I don’t think I really agree with all of them), but they’re just some guys to think about and who some number of people consider injury risks. I’ll leave the picking and choosing up to you.

Chase Utley
Chipper Jones
Matt Wieters
Ryan Doumit
Rickie Weeks
J.D. Drew
Milton Bradley
Rick Ankiel
Elijah Dukes
Ryan Church
Gary Sheffield
Mike Cameron
Luis Castillo
Carlos Guillen
Hideki Matsui
Ryan Zimmerman
Troy Glaus
Ken Griffey Jr.
Rafael Furcal
Scott Rolen
Eric Chavez
Hank Blalock
Nick Johnson
Casey Kotchman

Joba Chamberlain
Max Scherzer
Rich Harden
Felix Hernandez
Chris Young
Dustin McGowan
Ricky Nolasco
Josh Johnson
Randy Johnson
Jair Jurrjens
Clay Buchholz
Johnny Cueto
Jorge Campillo
Micah Owings
Fausto Carmona
Jeremy Bonderman
Armando Galarraga
Andrew Miller
Anibal Sanchez
Ben Sheets
John Smoltz
Clayton Kershaw
Francisco Liriano
B.J. Ryan
Kerry Wood
Justin Duchscherer
Pedro Martinez
Troy Percival

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Ed Schwehm
14 years ago

Excellent roundup to this topic.

One extremely minor point: drafting a minor leaguer like Wieters means you can’t use him on a DL spot (unless your league has minors). That figures into what you said above.

And thanks for the mention smile

Donald Trump
14 years ago

there is one more problem with this strategy.  When you draft injury prone pitchers, you have a greater likelihood of ending up with a big fat zero.  It would not be surprising for Harden to throw 20 innings this year, and then be done.
Why cross out ben sheets while you leave smotlz and hudson on?

Ed Schwehm
14 years ago

@Donald Trump: Well, just like your investment portfolio, you need to balance risks and values on your roster. You obviously wouldn’t anchor your pitching rotation with Harden, Randy Johnson, and Joba. If you think Harden is going to be a great risk, you should balance that with a Harang or a Vasquez.

You want to take calculated risks though. A lot of people got lucky with Harden last year; he pitched very well while he was not on the DL and was drafted later than his plus-replacement value would’ve suggested.

Jack Thomas
14 years ago

A great series of article—Changed my thinking about drafting high injury risk players.  I think pitcher’s injuries are somewhat different than hitters. Injuries have more of a tendency to impact pitcher’s performance for a longer period (even the entire season). Hitter’s injuries often result in missing time and returning close to normal perfromance.
However, more important is that it creates a new to manage fantasy teams as a number of positions—not a number of players.  How do you maximize AB’s for each position.  Not only does this apply to injury risks; It, also, can be for streaky players (play while hot, sit when cold) and players with big RHer/LHer or Home/Away splits). Think about J.D. Drew—Big injury risk & very steaky. However, he can be as productive as anyone when healthy & hot.
Finally, it makes me re-think the importance value of batting order. A lead off hitter will get almost 150 more AB’s than a ninth place hitter over a season which adds up to a lot of counting statistics (Run’s, RBI’s, SB’s, HR’s).
Again, one of the eye opening articles that I have read in a long time.