Fantasy 101: Fighting the Injury Bug
“If luck weren’t involved, I’d win every tournament.” -Poker player Phil Hellmuth
After months of research and scouring Spring Training box scores, projection systems, and minor league numbers, you’ve drafted yourself a fantasy baseball team (or six). Now, the savvy owner knows that no matter the size of your league, the players that you draft are not the exact players who will lead you to glory. You know that baseball is a game of streaks, both hot and cold, and that there will be players who fail to reach expectations, and others who will come from nowhere to be stars. That’s part of the fun.
What absolutely is not part of the fun is the uncontrollable nature of injuries. Walking away from the draft room, owners probably felt pretty good about grabbing Trea Turner late in the first and snagging Mike Clevinger in the third or fourth as a cheap ace for your pitching staff. Now? Ouch. Literally.
The injury bug bites darn near every player at some point in their career, so there is always the chance that your studs are going to miss some time, and often you’ll have to replace your stars for longer stretches. Let’s take a look at some of the strategies for not having a major breakdown over injuries.
Keep Your Composure
Listen to Frank the Tank: Just because you just lost your ace or your first round pick for the next two months doesn’t mean you need to do anything rash. First things first: if you have an open IL spot, get that player in that slot, opening up a roster spot. Second: breathe.
It’s well-known poker strategy that you shouldn’t play the hand immediately after suffering a bad beat. Think of each injury to one of your players as a bad beat that has put you on tilt. In shallower leagues, there’s no need to pick up a player the instant you swap your injured player to an IL slot. In deeper leagues, you may not have that luxury, but it’s important to know that the player you add is unlikely to replace the productivity of your injured player. So don’t feel like you need to pick up a player in the exact same position. Lost a high-end starting pitcher? Look to see if there are some setup men who you can rely on to help stabilize your ratios. No Trea Turner? Assess how the rest of your team looks speed-wise. If you still have sources of steals, look to improve in other areas and other positions.
It’s unlikely that a single injury will derail your fantasy season, but how you deal with it just might.
Don’t De-Value Your Team
Upon losing one of the most important cogs in the well-oiled machine that is your fantasy team, it’s easy to see your squad as weakened. The important thing to keep in mind here is that you won’t be the only one. Other savvy managers may come in with trade offers that help you address the hole left by your injured player, but cost you more production in another area. They may even give you the spiel about “helping you out.” Do not fall for this, especially when injuries are shorter stints. If a player is expected to miss the minimum 10 days, pick a replacement player, plug him in, and move on.
If the injury is longterm, you should absolutely be in the trade market, but don’t be desperate. Your healthy studs are still top players and don’t need to be sold as less than that. Trading away your top power source for pennies on the dollar to help fill a pitching need only exacerbates the situation. Be smart: identify areas of excess for a certain category, and find a trade partner who values that piece similarly. Don’t force anything.
The same goes for the injured player, especially in keeper and dynasty leagues. If someone sends you a low-ball offer for Clevinger or Turner in a multi-year league, decline it and move on. There’s no point in selling low on a player that can and will make an impact for your team down the road. Even in redrafts, try to avoid the trap of being shortsighted.
Acceptance is the last stage of grief, and it should be the last stage of dealing with injured players too. It’s going to happen. You will lose more than one of your players to the IL at some point during the season. Worst of all, you have no control over it, so managing your team with the mentality that pieces can fall apart at any time is key in recovery. You should always be looking to better your team. Identify trade targets and weigh their value against the waiver wire talent pool. And know the waiver wire talent. Have a watch list of guys you know you want to target if a spot opens up. This is general strategy for a good fantasy baseball player, but it helps even more in the times of fantasy crisis.
This basic idea reminds me of elementary school, when there was a class assignment where everyone had to go home and put together an emergency plan. My dad put a couple of bottles of water and batteries in a bag, and we drew up an escape plan if there was a massive earthquake or a nuclear holocaust or whatever. The bag would get tossed to the back of the pantry, and we’d never discuss the evacuation plan again, but at least we spent a few minutes thinking about it. Treat your fantasy team the same way, and know that a bit of bad luck is all it takes to make it seem like your team is reeling. But if you stay calm and have a game plan, all is not lost. Stay positive. You got this.
Stupid Clevinger and his stupid back…
Graphic by Nathan Mills