In this day and age where most pitchers can’t go a few years, much less one, without having some sort of elbow or shoulder trouble pop up, it’s very difficult to decide which ones are more at risk than others.
While reading Will Carroll’s “Under the Knife” column can certainly help you determine the injury risk for many players, another factor in play is the inconsistency that can occur from year to year with many pitchers.
Who could’ve guessed that Tim Lincecum or Ricky Romero would be two of the biggest fantasy baseball busts in 2012? Both pitchers, especially Lincecum, had a track record of success and consistency.
Lincecum was in his age-28 season while Romero was only 27. Both have continued to struggle this spring, and Romero was just optioned to the minors Tuesday.
So which top-of-the-rotation pitchers should you stay away from in 2013? Who’s the next Lincecum or Romero? Here are four whom I believe should be drafted at your own risk.
Brett Anderson, Oakland Athletics
The typical recovery period after Tommy John surgery is 12-18 months. Once a pitcher returns, it’s common for his command to come and go, and many pitchers say it usually takes two full years before they feel like they’re back to full strength.
In the case of Anderson, he returned to the majors approximately 13 months after undergoing the procedure. Only one of seven late-season starts would be considered bad, and he finished the year by tossing six shutout innings in a playoff win over the Tigers.
So is Anderson the rare pitcher to make a quick recovery with no struggles upon his return? Maybe. But I don’t think he’s out of the woods just yet. The inconsistency might still come. He hasn’t been particularly sharp this spring. He allowed just two earned runs in 5.1 innings Tuesday but with just one strikeout. Veteran scout Bernie Pleskoff had this assessment of both starters in the game:
What I Didn't Like: Neither Brett Anderson nor Zach McAllister had that "out" pitch they could rely upon. Both were adequate, not dominant.— Bernie Pleskoff (@BerniePleskoff) March 26, 2013
The 25-year-old also has the injury-prone tag and was already sidelined with a minor neck injury this spring. He’ll start on Opening Day for the A’s. Whether he can be consistently good or healthy for 30-plus starts is a major concern, though.
A.J. Burnett, Pittsburgh Pirates
Burnett’s exit from New York after back-to-back mediocre seasons in 2010 and 2011 resulted in a 16-win season for the Bucs and a 3.51 ERA, his lowest since 2005. Is it safe to assume that he’ll continue pitching well and maybe he is just more comfortable away from the bright lights of New York and the AL East?
We can’t forget that his Yankees debut in 2009 was actually pretty good (13-9, 4.04 ERA, 207 IP, 8.5 K/9), so whatever the issue was the following two seasons wasn’t a problem in year one with the team.
Don’t be surprised if the bad A.J. Burnett reappears in 2013, which would be terrible news for the Pirates as they try to avoid their 21st losing season in a row. I don’t really have anything statistically to base this on. Aside from his disastrous start on May 2 when he allowed 12 earned runs in 2.1 innings, he was consistently good the entire season.
But the Yankees weren’t exactly trying to dump him last offseason while willing to eat a lot of remaining salary because he was a reliable starter. They wanted him out of town for a reason.
Wade Miley, Arizona Diamondbacks
All the talk surrounding the Diamondbacks last offseason focused on top pitching prospects Trevor Bauer, Pat Corbin and Tyler Skaggs. And what about Miley? He was supposed to keep a rotation spot warm until those guys begin to arrive.
Well, none of the three stepped up to claim a spot, and it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Miley was an NL All-Star who ended up winning 16 games with a 3.33 ERA in 194.2 innings.
So why the concern in year two? After pitching more innings than he has in his career, there’s always a chance that the 26-year-old doesn’t come back as strong. He’s a candidate for the disabled list to start the season because he’s going through a “dead arm” phase, which has resulted in poor performances in two of his three spring outings.
And maybe all those scouts weren’t completely wrong and he starts pitching more like the No. 5 starter they have projected him to be.
Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox
I wouldn’t steer completely away from Sale, who was sixth in the AL Cy Young voting in 2012 after winning 17 games and posting a 3.05 ERA in his first year as a starter. I’d just wait a few extra rounds to compensate for the injury risk that I consider him to be. Chances are that he doesn't drop that far to you, but there's also a good chance you won't regret it.
As much of a side note as it ended up being, the White Sox were legitimately concerned about Sale’s sore elbow that they officially moved him to the bullpen last May. After one appearance, he talked his way back into the rotation and ended up being right. He was fine the rest of the way.
The White Sox aren’t overly concerned either, considering they gave him a $32.5 million contract extension that could keep him in Chicago until at least 2017.
Now the 23-year-old lefty is back a year after nearly tripling his innings total from 2011. Just because his elbow held up through the massive innings increase of last season doesn’t mean he’s out of the danger zone that some experts would consider such a jump in workload.
There’s a reason teams put innings caps on young pitchers. The Sox did not put one on Sale, and it’ll be on them if he blows out his elbow in 2013.