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Fantasy Baseball's Injury Risks: Pitchers

Ryan HallamAnalyst IFebruary 27, 2010

CHICAGO - JULY 26: Rich Harden #40 of the Chicago Cubs delivers the pitch during the game against the Cincinnati Reds on July 26, 2009 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Injuries are definitely one of the more frustrating things that you have to deal with in fantasy baseball, as they are pretty much unavoidable and completely out of your control. 

However, there are guys that you can identify as higher risks of ending up on the shelf more than others.  Some are worth the gamble because they are so good, others haven't dealt with serious injuries so they are a lower risk, and some it is practically a guarantee and it is best to stay away from.  Below are a handful of guys who make trips to the DL like it is their job.

Rich Harden, Texas Rangers  

Harden has actually been fairly healthy by his standards over the past two seasons, as he has been able to make 51 starts from 2008 to 2009, a number he barely reached over the previous four years. 

However, as great as he is, you almost have to hold your breath every time he takes the mound.  In three of his seven seasons, Harden has made 15 starts or fewer.  The enticing part of Harden is that when he is healthy, he has the stuff and the moxie to be one of the five best pitchers in all of baseball, maybe top three. 

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He struggled with giving up the long ball last year so I am assuming that his draft stock will fall some for 2010.  He is basically the definition of high risk/high reward.  In the right spot in the draft (Round 17 and beyond), he is a risk worth taking. 

Chris Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals  

It has been a roller coaster career for Carpenter, as far as injuries go.  Early on in Toronto, he was pretty reliable until undergoing Tommy John Surgery and missing the entire 2003 season. 

After coming to St. Louis, he had three straight seasons in which he had 28 starts or more before having nerve issues in his elbow which forced him to miss all but four starts between 2007 and 2008.  He bounced back in near Cy Young fashion in 2009 with 17 wins and a 2.24 ERA. 

So, which Carpenter will show up this season?  He turns 35 years old in April, so the wear and tear of injuries has to start to wear on him, but his track record shows he usually has a pretty healthy stretch following each malady.  Figure Carpenter to be fine this year, but always be prepared for bad news. 

Ben Sheets, Oakland Athletics  

Sheets is another guy who started out his career very healthy, but has had many different troubles in recent years.  It started with an inner ear infection in 2005 which threw his balance off, moved on to shoulder trouble, back issues, throw in some hamstring problems and you can top off this injury sundae with some good old fashioned elbow surgery. 

That last one cost him the entire 2009 season, but even this laundry list of ills didn’t stop the Oakland Athletics from giving Sheets a big contract. 

Like Harden, Sheets is a great arm to have in fantasy baseball when he is on the mound, as he always has an ERA under 4.00 and is a great source of strikeouts.  He should be available fairly late in your drafts and if your pitching staff is strong, Sheets could be a great chance to take near the end of the day. 

Erik Bedard, Seattle Mariners  

It started with Tommy John Surgery as a member of the Orioles that caused him to miss all of 2003, and then it was just a handful of minor dings and scratches over the next few seasons. 

The past two seasons have been marred by hip and shoulder injuries that had him able to only make 15 starts in each of the last two years.  His 2009 season was ended early by surgery to repair a torn labrum, an injury which will force him to miss the first month of 2010 at the least. 

If he is still out there in the last round or two he might be worth a gamble, but I tend to stay away from Bedard.  His injury track record has gotten too long for me and it has become when he will get injured instead of if .    

Francisco Liriano, Minnesota Twins  

The tale of Francisco Liriano’s rise and fall from greatness is well documented.  The rookie with the unhittable slider and the 12-3 record quickly became the latest victim of Tommy John Surgery and he has yet to ever look the same. 

The slider doesn’t have near the same bite, the walks are on an all time high, the confidence an all time low.  So, I guess he isn’t necessarily a risk to reinjure himself in 2010, but still suffering the lingering effects of his original injury. 

Apparently, Liriano is lighting it up in the Dominican League and has a real shot at cracking the Twins rotation this season, but he comes with giant sized question marks. 

I can’t suggest drafting him unless it is a real late round flier and you aren’t counting on him for much production in your quest for your league championship.  I would love to see this story have a happy ending I have to admit, but right now the forecast still looks rather bleak.   

Kerry Wood, Cleveland Indians  

And here he is, the Poster Boy for injured pitchers. 

Wood has spent so much time on the DL that he was starting to look into moving there permanently.  Carpeting the place, finding some nice curtain, big screen TV, etc.  I don’t think there is enough space in this article for me to list all of the things that have gone wrong with Kerry Wood. 

He has missed portions of almost every season since coming to the majors, first as a starter and now as a reliever because his arm just can’t handle 200 innings anymore.  He was fairly healthy by his standards last season, but still headed to the DL in 2009. 

He is a tremendous injury risk, not to mention that he closes for one of the worst teams in baseball.  Put both of those together and you have a high risk closer for a bad team and you should treat him accordingly. 

Billy Wagner, Atlanta Braves  

Wagner was actually the picture of health for most of his career until 2008, when he needed Tommy John Surgery in August and was forced to miss the rest of that year, and almost all of 2009. 

Wagner returned last August and looked like he hadn’t missed a beat, as he struck out 26 batters in just 15 innings for the Mets and Red Sox.  So, it would seem that there would be no trouble heading into 2010. 

However, Wagner is going to turn 39 years old in July and I am interested to see how he holds up over an entire season after having such major surgery so late into his career.  There isn’t much history of that around baseball. 

He came back and pitched last season, but it was such a small sample, that perhaps he will be fine for part of the year and then break down as the season goes along.  Atlanta should at least be in the hunt for the division crown, so if Wagner is able to stay healthy he could be a great closer to have as he shouldn’t blow many and he will rack up the strikeouts.  Because of the risk involved, he is a mid to low end second closer for you to have on your roster. 

Mike Gonzalez, Baltimore Orioles  

Gonzalez did a pretty good job as the Braves set up man/closer in 2009, but it was the first time in his career that you could say he pitched a full season. 

He has pretty much had every part of him fail from one time or another, starting in 2005 when he missed 48 games with a sprained knee, tendinitis in his elbow finished 2006 early, an arm injury cost him almost all of 2007, and elbow surgery did in half of his 2008 year. 

Last year he was very healthy by his standards, but still missed a little bit of time with elbow and back issues, but both didn’t even require trips to the DL.  Gonzalez is a low end second closer or perhaps a good number three, but you have to realize that there is a good chance that he could miss some time.  It could give Jim Johnson a chance to close games again in 2010.