Maybe it's the eternal optimist in me, but when it comes to fantasy baseball I'm a sucker for talented injury-prone players. Call it "Ian Kinsler Syndrome."
This will be my fifth straight year owning Kinsler in my 12-team keeper league, and I just can't let him go. Sure, he's only played an average of 125 games per season over the last four years, but there is no other second baseman in the game that can put up across-the-board production like Kinsler can on a per game basis.
In 2009, the one season Kinsler surpassed 130 games played, he put up 101 Runs, 31 HRs, 86 RBIs and 31 SBs. A 30-30 season from 2B! The previous year, his counting stats were a bit lower, but he hit .319.
It's probably fair to consider Kinsler more of a .280 hitter than a .320 hitter, and you obviously can never count on a 30-30 season, but Kinsler is one of the few players at any position that could conceivably put up a .300-100-30-85-30 line over 162 games.
Of course, he probably won't get close to 162 games. But I'll gladly take the elite per game production from Kinsler for as many games as he'll give it, and then slot in another second baseman for the games Ian misses.
I'll admit that I do occasionally enter into the mindset, "maybe this will be the year [injury-prone player X] plays a full season." But with a player like Kinsler, who consistently misses one month every season, you simply must prepare for the time he'll inevitably miss.
The worst case scenario involves pairing Kinsler with a replacement-level 2B, i.e., the best 2B available on the waiver wire at the time Kinsler gets hurt. In 12-team leagues, this will typically be a two-category player, usually a guy who gives you either 1) SB and Runs, 2) Avg. and Runs or 3) HRs and RBIs.
According to Fan Graphs, the best example of a replacement level 2B in 2010 was Ryan Theriot, who had a .270-72-2-29-20 line in 586 at bats.
For the sake of this exercise, let's exclude Kinsler's 2010 season, in which he attempted to play through a nagging injury and performed at a level well below his career norms. Instead, let's take the average of Kinsler's 2008 and 2009 seasons.
Since I'm discounting Kinsler's 2010 campaign, I'll round down all averages instead of the usual rounding up. Here is Kinsler's average output over the 2008-2009 seasons: .284-101-24-78-28 in 132 games (542 at bats).
That leaves 30 games left for Theriot. Based on his 2010 output, in 30 games Theriot produced a line of .270-13-0-5-4 in 108 at bats. Hardly earth-shattering numbers, but they're really just icing on the cake that is Kinsler's production.
When you combine 132 games of Kinsler's 2008-2009 production and 30 games of Theriot's 2010 season, you end up with a line that looks like this: .282-114-24-83-32.
To put that in perspective, Brandon Phillips ('07) is the only second baseman besides Kinsler to have at least 20 HRs and 30 SBs in a season since 2001 (Phillips also reached 30-30). But Phillips has only topped a .276 batting average once in his career.
Chase Utley is the only other second baseman that can put up elite numbers in all five rotisserie categories—his 2009 line of .282-112-31-93-23 shows why he's the only 2B that can rival Kinsler's potential for across-the-board numbers.
Now imagine if you plan ahead for Kinsler's inevitable injury and draft a decent backup 2B. Instead of replacing Kinsler with a two-category hitter like Theriot, you may be able to replace him with a three—or even four-category hitter, or maybe a guy who is truly a difference maker in one or two categories.
Think options like Martin Prado, Ben Zobrist, Kelly Johnson and Chone Figgins.
None of this means you should draft Kinsler before Robinson Cano, who doesn't steal bases. The point is that you can take Kinsler and still get terrific 2B production, even though he'll likely miss a chunk of the season.
So who are some other injury-prone guys you should consider in shallow (12-team or less) leagues? Aramis Ramirez, Nelson Cruz, Kevin Youkilis, Rafael Furcal and Magglio Ordonez are some other hitters to look at.
The Kinsler Syndrome strategy is even more effective with pitchers.
Josh Johnson may be likely to miss some time during the season, but I'll gladly draft 170 dominating innings from Johnson instead of 200 less certain innings from players like Zack Greinke or Yovani Gallardo.
Other pitchers who fit the injury-prone label but are unhittable when healthy include Johan Santana, Eric Bedard, Justin Duchscherer, Joe Nathan and Huston Street. Some of those names are significantly more valuable than others, but they all make good mid- or late-round picks.
That said, not all injury-prone players will end up being bargains at the draft. I'm a big fan of the injury discount, but you need to make sure you actually get a discount.
Josh Hamilton, for instance, is arguably the best hitter in baseball when healthy, but his injury risk is too high to take him in the first round. Rickie Weeks is another injury-prone player who could actually end up being overvalued at drafts—I'm not as worried about his health as I am about his dramatic decline in steals and whether he can maintain the sudden spike in power.
League depth also matters.
If you play in an 18-team league, or an AL or NL only league, the options on the waiver wire when an injury occurs are going to be uninspiring, to say the least.
Overall, though, injury-prone players tend to be under-appreciated at most drafts. So contract a case of Kinsler Syndrome and you'll be ready to take advantage of your injury-phobic rivals.