Drafting a pitcher in fantasy baseball who is coming off of a serious injury, like Matt Harvey or Masahiro Tanaka, is always a risky proposition. Sometimes they will go higher based on name recognition than they probably should. Other times they will go much lower, with owners often forgetting about them.
Ben Rolfe (@FPL_brolfe) and I looked at five pitchers who will come into 2015 surrounded by question marks. Based upon the injury they suffered and their current ADP (thanks to Fantasy Pros), are these guys we would draft for the 2015 season?
Matt Harvey (ADP 66.6)
Ben Rolfe: Having missed all of the 2014 season, Harvey should have no issues being ready to go for opening day. Coming off Tommy John surgery is always something to be nervous about when drafting a player especially with players like Brandon Beachy, who has had a second TJ surgery, being a cautionary tale. I would expect the Mets to manage Harvey to some extent and there is a risk they could shut him down if they fall out of contention. These things mean that drafting him as the 17th SP off the board is perhaps as high as I would go. I would feel more comfortable with him as my #3 but that probably means I won’t be drafting Harvey who has the potential to be a fantasy ace.
Kyle Robert: At his best, Matt Harvey is a monster and has the ability to be the anchor of any fantasy staff. He can be a 200 plus strikeout guy with an era in the low two’s. His whip is ideal and the strikeout to walk rate that makes owner salivate. Unfortunately for Harvey we haven’t seen him throw a pitch since 2013. Taking him in the 5th to 6th round is a heavy proposition. It will likely cost you a hitter that could be a cornerstone in your lineup. Grabbing hitting in the first four rounds then grabbing Harvey could provide a ton of value, but be ready to solidify pitching later in drafts with safer names. Id take him, but be ready to work the waiver wire if things go sideways.
Masahiro Tanaka (ADP 90)
BR: Tanaka scares the hell out of me right now. Having missed a lot of the second half of the season with a tear in his UCL he chose not to go under the knife and now his elbow feels like a ticking time bomb for fantasy. Currently he is being taken as the 23rd pitcher off the board which is way too early for my liking. I just cannot see how he stays healthy all year and I worry we could lose him for the season within the first six weeks. I wouldn’t touch Tanaka in my top 30 SP’s for sure and the more I think about him the further he slips down my personal rankings. He is a Fantasy Enigma. The 40th pitcher currently being taken is Yordano Ventura and that is probably the point I would risk Tanaka meaning much like Harvey I won’t own Tanaka this year.
KR: Im not touching Tanaka with a 10 foot pole. He is 26 and entering his 8th season of professional baseball. In Japan he averaged 186 innings per year. After putting off surgery to a tear in his UCL, in hopes it would heal, Tanaka spent most of the second half of the season not pitching, He made two starts at the end of the season and they did not go well. He pitched 12 innings allowing 8 runs, 6 of which were earned. For Tanaka, the potential reward doesn’t feel like its even close to the risk owners are assuming.
Garrett Richards (ADP 145)
BR: Richards is a tough one to predict right now given that his injury occurred very late last season towards the end of August. Richards was a complete ace when on the mound last year and would be a top 10 SP if it wasn’t for the injury. Currently going off the board as the 36th pitcher taken in the 14th round of drafts this is a solid spot for him in my opinion. The difference between him and Tanaka? His fastball is amazing and he likely won’t be rushed back and be playing injured. Starting Pitcher is so deep this year that in round 12 as your 3rd/4th pitcher this is where the potential reward outweighs the risk enough for me to take the chance. The later you draft the better your picture of his situation should be so be prepared to adjust his ranking throughout spring but right now this feels like nice value even if he misses a month. (Plus if you have a DL spot he slides straight onto that allowing you to stream pitchers until he returns)
KR: Richards was fantastic in 2014 going 13-4 with a WHIP just above 1, a 8.8 K/9. His injury came late in 2014, right as the Angels approached the playoffs. The injury at the time was expected to be a 6-9 month recovery time. Richards just hit the 6th month mark and is already throwing off of the mound. While its very unlikely we see him to start the season he may return sooner than later. It may take a handful of starts to reach his stride without a spring, but the starts he ammasses will be as good as anyone. Richards is well worth the risk at the point of the draft where you will likely need to take him.
Jose Fernandez (ADP 182.2)
BR: Now Fernandez makes me quite nervous because he isn’t going to be back until at least June and even that could be rushing him back. If he does return healthy then you could have three months of elite pitcher for essentially no risk. The players going immediately after Fernandez in drafts are Quintana, Bogaerts, Doolittle and Segura. Now I would take Fernandez over all four of them and the only one it is close with is Bogaerts so for me he may even be going a little low. The issue with Fernandez in single season leagues is Miami could make the decision to let him take the year and then you get no return. However, for the potential elite pitcher you could get it is well worth the risk in round 15/16.
KR: I think Ben nailed it on Fernandez. Between the wait and what other players are potentially available around where he will come off of the board the odds of me selecting him are not good. That said, when i get to the point in the draft where Fernandez can potentially go, I may have my hitters locked up and be willing to take a flier on him. Pitching is fairly easy to find on the waiver wire. If I felt good about my team when I get to round 14-16, Fernandez could easily be the pick.
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Matt Cain (ADP 234)
BR: Coming off two surgeries within six months there are a lot of question marks surrounding Cain and these are causing him to fall in drafts. He is currently going in the 20th round of a 12 team draft as the 65th SP off the board. At a position where players can go on well into their 30’s Cain isn’t past it and if the reports are correct he should be ready to go come opening day. He has the potential to come back as a top 20-30 starting pitcher and given his ADP that is well worth the gamble late in drafts.
KR: Matt Cain had a dismal 2014, which included not one but two operations. Between his poor performance early and his absence late many owners have forgot about him. However after spending the offseason recovering and working out, 2015 feels like a huge bounce back for Cain. The San Francisco Chronicle had a quote from him, saying “I feel like i’m 18 again.” I previewed Cain in my San Francisco Giants preview. I love him for 2015 and he will be a player i own on most, if not all of my teams. Coming off the board in the 20th round and as pitcher 65 is tremendous reward potential with very little risk. He should have a K/9 near 8 once again and have double digit win potential. Take him in the late teens and thank me later.