Injury Risk: Players to Avoid

Injury Risk: Players to Avoid

This article is part of our Baseball Draft Kit series.

Every year, there are several discounted players that carry fantasy owners to league championships. Just as connecting on huge sources of profit is important to a successful season, avoiding significant losses with draft-day investments due to a missed time and sharp declines in production due to injury is imperative.

Stephen Strasburg, SP, WAS

The once dominant right-hander has dealt with a myriad of shoulder and elbow issues since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2010. He missed time with a strained latissimus dorsi muscle in 2013 and underwent surgery to remove bone chips in his throwing elbow later in the year. Last year was even worse as a spring training ankle injury started a chain reaction of problems. A mild ankle sprain reportedly disrupted his pitching mechanics, which in turn played a role in his subsequent left trapezius strain, a muscle that spans the neck and shoulder. Less than two weeks after his return he suffered a left oblique strain and missed four more weeks. Strasburg managed to finish the year strong despite the trapezius issue recurring down the stretch. Shortly after the end of the season, Strasburg had a non-cancerous growth surgically removed from his back.

While the growth and ankle injury may have played major roles in Strasburg's 2015 injuries, questions about his mechanics linger as multiple scouts and experts have been critical of his delivery. Additionally, pitchers that previously had bone spurs in their throwing elbow, like the Angels' C.J. Wilson, often require additional debridements if

Every year, there are several discounted players that carry fantasy owners to league championships. Just as connecting on huge sources of profit is important to a successful season, avoiding significant losses with draft-day investments due to a missed time and sharp declines in production due to injury is imperative.

Stephen Strasburg, SP, WAS

The once dominant right-hander has dealt with a myriad of shoulder and elbow issues since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2010. He missed time with a strained latissimus dorsi muscle in 2013 and underwent surgery to remove bone chips in his throwing elbow later in the year. Last year was even worse as a spring training ankle injury started a chain reaction of problems. A mild ankle sprain reportedly disrupted his pitching mechanics, which in turn played a role in his subsequent left trapezius strain, a muscle that spans the neck and shoulder. Less than two weeks after his return he suffered a left oblique strain and missed four more weeks. Strasburg managed to finish the year strong despite the trapezius issue recurring down the stretch. Shortly after the end of the season, Strasburg had a non-cancerous growth surgically removed from his back.

While the growth and ankle injury may have played major roles in Strasburg's 2015 injuries, questions about his mechanics linger as multiple scouts and experts have been critical of his delivery. Additionally, pitchers that previously had bone spurs in their throwing elbow, like the Angels' C.J. Wilson, often require additional debridements if the root of the problem remains unaltered. Given his track record and approach, making Strasburg the backbone of your fantasy rotation is a precarious strategy.

Yasiel Puig, OF, LAD

Since making his debut in 2013, Puig has suffered a laundry list of injuries including shoulder and knee strains, hip and wrist contusions, a thumb sprain, and multiple strains to his left hip flexor and hamstring. His hamstrings have been the most problematic areas forcing him to miss a combined 11 weeks of action last season.

Lower extremity muscle injuries, like Puig's hamstring strain, often alter the biomechanics of the lower body, making the injured individual vulnerable to additional injuries. Hamstring injuries are particularly challenging and often aggravated due to the way they heal. When the body's natural healing response begins repairing a muscle tear, it does so in a random and haphazard fashion. As a result, the newly formed scar tissue remains weak until it has been completely integrated as part of the original muscle. Any attempt to return before the fibers are substantially healed can reset the entire healing process. Consequently, players with hamstring strains often get stuck in a repetitive cycle of injuries or miss substantial time waiting for the area to completely heal. Puig is a young player with plenty of upside, but it would be unwise to ignore his numerous medical red flags.

Albert Pujols, 1B, LAA

The 36-year-old Pujols managed to hit 40 home runs in his fourth season with the Angels, but he hit a career-low .224 in the process. Injuries were a limiting factor as recurring heel pain forced him into a DH role for the final month of the season. He underwent surgery in the offseason to address a torn plantar plate on his right foot and could begin the year on the disabled list.

The plantar plate bridges the gap between the bones of the foot and the toes and is comprised of fibrocartilage, similar to the menisci in the knee. The plantar plate helps distribute weight through the foot and is aligned in the same direction as the plantar fascia. Together the two stabilize and support the arch of the foot. An injury here is a compounding problem for a player with Pujols' history of plantar fasciitis.

Even worse, the former NL MVP has admitted his foot issues often irritate his surgically repaired right knee by causing pain and soreness in the joint. Factor in his numerous lower-extremity strains, including groin and hamstring problems, and it's easy to see why Pujols' inherent injury risk will be significantly elevated when he eventually returns. Even a full-time shift to DH won't completely solve the problem and those willing to gamble on Pujols would be wise to draft a dependable insurance policy.

Adrian Beltre, 3B, TEX

New York's Alex Rodriguez is the only active player to appear in more games than Beltre, who will enter his 19th season in 2016. It should come as no surprise then that after 2,567 regular season games, Beltre enters the year with several injury concerns.

First, he is coming off surgery to address a torn ligament in his left thumb. Thumb injuries often affect a player's grip strength and can impact their ability to smoothly swing a bat. However, Beltre's strong second half in 2015 occurred following the injury and addressing the issue directly should help minimize the effects.

What is more concerning for Beltre is his growing number of muscle-related injuries. He's dealt with multiple strains to his left quadriceps and hamstring since joining Texas in 2011. He also sat out two games of the ALDS with a back strain that required an injection. Injuries of this nature tend to bother older players more as the effects of aging cause muscles to decrease in mass and fatigue at a faster rate.

The Rangers have hard-hitting prospect Joey Gallo waiting in the wings and could opt to use Beltre as the DH every so often in an attempt to preserve the veteran's body. Even with reduced defensive responsibilities, he will enter the year with an elevated level of risk and should be drafted accordingly.

Yordano Ventura, SP, KC

Like Strasburg, Ventura endured multiple injuries last season including one that could hint a serious underlying issue. Early in the year, Ventura was pulled from two starts due to cramping in his calf and right thumb. However, the more threatening injury occurred in June when he was taken out after experiencing weakness in his throwing hand. It was later revealed that swelling in his elbow was irritating his ulnar nerve, a nerve that runs alongside one of the bones of the forearm. Specifically, the ulnar nerve enervates the muscles of the forearm and is responsible for the sensation in the pinkie and ring finger of the hand. Anyone that has hit his or her "funny bone" knows the pain that can come from irritating the ulnar nerve.

The primary concern shouldn't be the nerve injury itself, but instead the pocket of swelling and what caused it in the first place. The area of concern is situated near the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) and the flexor tendon bundle, while a mild injury to either one of these structures could result in swelling and inflammation. If this is the case, this could be a precursor to a bigger problem, especially if Ventura's mechanics are at fault. In 2014, Ventura was removed from a game due to valgus stress overload, a common mechanism of injury for UCL damage. These facts serve as signs of a potential injury in the future and should not be ignored by fantasy owners hoping that Ventura can reach an elite level.

David Wright, 3B, NYM

In addition to an impressive resume that includes seven All-Star team selections, two Gold Gloves, and two Silver Slugger awards, Wright has a lengthy history of injuries including a potential career-altering condition known as spinal stenosis. Stenosis occurs when the spinal column is narrower than normal, limiting the available space for the spinal cord. In Wright's case, the stenosis occurs in the lower region of his back in the lumbar vertebrae.

While Wright will return for his 13th season, the situation still gives reason for fantasy owners to pause. To start, the associated symptoms of lumbar spinal stenosis often affect the lower extremities. That could be a major issue for a player who has struggled with lower back and hamstring problems throughout his career. Further, stenosis often continues to narrow over time, meaning the 33-year-old veteran could see the problem worsen.

Wright avoided surgical intervention, but instead met with a back specialist to design a rehab and maintenance protocol to keep him on the field. Since the Mets do not have the benefit of the designated hitter, expect him to receive routine days off as a preventative measure.

Yadier Molina, C, STL

A long-time stalwart of the Cardinals' lineup, Molina has started to show signs that his years behind the plate are finally taking their toll on his body. He missed time last season with back and knee problems, two areas of major concern given the demands of his position. Even worse, he suffered a torn ligament on his left thumb in late September and ultimately opted for surgery after the injury limited his productivity in the postseason. A follow-up procedure was performed two months later and his availability for spring training is in doubt. It's also worth mentioning that Molina has now had both of his thumbs surgically repaired after tearing a ligament in his right thumb during the summer of 2014.

Thumb injuries are particularly problematic for hitters as they can negatively impact an individual's grip strength. A physical limitation is the last thing a player who has seen his batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage steadily drop for three straight seasons needs. Let someone else draft him in hopes of a rebound based on name value and target a younger, more reliable catcher instead.

This article appears in the 2016 RotoWire Fantasy Baseball Guide. Order the magazine here!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jeff Stotts
Jeff Stotts works as a Certified Athletic Trainer (MAT, ATC, PES, CES). He won the 2011 Best Fantasy Football Article in Print from the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.
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