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Understanding Injury Risks

Injuries are an intrinsic risk for fantasy owners, one that often decides who gets the trophy. While injuries remain unpredictable, you can take steps to better prepare yourself on draft day and throughout the season. The easiest way to start is to get familiar with basic medical terminology.

Begin by knowing the difference between a sprain and a strain. A sprain involves trauma to a ligament. Ligaments connect bone to bone and often provide stability to a joint. A strain occurs when a muscle is damaged either in the muscle belly or at its tendon. Tendons connect muscle to bone. Both sprains and strains vary in their recovery time and should not be seen as the same thing.

If one of your players does suffer one of these injuries, pay attention to the degree. Both sprains and strains are classified on the severity of damage. A Grade 1 injury is considered minor and is evident by microtearing of the tissue with little to no loss of function. A more severe Grade 3 injury means the tear is complete, resulting in loss of stability and function. In most cases, the higher the grade, the longer the recovery window.

After you become familiar with the terminology, research a player's history. Carefully examine past seasons to see if injuries have been a constant problem or if a recent injury was a result of an isolated incident.

For example, consider Twins catcher Joe Mauer. Mauer is a phenomenal talent, but lower leg injuries have plagued him throughout his career. He has never played more than 146 games in a season and has missed time with left quadriceps and hamstring strains, a lower back injury, and left knee issues including a plica and torn cartilage. While Mauer is still a top option at catcher, he comes with increased injury risk.

In contrast, Boston outfielder Carl Crawford has been remarkably consistent throughout his career. He has averaged 152 games in seven of his eight full seasons in the big leagues. However, in 2008, when he sustained a subluxed tendon in his middle finger, he played in just 109 games. Given his history, it is reasonable to say that Crawford's injury was a matter of unfortunate coincidence, and he is a reliable option for fantasy owners.

Once a draft is complete, owners must cross their fingers and hope an injury doesn't occur. Unfortunately, several injuries can be particularly troublesome for positional players and pitchers.

Lower-extremity muscle strains, particularly hamstring strains, are problematic regardless of position. The hamstring group plays a vital role in running and acceleration. Hamstrings slow the leg as it extends backward and help initiate hip motion from a standstill position. For pitchers, the hamstrings are critical throughout their mechanics, stabilizing the body while helping generate and transfer force and momentum toward home plate. Pitchers and hitters with hamstring strains are substantially slowed and need time to heal.

Furthermore, strains in the lower extremities often create muscle imbalances, increasing the likelihood of another leg muscle becoming strained. Last season, Philadelphia shortstop Jimmy Rollins missed time with a calf strain and later spent time on the disabled list with a hamstring strain in the same leg. While the injuries occurred at different times, it is likely the calf injury disrupted the kinetic chain of his right leg and contributed to the hamstring injury.

Another problematic muscle injury is an oblique strain. The obliques attach on both sides of the ribcage and work together to complete trunk rotation and breathing. Players depend on their obliques in throwing and hitting. An oblique injury results in significant pain and loss of function, limiting a majority of motions carried out by baseball players. The recovery window varies depending on the severity, but a trip to the disabled list is normal. San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson may not be ready for opening day as he deals with a strained left oblique.

A common injury that affected multiple players last season, including Chase Utley, Jason Heyward and Derrek Lee, is a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in the thumb. The UCL, which stabilizes the base of the thumb, is often injured during a headfirst slide. A player's ability to grip is directly diminished by a UCL. sprain, and surgery is often required. A UCL or other thumb injury often forces a fantasy owner to look elsewhere.