2023 Fantasy Baseball Starting Pitcher Player Spotlight: MLB Injury Updates - Chris Sale Returns
Published: Mar 10, 2023
Updated: Mar 10, 2023
There are differing schools of thought about the wisdom of trusting a starting pitcher who is coming back to action after suffering an injury and/or having surgery (i.e., Tommy John surgery as an example). Some will vow not to take the chance on adding such a recovery project to their roster(s), no matter how cheap they can be acquired at the auction or how late in the draft that SP can be added to their squad. Others look to snag a late round value (in their opinion), hoping the ceiling will be high enough to justify the risk that the injury bug will bite again. Some will have been in the latter camp and suffered a burn with an injury prone player and will then join the first group, vowing never to make the same mistake again. As with nearly every situation encountered in life, however, each case should be examined on its own merits, and below we present three potential later round options who carry risk/reward potential for the 2023 drafts coming up soon, if your league has not gotten an early start already.
Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox LHP, ADP: 161.7
The veteran southpaw was a continuing disappointment for his fantasy owners last season. His ribcage stress fracture suffered in March sent him to the 60-day IL to open the campaign, but he looked sharp when he came back to active duty in early July, tossing a promising five scoreless frames against the Rays. His next appearance lasted just two thirds of an inning before he suffered a broken little finger. Surgery following a broken wrist after a bicycling accident put him on the sidelines for the balance of 2022.
Now comes this season, and early word out of camp is that he is rejuvenated about taking the ball every fifth day once again. After all, he missed all of 2020 and most of 2021 after undergoing Tommy John surgery (TJS), and he has been able to log just 48.1 IP since 2021. He was clocked in the mid-90s in his first spring training start against the Tigers, and the promising news is that since the TJS, his injuries have not been arm related. Does he return to ace status, striking out better than a batter per inning and posting superb ratio stats? He will be on an innings limit, most likely, which will cut into his counting stat production, but should his ADP continue to hover where it sits currently, you could snap up an ace for your fantasy rotation at an appealing price in terms of price or pick cost.
Kenta Maeda, Minnesota Twins RHP, ADP: 289.27
The 34-year-old righty missed all of 2022, going under the knife for a TJS procedure. Prior to the surgery, he was not known for a blazing fastball, that offering arriving at the plate in the low-90s. He was effective in missing bats, and exhibited superb control, resulting in attractive K/9 production for his fantasy owners back in 2021: 9.56 K/9 over 106.1 IP. The major concern for most pitchers coming off TJS is that their control is slow to return to pre-surgery levels. A concern going into this season, and a reason for his inflated ADP, is that the team is slotting him in as the fifth starter in the rotation, and there is some talk of the Twins turning to a six-man rotation this season, which would limit is counting numbers and potential to rack up those double digit wins and QS denoted in the projections above. He is worthy of a late round flier pick, however, which allows the risk it takes him a bit to recover his control to be a worthwhile gamble.
Garrett Whitlock, Boston Red Sox RHP, ADP: 268.75
Changing things up, the third year righthander is not a TJS recipient. Instead, he is currently sitting on the bench following off-season hip surgery, and while not slated to be part of the Bosox rotation to open the action when the season starts, he is expected to rejoin the active roster sometime in April. The off-season additions to the Red Sox bullpen should shift his role to full time SP in 2023. It is the uncertainty about his role on the Boston staff that depresses his ADP, to be sure, but also the injury concern in a young pitcher that pushes down his anticipated value as a fantasy arm. Should he return to something akin to his rookie year domination of opposing batters (not exactly the same, but in the neighborhood) then his end of draft availability will prove to be a tremendous upside selection for your fantasy team. He has the potential to provide both exceptional ratio stat production together with high-level counting stats in the form of double digit wins and plenty of whiffs by opposing hitters. The downside would be an inning limit imposed to reduce the risk of another injury; pitch count restriction is the reason that his QS projections are non-existent, which could be a negative depending on your league’s settings, obviously. The delta between his 95 MPH fastball and mid-80s changeup makes him difficult to barrel up, and should continue to befuddle opposing offenses.
The thought that players coming off an injury are to be avoided is held by a number of fantasy owners, but really, in these days where injuries are seemingly more the rule than the exception, especially with the shortened IL timing (10 days as opposed to the prior 15 day DL stints), the fear of drafting a previously sidelined player should be diminished. This is especially true if you can snap up a value in the final rounds to help bolster your rotation.
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