Early-Season Injuries Do Not Have To Doom Your Fantasy Baseball Team

By Sam McPherson

The Major League Baseball season is two weeks in, and already there have been a ton of players suffering injuries and landing on the new 10-day disabled list. The 2015 American League Most Valuable Player, Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson, was off to a great start before aggravating his calf and landing on the DL. Same for two-time All-Star closer Zach Britton, who was leading the AL in saves with five. the Baltimore Orioles closer is now on the DL, too, with a forearm strain. You just can’t avoid injuries in fantasy baseball, unless you’re very, very lucky.

However, unlike fantasy football, which is much more punishing if you lose a top draft pick to injury so soon, you can overcome these kinds of injuries in fantasy baseball. Most of the time, you can find able replacements on the waiver wire in April to alleviate the pain of an injured player. Yes, Donaldson is harder to replace than Britton, using the above examples, because someone on the Orioles still has to save games, whereas hitting home runs and collecting RBI is harder when it comes to finding another third baseman like Donaldson.

The point is that injuries happen to almost every team in your league, and they happen often. Generally, it’s always a priority to replace injured hitters first, because the counting stats (HRs, RBI, etc.) are predominant—and the skill sets are harder to replicate. With pitching, it’s best to prioritize replacing closers over starters, as saves come from everywhere whereas bad starters can ruin your place in the standings, thanks to the ERA and WHIP categories.

Players to Get Onto Your Roster Now

1. Ryan Zimmerman, 1B, Washington Nationals: This would be a perfect replacement for Donaldson, if Zimmerman still played third. Depending on your roster, maybe you can juggle the 1B/3B slots a bit and grab Zimmerman while Donaldson heals. Strangely, Zimmerman was only an All-Star selection once (2009), but he’s off to a good start in 2017 with a .341 average, three HRs and six RBI. It may not last long, considering recent history. He hasn’t played a full season since 2013, but if you just need a few weeks out of him while Donaldson gets back to full strength, Zimmerman is as good an option as any.

2. Jason Vargas, SP, Kansas City Royals: Coming back from a UCL tear is never certain, but Vargas looks to be in good shape right now. He started three games late last year and got progressively better each time out. With another offseason to recover, Vargas has started off this season strong (2-0, 0.66 ERA, 14 strikeouts), and although he probably won’t throw more than 150 innings this whole season, now’s the time to get on board and ride his arm for as long as you can. Vargas isn’t going to win the Cy Young Award, but you don’t need him to in order to benefit from his comeback.

3. Chris Devenski, P, Houston Astros: This is an interesting proposition, since Devenski isn’t in the Astros starting rotation. However, he started five games last year and should find his way into a starter’s role soon. Devenski’s numbers in relief this year are stellar already (17 Ks in nine innings, plus a 1.00 ERA), and for his career so far, the numbers are stable and good (117 1/3 IP, 121 Ks, 2.07 ERA, 0.886 WHIP). Even if he doesn’t start that often, his overall numbers can only help your fantasy staff. Sometimes, it’s the sneaky reliever types like this that win the league for you.

4. Aaron Judge, OF, New York Yankees: He had a rough start to his career last season, but Judge already looks a lot better this season (three HRs, seven RBI, .870 OPS). His batting eye looks improved, too, based on four walks already in 10 games after Judge had nine total last year in 27 games. He could supply a ton of power for your team if another player goes down with an injury—and a lineup juggle works for you. Just 25 years old, Judge is one of several young Yankees looking to bring the power and the glory back to the Bronx. 

Players to Sit/Drop This Week

1. Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins: He’s still only 23 years old, but with 149 MLB games under his belt now since 2015, it doesn’t look like Buxton is ever going to be the great player he was touted to be. He’s struck out 23 times already this season, in just 12 games. Overall, he’s hitting just .093, and again, with almost a full season compiled in stats, little about those numbers (.210 average, only 13 stolen bases) suggests he’s going to have a good career. Maybe he turns it around eventually, but in single-season leagues, let someone else take the chance on Buxton. You can find better players on the waiver wire.

2. Sam Dyson, RP, Texas Rangers: Hopefully, you didn’t draft both Britton and Dyson, because you’d really need to find saves now. Dyson has been a nightmare this year (0-2, 24.75 ERA) after posting 38 saves last year. But his strikeout rate has never been great (career 7.4 Ks per nine IP), so he was a risky pick to begin with this year. Psychologically, it’s hard to see the Rangers going back to Dyson later for saves, especially when they have better options on their roster. Drop him and find a better reliever. Someone else can take a chance on Dyson.

3. Russell Martin, C, Toronto Blue Jays: A four-time All-Star selection, Martin (and his Blue Jays) are off to a terrible start this season. However, he is a career .253 hitter, and for a catcher with his power, that’s acceptable. You know he will bounce back later along with his whole team. In the meantime, however, stash him on your bench and pick up a streaky, hot-hitting, unknown catcher. This will save your team average for now, and you’ll be able to ride the inevitable, stat-correcting run Martin goes on later this summer. 

4. Jeff Samardzija, SP, San Francisco Giants: He’s now 0-3 with a 6.16 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP, although he looked a little better on Sunday against Colorado (no walks, eight Ks) despite taking the loss. However, the problem is that the Shark is the team’s No. 4 starter, and he lacks the quality stuff plus the mental fortitude (which is surprising, considering his college football days playing for Notre Dame) to overcome the San Francisco roster’s many deficiencies. He’s not Madison Bumgarner, and right now, even Bumgarner is winless for this last-place Giants team. Bench Samardzija if you must, but there are better SPs on the waiver wire.

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