|Ryan Zimmerman, as well as many other players value rests on their shoulders. (mlblogs.com)|
The shoulder injury is probably the most underrated in baseball. Which seems odd considering that along with the hips, it's the fulcrum for the arms and wrists, controls bat speed, and generates power that makes players fantasy stars. It also has an impact on throwing and fielding which is important in having an player stay at 3B as opposed to having him convert to 1B - potentially making him less valuable.
When you look at the number of significant shoulder injuries for hitters, things are largely swept under the rug. A little surgery for clean-up here, should be back to full strength by Spring Training there, and by the All-Star break we are wondering why a guy that has a history of hitting 40 homeruns is at 8 for the season.
Shoulder injuries are problematic, and when they occur, owners should take note. We're up to 48 players ranked thus far, and in that top crop (excluding pitchers because shoulder problems are a bit more the norm) the following players have had significant drops in their value due to lingering shoulder problems: Matt Kemp, Jason Heyward, Josh Hamilton, Adrian Gonzalez, Ryan Zimmerman, Jacoby Ellsbury, and B.J. Upton.
I bring this up now because it just so happens that 4 of those players are in Round 4 of my rankings, and all of them at one point looked to be on their way to steady Round 1 or 2 projections.
In terms of recovering from a shoulder injury, the most notable account from last year was with Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez initially tweaked his shoulder at the end of the 2009 season then played with what ended up being a torn labrum for the entire 2010 season. He only missed two games that year and still connected for 31 homers and 101 RBI. The homers were his lowest total since 2007, but there didn't appear to be any warning signs. After he did have surgery leading into 2011, he had a monsterous fantasy year for the Red Sox. The power dropped again to 27 HR, but the friendly confines of Fenway boosted him to 117 RBI and .957 OPS.
A-Gon had established himself as the 2nd best 3 in all of baseball, and coming into 2012 he mentioned his shoulder felt even better than last year. Typically a full recovery from this type of shoulder injury (regaining full power and range of motion) seems to be close to a year, so this should be great news for his fantasy prospects. Well, the shoulder issues started to pop up in expected ways. The power dropped again to 18 HR, his lowest OPS since his first full season in the bigs, he lost control of the strike zone which decreased his walk rate, and he was no longer in a ballpark perfectly tailored for his skills - he was traded to a more cavernous stadium in Los Angeles.
Now, there were a lot of other factors going on that might have caused an off year for Gonzalez. It does seem odd that he was able to move past his shoulder injury and then have a relapse of sorts. His K% and line drive rate stayed on course for his past years, but his BABIP was actually a little higher than some of his best years indicating he might have gotten lucky - if you can believe that. Of course his isolated power also dropped significantly. Many people are picking A-Gon to bounce back, and to a certain extent, I'm likely to agree. Although it would seem optimistic to assume a return to his 40 HR form. This new A-Gon might be a 20-25 homer guy that is more of a doubles hitter than power hitter. He can still get on base and be in the middle of a line-up, but the A-Gon we knew might be A-Gone.
Gonzalez's was notable because we witnessed the struggle all year long, and the precipitous drop for a player that was so consistent was baffling to behold, the most significant shoulder injury goes to Jacoby Ellsbury. You may have already forgotten, but Ellsbury was coming off an MVP season that was almost too good to be true. The injury-prone speedster had become an injury-prone 30/30 member. After playing 18 games in 2010, Ellsbury was in the line-up for 158 games in 2011. Sure he scored 119 runs and stole 39 bases, but somehow he raked 32 homeruns and 105 RBI to the tune of a .928 OPS. Basically, he was the 2011 version of Mike Trout. Then on the verge of stardom, Ellsbury got Ellsbury'd (Ellsburied?) sliding into second base on April 13th and didn't return until July 13th. The two and a half months he did play weren't terrible, but hardly the Ellsbury of 2011.
As much as his preposterous performance in 2011 felt like an aberration or Jacoby swung by the Biogenesis Clinic on the way to Spring Training, 2013 Ellsbury will more likely be the guy we thought he was. An average over .280 with 15 homers and 60+ RBIs, but still with his 100 runs and 35+ steals. A good value, just not elite.
A shoulder injury may have detoured Ellsbury's run to become a great fantasy player, a shoulder injury stymied a heralded career before it even got started. B.J. Upton should have been the #1 pick, but the penny pinching Pittsburgh Pirates opted for the cheaper "Who me!?" pick of Bryan Bullington. While the older Upton has made fantasy owners pitch more fits than Kate Upton has pitched pants tents, Bullington is currently rocking it in Japan - coincidentally for my favorite Japanese team, the Hiroshima Toyo Carp - it's not debatable who the best player rated in the 2002 draft was ... by far.
The Bossman has been logging major league time since he was 19 years old. In his age 22 season, he hit 24 HR and swiped 22 bags. Entering the 2008 playoffs a year later, Upton had a bit of a down year, but connected for 7 HR in the playoffs before losing to the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series. Shortly after his career making performance, Upton went under the knife in the off-season for a torn labrum. That was the winter of 2008, and Upton wouldn't surpass 20 HR in a season until 2011. As Jason Heyward showed, battling through shoulder injuries at a young age can cause a lot of issues mentally and mechanically. Upton hasn't developed into a 5 tool player, but he is a steady threat for 15/35 seasons. A move to Atlanta and the acquisition of his baby bro Justin Upton could help elevate his game this year.
As for the batting average, if Upton can boost it up, just a bit, to .250 it won't be so hard to deal with. Honestly at spot 48 he has the potential to be much better, but he hasn't realized that yet. Also, in head-to-head formats, keep in mind that bad OBP means streaky. He could save you some weeks and kill you in others.
The poster boy for shoulder injuries is Ryan Zimmerman. Not because he's had a lot of them, but more so - he showed just how important shoulder health can be to a player. The memory of Zimm's 2009 season is a distant memory at this point. At the end of that season he was neck and neck with David Wright for best third baseman in the National League, but rightfully so, three straight years of injuries have dropped him down from that Top 25 potential player. When Zimmerman has played, he has been consistent in every 5x5 category except for steals. At his max potential, he can be that 100/30/100 guy we saw in 2009, but staying healthy has been a big obstacle.
As a Zimmerman owner in my keeper league, I can unhappily admit how horrible he was in the first half of 2012. He was limited by lingering shoulder issues that would require off-season surgery and flubbed his way to a .590 OPS with 3 homers in the first 55 games. When he struggled mightily and the shoulder was clearly holding him back, he took a stint to the disabled list (subsequently leading to Bryce Harper's call-up) and took some cortisone shots. From June 24th on, with a not necessary healthy but medicated shoulder, Zimmerman raked. He hit 10 HR in July with a 1.186 OPS, and long story short, the guy finished with 25 HR and 95 RBI in essentially 3/5 of a season.
He looked like two completely different players, but really, the better version of himself was just healthy. Zimmerman did get that shoulder surgery in the off-season to clear up any debris and hopefully leave his shoulder in good enough condition that more shots won't be needed during the season. He still plays a premium position, and with his age and team around him, I like him where he falls on my 3B ranks. After all, his surgery was just a clean-up. He'll be fine ...
One other guy I want to mention is Billy Butler. He is entering his 7th professional year of baseball, but will just turn 27 in April. He's always been a doubles machine, but last year was able to stretch a couple of those out to homers. Raising his tally to a career high 29. He definitely fits the bill of a guy that is entering his power prime, and I certainly don't view last year as a fluke, but more a progression. The one hesitancy I have about him is that he flat out cannot run the bases. His run totals are always below average, and even for a guy that gets on base a fair amount projecting above 80 runs scored is unlikely. That's a big disadvantage when you factor in that he doesn't steal and if his average falters, you're paying an awful lot for a Mark Teixiera type. Hell, two years ago, he put up comparable number to Nick Swisher. So while I think Butler will continue to progress, some warning flags there.
On Deck: Yu Darvish, R.A. Dickey, Craig Kimbrel, Bryce Harper
OVERALL RANKINGS THUS FAR
There have been a couple of movers and shakers on the Big Board since last time. First, I wanted to mention Ryan Braun and his alleged involvement in the latest PED scandal. As it stands right now, I'm taking him 2nd. He was in a lot deeper shit last year and came out on top. People were passing on him - more rightfully then because it seemed like a 50 game suspension was inevitable - but he beat that accusation after he had his positive test overruled due to the handling of his urine specimen. This is his name scribbled on a Mead notebook with no ties to any specific PED. Also, I'm no expert, but his money owed was apparently between $20-$30K, which is much higher than the other players costs which were in the $1-$5K range. So either Braun was taking some gooood sheeeeit or his defense that he consulted Biogenesis for his 2011 positive PED test is true. Certainly seems like more of a consulting fee to me. Ultimately, assuming he isn't suspended, he can clearly handle the heat of hateful fans anyway. No worries here.
Second, I bumped Heyward down from 11 to 13 not because he was maliciously ranked #28 on ESPN's Top 300 but more so because he will now be batting 2nd in the Atlanta line-up. This will lessen his RBI opportunities, but he can easily still be on pace for a 30/20 year. These are my ranks obviously, so I feel Heyward is being underrated. His RBI opportunities could drop, and while I do see value in the skills Heyward can bring to that spot, I wouldn't be shocked to see him move back to 3rd in the order. Then, it's on.
|The Funkman says: "Biogenesis? I go there for my anti-aging program."|