Pitchers are a necessary evil to most fantasy players. They get hurt more often than hitters, and they stay hurt longer. While it’s extremely rare to lose a hitter for the entire season, it happens all the time with pitchers. But we need them, so here we are.
The holy grail for fantasy, then, is being able to predict pitcher injury. Well, that factors in pretty well with the real-world success of the White Sox for example, but this is a Roto column, so there.
Tom Verducci had a theory — pitchers with big jumps in innings from year to year were more susceptible to injury. Turns out it’s not really true. Jeff Zimmerman and I showed a case for sliders and curveballs adding to injury risk, but the added risk is a) not true for everyone and b) incremental. Zimmerman found a similar effect for wild pitchers after Billy Beane mentioned it. These things all have a little bit of truth to them, but they aren’t enough of a rack to hang the hat of our fantasy hopes upon.
It turns out a tiny little post of mine summing up the research on pitch types and pitcher injuries may have had it the most correct: Every Pitch Is Bad For You. Every year in the big leagues adds about 1% of likelihood that your pitcher is going to hit the disabled list, and you might as well use age as a general proxy in that case.
There is a tiny bit more, though. We all know that some pitchers get hurt more than others. Russell Carleton at Baseball Prospectus tried his hand at predicting injuries and found the same thing that Jeff Zimmerman once found: The best way to predict a future disabled list appearance is to look at past disabled list appearances.
Zimmerman provided us with this 2013 Pitcher Disabled List Projections already, and here are the top ten most likely to get injured:
Most of the list is just old and oft-injured, so there aren’t too many surprises. Clay Buchholz doesn’t seem old yet, but he’s been on the DL often enough to think there’s worry there. He’s already battling a calf injury and the spring slate hasn’t even started yet.
But maybe we shouldn’t jettison the other research so quickly. There’s still incremental things we can learn from slider and curveball usage, as well as a pitcher’s ability to hit the zone. Here are the top twelve pitchers that also have another risk factor to worry about. (You’ll see why 12 in a second.)
Jerome Williams doesn’t hit the zone much. Erik Bedard throws too many curveballs and is Erik Bedard. Shaun Marcum has a zone and Marcum problem as well. Felix Doubront is a little wild. Wandy Rodriguez throws the curves. Carlos Zambrano has two markers for control problems, and has started to ache more with age. Hiroki Kuroda and Stephen Strasburg have the control markers. CC Sabathia throws a ton of sliders and got dinged last year. Danny Haren — well he doesn’t actually have an extra marker, but what the heck, he belongs in this group just based on his hip issues.
Edinson Volquez is only slightly more likely than average to hit the DL by Zimmerman’s original research (39% was average), but he can’t hit the zone, walks too many, AND doesn’t get strikes — he’s pretty much the poster child for the anti-Billy-Beane pitcher. Tommy Hanson didn’t throw 30+% sliders, but he almost did, and he’s wild to boot. Add in his velocity drop and his back AND elbow concerns, and Hanson is a terrible bet to make it through the season unscathed.
If you’d like to look at the pitchers that have been hurt over the past two years and get into the data some, Zimmerman has a database up with the last three years’ worth of disabled list information. If you’d like to keep it simple, just remember these names. One of them might burn your fantasy staff this season.