Every spring, fantasy baseball players across the land are preparing for another season. Projections are pored over; position battles are analyzed; final rosters are digested – all this to be as prepared as possible for the draft season and to try to get a leg up on the competition. Due to commitments to family and jobs, most of us don’t have an unlimited amount of time to devote to this preparation so must get the most accurate information possible committed to memory as best as possible. After the draft, thoughts turn to how good the team is and look forward to the inevitable Yoo-Hoo shower after the season ends.
Depending on league size, however, teams only have a one-in-X chance of winning and most owners feel the same going into the season. After all, it’s their team and no one wants to admit defeat before the season plays out. Then the games begin and the truth of team composition starts to come to light. There are cold and hot starts to deal with. A star player begins the season 5-for-40 while a lesser player gets 17 hits in the same number of at-bats. Punch and Judy hitters all of a sudden are home run hitting machines while soft-tossing pitchers have seemingly evolved into the next Bob Gibson.
As if this isn’t hard enough to overcome, next come the injuries. The best laid draft plans are laid to waste as important cogs start to go down with all sorts of injuries from hangnails to muscle pulls to broken bones. But the injury that causes the most concern year in and year out is the dreaded ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction; better known as Tommy John surgery. This medical procedure was pioneered by former pitcher Tommy John and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Frank Jobe in 1974. After the surgery and lengthy rehab, John went on to win 164 more games over 14 years. Thus, Tommy John surgery (as it came to be known) revolutionized the medical landscape and prolonged the career of countless major league players.
Even though many players are having the surgery and are able to go on to play quite a bit longer, it is very disconcerting for a real or fantasy team to learn that one of their pitchers has succumbed to a torn elbow ligament and is now done for the rest of the season at the very least. This year hasn’t been any different; in fact, the pace of players falling victim to this injury is happening at an alarming rate.
To date, the list of players requiring Tommy John surgery is: Cory Luebke, Luke Hochevar, Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy, Jarrod Parker, Patrick Corbin, Bruce Rondon, David Hernandez, Cory Gearrin, Bobby Parnell, Matt Moore, Josh Johnson, Ivan Nova, Pedro Figueroa and A.J. Griffin. Prospects Miguel Sano and Jameson Taillon – who figured to be important parts of their teams this year - have also undergone the procedure. And now we are waiting on word that Jose Fernandez will also require the surgery. That’s a total of 18 players to date compared with nine at this point last year. At this point, the pace is slightly ahead of 2012, when 17 players had Tommy John surgery and a total of 46 underwent it by season’s end.
The numbers are staggering and anyone who has some of the more prominent names on this list has had a huge hole to fill – especially the latest name to pop up from the Miami Marlins. It is almost impossible to replace a player of this caliber without some kind of major trade. But this is what we have to deal with as fantasy players. It just seems that every other day we get word of another casualty and it’s back to the drawing board. It is frustrating and severely tests the mettle of general managers – both real and fantasy.So as the season progresses, many of us will keep our fingers crossed and hope the fickle finger of fate doesn’t point in our direction. For me personally, it’s too late to try to duck. Hopefully, you’re having better luck.