Major League Baseball’s adjustment to the disabled list, reducing the minimum stay from 15 days to 10 for 2017, is leading to more players being shelved than ever before. According to MLB data, during April, the total of 10-day DL moves this season was 177, compared to 149 15-day DL stints a year ago.
Is it a good thing or bad?
Many MLB managers seem to like it. In an AP story dated May 8, 10-day DL backers quoted include Giants skipper Bruce Bochy and Reds manager Bryan Price, citing positive benefits for player and team.
Interestingly, Bochy’s toughest competitor, the Los Angeles Dodgers, have been accused by some of gaming the new rule to juggle their seven-man rotation. Critics believe the Dodgers are liberally applying the 10-day DL to skip a rotation turn for selected pitchers to give them additional rest, while creating phantom injuries as justification, if necessary. Under the prior rules, a pitcher would have to miss at least two starts over a 15-day period out.
For their part, the Dodgers are unapologetic, welcoming MLB scrutiny while clearly leveraging the new rule to their advantage.
But what does this increased traffic on and off disabled lists mean to fantasy owners in 2017?
The level of interest may vary simply based on the league format, as all DL stays are clearly not created equal.
Some leagues feature disabled lists of a finite size, which may require careful roster balancing, while others have unlimited DL usage. Certain leagues allow in-week moves of a disabled player out of the lineup and a replacement in – if a legal substitute is among that owner’s reserves, while other leagues prohibit any mid-week changes.
I compete in leagues of all those flavors and more. While I have my opinions, I wanted to lead with the views of three friends, who also happen to play in and administer leagues in which I compete.
Here are answers to four questions posed to all three analysts, with my remarks following.
1) In standard redraft leagues, do you believe in fixed numbers of DL spots, having none or unlimited use and why?
Zola: “I'll say unlimited, but I don't have a strong preference. We're all playing with the same inventory; tell me what the rule is and I'll plan accordingly. That said, I've played in very few leagues with a set number or reserves, all of them shallow mixed leagues where the available pool is deep so tossing back an injured player doesn't hurt as much.”
Shandler: “I have always been a proponent of unlimited DL spots. You get hurt enough by losing a player but I see no point in doubling the pain by forcing an owner to pick and choose which hurt players he can keep.”
Gardner: “I haven’t really thought about restricting the number of DL spots in LABR, simply because we’ve always had an unlimited DL and most of the leagues I’m in have an unlimited DL as well.”
Walton: “Perhaps the restricted-size DL league subset is small. I hope so, as I agree with Ron. Don’t kick owners when they are down.”
2) Has your thinking on the DL matter evolved over time? Why or why not?
Shandler: “Nope. Pretty much always felt this way. There are enough things in this game that are out of our control. Don't handicap our ability to manage our roster even more.”
Zola: “My thinking really hasn't evolved, primarily due to the limited exposure to DL limits. That is, I have very little hands-on experience to shape my thinking.”
Gardner: “My feelings on the DL issue have evolved somewhat over the years, and not just because of the new 10-day DL. The one change that makes more and more sense to me is capping the number of DL spots in deep AL- or NL-only leagues because the waiver wire is so incredibly thin, especially among hitters. Forcing owners to make the tough decisions – whether to wait on an injured player or cut him because a roster spot is needed immediately – is probably a better test of managing ability than just being able to stash all injured players on the DL until they return.
“The DL shouldn’t be a place to stockpile players just to keep them away from opponents. However, I’m sympathetic to the owners who just have horrible luck during the season and lose a number of their best players to injury. It does seem like a pretty heavy penalty to be forced to cut a $20-$30 player because all DL slots are already taken.”
Walton: “Steve comes at this from an interesting angle. Many weeks in AL- and NL-only leagues, the busiest free agent hitter might have logged just 10 or 12 at-bats the prior week. Slim pickings, indeed.
“Having said that, though, I admit that I have targeted injured players in drafts solely for the purposes of stashing them on the unlimited-sized DL until ready.”
3) In the leagues you administer, have you seen any impact of the 10 vs. 15-day MLB DL this year? If so, what?
Zola: “Not really. I think the 10 vs. 15 argument is overblown. Yeah, the Dodgers are playing with a 26-man roster, but other than that, there's just a handful of players put on the 10-day DL staying fewer than 15 days.”
Shandler: “More players are on the DL but it is not clear what percentage of them would still have gone on a 15-day DL. There have been some cases when the timing of the MLB DL move was such that it came too late to place a player on the fantasy DL but the 10 days would end too early to justify putting the player on the DL during the second week when he could return to action that week. It seems to require more owner insight into the injury prognosis and what the MLB team is planning to do. Not easy.”
Gardner: “There seems to be a renewed interest in the disabled list with MLB teams liberally using the new 10-day DL. It seems to have resulted in more fantasy owners having to guess whether or not their players will be back when they’re eligible, when previously there seemed to be enough time to feel more confident about a player’s status when 15-day stint was over.
“I think that’s what’s causing the most consternation among fantasy owners, not the fact that more players are going on the DL. In the past, I’d bet a lot of the same players would remain on an MLB team’s active roster in case they recovered sooner than expected.”
Walton: “Ron and Steve hit on the roster management issues for fantasy owners trying to gauge what an injured player’s situation really is. I would like to give fantasy league owners increased flexibility in this more challenging environment.”
4) If there has been any impact, is it enough to consider future rules changes in your leagues?
Gardner: “I’m definitely not in favor of changing the rules during the season. But I’ll probably poll LABR owners this offseason about limiting the number of DL spots in the future. Maybe a maximum of 3-5??
Shandler: “I've gotten into some spirited discussion on my site with readers in leagues with limited DL spots. But opening up that rule seems to resolve all those issues.”
Zola: “No -- and I'd argue against any changes based on this one season. As suggested, this is a goofy year with respect to injuries. It's not the 10-day DL - more players are getting hurt. I don't like to make any changes based on one season which should prove to be a blip.
“The most important aspect of the fantasy DL is for it to be separate than the reserve list. It's already bad enough you have an injured player, it's worse if you have to decide whether to keep the player, taking up a reserve spot or release him. In essence, the rich get richer. Not only does a team devoid of injuries have their active roster at full strength, they have stronger reserves, or perhaps the ability to stash a minor league prospect.
“If I could change one rule with the NFBC, it would be adding a separate DL to the 7-man reserve, especially because the NFBC allows Friday activation for hitters,” he said.
Walton: “When all is said and done, we have differing priorities. Ron remains in favor of unlimited DL sizes, while Steve is considering limiting them in –only leagues, and Todd wants to separate injured and reserve players. In my leagues, I may push for mid-week roster change capability in 2018 and beyond to help owners better navigate through the choppier DL waters.”
No matter how you feel about the DL subject personally, it is always a good idea to take your league’s temperature throughout the season and be ready to engage your peers on potential changes for next season.
In closing, I would like to thank Ron Shandler, Steve Gardner and Todd Zola for participating in this discussion.
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 18-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter @B_Walton.