10 Pitchers to Avoid in 2009

Ever wish you could know who’s going to get injured in the upcoming season? Well, it’s not possible. However, by looking at trends of the past, we can gather a list of pitchers that have an increased chance of hurting their precious throwing devices. Historically when young pitchers increase their workload dramatically, it takes a toll on them the following season. In 2007, pitchers under 25 years old who pitched 25 or more inning than in 2006 averaged a decrease in Innings Pitched in 2008 by 64 innings. This only included pitchers who pitched 100 or more Major League innings in 2007. Of the 11 qualified pitchers, only two increased workload in 2008. Here are 10 pitchers that you will be better off to avoid in 2009:

Tim LincecumTim Lincecum

Age: 24
2007 IP: 177.3
2008 IP: 227
Increase of 49.7 Innings Pitched

Tim Lincecum is a freak of nature. He’s got the physical makeup of a top jockey yet he brings the nasty heat, and doesn’t ice his arm to top it off. Linceum increased his innings pitched by nearly 50, and led the league last year in Pitcher’s Abuse Points, by a large margin. I am ready to crown Lincecum as Superman if he escapes this year without any DL Stints. My advice is to stay far away from Lincecum this year in Fantasy Drafts. If he falls to you at 40 or later however, then he’s worth a flyer, but sell high as soon as possible.

Risk Level: Severe Risk! Avoid at all costs

Cole HamelsCole Hamels

Age: 25
2007 IP: 183.3
2008 IP: 227.3
Increase of 44 Innings Pitched

It’s hard to limit the innings of a Cy Young candidate in the middle of a pennant race, so it’s easy to see why Philly didn’t limit Hamels last season. However, at a young age and considering Hamels less than stellar injury history, it would have been beneficial for Hamels future. Mr. Hamels increased his innings by 44 last season, plus 35 extra innings in the Post Season. This adds up to a total of 72 additional innings for a 25 year old injury prone pitcher… Smells like trouble, I wouldn’t be surprised if Hamels doesn’t surpass the 175 inning plateau this season.

Risk Level: High Risk… generally avoid drafting this season

John DanksJohn Danks

Age: 23
2007 IP: 139
2008 IP: 195
Increase of 56 Innings Pitched

Danks was a highly touted prospect as he was developing in the Rangers Farm System. He was even named the Rangers #1 prospect prior to the 2007 season. This was prior to a trade to the White Sox, where he looked like a bust after his first season. He bounced back last year, providing a 3.32 with a 2.79 K/BB ratio, and allowing less than one Long Ball per Nine Innings. Sounds like a pitcher on the upswing right? Not so fast, an increase of 56 innings for a 23 year old pitcher is very stressful on the arm. Whether its just fatigue or an injury, don’t expect last seasons numbers to be repeated.

Risk Level: Moderate Risk… Don’t expect a repeat

greinkeZack Greinke

Age: 25
2007 IP: 122
2008 IP: 202.3
Increase of 80.3 Innings Pitched

Greinke takes the honors of the highest innings increase of all 10 players that made this list. An increase of 80 innings is tough for any pitcher to adjust to, let alone a young pitcher with a history of mental toughness. At the same time, you could argue that Greinke found his true self after missing 69 games for personal reasons in 2006. Greinke is a unique case, and for that reason he may defy the system, and stay healthy in 2009.

Risk Level: Low to Moderate… Proceed with caution

Chad BillingsleyChad Billingsley

Age: 24
2007 IP: 147
2008 IP: 200.7
Increase of 53.7 Innings Pitched

Letting a starter get his feet wet in the Majors by first allocating him to the bullpen can have mixed results. Much like Johan Santana, Billingsley was bred in the Minors to become a starter, but had to pass through the relief role once he arrived in the major leagues. It has recently become popular to bring starting pitchers up early but use them in a relief role (Joba, Morrow, Scherzer). Johan and Roy Halladay both escaped this process without injury, but Adam Wainwright wasn’t as lucky. Consider Billingsley a slight injury risk but don’t avoid him all together.

Risk Level: Low to Moderate… Don’t overpay for Chad, but don’t avoid

kershawClayton Kershaw

Age: 21
2007 IP: 122
2008 IP: 169
Increase of 47 Innings Pitched

Kershaw is the youngest to make the list, and also the 2nd Dodger. Kershaw was too dominant in the Mniors to waste his time there any longer, so I agree with the callup. However, I think it would have been a good idea to start him in the bullpen or skip him a few times, limiting his innings around 150. I’m expecting to see Kershaw hit a wall at some point this season. If you really like Kershaw, go ahead an draft him, just be ready to sell near the All-Star Break.

Risk Level: Moderate… Avoid, or Sell High near All-Star Break

lesterJon Lester

Age: 25
2007 IP: 153.7
2008 IP: 210.3
Increase of 56.7 Innings Pitched

Before I speak of Lester’s injury probabilities I must note that I feel Lester is an overrated fantasy pitcher to begin with.  In general, he will be drafted too high, so I would suggest avoiding him whether you think he’s injury prone this year or not.  Secondly, increasing your workload by 56 innings the season after returning from a battle with Cancer isn’t a very good idea.  This is a lot of strain physically to go along with his expected mental strain. Lastly, Lester’s injury slate is not exactly clean, he has a history of back problems that could easily knock him off the mound occasionally this year.  I would call Lester a very risky pick this season in any Fantasy Draft.

Risk Level: Overrated and Risky…. avoid drafting

floydGavin Floyd

Age: 26
2007 IP: 176.7
2008 IP: 206.3
Increase of 29.6 Innings Pitched

Mr. Floyd was never known for being an inning eater prior to last year. Last year was also his first legit season in the majors, so Ozzie could actually have confidence sending him to the  mound.  Last year we saw Floyd get incredibly lucky in terms of BABIP for the majority of the season.  When his BABIP regressed to the norm in August and September, his ERA followed with it (4.29 and 4.81 in the respective months).  Basically, you should expect a 4.55 ERA type pitcher, not last year’s 3.84 ERA version.  In addition, he put a lot of strain on his arm with the 30 additional innings, we may see fatigue set in at some point in the season.

Risk Level: Moderate Risk and likely to regress… avoid on Draft Day

jurrjensJair Jurrjens

Age: 23
2007 IP: 143.3
2008 IP: 188.3
Increase of 45 Innings Pitched

At the young age of 23, Jurrjens has already had a couple minor injuries (14 games for shoulder inflammation and 5 games for an ankle sprain).  At 45 additional innings last season, it’s safe to assume Jurrjens will get to know the team doctor this season.  Jurrjens has historically prevented Home Runs at an outstanding rate.  If he decides to pitch through any discomfort or fatigue, you can expect his Home Run/Air percent of four to double, if not triple, resulting in ugly statistics across the board.  Consider this a learning season for Jurrjens, hold off on drafting Jurrjens until 2010 or 2011.

Risk Level: Risky Business… don’t draft

pelfreyMike Pelfrey

Age: 25
2007 IP: 152.7
2008 IP: 200.7
Increase of  48 Innings Pitched

Pelfrey has been handled pretty well after being drafted 9th overall in 2005.   However, Pelfrey may be taking a step back this year after pitching 48 extra innings in 2008.  Not pitching more than 152 innings in his minor league career, it would have been wise to limit Pelfrey’s innings around 175. Instead, he is already dealing with injuries in Spring Training, and will be lucky if he pitches over 160 innings this year.  However, if the injuries are scaring people away, don’t be afraid to take a late-round flier on Pelfrey as he is only going to improve over the next couple seasons.

Risk Level: Small Risk, but don’t avoid entirely

Others to Watch

Ricky Nolasco – Nolasco had knee surgery in 2006, then missed 83 games in 2007 with elbow inflammation. Slightly over the 25 year barrier, but increased his innings by 191 last year.
Ervin Santana – This potential 26 year old ace increased his innings by 37 last year. May not be a big problem, but we may see a dead arm span at some point this season. UPDATE: As I was writing this, the news came out that Ervin will start the season on the DL.  We can consider this our second casualty, the first being Pelfrey.
Greg Smith – A 74 innings pitched increase is alarming for this 25 year old. He didn’t make the top 10 list purely because the expectations were already low, and he shouldn’t be drafted in Fantasy Leagues, healthy of not.
Glen Perkins – Perkins missed nearly the entire 2007 season with a shoulder injury. Then he returned in 2008 by pitching 184 innings (150 in the Majors). Like Greg Smith, Perkins shouldn’t be owned in most fantasy leagues. If you were looking at Perkins as a potential sleeper, I recommend looking elsewhere.
Dana Eveland - A torn tendon in his throwing hand held him back in 2007. An increase of 189 innings last year probably won’t affect his tendon, but another injury may pop up. Not a huge deal though, nobody is expecting too much out of Dana.
Greg Reynolds – The bad news is that Reynolds increased his innings be 123.3 innings. The reason for his low number of innings in 2007 was precautionary. This previous #2 overall draft pick may not fit the bill for that reason, but technically he fits the system.

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