It’s the pitching, stupid: Nathan’s injury reiterates no hurler is safe

Nobody is safe

There’s always this stunned feeling when you hear about a solid performer like Joe Nathan going down with a terrible injury, but it’s just one more reminder that there is no pitcher not constantly at risk of injury.

I like fantasy baseball a lot, and I’m in this 10-team head-to-head keeper league where you keep two guys. I drafted well last year and a couple guys fell to me, so I have to decide which two players to keep out of Hanley Ramirez, David Wright, Carl Crawford and Roy Halladay – 4 of the top 8 guys in the Rotoworld Top 250. (I realize this is a good problem to have)

Now obviously, I’m keeping Hanley, who’s getting picked no later than second in most drafts. But then it gets tough. Crawford was the No. 1 outfielder last year, while Wright had a lousy season but will probably bounce back big-time at a shallow position.

Then there’s Halladay, who’s been the best and most durable pitcher in baseball for years while pitching in the American League East. He’s now moving to the National League East, where he might throw four complete games against the free-swinging Marlins alone. You could easily conceive of a season in which he wins 22 games for the presumed best team in the NL, with all of his already-stellar rate stats bound to improve.

And I’m still having all sorts of trouble bringing myself to keep Halladay, who seems like money in the bank. Given the chance between an elite pitcher and an elite hitter, my tendency is to keep the hitter because pitchers are just so susceptible to breaking down by nature of the athletic feats they’re tasked to perform. If there’s even a little structural issue, the repetitive action of generating velocity can easily turn a small problem into a big problem.

wright_cenaI realize hitters get hurt too, as evidenced by the entirety of the Mets team last season. But I just find it hard to believe that a 27-year-old David Wright won’t be safer to hang on to than Halladay, who turns 33 in May. Not to mention that Wright showed up to camp with a chip on his shoulder, looking like John Cena.

I know Halladay has been a total workhorse, leading the league in complete games the past three years, putting up 220-240 innings and posting great numbers. He’s only really had one season in which he’s struggled with injuries – 2004, when he had a tired shoulder a year after pitching 266 innings. (I don’t count his bad-luck broken leg in 2005 or his appendectomy in 2007)

If there’s a pitcher you’d feel safe with, it’s probably Doc, especially now that he’s facing other pitchers at least a couple of times a game.

But wouldn’t you have said the same thing about Johan Santana last year? He’d logged 33-34 brilliant starts and 219-plus innings (on top of the playoffs) each of the past five years before ending his season prematurely with bone chips in his elbow – which Nathan also had removed after last season, incidentally.

Speaking of which, wouldn’t you have also said the same thing about Nathan? The past six years, he posted virtually identical numbers every season – 70 innings, 41 saves, 1.87 ERA, .934 WHIP. Like clockwork. Like Halladay. And all of a sudden – boom, torn UCL, he’s headed for the operating table. He never even made it to the starting line.

It shows once again the importance of building a team properly and not relying on big-time investments in free-agent pitchers, which I’ve discussed out of frustration before. Those investments can quickly turn into junk bonds.

So for my second keeper, I’m leaning towards Wright, though I’m not sure my decision won’t change several times before the end of the month, when the draft takes place. Halladay buzzsawing through the NL East may just prove to be too intoxicating for me not to go for.

But I know there are people who have already kept Nathan for this season who know all too well that with pitchers, there simply will never be any such thing as a sure bet, in fantasy or where it truly counts.

Esoteric

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