Spring Training. For fantasy baseball fans this isn't just about the return of the boys of summer. It's about the up-and-coming rookies, the prospects trying to earn a job, the players you know you can count on year after year and the bounce back candidates.
This is a time of year for triumphs and disasters. It happens every spring. Adam Wainwright is done for the year, and probably most of next season as well (it typically takes about 18 months to return to form following Tommy John surgery). But there are ton of guys returning from injuries who are big question marks coming into the season.
Those are some high-profile examples, ones which everyone will be watching. But figuring out the answer to those questions ahead of time turns good fantasy teams into great ones. And once again that means doing a little research, or at least understanding the types of injuries which players are bouncing back from. So let's take a look at major injuries and see if we can offer some information that might help you decide if a player is a legitimate bounce back candidate or just a pipe dream.
Since we mentioned Tommy John surgery above, let's start with that. Tommy John is essentially the replacement of an elbow ligament. Plenty of pitchers have had the surgery and rebounded to match their past form -- or even surpass it -- as many pitchers will tell you that they actually can throw harder after the surgery. So the good news is that it has a really high success rate. That doesn't mean you should bother picking up Stephen Strasburg in the late rounds -- even in September he'll only be about 14 months post surgery, and it's rare, if not unheard of to have regained form in less than 18 months.
Concussion syndrome: Concussions are a brain injury and unlike bone, muscle or tendon, brains are hard to figure out (but my zombie friends assure me they are delicious). Minor concussions are sometimes resolved in a week or two, but major concussions like those mentioned with Bay and Morneau above can often have lingering effects that can last for years or even end careers. You only need to hear the news that the Twins aren't sure that Morneau will be ready for opening day almost eight months later to realize that this type of injury can be lingering, leaving a player dizzy, with ringing ears or even effecting timing and eyesight. Any time you hear about this type of an injury, watch the player and see how they play and how much they play before placing a big gamble on them.
Achilles tendon injuries: Even if I hadn't suffered one of these myself, I would have told you that these are rough injuries to bounce back from. The most common place to tear the Achilles is also one of the least blood rich areas of the entire body. That means that healing factors aren't rich in the area and that healing takes a very long time, and that even years later, the player may not have fully recovered. It's why we don't pencil in Jose Reyes for 50 steals any more.
Torn and detached muscles: Brandon Webb and Jake Peavy are two of the guys trying to recover from this type of injury. Unlike elbows, these injuries aren't as predictable -- and far less can be said about them since not that many athletes have dealt with this type of shoulder/back injury than the typical rotator cuff repair. In other parts of the body, when the muscles finally do heal, the player has been able to return to playing shape, but it can be argued that many were never the same. Keep in mind that Webb has been on the shelf now since August of 2009 and only last month finally was able to throw a 10-15 pitch session from a mound and you'll realize how long and drawn out this can be. And we don't even know what it will mean to his pitching motion and effectiveness if he does return. It makes him and Peavy huge gambles.
Torn ligaments: Here is an injury we hear about a lot, often the medial collateral, or lateral collateral ligament of the knee. A number of players are coming back from surgery for this type of injury, but perhaps the most intriguing of those is Indians catcher Carlos Santana. The good news for potential Santana owners is that he should be ready to get back on the field right away, and since base stealing is not the key part of his game it's not likely to affect him as much as his inexperience will.
Microfracture surgery: This is what Grady Sizemore had done last year and while the expected recovery time is 6-9 months, it doesn't mean that Sizemore is pain free or worry free when it comes to 2011. In fact he himself last week mentioned that he is only exercising at around 50% and that he can definitely tell he had surgery on the knee, and that there is still pain. He also said he wouldn't push it, nor are the Indians going to push him. If you haven't drafted yet, watch him in the Spring games before making a decision, but don't expect him to be at 100% until midseason at the earliest.
Hand and Wrist injuries: Carlos Quentin has become the poster boy (at least in my mind) for hand and wrist injuries, but Andre Ethier is another player who was slowed by wrist and finger injuries last season. Those injuries, while often quick healing, are power stealers and it commonly takes a year for the power to bounce back. That could mean they have a bit more to offer than last year's numbers suggest.
Arthroscopic procedures, cleanup procedures: These microsurgeries are usually quick turnaround before a return to the field, but some can be quite extensive. Cleanup procedures like that had by Johan Santana shouldn't really keep him on the shelf for longer than six months (and the Mets expect him back around then).
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