2020 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: Giancarlo Stanton’s latest injury could turn slugger into a draft bargain

Spring training games have only just begun, and the Yankees training staff is already busy. Aaron Judge is dealing with a shoulder injury, James Paxton likely won’t pitch until June and Luis Severino is already out for the year after a Tommy John surgery diagnosis the team announced Monday. And Tuesday we learned Giancarlo Stanton is dealing with a calf strain that has his availability for Opening Day in doubt.

Stanton, a no-doubt-about-it elite hitter, was already slipping to the No. 51 overall pick in FantasyPros.com’s consensus ADP, well below where you’d expect him to end up if he stayed healthy. After all, he was the No. 24 overall player during his “disappointing” 2018 campaign, after being No. 2 in 2017. If Stanton stays healthy, he’s going to crush his ADP.

But he just didn’t stay healthy in 2019. Stanton missed time with a biceps strain and knee sprain in the regular season, and then suffered a quad injury in the playoffs. This calf injury, however, carries new concern,  coming just as Stanton is ramping up activities following an offseason presumably filled with rest and rehabilitation.

It is fair to wonder if Stanton is built to stand up to the grind of being a major-league player, given that he has now played fewer than 130 games in five of his 10 seasons. He’s listed at 245 pounds, and over the past 10 years, only three players have managed to play at least 150 games more than four times at that weight; fellow contemporary sluggers Judge, Joey Gallo and Miguel Sano have combined to do it exactly one time in their major-league careers, and while 15 players logged at least 100 games played in 2019 at that weight, only three played at least 150. Maybe we should be downgrading all bigger players?

So, Stanton was already downgraded for health, and now he’ll be downgraded again. It will take a few days to see exactly what the impact will be, but I would be surprised if he doesn’t settle in outside of the top 80 overall, and it wouldn’t shock me to see him outside the top 100. It’s hard enough for people to buy into Stanton when he’s actively healthy; now that he’s actually injured, I expect his price to tumble.

And I’ll be there to catch him. Stanton was already one of my favorite sleepers coming into the season. While “injury-prone” is a label we throw around a lot, it can be sloppily applied. Past injuries are the best predictor of future injuries, but we tend to view it as a binary — you are either injury prone, or you aren’t — but that’s not how it works. Every player enters every season with a chance of getting injured. Some types of players — pitchers, certainly, but also base stealers, and maybe bigger players more generally — are more likely to get injured in any given season, but we aren’t nearly as good at predicting it as we think.

Then, there’s the fact that you’re more likely to remember high-profile injuries to stars, creating a bias in many Fantasy players’ minds against them. Take, for instance, a few other sources for power available in a similar tier to Stanton, as well as a few rounds after him: 

  • Yordan Alvarez, No. 38 overall: Has played more than 90 games in a season one time, in 2019
  • Jorge Soler, No. 87 overall: Played 63 games in 2018, 109 in 2017, 97 in 2016, and 105 in 2015; in fact, Soler has played more than 109 games exactly one time in his career, in 2019.
  • Miguel Sano, No. 127 overall: Has played more than 125 games once since 2013, back in 2015.

The difference in each of those cases is the player was either in the minors or wasn’t a high-profile Fantasy option, so their injuries are held against them less. Sano’s are held against him more than those of Soler or Alvarez, but his deflated stock also has plenty to do with the fact that he was so bad in 2018 he had to go back to the minors.

In Stanton’s case, it’s unlikely this his injury history reflects just bad luck, and I don’t mean to imply that is the case. While there is certainly selection bias at play — players who weigh 245 pounds and are good enough to play every day are relatively rare — the lack of a track record of those kinds of hitters logging 150 games is concerning. And in Stanton’s case, we’ve seen it play out in a concerning way.

However, we shouldn’t forget that he did manage to play 150-plus games in consecutive seasons before 2019, and he didn’t miss a single game due to injury in either season. Stanton might carry more injury risk than your typical player, but he’s not fated to miss time every year, and you don’t have to reach too far back into to the past to find a time when he was a model of health and a winning Fantasy option.

So, we’ll see where Stanton starts to fall in drafts, beginning this weekend. It will be worth following up on this column come Monday to see what the early trends look like, but my anticipation is there will be an overreaction. After all, it’s possible this injury ends up being a relatively minor one and Stanton is back during the first week of the season and puts it behind him.

I have no doubt he’ll be productive when he’s healthy, and it just might be lucrative to bet on Stanton being more healthy than expected this year. 

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