Sunday, July 3, 2022

Fantasy Baseball: Max Scherzer is hurt; here are potential injury replacements and trade targets

We hoped for the best when Max Scherzer pulled himself from Wednesday’s game. We hoped he had caught the injury when it was only a twinge and nothing more.

Sadly, we now know it is more: a strained oblique, moderate to high grade, which will sideline him for the next 6-8 weeks. It’s possible we won’t see him until after the All-Star break. And just like that, a pitcher known for his durability, one who seemed like the safest of choices at an ever volatile position, is out of commission.

So now what? Look, the league is slanted toward pitching right now. It’s possible you’ve played the waiver wire hard enough that you have a whole cadre of quality hurlers capable of filling the void. You’ll miss Scherzer, but you’ll manage. You wouldn’t be the first to lose a stud and live to tell about it.

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That’s the dream, anyway. More likely, though, the world is looking pretty bleak to you right now. You lost your first- or second-rounder. What’s the point in even trying?

First, I’ll remind you that even studs go through multi-week-long stretches where they look like anything but. Think of Scherzer’s absence that way. You just have the forewarning to bench him for it.

Second, because the league is slanted toward pitching right now and because even studs go through multi-week-long stretches where they look like anything but, you have a chance to strike up an advantageous trade if you have any sort of hitter surplus to deal from.

What would it take, for instance, to get Charlie Morton, a repeated ace who struggled to get a feel for his pitches early on? His velocity is normal, his spin rates remain high, and he looks like he may have gotten back on track in his last start, striking out nine over six two-hit innings. But he still has a 4.93 ERA and 1.44 WHIP. I still had a timeline full of people begging for my blessing to drop him just a week ago. I’m confident in a turnaround to 80-90 percent of Scherzer’s production, but skepticism abounds. It’s a perfect buy-low scenario.

Of course, Morton isn’t the only example of an ace with skewed numbers at this still-early stage of the season, and the more effective way to pull off a trade is to find an opponent who needs what you have rather than the other way around. So here’s a list of some other struggling aces who could approximate Scherzer’s production if they get back on track quickly.

Brandon Woodruff has a 5.35 ERA and 1.37 WHIP, but he’s still missing bats with ease, actually boasting a career-best swinging-strike rate while sporting a 3.38 xFIP. Just the other day, I had someone asking if he should trade him for Zac Gallen, so yeah, faith has apparently diminished.

Robbie Ray’s Cy Young follow-up has been a total bust to this point, his ERA sitting at 4.62. But his strikeouts have jumped in his past two starts, and his velocity was all the way back in his latest. Because he still gave up five earned runs, though, the step forward may not be fully appreciated.

Shane Bieber’s velocity issues are widely known, and though he was navigating them well enough early on, his numbers have begun to erode. Your opponent may be longing for someone to step up and make an offer, presenting him with what he perceives to be a sell-high opportunity. It’s a bigger gamble than most of these, but the Guardians have said Bieber is working through some mechanical issues that may be contributing to a decline in velocity. There’s still a chance for a significant turnaround.

Julio Urias has also had to make do with reduced velocity this year but has done so more successfully, his ERA residing at an even 3.00. He’s gotten knocked around a bit in his past two starts, though, and the strikeouts aren’t up to snuff. The upside may not be quite as high for him, but with the Dodgers offense backing him, there’s no doubt you want him in your lineup.

Jose Berrios has been hit hard so far but has endured similar stretches in his career and rebounded to put up basically the same numbers year after year. If you’re willing to put your faith in the track record of a pitcher whose velocity and spin rates are more or less on point, it could pay off big.

Maybe you don’t have the trade capital to pull off such a deal or you’d simply prefer to do something less drastic. Here are some potential waiver wire targets, all rostered in less than 80 percent of CBS Sports leagues, ordered by my own personal preference: 

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