Closing Time is not designed to be an injury-focused blog, but we go where the stories go. And when the best baseball player in the world gets injured, it’s a forced lede for us. Mike Trout owners, we feel your pain.
As you likely saw over the weekend, Trout jammed his thumb on a head-first slide Sunday at Miami. Monday, the other shoe dropped — he has a torn ulnar collateral ligament, needs surgery, and will be out 6-8 weeks.
Even in an injury-ravaged season like 2017, fantasy owners have every reason to feel blindsided. Durability has been a key part of Trout’s game through the years. He’s averaged 158 games a year over the last four seasons, never needed a DL stint before now. Trout’s built like a tank, well-equipped to handle the wear-and-tear of the grind. Sunday’s injury tells you more about the foolishness of head-first sliding than anything else.
Trout was the consensus No. 1 pick in the Yahoo game this year, and to this point he’s still graded as the No. 1 stat-grabber: .337-36-16-36-10. That’s something that rarely ever happens. When you make that first pick, you’re merely hoping for a great season, a cornerstone — expecting the player to actually outscore everyone else is an unrealistic ask.
So what’s a Trout owner to do? Play the position. Evaluate your team, your short-term and long-term goals. Calibrate the league context. In other words, do the things we already do on a daily fantasy basis.
The first matter of business is picking up an outfielder. Obviously you’re not going to find some magical replacement, but depending on your league size, maybe you can get some of those numbers back. Here’s a shopping list:
— Very Shallow Leagues: Dexter Fowler (55 percent) is back at the top of what still could be a fun St. Louis lineup . . . Aaron Hicks (54 percent) has category juice, a discerning eye, a prospect pedigree, and is needed to play while Jacoby Ellsbury heals . . . Brandon Drury (45 percent) can help in four categories, enjoys a deep lineup and fun park, covers three positions . . . Hernan Perez (43 percent) hasn’t run like last year, but he plays most of the time and covers four spots . . . The Dodgers are using Chris Taylor (41 percent) more often than not, and he’s off to a tidy .312-20-6-19-1 start . . . Josh Bell (40 percent) took a step back in May, but his power and patience still have me intrigued.
— In Medium Leagues: Any piece of the Houston offense looks fun to me, including Carlos Beltran (39 percent) . . . Melky Cabrera (36 percent) has started to hit; he posted a .268-17-5-23 line in May . . . Cameron Maybin (35 percent) is running wild, though he’ll miss Trout’s presence in the lineup . . . Hunter Renfroe (29 percent) quietly posted an .895 OPS in May, and he’s hit five home runs in each of the first two months . . . We promoted Jayson Werth (29 percent) in the Yahoo collaborative every week, and yet he goes largely unclaimed. Deep lineup, variety of skills . . . Max Kepler (28 percent) can be especially fun if you just take the platoon-advantage work: .282/.371/.500, five homers, three steals.
— In Deeper Leagues: Kevin Kiermaier (18 percent) has started to hit, and stole five bases in May . . . Tommy Pham (seven percent) has forced his way into the Cardinals lineup, with a nice run of 69 at-bats (.333-13-5-14-4). Randal Grichuk isn’t in the way for now, sent to Triple-A . . . Reflectively we want to run from the Royals offense, but note Whit Merrifield (five percent) perked up in May (.308-14-5-10-4) . . . Matt Adams (nine percent) is the Braves first baseman while Freddie Freeman rehabs. The Atlanta park looks like a favorable place to hit . . . Michael Taylor (four percent) worries us with contact issues, but so far so good (.274 average, some category juice).
No, there’s not a blossoming superstar in the mix. That’s not how these things work. You lose a Trout, you’ve going to feel it. At least take solace in the fact that your opponents are getting ripped by injuries, too.
Trout owners could also consider trading him, liquidating the asset. Sometimes this move is dismissed out of hand by fantasy pundits, which makes zero sense to me. Trout has name-brand recognition and a track record that sells itself. Shouldn’t you at least calibrate how your opponents feel about his comeback? Maybe someone in your league will carry more optimism than you will.
Keep in mind, the Angels are a team miles away from contention. The club wants Trout to return quickly and all that, but it’s not like the urgency of a playoff race is driving the timetable. Trout still has his entire career to think about. And maybe it will take some time for him to get back up to full throttle.
Obviously this isn’t a “sell at any cost” recommendation. Just do what any reasonable and measured person does in these types of spots, consider every alternative. If I owned Trout anywhere — and because I didn’t do well in the draft lottery, I do not — I’d let my league mates know he was available. Heck, my entire roster is in play at any time, because having untouchables doesn’t make sense. You never know what type of heavy overpayment someone might be willing to assemble.
• I don’t know what Alex Avila is having for breakfast these days, but pour me a bowl of it, too.
You might remember Avila’s salad days — he was a star back in 2011, posting a .295-19-82 line. His game fell apart over the next few years, and he was backup for Detroit and Chicago in 2015 and 2016.
No idea where it came from, but every Alex Avila at-bat is a work of art. He’s a craftsman. Spitting on borderline pitches, using park.
— scott pianowski (@scott_pianowski) May 22, 2017
Avila returned to Detroit this year — swapping his old 13 for a new 31 — and initially he was just a backup catcher and infield fill-in. A familiar city to start his 30-something seasons. Alas, a hot start and some Tigers injuries elsewhere have pushed Avila into more playing time than expected, with juicy results: .323/.447/.591, six homers, 21 walks in 93 at-bats.
Avila’s batting eye isn’t a new thing — as Dave Cameron of Fangraphs pointed out, Avila’s plate discipline has been outstanding for several years. Avila’s ridiculous .453 BABIP sticks out, though he’s driving those results to some extent (28.8 percent line-drive rate and 57.4 percent hard-hit rate, both well above league average).
James McCann, Detroit’s regular starting catcher, is currently on the DL. It’s a hand-laceration injury, not something that should need an extended recovery. Nonetheless, Avila has turned into an auto-play for two-catcher formats, and I’m even rolling him out in a few leagues that require a single backstop. The at-bats have been that pretty, and the position has been a fantasy wasteland. Let’s take production where we see it, and when we can get it.
• If Trout was the injury of Monday, Hunter Strickland was the insult. San Francisco’s combustible reliever decided to throw a heater at Bryce Harper’s midsection, an obvious retaliation for a couple of moon-shot homers Harper cranked off Strickland in previous playoff meetings.
A gloriously-absurd brawl ensued. Harper, for some reason, sucks at throwing his helmet. How come Buster Posey didn’t enter the mix? (Makes you wonder how Posey and Strickland get along these days.)
In honor of Bryce Harper’s helmet toss. 5 worst throws near mound pic.twitter.com/Ak7w1qz9jO
— Batting Stance Guy (@BattingStanceG) May 29, 2017
Harper is obviously headed for a suspension, it’s just a matter of when it falls, how many days it is, and how Harper decides to approach it. Strickland will be suspended too, not that fantasy owners need an answer for that.