2020 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: Injury drops Justin Verlander out of the first round, adds risk

Astros ace Justin Verlander was diagnosed with a strained lat Monday, an injury that has Verlander shut down from throwing during spring training. There is no timetable for his return, and Verlander told reporters "it would probably take a miracle" for him to be ready for opening day, an obvious blow to his Fantasy appeal right in the heart of draft season. It also begs the question: Is the "Big Four" tier of starting pitchers down to a Big Three?

Obviously, right now, the answer to that question is unknowable until we get a timetable. We do know that Verlander has suffered a similar injury during spring training back in 2015. That injury came on March 27 and kept him out until mid-June — however, it was also initially diagnosed as a triceps strain, and the confusion over the initial diagnosis seems to have played a part in his more extended recovery. The Astros got it right the first time, so hopefully this won't be a two-month-plus absence.

However, it could be. We've seen the likes of Luis Severino in 2019 and Noah Syndergaard in 2017 miss significant time due to lat injuries, though both were more severe than the one Verlander appears to be dealing with. A better analogy might be Roy Halladay in 2012, when he suffered a Grade 1 lat strain on May 27 and was out until July 17, exactly eight weeks. A similar timetable for Verlander would put him out until early May, and would obviously be an issue for Fantasy players looking to draft him.

That is all, for now, speculative, but it looks like Verlander is going to miss at least some time, and will have to come back from the injury without any issues. That's no sure thing, especially for a 37-year-old coming off a 250-plus inning season. Verlander came back from this injury in 2015 without any notable issues, which is a good sign; he didn't miss another start all season, posting a 3.38 ERA and 1.088 WHIP in 133.1 innings. However, that was five years ago at this point, so there's no guarantee Verlander will bounce right back in the same way.

Right now, we're in the injury vacuum I wrote about last week, where we know that an injury has occurred, but don't have concrete information on how long it might sideline Verlander.  That vacuum can create potential Fantasy value if Verlander starts sliding and ends up with a promising prognosis after all.

However, at this point, Verlander has to slide. At least out of the first round, past Max Scherzer (15th in ADP) and probably closer to the Jack Flaherty/Stephen Strasburg range. Verlander already carried elevated risk given his age, but he was so utterly dominant last season that you could overlook that. Now that he's actually injured, those warts are going to be harder to ignore — the age, yes, but also the unsustainably low .218 BABIP and alarmingly high 1.45 HR/9.

If you take the chance on Verlander around the end of Round 2, you could strike gold — he could miss a few turns in the rotation and come back like in 2015, with no lingering side effects from the injury. Or, we could look back on this as the beginning of a lost season, and the end of Verlander's time as a no-doubt-about-it Fantasy ace.

That's the issue with drafting during the injury vacuum: We just don't know what the future might hold. In this case, the upside still makes Verlander worth targeting even despite the risk, though you won't want to ignore that risk, either. Drop Verlander in your rankings, and hope we'll see him in mid-April, rather than May. 

Fantasy Writer

Though he can be found covering three different sports depending on the time of year, there is one unifying theme in how Chris Towers approaches sports; "Where's the evidence?" It doesn't matter how outlandish... Full Bio

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