Fantasy Baseball players were dealt a big blow this weekend with the news that Dodgers ace Walker Buehler would be placed on the IL with a flexor strain in his right elbow. That injury figures to sideline him for quite a while, with the team announcing he won't throw for 6-8 weeks.
That potentially gives us an explanation for why Buehler has struggled so much of late, as his ERA ballooned to 4.02 after allowing three runs in four innings in his most recent start. However, that doesn't do much of anything to soften the blow for Fantasy players who took Buehler in the first 20 picks on Draft Day. They got six weeks of ace production and now they've got a big question mark on their roster.
They've also potentially got a tough decision to make. Because that 6-8 week timetable Buehler is on is just the amount of time he'll be shut down from throwing. He'll have to build his arm strength back up whenever he is cleared, a process that could take four weeks or more. Which means, we could be looking at an optimistic timetable that puts Buehler back on an MLB mound sometime in mid-August.
And that's assuming everything goes according to plan. Things rarely go according to plan when it comes to injuries, especially to pitchers, and there's a realistic chance this injury ends Buehler's season – in which case, the hope turns to avoiding long-term issues that bleed into 2023 and beyond.
Which is all to say, you might have to seriously consider dropping Buehler. That might not be the case in leagues with plenty of IL spots, but if you play in a format that doesn't allow that roster exception when players are injured, you've got to weigh the benefits of keeping Buehler around for a potential late-season push vs. having that extra roster spot to play with.
And Buehler isn't alone on the IL. Three of the top five pitchers in ADP coming into the season are out with serious injuries right now: Buehler, Max Scherzer (oblique), and Brandon Woodruff (ankle/arm). Add in Freddy Peralta, Nathan Eovaldi, Sonny Gray, Marcus Stroman, and Jesus Luzardo (among others), and there's no shortage of pitchers you might have to cut to make some moves.
Let's go through the 11 most Fantasy relevant pitchers on the IL right now and rank them by how stash-able they are, plus some thoughts on reported timetables and expectations, starting with the must-stash players:
Max Scherzer SP
NYM N.Y. Mets • #21 • Age: 38
Scherzer is already throwing and is set to face live hitters soon, which means a rehab assignment may follow soon. I wouldn't be surprised if he was back before the All-Star break.
Jacob deGrom SP
NYM N.Y. Mets • #48 • Age: 34
deGrom seems to be in a similar spot to Scherzer, having already thrown multiple bullpen sessions. Obviously, as we saw in spring, just because deGrom is currently healthy doesn't mean he'll remain so, but it looks like a return around the break is possible.
Chris Sale SP
BOS Boston • #41 • Age: 33
Threw his first live batting practice session Monday, hitting 96 mph with his fastball. He looks like he's on a similar timetable to deGrom and Scherzer, where he's mostly building up arm strength now.
MIL Milwaukee • #53 • Age: 29
Woodruff was initially placed on the IL with an ankle injury but revealed over the weekend he is dealing with numbness in his middle three fingers. We don't know much beyond that right now, but those symptoms are often (though not always) associated with thoracic outlet syndrome – one of the worst injuries a pitcher can have. Hopefully we'll get more details soon, because this is worrisome.
LAD L.A. Dodgers • #21 • Age: 28
Buehler is a must-stash right now, but I could change my mind fairly quickly on him depending on how the injury landscape looks in the coming weeks. If you've already got multiple players on your bench on the IL with more optimistic outlooks, Buehler might be droppable.
SD San Diego • #52 • Age: 31
Clevinger is here mostly because we assume his time on the COVID IL might be briefer than the rest of the absences above. He's been good when he has pitched, but Clevinger hasn't done enough of it yet this season.
LAD L.A. Dodgers • #28 • Age: 31
Heaney had 16 strikeouts in two starts before going on the IL in April, and he's struck out 10 in two rehab appearances so far. He looked like a huge reclamation win for the Dodgers before the injury, and his proximity to a return makes him someone I want on my roster in all leagues.
Sonny Gray SP
MIN Minnesota • #54 • Age: 32
You might be surprised to see Gray this high, but he's already been cleared to return to the rotation and had a 2.41 ERA and 0.98 ERA before the injury. You can't rely on him, but he's good to have around.
MIL Milwaukee • #51 • Age: 26
We really don't know much about Peralta or his timetable, only that he was facing a "lengthy" absence as of late May. Whether that means "August return" or "hoping for a playoff push as a reliever" remains to be seen, but you can't feel optimistic about him right now.
BOS Boston • #72 • Age: 26
Since we don't know how serious this injury is yet, I'll stick with Whitlock, who has shown plenty of upside as a starter. Hopefully it's not a long-term issue.
Alex Cobb SP
SF San Francisco • #38 • Age: 34
Cobb was a disappointment before the injury, but I have enough faith in him to keep him around, assuming this will remain a short absence.