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Injury Watch: The Starting Pitcher Shuffle

This week's Injury Watch is all about those pitchers good enough to return from the disabled list. See guys, not everyone has to blow out their UCL and require Tommy John surgery. (I'm looking at you, Colby Lewis!) Some pitchers even come off the disabled list, and return to lead their squads (and your fantasy team) to glory. Or perhaps not. Today we'll discuss the pros and cons of two starters on contending teams.

[Note: Thanks to a last-minute edit, we'll also talk about a certain New York third baseman who looks to miss the rest of the regular season!]

Chad Billingsley, Dodgers and Gavin Floyd, White Sox

Two starting pitchers for contending squads recently came off the DL, and both look ready to go for the rest of the season. On Monday, the Dodgers activated Chad Billingsley from the DL, where he served a minimum stint for elbow soreness in his pitching elbow. That same day, the White Sox activated Gavin Floyd, who suffered from a similar issue (right elbow tendinitis) and served the same minimum stint on the DL. Both pitchers seemed to be getting a simple post-All-Star-Break rest, and neither guy's arm issue seems to be serious. So which pitcher is the better fantasy pickup for owners in standard leagues?

Honestly, I'm a big Chad Billingsley believer. Both in real life and in fantasy, I feel like he's a guy who gets a raw deal, especially since he gets compared to Clayton Kershaw and never fully fulfilled his promise as an ace starter. His stats tell the story of a power pitcher who has some command troubles, and he has peripherals like SIERA (3.68) and xFIP (3.67) that don't quite match up to his ERA (4.15). Make no mistake, Billingsley has a history of underperforming his peripheral numbers, so he could be one of those rare pitchers where advanced stats oversell his abilities. But Billingsley is also pretty darn consistent. Though 2011 was a down year, Chad's strikeout numbers have climbed in 2012, and he's walking fewer batters per nine innings than at any point in his major league career.

The place where Chad can hurt you in fantasy is in WHIP and, occasionally, in ERA. But Chad's owned in only 35% of ESPN leagues, which means he probably can be had. If you're looking for a pitcher who's going to pitch in a favorable ballpark, and probably draw some weak-hitting teams (I'm looking at you, Padres and Giants) that can get you some strikeouts, then Chad's your man. And with the Dodgers going all-in on the season by acquiring Hanley Ramirez, he might get a few more wins than usual too!

Gavin Floyd is a different story. I know Don Cooper (the pitching coach for the White Sox) is a miracle worker, but Gavin Floyd is simply not reliable enough to anchor a fantasy staff...and he's barely worth rostering in most leagues. I know what you're thinking, actually: but he looks so similar to Billingsley in terms of ERA and WHIP! And even if you get into advanced stats, you see that Floyd, like Billingsley, tends to underperform his FIP. So what's the difference?

Well, aside from pitching in a more difficult league and unforgiving home park, Floyd just isn't the strikeout pitcher that Billingsley is. And not only that, Floyd's home run-allowing tendencies are getting worse and worse over the last few years, and the rest of his peripheral numbers are no better than Chad's. Do yourself a favor and don't bet on a pitcher who's given up 1.4 HR/9 during the season. You're only asking for heartbreak (and gaudy ERA numbers). Even though Floyd is owned in slightly more leagues than Billingsley, he should be a second (or third) choice for your team.

Alex Rodriguez, Yankees

Late last night, Alex Rodriguez's hand exploded. No one likes being hit by a Felix Hernandez pitch, and A-Rod wasn't the only guy to get plunked last night, but this one hurt a bit more than usual. Rodriguez has a fracture in his left hand, and looks to miss about six to eight weeks, taking him right up to the end of the regular season. While Alex hasn't been his old MVP-candidate self for about three years now, he's still a productive bat (121 wRC+ in 2012) at a weak position, and an integral part of the Yankees' offensive attack. Replacing him isn't easy, or even really possible.

While the Yankees may be able to cruise on autopilot, or fill in with Jayson Nix and Eric Chavez, you, as a fantasy owner, can't. You need a real third baseman. And with that said, there's really only one question you need to ask yourself: "Is Todd Frazier still available in my league?" If the answer to this question is "yes", then your problem is pretty much solved.

All Todd Frazier has done this season is hit, and with Joey Votto out in Cincinnati, he's had the opportunity to rack up regular playing time. In just 241 plate appearances, Todd has managed 10 HR and a solid .283 batting average. And though Frazier has gone about a dozen games without a dinger, there's no reason to believe that he's slumping - he's still making solid contact over the last two weeks and getting hits.

Though Frazier doesn't have the cozy lineup spot Rodriguez does (he usually hits around the sixth or seventh place in the order) he can provide the raw power and average numbers A-Rod can, and off the waiver wire. Though he may not rack up R and RBI in the same way, and may be pushed for playing time once Joey Votto returns, Todd Frazier is a cheap, worthwhile waiver pickup available in 95% of ESPN leagues.

Quick Hits: Colby Lewis, as mentioned earlier, joins about thirty other major league pitchers in needing Tommy John surgery this season. This is a bummer for both the Rangers and for fantasy owners, as he probably shouldn't be rostered until 2014. ... Sam Fuld may not see a bunch of playing time, but now that he's been activated from the DL, at least he'll see some. Fantasy owners extremely desperate for steals (or playing in a Web Gems league) might want to take a flyer on him. ... Erick Aybar was well on his way to playing himself out of a job in Los Angeles (of Anaheim) before he broke his big toe fouling a ball off his foot. Hot prospect Jean Segura didn't come up from the minors to sit, so look for Aybar to hit some DL time for now. ... Johan Santana hit the DL with a sprained ankle, but is also suffering from shoulder soreness. He'll probably be treated with kid gloves until the season is over. ... Jed Lowrie is stuck on crutches with a nerve injury in his right leg. Don't expect him back until the end of August, which is a bummer considering how well he'd been playing. ... Juan Carlos Oviedo, formerly known as Leo Nunez, was finally on his way back to the majors before spraining his UCL. He'll probably join the Tommy John surgery club, and we may next see him in 2013 or 2014. ... It'd be comical if it weren't sad, but Franklin Gutierrez was shut down with a concussion, and there's no current timetable for his return. ... Giancarlo Stanton is already taking batting practice, so he could return to the Marlins lineup in early August. The only question is whether there will be any other major leaguers left on the team when he comes back.


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