MASH Report: Fantasy Implications Moving to the 10-Day DL

Information is slowly coming out on the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the major league owners and players. Most of the news centers around the All-Star game no longer determining home field advantage or changes to draft pick compensation for free agents. All that information is useless for people playing fantasy baseball, though.

Almost all of it. Buried in all the news is that the minimum disabled list (DL) stint has gone down from 15 to 10 days according to the Associated Press.

In addition, players and management agreed the minimum stay on the disabled list will be reduced from 15 days to 10.

The DL change will allow teams to make quicker decisions on whether to bring up a roster replacement rather than wait to see whether the injured player would be ready to return to action in less than two weeks.

I never read or knew this change was even on the negotiating table so I haven’t had a lot of time to ponder the change. While it won’t drastically change the fantasy or real world game, I think it may add a little bit more stability to fantasy baseball. The following are some initial ideas I had after hearing the news.

I think the move will have different implications for hitters and pitchers. Let me start with the hitters.

For hitters, the move is possibly a positive improvement but probably irrelevant. The change will not matter one bit for those going on the DL with significant injuries in which 15 or more days are needed to rest. Instead, this DL change affects those players with nagging injuries who will miss time but don’t need the entire 15 days. Teams in the past were basically forced to have players miss the entire 15 days because they needed a usable body.

I went and found the number of instances where time on the DL for hitters was exactly 15 days compared to the total number of hitter DL stints. I removed all instances of stints under 15 days as these happen at the season’s start and there is no way to determine how long the player was hurt. Going back to 2002, I found that 14% (457 of 3360 times) of all position player DL stints ended after exactly 15 days. It will be in these few instances where a player has the chance to return early. Also, if a team thought they wouldn’t need a player for 15 days, the player was probably easily replaceable and probably not fantasy relevant.

Breaking the numbers down further, 457 15-day instances occurred over the past 15 years so it works out to 30.5 instances per year, or about once per MLB team per year. The possible time gained off shorter DL stints isn’t that much. The owners will like seeing these few, hopefully healthy, players back sooner but the difference won’t be measurable.

Also with hitters, we may see the total number DL trips rise some as some injuries are small and the hitter can contribute at 80% or at least pinch hit. If teams know the players will be out just 10 days, they may be more inclined to use the 10-day DL as the 15-day DL seemed too long.

As a fantasy owner, I hope teams use this move quite often. It is very frustrating trying to decide to start a player for the upcoming week when he has already missed days from an injury. Having a solid “No he won’t play” at least gives the owner the option to find a replacement.

I don’t have a good feeling on how often MLB teams will increase the 10-day usage for smaller injuries. I could see it used sparingly or each team could use it a handful of times each season.

Overall, the possible shortening of a few 15-day stints won’t matter much for hitters. There may be a change with how many teams let their sort-of-injured players ride out the injury or put them on the DL more regularly.

Now onto the pitchers. Like with hitters, pitchers rarely made it just the 15-days. Of the 3826 disabled list stints since 2002, only 9% of them are for the minimum 15 days. The league-wide total worked out to 29 15-day stints per year or about one per MLB team. I don’t see the change making a huge difference in lessening time missed because historically pitchers will need more than the 15 days to return.

The big change from 15 days to 10 days is for pitchers with minor “injuries”. All the time during the season, pitchers skip a start due to how the schedule worked out or a minor pain. Ten days off is fairly common. Teams could easily make up a fatigue injury for a starter who is not needed, put them on the DL, and then have an extra reliever for an extra 10 days. Some pitchers may push back from this designation because they don’t want to look injury prone. The pitchers who will miss time are probably 5th starters just trying to stay in the show or rookies just getting to the show. If these pitchers don’t go with the team’s plans for them, they may be relegated back to the minors. Most will take the option to stay in the major leagues.

I don’t think the number of games pitchers missed will change much with this new rule, but I expect a decent jump in the number of DL days. Teams aren’t supposed to put non-injured players on the disabled list but that rule has never stopped them before. The key will be how often teams push the envelope to get the extra bullpen arm. I could see some teams call out other teams and some fines levied if the change gets abused too often which I think will happen. Some team will eventually find out the limit. I am looking at you San Diego.

For fantasy owners, this change will likely be a plus since they will know when a start is getting skipped since the player is officially on the DL. Additionally, the players getting put on the DL for phantom injuries are likely to be back of the rotation arms and not owned in most fantasy leagues.

Finally, I have already seen talk of possibly increasing the number DL slots for fantasy teams because of the change.

I think this talk is an overreaction. With hitters, I don’t see much of a change happening. The additional DL time missed by pitchers was going to happen anyway and the pitcher skipping a start would need to be replaced with a bench option anyway.

After thinking over the changes from a 15-day to 10-day disabled list, the major impact I see is more clarity in playing time. I could see more players go on the DL, especially pitchers, but the time missed will likely be the same as the 15-day DL. Unless more details come out about the change, I don’t see the new DL rule affecting fantasy play much at all.

Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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Thank you for your thoughts on this, Jeff.