In our Ridiculously Early Mock Draft — still ongoing — my first two picks ‘around the turn’ were Troy Tulowitzki and Adrian Beltre. But Evan Longoria went one pick later and I was ready to take the down on their luck pair. A year ago, that duo would have been deemed a coup, most likely — a right side of the infield filled with sixty home runs and twenty-plus stolen bases and a good batting average. This year, the picks were met with critique.
As the “Two Month Tulo” moniker from that comment suggests, most of the problem is health-related. Though the Tulo and Longo are 28 and 27 years old respectively, there’s a sense that perhaps the projections are too plate-appearance heavy for two guys that have succumbed to major injuries in multiple seasons over their young careers to date. Health does seem like a skill, but because of the way projections work, it’s a skill that should be factored into every projection you see.
Ask Brian Cartwright, creator of OLIVER, what he does about a position player’s playing time projections, and he’ll say that he has “done a lot of work on optimizing time elements (age and decay rates) and regression to the mean.” He also added that some of the research he’s done on pitcher injuries (like The Hardball Times Annual article on Tommy John returners) can be integrated into the projections, but that position players are projected based on past work and aging curves.
That’s how health finds it’s way into the projections. If you weren’t a healthy player in the past, then you won’t be projected for a full slate of playing time in the future. Right now, we have the Bill James projections on our site, and they have Longoria with 658 PA in 2013, and Tulowitzki with 616. They are still young men! And yet, Bill James projects as many as 50 fewer position players when compared to other projection systems. So the remaining players get more playing time than they would in other projection systems. CAIRO, for instance, has Longo with 449 and Tulo with 468 PA. A simple 5/3/2 weighting would give them 460 and 389 PA respectively.
The specific cases here might give us clues about which projections to believe. After all, if someone has a chronic knee issue, that’s different than a collection of disparate-seeming injuries to different body parts. Right? Intuition says yes.
Troy Tulowitzki has missed time with a rare malady — a thumb lacerated on a broken bat — and a seemingly unavoidable common injury — a wrist fractured after a hit-by-pitch — but there is some rhyme to the rest of his major DL stints: his legs. Tulo had a sports hernia last year, but that started as a groin injury. He missed fifty games with a thigh strain in 2008. He’s missed 31 assorted days with leg injuries over his career. If you take the thumb laceration and wrist fracture out, he’s missed 187 games over seven seasons — that’s still a lot of games. Maybe four-fifths of a strong season is a reasonable expectation from him.
Evan Longoria is a little different. He’s had three major injuries and has otherwise only missed thirteen games in his career. 25 games in 2008 came from a wrist fractured on a HBP, 26 games from a left abdomen strain in 2011, and then the unfortunate quad/hamstring strain that coast him 85 games last season. Without all the missed time here and there that the shortstop showed, it’s even harder to point to a body part in this amateur game of Operation. Tulowitzki has multiple occurrences of leg soreness and strains peppering his history — Longoria strained his quad once and then missed ten games with a quad strain. Same quad! Two years apart. The case that Longoria is injury-prone seems to be on shakier ‘footing.’
These young men have the upside to put up gargantuan fantasy numbers at important fantasy positions. If you have confidence in your ability to find replacement-level waiver wire replacements when they do go down, buying them at a low point in their value could be a shrewd move. Getting them both with your first two picks? Probably a little too much risk, unless you’re building an “All-Best-Case-Scenario” sort of roster.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.