Fantasy baseball 2023 injury watch: Bryce Harper, Fernando Tatis Jr. and more

Inside Injuries was founded by an orthopedic radiologist, Dr. Anand Lalaji (aka Dr. A), who contributes to all of the injury write-ups. Dr. A team of doctors and data scientists put together to create an algorithm to evaluate the impact that injuries have on a player. This algorithm powers all of Inside Injuries’ analysis and determines each player’s injury risk, Health Performance Factor (the level players are expected to perform at if they return too soon, for example) and optimal recovery time. This information is based on years of medical experience and historical injury research and has proven to be incredibly accurate in determining how injuries will impact a player’s performance and risk of future injuries.

Injury: Tommy John surgery

Expected Return: All-Star break

Analysis: Harper’s 2022 season was a roller coaster due to injuries, but he managed to put up solid numbers with decent power. Harper initially hurt his elbow in April. The Phillies did not indicate there was damage to the ulnar collateral ligament at first, but after a few weeks the severity of the injury was made clear. Harper missed only a few weeks rehabbing but moved to the DH spot as he wasn’t able to throw. Then Harper was hit by a pitch in late June, causing a fractured right index finger. That sidelined him for a couple of months. Harper remained the DH for the remainder of the season. Following the World Series, Harper was scheduled for Tommy John surgery to repair the damaged UCL.

While the recovery from Tommy John surgery is much shorter for a position player than a pitcher, it will still take around nine months before Harper is healthy enough to DH. Throwing places more of a strain on the ligament, so Harper may not be cleared to play in the outfield at all next season. He’s expected to start swinging a bat by the end of March with an eye towards returning around the All-Star break. Even then, it could take longer to get his power back, so I’m expecting a down year for the Phillies star.

Injury: Multiple wrist surgeries, shoulder surgery

Expected Return: May

Analysis: What a chaotic year it was for Tatis. He broke his wrist while riding a motorcycle during the offseason, then months later he underwent surgery. While sidelined, Tatis was suspended 80 games for PEDs. It doesn’t end there, though. Once the suspension was announced, Tatis finally agreed to have the torn labrum in his left shoulder repaired, something he should have done last offseason after getting hurt early in the 2021 season. Now Tatis is recovering from a second surgery on his wrist.

Tatis’ suspension will carry into the first month of the 2023 season. He may not be healthy enough to play when he is first eligible to return. Tatis’ wrist injury was a scaphoid bone fracture. It is a very tough injury to recover from, as this bone receives poor blood supply, so it does not heal well. During the first procedure, multiple screws were inserted to stabilize the break, but another procedure was needed in October. This time, the procedure involved one central screw replacing the multiple screws. While it isn’t surprising, it is concerning that Tatis’ wrist required a second surgery. This one will take longer to heal. The timeline to recover from the shoulder and wrist surgeries should be fairly close, but the wrist is more likely to have long-term issues. I am not expecting him to be ready for spring training despite reports that the team has cleared him to resume baseball activities. Tatis just seems like a headache. I would stay away from drafting him.

Injury: Foot and pinkie fractures

Expected Return: Start of spring training

Analysis: Albies was limited to just 64 games last season. He suffered a left foot fracture before the All-Star break and then, in just his second game back, he fractured his right pinkie on a slide into second base. With six months to recover, I’m expecting Albies to be back at 100 percent well before the start of spring training. These aren’t injuries that should carry over into the season. Albies will start the season with a low injury risk and peak HPF (projected performance based on health). Another plus for the Braves? I’m expecting a bounce-back season from Ronald Acuña Jr., whose 2021 torn ACL limited him at times last year.

Injury: Right wrist surgery

Expected Return: Start of spring training

Analysis: Is 2023 the year that Sale finally lives up to the five-year, $145 million contract he signed back in 2019? Don’t hold your breath. Sale’s latest injury is a broken right wrist that he suffered in a bike accident in August while he was already on the IL with a left pinkie fracture. He underwent season-ending surgery, but these aren’t the only injury concerns for the former ace. Since signing that massive contract, Sale also dealt with elbow inflammation that led to Tommy John surgery in 2020. Then he started the 2022 season on the 60-day IL with a right rib stress fracture suffered prior to spring training.

Now 33 years old and with a few serious injuries, I am not expecting Sale to bounce back as a top pitcher. I don’t see his 2023 season being as terrible as the last few years have been, but quite a few things are working against him. Even though he should be fully recovered from the wrist and pinkie injuries at the start of spring training, he will begin the season in the High Injury Risk category, according to the Inside Injuries algorithm.

Injury: Right thumb surgery in October

Expected Return: Start of spring training

Analysis: Ramirez was off to an MVP-caliber start in the first few months of the season. Then he suffered a torn UCL in his right thumb in June, an injury that could have ended his season — but he vowed to play through it. Despite cooling off a bit, he put up solid numbers the rest of the way. Once the season ended, Ramirez had surgery to repair the ligament. His expected recovery time is six to eight weeks. Realistically, it will take longer than that for the thumb to fully heal, and then additional time is needed to regain strength in the surrounding muscles in the hand, wrist and forearm. Our algorithm’s projections show that Ramirez will start the season with an elevated injury risk and an above-average HPF. By May, those numbers should improve, as he will be six months post-op. I am expecting him to be in the opening day lineup, but he won’t be back at full strength just yet.

Quick Hits

George Springer: Despite being banged up throughout the last two seasons, Springer managed to play 133 games in 2022. He is recovering from offseason right elbow surgery to remove a bone spur. This is a fairly straightforward procedure, and he should be good to go ahead of reporting to spring training. Some lingering soreness is possible, but he should come with a peak HPF by Opening Day. Springer’s injury risk will remain elevated due to his injury history.

Jazz Chisholm: Chisholm was one of the most exciting breakout players in the first half of the season, but in June he went down with a stress fracture in his back that took much longer than expected to heal. He could have returned late in the year, but with the Marlins out of the playoff picture, it didn’t make sense to take that risk. Chisholm is expected to have a normal offseason as he prepares for a move to center field. His injury risk will remain elevated heading into the 2023 season as back injuries like this tend to flare up again.

Joey Votto: Votto was shut down in August to undergo left shoulder surgery to repair his rotator cuff. This is a group of four muscles that come together as tendons, keeping the arm in the shoulder socket and providing stability to the joint. While his expected recovery time is around six months, it will take longer for him to truly recover. He may be able to resume all baseball activities by six months, but getting his full range of motion and strength back will take 9-12 months. At 39 years old and recovering from a serious injury, Votto isn’t worth rostering.

Wander Franco: A hamate bone fracture and quad injury limited Franco to just 83 games last season. The hand fracture was a fluke injury and one that shouldn’t have any effect on him, while the quad injury leads to a slightly increased injury risk. You should feel confident drafting Franco in 2023.

Byron Buxton: When Buxton is on the field, he has the potential to be one of the best players in the game. The problem is he’s always battling some sort of injury, and 2022 was no different. In seven full MLB seasons, he has topped 100 games just once. Buxton’s two most significant injuries last season were to his knee and hip. The knee injury lingered for much of the year and required arthroscopic surgery. The hip strain landed him on the IL for over a month and was likely related to the knee pain. While Buxton should be fully recovered from knee surgery ahead of spring training, he will enter the season with a high injury risk.

Freddy Peralta: Peralta spent over two months on the IL with a significant strain in the back of his right shoulder. Soon after returning, he landed back on the IL with shoulder inflammation. Peralta returned in the final weeks of the season and should have a normal offseason, but he has yet to prove he can handle starting every fifth day. Our projections have him in the elevated injury risk category. These types of arm injuries can be a red flag for pitchers.

Clayton Kershaw: When healthy, Kershaw remains one of the game’s most elite starting pitchers, but he hasn’t topped 200 innings since 2015. At this point, we should just be happy if we can get close to 120 out of him. Drafting Kershaw obviously comes with a lot of risk. His back has been a problem on and off for years, and he has had a few arm injuries in recent years. I’d stay away as his injury risk isn’t getting any lower as he gets older.

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