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Keeper League Strategy: Tommy John Keepers

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the bifurcation time period in all keeper leagues. Either you are vying for that illustrious championship or you have begun the rebuilding process for next year. If you fall within the latter category then this post is targeted for you. Now may be the time to pick up the key player to build for next year before he's drafted two picks ahead of you in the 2016 draft. If you are in these leagues, you have likely done some due diligence so my aim here is to remind you of a few players who have been sitting on the DL most of the season due to Tommy John Surgery. What I'm offering here isn't a short term fix, it's a long term game. These guys will likely not return until at least 2 months into 2016 and won't contribute much right away but over the long haul they will be worth the investment for the right spot. The average recovery time on pitchers who went through Tommy John since 2008 is 16.9 (about 17 months). These pitchers pose risk but their hard pitching style lends itself to a big strikeout upside. Plus in my experience, I'd rather have a pitcher who will either pitch quality starts or not be in at all in which case I can bench him, I dub this the ‘shine or out' theory.

In no particular order:

Alex Cobb (SP) Tampa Bay Rays

He underwent surgery on 5/14/2015 and while injury prone, he has career stats of 3.21ERA and a WHIP of 1.19 with 35 wins over 81 starts. At 27 years old he still has some fruitful years ahead of him. He averaged 8.06 strikeouts per 9 in 2014 and 8.41 strikeouts per 9 in 2013. I see potential for him to return to 2013 level where he had a 11-3 win loss record and an ERA of 2.76. I think he will finish within the top 100 players in 2016 held back largely because of his late starting date.

Yu Darvish (SP) Texas Rangers

Dr. James Andrews has more players return from Tommy John within 12 months than any other noted MLB surgeon since 2008. He has 18 players (13 at MLB level) who have returned, the next closest is Dr. Lewis Yocum with 10 (9 at pro level). Yu underwent surgery on 3/17/2015 and while I'm not expecting him to come back within 12 months he is progressing very well. He has had a few throwing sessions now starting in August and all seem positive. He lead the league in strikeouts in 2013. I think he provides the best immediate impact for a team in 2016. I boldly have him as a top 60 player in 2016.

Zach Wheeler (SP) New York Mets

This product out of Georgia had a very solid building block out of his first two years in the league. He went through surgery on 3/25/2015 sporting career stats of 3.50ERA, 18 wins in 49 starts and an impressive 3.94 K/BB rate. The Mets now being the powerhouse that they are, if he finds his way into a regular rotation spot he can thrive in years to come. Can you imagine a starting rotation next year of: Matt Harvey, Jacob De Grom, Steven Matz, Noah Syndergaard and Zach Wheeler? He was 17th in the league in strikeouts in 2014 and at the age of 25 he has a lot of career ahead of him. He sits in my top 120 players for 2016.

The next three are for a deeper format, something probably past 12 teams or a format with a lot of pitchers:

Jarrod Parker (SP) Oakland Athletics

I will open with - Yes, HUGE injury risk here. BUT he's been out since 3/24/2014 and will likely now have a whole second offseason to rest both his surgery and the medial epicondyle fracture in his right elbow. This falls back to the ‘shine or out' theory though - in 2013 he pitched a robust 12 win, 3.97 ERA 1.22WHIP year and will provide quality starts for you when he's healthy. Given the risks involved here he is within my top 250 players.

Homer Bailey (SP) Cincinnati Reds

He is 29 and he did undergo later in the season much like Alex Cobb on 5/8/2015 but prior to that he had a great 2014 season with an 11 and 5 record. A young Reds pitching roster coupled with his salary provide a good chance for him to get a nod towards the top of the lineup when he returns. He falls within my top 200 overall players.

Brandon McCarthy (SP) LA Dodgers

He underwent Tommy John on 4/30/2015. Reasons to like him - in 2014 he posted the 7th lowest walk rate amongst qualified pitchers. He also have 20.9% strike rate for a strong 17% K/BB rate. His ERA wasn't the best but on the Dodgers he can get you wins, he was 3-0 in his 4 starts in 2015. At 31 he's not the young side but he has proven experience and accurate pitching. He still sits in my top 200 fantasy players overall.

I would also add the caveat that adding just one to sit on at a time is ideal depending on how many bench or DL spots you have in your league. On a personal side: over the last two years I sat on Matt Harvey and then Jose Fernandez and while it was a rough patch, I'm headed into 2016 with two stellar pitchers. I plan on continuing to take one elite pitcher coming back from Tommy John as an ongoing cache.