How Does Max Scherzer's Finger Injury Affect His Fantasy Baseball Stock for 2017?

The Washington Nationals have said that Max Scherzer may not be ready to pitch on opening day due to a knuckle injury. Do we need to be wary of him in fantasy baseball?

Ruh roh. We're not even a week past pitchers and catchers reporting, and the injury news is creeping in.

Max Scherzer already pulled out of the World Baseball Classic due to the finger issue, and now he's not even a lock for Opening Day. That's a concern for any pitcher, but when he's a first-round pick, according to National Fantasy Baseball Championship average draft positions, that's a humdinger of a problem.

We'll likely be getting more info on Scherzer's knuckle at some point this spring, but with fantasy drafts on the horizon, that may be too late. So what do we do with Scherzer in season-long for this year? Let's dissect the information we know to try to find out.

Pitching Through Pain

In a piece about Scherzer's injury, Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports wrote that Scherzer initially felt pain after a start last year against the Baltimore Orioles. That start occurred on August 25th, meaning we can see what effect it may have had.

Scherzer wound up making seven starts after the injury occurred, so it would be ill-advised to try to draw conclusions from his ERA, which would be fluky in such a sample. Instead, what we want to check out are his velocity, pitch use, and plate-discipline numbers. These tell a bit of a mixed tail.

First, let's go to the basics with Scherzer's strikeout and walk rates. He's always elite in these categories, and while the injury did take away some strikeouts, it didn't fully sap him of his powers.

Split Strikeout Rate Walk Rate
Through August 25th 32.0% 6.2%
After Injury 29.7% 6.3%

A dip of over two percentage points in a player's strikeout rate is far from negligible, and it adds a bit to the concern around Scherzer. We do get a boost, though, from looking at his swinging-strike rates and contact rates in these two splits, indicating it's possible the reduced strikeouts were the result of randomness.

Split Swinging-Strike Rate Contact Rate
Through August 25th 15.2% 70.8%
After Injury 15.8% 67.6%

Somehow, Scherzer managed to improve both his swinging-strike rate and contact rate after the knuckle injury occurred. This doesn't mean we should assume he'll suddenly find a whole new level while banged up this year, but it does at least quell some of the concerns around his reduced strikeout rate.

The final thing we do want to check here is Scherzer's velocity. It wouldn't be a surprise if things fell off a bit with the finger bothering him, and that would ideally shine through in his velocity.

Here's how things broke down on both his fastball and his slider -- his two most-utilized pitches -- and it doesn't appear to be a major issue.

Split Fastball Velocity Fastball Usage Slider Velocity Slider Usage
Through August 25th 94.3 56.0% 86.3 20.7%
After Injury 94.3 52.9% 85.9 27.9%

Scherzer's fastball usage did go down after the injury, but it wasn't due to decreased velocity. And although the velocity on his slider did go down, he increased the usage, indicating that the effectiveness likely didn't change too drastically. Overall, he looked a lot like the same guy we saw dusting dudes at the plate the first five months of the season.

If we can guarantee we'll get the Scherzer we saw post-injury last year, then he's still an extremely valuable commodity. That's obviously something we can't do, but the numbers from 2016 are at least encouraging.

How to Handle Scherzer in Drafts

Having this sample of Scherzer starts while dealing with the bum knuckle does provide us a glimpse at what we could be getting this year as the injury drags along. It doesn't mean we should proceed without caution, though.

Having Scherzer duck out of the World Baseball Classic and having Dusty Baker express concern over the hurler's Opening Day availability is a major issue. Yes, Scherzer has had a full offseason to heal, but they wouldn't be bringing these concerns up for no reason. The pain is still present, and we have to consider that.

At the same time, Scherzer was able to play catch earlier this week, and he pitched through the injury last year. That would seem to indicate that even if he does miss the start of the season, it shouldn't be an extended absence. Until we receive information to the contrary, we should be operating as if this is a minor dent that won't hold him out upwards of a few weeks.

Overall, Scherzer is still worth a high-end selection in most fantasy drafts. He showed that he can be effective while dealing with this injury, and it's entirely possible he doesn't wind up missing any time at all. We do need to consider this while making decisions, and it should make us more willing to defect to a position player instead, but it does not seem as if this injury is a reason to completely avoid the reigning Cy Young winner.