HQVAULT: Using the Disabled List

Over 20+ years that BaseballHQ.com has been in existence, and going back another decade to the Baseball Forecaster newsletter, we have accumulated hundreds of articles on fantasy strategy. These reside in the Strategy Library section of the site, and many include timeless tips on all aspects of fantasy league play, at various times in the fantasy league calendar. In a series to run occasionally throughout the season, we will be highlighting selected articles from the Library as part of a HQVAULT series. We welcome reader interaction with these older articles in the comments section below. Enjoy! —Ed.

Using the Disabled List

by Craig Goheen and Jeff Howard

The early season disabled list can usually form the makings of an excellent Rotisserie team. Every season players get hurt, and the DL always looms as potential disaster to a winning season. When you are forced to deal with injuries, what steps can you take to minimize the loss, and in the right situations, to actually improve your team?

First steps

First of all, when someone gets DL'ed, look at the type of injury, because a 10-day DL stint does not necessarily mean 10 days until he's re-activated. Back injuries, particularly disc problems, can be chronic and cause repeated trips to the DL. Even minor shoulder injuries to the rotator cuff or the labrum can sideline a pitcher for two months or more. And a bone chip in the pitching elbow can end a season prematurely should it get lodged in the joint. In the knee, damage to the ACL is often season ending.

Simple cartilage damage in most joints, however, can be cleaned up with arthroscopic surgery, allowing a player to return in a few weeks. Muscle injuries are not normally season threatening, but they do need to be treated with rest and better conditioning and stretching routines if the player wants to avoid a return trip.

Estimate your real loss

Once you have an idea how long your player might be down, look at the category standings and project your potential losses by category. If no one is likely to catch you in a particular category while your man is down, check where you might catch someone in another area, and go for a few weeks of stats in that category.

If you're sure the injury is minor, consider waiting. You might find that your player is coming back soon enough, that you won't be getting empty ABs or high ERA innings, or that one of the other GMs has had to release a better choice. One warning, however—should you miss your deadline for activating a replacement (usually two weeks), and the injury is more serious than originally thought, an empty roster spot for three months is worse than a .255 BA and an RBI a week.

If you've lost a position player, shuffle your eligibilities to find out which positions are available to you. This reveals the value of the multi-position player. If you're able to choose from a list including outfielders, corner and middle men, your opportunities for finding help are definitely better.

Choosing a replacement

To unearth value in a replacement, you'll need to consider which statistical indicators best support your category stats. In a position player, a batting eye ratio (BB/K) over 1.00 will give you the best opportunity to maintain overall team BA, more than looking at individual past or present batting averages. But check his role and usage—six ABs a week won't help much.

Know where your replacement bats in the order, whether his team relies on speed or power, and even whether the team is struggling to meet expectations. Opportunities for young guys to move into the lineup exist much more often on those teams.

Replacing pitching

With pitching, ERA and WHIP are easier to maintain than wins or saves. If you can afford the wins your DL starter won't get for a month, a middle guy with good control and strikeout-to-walk ratios can almost always be found. Ten to 15 innings of low WHIP can make up for a couple of quality starts.

If the potential loss of wins, however, will drop you too far in that category, or drop you below minimum innings requirements, you'll need to ignore everything except whether the fifth starter you grab pitches for either a strong defense or a powerful offense.

If your primary closer's arm drops off, very few primary setup guys, the ones who get the monthly save, are ever available. In that case, look for the teams whose bullpens are in flux, and activate whatever middle reliever is getting opportunities to finish games (GF). Situational lefties are often good pickups here.

Trading an injured player

Trading a player who's hurt is tricky. In the MLB, it's improper to trade an injured player without informing the other team of the injury. In many Rotisserie leagues, the commissioner has the right to overturn such trades where injury information is not given. In other, more cut-throat leagues, each GM should regularly check the wire to keep from accepting damaged goods in a trade.

Trading for a player who's hurt, however, can be a bold move. If the owner of a hobbling player is worried that his injury could be long-term, you should consider taking this player off the GM's hands for someone healthier, but with less upside potential.

Know your rules

In any fantasy baseball format, one of the primary keys to success is to know your league's rules inside and out. The smallest of nuances can be used to your advantage or hinder you if you are unaware of them. Your league's use of a disabled list is one such rule that you should be intimately familiar with.

There are many different rule variations that pertain to the use of disabled lists. No matter what your league uses, there are several important questions you should ask yourself in order to utilize the rules to your fullest benefit.

How does a player qualify to be placed on the disabled list?

On the surface this seems like an obvious question, however, there are many details that a league may use to qualify or disqualify a player from the DL. Must he be officially on the MLB 10-Day DL? The MLB 60-Day DL? Some leagues even go so far as to require a player to be "out for the season" according to major media sources. Some leagues do not require a player to be injured at all, but rather use the disabled list as a quasi-reserve roster. Can you pick up a player already on the MLB DL and then place him on your DL or does the prior knowledge of the injury preclude you from doing such? These are important points to consider.

No matter what variation your league uses, make sure you know what players qualify for the disabled list. Picking up a player who is on the 60-Day DL and placing him on your DL may be very beneficial to you in the long run. Some players are on the 60-Day DL and scheduled to be out quite a while; they may fly under the radar this early in the season. Adding them to your team's DL now could pay dividends later.

How long can a player remain on the disabled list?

This is a key question because it determines the speed with which you must make decisions about players. Depending upon the type and severity of the injury that placed the player on the DL, it may take more time to get back into playing shape or find the strike zone. At the very least you may expect some inconsistency from players immediately off the DL.

Some leagues make you recall a player immediately from the DL. Some give you until the first or second transaction period after the player is recalled. Some leave it to the discretion of the owner as to when he wishes to recall the player. Know exactly how long you can keep a player on your DL.

Pitchers may be getting their first start back against a tough offense or may be on a pitch limit that would make it hard to qualify for a win. In those instances it may be beneficial to leave them DL'ed until you can gauge their performance.

Batters may be worked back into the lineup slowly, getting to play every other day for a week or so until they are back in playing shape. Depending upon the level of the player and the quality of your replacement it may be more beneficial to leave the replacement in until this period is over.


Many times throughout the season when a player is lost for the entire campaign, they are all but forgotten by the other managers in the league. If you play in a keeper league, then rostering these players and placing them on the DL until the following year could be beneficial. If they happen to have a good spring or get traded to a better situation, then they might make good trade bait or even be worth keeping for your own team. Either way, it never hurts to have as many players to choose from as possible.

Player valuation and performance is one thing, but winning your league can be much easier by simply knowing all the rules and how to use them to your advantage. The disabled list can be an important tool in this regard.  The draft can set you up for a pennant run, but a season without several players on the DL is rare. How you handle the inevitable injuries can mean the difference between first place and fourth, or worse.

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.