When in doubt, go for the healthy young guy

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If you’re a fantasy baseball or football owner and you don’t read Rotoworld every day (or, in my case, several times a day), you’re not only missing out, but you may very well be costing yourself a chance at a league title. As far as free and comprehensive fantasy advice goes, nobody does it better than Rotoworld. Their player updates pull from all sorts of local and national sources and are updated throughout the day, and their columnists offer up plenty of great insight, both during the season and leading up to draft day. They even have their own draft guide, although you’ve got to pay $15 for that.

Howard Megdal (who, as far as I can tell, is new to the Rotoworld staff this season) just posted a great article about the value of youth and health on draft day:

So when I draft, I want as much predictability as possible. Therefore, my two touchstones are getting as many players in their age peak (roughly 25-30), with an added focus on injury history. Such a strategy provides no guarantees—no strategy does—but puts me in the best position to consolidate my gains. And as a bonus—a healthy player of peak age, more likely than not, is going to be a player who has that surprise season you were hoping for from the rookie, anyway.

I’m always amazed by how many owners don’t pay attention to age or injury history during their drafts, especially in the early rounds. Every year, someone drafts a guy like AJ Burnett too early, and every year Burnett goes down with some kind of injury. Go ahead and take Lance Berkman in the second round — I’ll gladly wait another round or two and snag the younger Adrian Gonzalez or Prince Fielder. Upside, upside, upside.

Megdal goes on to target some of the likely first-rounders that he’s avoiding this year:

Ian Kinsler is another top-12 player with red flags of the white bandage variety. For the third straight season, he showed that when healthy, he is an offensive force at a position, second base, with very few of them. But he played in just 121 games, this time due to a sports hernia, and his season-high through three seasons is 130. No reason he can’t help a fantasy team—but let someone else draft his injury history first.

Also consider dropping Jimmy Rollins, who played in 137 games last season and already has back issues in spring training, and Carl Crawford, who was limited to 109 games with a finger injury last year. Crawford in particular appears to be healthy this spring—but grab the guy who just put up 150-160 games in 2008. An extra 10-15 games out of your best player could be the difference in some leagues.

Instead of Kinsler, who averaged fewer than 124 games per season from 2006-2008, how about Brandon Phillips, who has averaged around 150 games per season? Phillips is 27, suggesting that his best year may come in 2009.

I’m pretty high on both Kinsler and Phillips, as I noted in my second base preview, but while Kinsler is younger (by one year) and may arguably have a little more upside, Phillips has the much healthier track record and can be snagged a little later than Kinsler, which likely makes him the better value of the two. When you consider the premium you’ll need to pay for Kinsler (a late first or early second rounder), Phillips becomes that much more intriguing.

Megdal wisely suggests not becoming a slave to this (or any) draft strategy, because remaining too loyal to a plan could close you out of any mid- to late-round bargains that may fall into your lap. But when it comes to debating the merits of Carlos Delgado vs. Adrian Gonzalez, AJ Burnett vs. Edinson Volquez, or Carlos Lee vs. Nick Markakis, you’d be wise to go with the younger, healthier guy.

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