Any injury news about Danny Amendola invariably will solicit minor panic in New England.
No reason for that, but Patriots coach Bill Belichick told reporters Tuesday the receiver is “day to day” with an undisclosed setback after missing practice both Monday and Tuesday, The Boston Globe reported.
I think an interesting question to ask is whether the latest Amendola injury non-news should affect his fantasy draft value. After all, are we learning anything we didn’t know before? Fantasy drafters presumably always knew Amendola to be a small player with a history of injuries and thus potential to miss games. This week all that’s happened is that we’ve been reminded of those facts. And yet the tone of the discussion surrounding Amendola has been quite different when compared to the excitement that surrounded him during the Pats’ week 2 preseason game.
First let me say that I think it’s logical to actually give some weight to Amendola’s recent injury, but not for the reason you might think. My injury evaluation is usually reserved to whether a player is injured on the day I’m drafting and what confidence do I have that they’ll return soon (the lingering effects from past injuries also fits in this category I think). But in this case the Patriots aren’t sharing anything about Amendola’s injury so I do think that some tiny amount of uncertainty exists. This isn’t a Peyton Manning 2011 situation where you have a player that has a known serious injury and hasn’t been practicing and for that reason I don’t want to overstate the impact of whatever Amendola is dealing with. But the Pats have said he’s day to day and I think we can at least assume that even if they’re sugarcoating the situation, he should be back on the field soon.
But a lot of drafters don’t see things that way and they really will ding Amendola for the recent injury because it reminds them of his injury past. That’s the thing that I find most problematic with discussions of injury proneness. With essentially no new information, only a reminder of old information, we can change our minds. I’m including myself here. I have the same barely evolved brain that everyone else has when they’re reminded of an injury past and can’t help but to feel a little uneasy drafting a guy.
Last year I wrote a column on injury proneness that ended up getting me into the Grantland fantasy writing contest. In the fantasy league for that contest my first three picks were Darren McFadden, DeMarco Murray and Fred Jackson. I think that’s what you call walking into a karmic swinging door. [Brief note - even after that perhaps horrific start to a draft - or perhaps unlucky, depending on your view - because I always draft as if my guys will get hurt I was mostly prepared and ended up out of the playoffs only after losing a tiebreaker.]
My basic point when I go on my annual injury prone rant is that I’m sure something like injury proneness exists. But to the extent that we know that some amount of our perceived ability to identify injury proneness can just as easily be explained by recency bias, I am loathe to trust my own ability to identify injury prone players. After all, whatever happened to Matthew Stafford’s injury proneness? Is it the case that he was never injury prone in the first place? Was he injury prone and then cured of his affliction? It matters not which of these answers you choose as they are equally problematic for the idea that we have a real ability to perceive injury proneness.
I think when you start to take the idea of injury proneness (or at least our ability to perceive it) to its logical conclusion you really get into trouble. For instance, a common draft strategy among risk seekers right now is to say that if you take Rob Gronkowski in the 3rd or 4th round, you can afford to miss out on Gronk’s production for 3 or 4 weeks because you’ll pair him with another TE. Then you’ll get 12 or so weeks of Gronk plus a replacement level tight end. But where does the expectation for 12 weeks of Gronk come from? Conditional upon a player missing the first 3 or 4 weeks of the season, their expectation for the season is probably not 12 games. It’s probably something like 10 games. Remember he’s going to be running around on a football field, running into other players. Essentially he’s going to be involved in the same kinds of activities that landed him in his current situation. And the 10 game expectation I mention above is probably only if you assume that he’s about as likely to get injured as any player. It doesn’t take into account the idea that Gronk might be more prone to injuries than another player. It could be the case that 10 games of Gronk plus a replacement player is better than your other options, but that’s not what people are talking about.
If you wanted to think about this idea in a non-football context, we can go back to the useful (if tired) coin flipping example. If you flip a coin 10 times, what is the expectation for total number of heads flips? Five, right? Ok, now change it so that you’re flipping 10 times and you know the first 4 flips are all heads. What’s your expectation for the total number of heads flips among the 10? It’s 7 now. The remaining 6 flips are all 50/50 and are not impacted by your first 4 flips. If you wanted to extend the injury prone paradigm to the coin flipping, now imagine that the first 4 flips come back heads and you’re getting suspicious as to whether the coin is equally weighted or not. What are you expectations for total number of heads flips now? That’s the conundrum with the injury prone discussion. Every player is essentially a coin that we have little idea as to whether it’s a fair coin or not.
Amendola or Gronk could be fair coins that have just had a random streak of tails coming up, or they could be fixed coins more likely to come up tails. It’s just really tough to know and it’s tough to craft a fantasy draft strategy when you don’t know.