Eschewing the fear of opening up Pandora’s Box and inciting another “skill versus luck” debate, I would like to pose a question to the NFBC masses. Is in-season roster management really that much of a skill?
I am not trying to insinuate it is luck, far from it. But is it honestly a skill in truest sense of the word? Sure, some are much more diligent than others, and if you want to contend that diligence is a skill, you will get no argument from me. I applaud those that are more conscientious than others, being on top of what I feel are better called current events, like playing time battles, injuries and closer situations, not to mention the drops in their league. To me, one of the more satisfying feelings is knowing your league-mates are all cussing you out on Sunday night when they go to bid on the hot free agent only to see you picked him up for a mere pittance last week. Yes, diligence of this nature is a skill.
What I am more referring to is the lineup decisions we all make before the start of Monday and Friday games. A hot-button message board topic has always been how increasing the ability to manage your team with transactions adds more skill to the competition. Sorry, but to a large extent, I disagree. The majority of lineup decisions fall under the mantra of common sense, especially once injuries mount and those unsightly pair of red letters, D and L appear next to your player’s name. Yet, many argue that these decisions are rooted in skill.
I know what many of you are thinking – you look at the splits and make a skills based decision. You review history and learn how a hitter has performed against a certain team or pitcher and vice versa. But the ugly truth is this information is not at all predictive. The sample is simply too small. There are individuals much smarter than I that have done the math to refute this means of analysis. I know this information is offered on fantasy web sites and flashed on the screen during game broadcasts. I understand it is quoted by managers when they are explaining lineup decisions. I realize it is talk show fodder, “How can he have let him pitch to that guy, he took him deep last time.” But the honest to goodness truth is it is hogwash. How a player has performed against a team or another player should not be considered when making lineup decisions, unless it involves something more tangible like a righty-lefty split. The end result is the vast majority of our in-season lineup decisions are more common sense than skillful analysis.
Please do not interpret this mini-rant as my being opposed to the Friday transaction rule, though in full disclosure, I would prefer we set our lineups on Monday and c’est la vie. I admit I am old school and long for the days this part-time hobby, full-time obsession of ours was played with no reserve lists and you were only able to replace a player if he was placed on the disabled list or sent to the Minors, but I digress. I posed the above question in all seriousness, but also as a means to segue into another mini-rant, and that is the direction fantasy baseball is headed.
Simply stated, speculation has become a greater element of the game than I personally like. In order to be successful nowadays, you need to hit on as many of your speculative picks as you do hit on the guys you researched and correctly identified as value performers. The existence of reserve lists serves to fuel this speculation, as you can mitigate your risk by benching or stashing questionable players as opposed to being stuck with them in your lineup. You think Javier Vazquez will fare better in the National League? Prove it and have him active and not on the bench until you determine if you were right. If you had an injury and picked up Sam Fuld on a whim, keep him active once he cools off, don’t bench or release him. But I am not naïve, reserve lists are the norm and not the exception and they are here to stay. I’m a big boy, I can deal with it.
There are two specific areas that worry me with respect to the direction the industry is headed and the role played by speculation. One is, wait for it, mere speculation on my part, while the other is more personal.
As many of you know, daily fantasy games are increasing quite rapidly in popularity. Harkening back to the sample size argument above, my concern is these daily fantasy games will eventually be considered to be more gambling than a game of skill, and I am worried about the trickle-down effect to the game we play. I have nothing against those running or playing the daily games. I do however, feel as though the almighty dollar, and how much revenue may be generated in that arena may cause issues down the line. I do not know if the recent goings-on in the on-line poker industry is an apropos analogy, but it is not completely distant either.
On a personal level, I am a bit frustrated with the quality of analysis and advice being offered by my fantasy brethren. I realize this may come off as elitist and there are many out there that feel as though I should have my so-called expert card revoked. On one hand, I am thrilled fantasy baseball is growing. On the other, the area it is growing is more tied to the speculative nature of analysis than the numerish, as so cleverly dubbed by Dan Kenyon, last week’s guest in this space. I honestly cringe when I hear or read much of what is offered in terms of fantasy baseball advice. While the number of those playing the hobby has grown, overall, the quality of the information offered to those playing has declined. And that is a shame.