I’ll start this off by saying I still love this part-time hobby, full-time obsession we call fantasy baseball. I have often pondered what it is going to take for me to quit playing and rigor mortis has usually been my conclusion. That said, lately I have been scratching my head, trying to figure out if the game has passed me by and I need to rethink a few things in terms of my approach.
In a nutshell, I believe fantasy baseball should be a game of skill, first coming up with an idea of how each player will perform, be it formally with a spreadsheet or in a more Zen-like manner, based on experience, common sense and intuition. Then this performance should be ranked, again be it formally or informally in a relative manner, this guy is better than that guy who in turn is better than the guy over there. Next, you assemble your roster, procuring as much potential as possible, combining your player ranking with game theory. Finally, you manage your roster during the season, making moves along the way to improve your team via the means available to you. I don’t like to put a percentage on what is most important, but I do feel if you consider the process to be three parts, what you do before the draft/auction should be most important, followed by the draft/auction with the in-season management coming in third. This is not a reflection of the time spent on each, just the relative importance I not so humbly believe each portion should contribute to the success of your team. I am cognizant of the fact that rules have evolved to sway the scales to in-season management, but that’s OK.
Back in the day, all one needed to succeed in all this was having better access to player information. Forget projections and valuation. It didn’t matter what hot prospects were on the way. If you knew who was playing before the other guys, you won simply because you had more at-bats and innings pitched. Stars and scrubs was the way to go, because you knew the scrubs better than everyone else. In season, you knew the injury replacement and role changes first, which is all that was necessary to win. Their BABIP didn’t matter. The difference in velocity between their four-seamer and circle change was moot. Playing time was the key. Back then there was no MLB Extra Innings or SiriusXM, let alone the Internet. The daily notes section of USA Today was the fantasy lifeblood! The Sunday notes column that Peter Gammons wrote in the Boston Globe was a fantasy player’s dream. Baseball Weekly, the Sporting News, these were the equivalent of Rotoworld and Fangraphs.
But then Al Gore invented the Internet and things began to change. Who remembers Mosaic? How about Nando net? If it were not for Usenet and recreation.sports.baseball.fantasy, I would not be writing this and you would not be reading this now. Mosaic was the first Internet browser. For those not familiar get this, you could only look at ONE PAGE AT A TIME! There were no tabs, no jump links, let alone bookmarks or favorites. But man, was it GREAT! I suspect those of us in school with access to computers had a bit of an advantage over those less fortunate. Nando.net was the news portal and featured s huge sports portion, replete with everything a fantasy enthusiast needed in terms of stats, box scores, lineups, etc. Usenet was the home of newsgroups, which were the precursor to message forums. The unfortunate downfall of Usenet was the proliferation of pornography SPAM.
The primary influence the Internet had on our hobby was bringing information to the masses. Simply knowing who was playing was no longer the key to success as everybody was soon privy to that. Be it via Compuserve, Prodigy or AOL, if you played fantasy baseball, you subscribed to one of those services. I have fond memories of traveling with the first thing I did after checking into my room was unplugging the phone and plugging in my laptop, then crossing my fingers there was a local AOL access number. Anyway, this all sparked a revolution of sorts and changed, for the better, the way the game was played.
Since everyone now knew who was playing and their stats, the new completive advantage emanated from superior player evaluation, in part pioneered by our colleague Ron Shandler in concert with player valuation, with luminaries such as Alex Patton and John Benson at the forefront. Success was now borne from refined player projection and valuation theory. And I’d like to think that this is still important to this day, as suggested earlier.
Of course, with the Internet explosion, what used to be niche analysis is now in the mainstream. The advantage you used to have because you knew to look past ERA is now minimized. Most everyone knows a hitter with a BABIP higher or lower than their career norm will regress. That said, just because something is commonplace, that doesn’t mean everyone is equally adept at the analysis, evaluation and application. This is where the wheat is separated from the chaff.
The problem I have with today’s game is all this is now seemingly moot due to the incredible increase in player injuries, especially in the single league, AL and NL only formats. I know, there’s no crying in baseball, injuries can happen to everyone and it is up to the owner to rise above their ill fate and overcome – I get that. But it is frustrating as all get out that months….not days….not weeks….but months of preparation can be for naught due to things completely out of one’s control. Again, this is just a game. I am not less of a person because I did not win my fantasy league. It’s just frustrating. The balance of what I personally deem as most important has shifted to in-season management deciding leagues out of necessity, due to injuries.
Additionally, and this is the part that I am re-thinking, another repercussion of the injury madness is salient analysis is becoming secondary to whimsical gut feels. I have a saying I like to use when it comes to fantasy baseball: I’d rather be wrong for the right reasons than right for the wrong reasons. The idea is the process is more important than the result. Sometimes, the result is not reflective of the process. But, for the longest time, being right 51% of the time led to overall success. Lately, at least it seems anyway, I have been victim of what poker players term bad beats. The odds were in my favor, the cards just didn’t fall my way.
At the end of the day, I know my little saying is still the right way of looking at things. The process is still paramount. but perhaps the means I calculate the odds could be refined.
Methinks it is time to start re-thinking the reasons.