We all know superstition is a big part of professional baseball, whether Wade Boggs’ pre-game meal of chicken or Pedro Cerrano’s voodoo doll Jobu from “Major League”.
Who is to say we fantasy players don’t have our own idiosyncrasies?
This came to mind with the 2017 Major League season just a few days old. In an e-mail exchange with my partner Lawr Michaels, he made a joke that spurred this article.
The two-time American League Tout Wars champion wistfully noted that both his Tout Wars and LABR squads were in first place. For that reason, Michaels wished the season could end right there.
My reply was at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. I admitted that I purposely had not yet checked the standings in any of my leagues. Lawr was disgusted with my answer while being unapologetic for his focus on the standings - even before any MLB team had gotten through its rotation a single time.
The reason is a logical one. After all, by its very name, the game is about fantasy, not reality. Michaels sees this as the one place in his world where he can obsess with no real impact or ramifications.
“Ugh. I cannot not look,” he said. “Fantasy is where I am allowed no self-control and all the second guessing I want. Just ideally nowhere else in life.”
Later on, he clarified his view.
“I am pretty clear the early results mean nothing,” Michaels said. “However, I like playing deep tough formats, and every day of play and every at-bat matters, so I certainly track the play of all my rosters carefully, especially early in the season to see if my guys look like they have jobs.
“But, I have always loved looking at box scores and lines and transactions, so really, checking my players and teams is just an offshoot of that fascination. At least that is the rationalization/excuse I have,” he concluded.
In my case, it isn’t that I am superstitious about looking at the standings. I just don’t want to get fixated on it so soon. Of course, I bid on and acquired players in the first free agent periods in all leagues to plug gaps.
I do, however, subscribe to the theory to give one’s drafted players a chance to produce. The time-honored tradition of sitting down over Memorial Day weekend to take stock of the roster is one I agree with.
That doesn’t mean that one can sleep on emerging free agents and not be poised to jump on mistakes by others.
I am still stinging over an unintended assist I gave Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus on route to his NL Tout victory in 2015. On draft day, I had spent a few bucks on Jeremy Hellickson, as the right-hander moved to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Through mid-May, Hellickson was lugging around a 5.92 ERA and taking my Tout hopes down with him. Disgusted, I cut him loose. Gianella swooped in and from there through the remainder of the season, his new acquisition posted a 4.17 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 93 strikeouts in 108 innings. It probably was not the season-maker or breaker, but it was the kind of mistake one remembers in a failed year.
Wondering if my reluctance to start standings-watching this soon is a complete anomaly, I asked the view of my Mastersball peers. Here are some of the replies.
For Todd Zola, there are administrative requirements to be on top of.
“I neither avoid nor check,” he replied. “If I see the standings as a matter of course, I'll look but I don't go to the scoring site just to check out the standings.
“I've moved a couple leagues over to a new commissioner service, so I'm monitoring to make sure it's doing what it's supposed to be doing, but short of that, it's all about replacing injured players and upgrading reserves, if possible,” Zola concluded.
Pasko Varnica is planning a major trip soon and thinks he could be distracted.
“Interesting. I thought about this very subject today,“ he said. “I asked myself why I am not checking the standings as I usually do. I concluded that it's probably because my upcoming trip is keeping my mind away from baseball.
“Here is my view: with such a small sample, many games postponed and such, I am more interested in individual performance up to now than the totals of standings. And specifically, my pitchers' performance. Are the basics, ERA, WHIP and strikeouts been fine in their first game? If so, then my team is ok,” Varnica noted.
Patrick Wisniewski’s league has a format that demands patience.
“I started doing this kind of stuff in my early 20's, when I used to live and die by the daily results,” he said. “As I've gotten older, I’ve learned patience is the key in baseball and to not waste all my moves by Memorial Day. My work league has a moves cap of 50, extended to 70 this year. Now I try to go to the 4th of July.”
Usage patterns and roles are first and foremost on Marc Meltzer’s mind.
“I am paying attention to the early season games to see how players on my team are being used,” he said. “Between potential platoon guys and wanna-be closers and making sure guys I am counting on are in the right situations.
“I don't really care about the specific league standings. I am also assessing my starting pitching with a close eye on waiver wire for guys who might have been overlooked on draft day,” Meltzer said.
Zach Steinhorn closes with an especially wise piece of advice.
“Although I'd be lying if I said that I ignore the standings entirely during the first few weeks (who doesn't like seeing their team gain 25 points in one day?), the standings really mean very little,” he said.
“I spend a lot more time studying box scores and identifying potential waiver wire pickups that could help to address a positional or categorical weakness that concerned me coming out of the draft. I also think it's important to resist the urge to make panic trades in April,” Steinhorn said.
So there you have it. Some good advice to focus on the basics early in the season, maybe even a harmless peek at the standings. But the time for wholesale changes, trade talk and wheeling and dealing should still be in the future.
Give your team a chance to deliver on the promise it showed you on draft day!
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 18-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter @B_Walton.