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Sunday 28th Aug 2016

Any of you watch the Matt Moore just about no-hitter on Thursday night, when Moore came within an out of tossing that all elusive hitless game?

Before you get too excited and trade for Moore with an eye on a title or looking for an ace next year, remember that going into Thursday's start, Moore was 0-3, 4.69 over four starts and 23 innings over which he managed a decent 22 whiffs to go with an indecent 1.52 WHIP.

To get to two outs in the ninth, Moore needed 133 pitches while walking three and striking out seven. I did watch the final five innings of the game and Moore was spotting his curve well, but he was similarly making good pitches at the right time, something that usually indicates a good pitcher who knows what he is doing.

I do remember how in love with Moore we all were when he arrived in 2012, but unfortunately his pitching line has not been much better than that of another tantalizing-then-disappointing Florida prospect, Jeremy Hermida. Ineffectiveness and injury made Moore expendable, and the Giants, in desperate straights for arms, bit on the 27-year old.

And, while I don't want to knock Moore while on a high, who remembers that Chris Heston hurled a no-no last year and now is buried in the minors? Or, who remembers Mike Warren, who tossed a no-no for the Athletics September 29, 1983--before pitch counts were logged--and wound up 3-0, 4.11 that year completing his career at 9-13, 5.06 over 27 starts?

I was in the crowd first when Jose Jimenez blanked the Astros on 101 pitches and no-hits (Randy Johnson faced him, allowing just one) on June 25, 1999, when he finished the year 5-14, 5.85 finishing 24-44, 4.92 over 521.3 frames. And, I was in the press box scoring for MLB.com on May 9, 2010 when Dallas Braden needed 109 pitches for a perfecto, but again, poor Braden was injured and completed his career 26-36, 4.19 over 491.3 frames.

The diciest no-no, though, I think must belong to Tim Lincecum, whose 2013 no-no against the Padres took 148 pitches, probably takes the cake (Lord Z made a compelling case for Johan Santana, BTW), with Lincecum sadly on the down side of what was such a promising and fun career.

But, at least in that game, Lincecum whiffed 13 compared to Moore's seven. The thing about Moore's game was that he was hittable: Sadly, all the Giants hurler's pitches seemed a lot fatter over this series with the now front running Dodgers than when the season began.

I think the main issue, however, is that irrespective of the end result, the no-hitter Jake Arrieta twirled at the end of last season was a completely different animal than the nickel-and-dime nibble affair Moore delivered yesterday (and again,  Moore lost his bid with two out in the ninth on a squib hit by Corey Seager) when the pitch count lost to the single and Moore delivered his last pitch in what would have been.

It is easy to get excited, as noted, when a guy like Moore tosses a solid game and even better, boosts our totals late in the season giving us hope. Just try not to confuse the hope of Moore's game with the general excellence of a pitcher like Arrieta, who is good game after game, and excels within that construct, as opposed to Moore, who is iffy game after game, and managed to assemble 130 good pitches (14 more than his previous season high) and give us an evening's worth of excitement.

In 1957, Nevil Shute penned a novel called On the Beach about a post-apocalyptic world that became a film starring Gregory Peck. In 1974, Neil Young released his fifth studio album, also entitled On the Beach, this time covering the insanity following his break with Carrie Snodgress, the death of Crazy Horse mate Danny Whitten, and the angst of a country finally extricating itself from the insane Vietnam conflict.

Later today, probably around the third inning of the Saturday games starting at 1:00 pm, Pacific Time, my best friend Diane Walsh and I are going to be married on the sands of Stinson Beach, a lovely teeny little town just outside of San Francisco.

If you have followed my adventures here at Mastersball (nee CREATiVESPORTS) over the past 20 years, you have certainly seen the strange path of my life, then as my partner Cathy Hedgecock went from vital to suffering from the breast cancer that took her from us in 2005 at the age of 44. Six months later, my son Joey passed away at the age of 22, and though both my family members were ill for many years, I have to admit, after the pair left this planet, I went through arguably the darkest time of my life. 

Through all this, I made my main living working as a Project Manager for ATT, and in 2002, when in Chicago for company business, Diane and I met and began a working relationship, she as a vendor liasion, me as the manager of the interface the vendors accessed to process DSL orders.

Diane had dogs, and was a bright and fun person to manage teleconferences with, and though we started as colleagues, we became good friends and she was among the kindest and most supportive within my circle when Cathy, and then Joey passed away, even though we had met face-to-face just once, and I did not even remember her from the first meeting.

Just after Cathy left us, in July 2005, Diane found herself in New Orleans, as a member of the Illinois Doberman Rescue, pulling pets out of flooded and destroyed homes in an effort that changed both of our lives. For Diane, who had been a Director at ATT, and worked at the company for 27 years, the rescue lit a flame under her to seek some other occupation through the remainder of her working days.

For me, though I liked Diane as a friend, it showed me a depth of character that ran way beyond what I had previously experienced in our discussions. 

Diane, who has certainly travelled the world some having visited the Carribean, the Amazon, Alaska, and a chunk of the eastern seaboard, had never really been to California, and as our friendship deepened, a couple of years following the passing of Cathy, I innocently invited Diane to California.

"I have a guest room" I reassured her, adding that "I had just bought a house by Lake Tahoe. We could go there, we could go to the wine country, to San Francisco, and all over the beautiful haunts I knew in Northern California."

We discussed this over and over, and finally, as I was in New York for Tout Wars in 2007, Diane made a plane reservation to the Bay Area, and as we anticipated her arrival in late May, we suddenly realized that maybe we "liked" one another.

Diane's visit kicked off four years of long distance relationship for the two of us whereby she got to know the Bay Area, and I got to know northwestern Chicago, and though I kept working at ATT, Diane retired with all of her benefits, and began working on an AA at Harper College. Two years later, Di finished her tenure at Harper, applied to UC Davis, and amazingly got into the school as a 53-year-old Junior.

Since my home in El Cerrito was just 50 miles from Davis, and Amtrak had a station at the University, we decided it was time to put our relationship to the test, and Diane sold her home in Algonquin, packed up her four cats (her German Shepherd, Mahi, actually rode across country with us the previous summer, and he just stayed in the Bay Area in anticipation of Diane relocating the following year) and moved in with me for good.

We settled in, and I retired from ATT, allowing me to focus on writing here at Mastersball, while writing some ficiton and playing a lot of golf, and Diane did indeed graduate from Davis with a degree in Animal Biology and began a business--Endless Pawsibilities--and things moved along swimmingly.

We became registered Domestic Partners in California, allowing us to access one another's health care and such personal information, and though marriage came up a couple of times, we had both been there before, and simply felt no compelling need to officially formalize much of anything.

But, since Diane had graduated, friends suggested I throw a graduation party for Diane, and since her best friends, Cherie Dudek (from Chicago) and Dee Dee Huebner (living in Fairbanks, getting a PhD there) were coming out in August for a girls week in the mountains and at the beach, I figured I would arrange the soiree for when Diane's pals were out here.

In the interim, Diane and I went to New York for the FSTA Summer Conference, and I thought Di would like a nice fancy dinner one night, so I made reservations at Tavern on the Green, and then decided that she might like a carriage ride through Central Park after dinner. I am not sure why, but I then thought as long as we were doing something romantic, I might as well see if Diane wanted to get married, targeting the August 20 date when we would be partying anyway, and with her best friends in our neighborhood.

So, at 2 pm, today, Diane and I are getting married on the beach at Stinson, with a cluster of our closest friends surrounding us at one of the most beautiful spots in the area.

It is hardly Nevil Shute, nor even Neil Young, but I think we are both sort of happy with how things have worked out: moving from colleagues to friends, to partners, to best friends, to ideally married best friends.

Weddings and all the trappings is a stressful process, and though we have tried to keep the process low-key, we both reasoned that this is a bigger deal than we wish to admit, so we are both simply trying to go with the flow and enjoy the ride.

Neither of us expects much to change, for we have known one another for 15 years now, and been a couple for nine, but I think we are indeed both happy with the path life has tossed our way. 

For every moment of every day is the best of adventures for us. This act just enhances the storyline.

This is indeed such a fun time of the fantasy baseball season if your team is in the hunt for those of us who love the season-long contests.

In my two most visible leagues--AL LABR and AL Tout--my squads are sitting pretty much where I love them to be this time of year, with my Tout Team in fourth, 12 points behind Seth Trachtman, while my LABR team rests in fifth, albeit with a much larger gap of 30 points to make up.

For certain, in Tout, the points are right there for me to grab and all I need is for my team to really get hot, something as a squad they have really not done all year.

But, my team is finally healthy on offense, and if David Price and Craig Kimbrel can simply buckle down through the stretch, and with Devon Travis now batting leadoff, if he and Ketel Marte can steal some bases, we should be right there down to the wire.

The big issue with that team is I drafted pitcher heavy, grabbing Sonny Gray along with Price to anchor my staff, but $25 spent on Gray seems to pretty much be down the crapper which is the strategy let down. That is because part of my plan in obtaining the two big arms was anticipating swapping one arm for whatever I might need down the stretch.

Oddly, while in Tout, my team seems solid enough to hold on through the end of the festivities, in LABR, though the points are there, injuries and unrealized power have been my enemies.

In the past, when my teams have actually won such extravaganzas, the Tout plan worked well as I made big swaps--one involving then closer Keith Foulke, and another sending off CC Sabathia, both for hitting--that indeed spelled a pennant for my teams.

So, in LABR, I did manage the big swap with Rick Wolf and Glenn Colton, trading off Chris Sale in exchange for Edwin Encarnacion in a league where my team is among the leaders in pitching, but lackluster in power numbers.

Ideally, Steven Wright, Marco Estrada, Matt Shoemaker and Hector Santiago as a core can keep my innings and strikeouts atop the heap while Encarnacion just helps push five points in runs, homers and RBI, which makes up half the deficit. Wins, steals and average hold the key to the remaining points that might help me catch Larry Schechter's team.

If you are in a similar situation, and have the surplus to swap, irrespective of type of league or format, whether it is a throw back or keeper setup--then give serious thought to what you need to let go of and what you need to get to win.

For example, in the XFL, which is indeed the toughest of my roto-style leagues, I am out of it. But, I offered Zack Greinke, Roberto Osuna, Kyle Seager and Angel Pagan to another owner for Wil Myers and Christian Yelich in a deal that never did consumate. This was a keeper format, and I was essentially dump trading stars for cheaper stars with upside. 

And, the reason the deal did work was not so much because of the players involved, but due to salary cap considerations.

However, the bottom line is that life does imitate art, and while the Majors were juggling players at the deadline, dump trades now offer the same opportunity for you to either get the players who will help you win, or on the other end, get the players who can get you there next year.

In essence, this is not a game for the sentimental. An owner who has his or her eye on the title, and not who to keep in 2017, will more than often wear the victory wreath.

Over the past weeks, I have written about mocks and actual drafts along with playing different varations of fantasy games. Nothing gives us a better feel for the player pool and respect--or lack thereof--players receive, and varying the formats often gives insight to tactics in all fantasy formats than does participating in mocks.

Since I have been playing Fantasy Football, I have played in a number of two-QB leagues where at best one can play a Quarterback at Flex, and at worst where we have to start a pair of signal callers each week.

This is a tougher challenge than it might seem, for in a 12-team league, when we consider bye weeks, it means that 36 Quarterbacks are required for every team to have the slot filled every week to maximum efficiency. 

Similarly, the closer we get to the actual 2016 draft season, the less comfortable I am becoming with loading up on Wide Receivers in the first few rounds. Although I do want to grab a couple of good pass catchers as soon as I can, I am still happy to grab a top Quarterback or Running Back amidst the first four rounds, depending upon who I can nab and my position in the draft.

In just a regular league, with 12 teams, grabbing Aaron Rodgers or Cam Newton by the third round simply makes sense, as suggested before. Last year, for example, Newton logged 373 fantasy points while Rodgers bagged 286 according to ESPN's scoring system. By the same token, #1 ranked Antonio Brown scored 243 and Odell Beckham Jr.'s 242 make him the #2 draft selection. All four players are projected to put up a similar number of points this coming season, yet Newton is ranked #35 while Rodgers is #49.

Huh?

Let me make sure I get this: The guys who touch the ball virtually every down, and who generally land 75-100 more points a season are ranked that many slots lower? This, I do not get.

To me, drafting Newton in the first round is like drafting David Johnson in football, or perhaps Clayton Kershaw in baseball in that you are simply looking at the best possible producer period, irrespective of position. In other words, the hell with scarcity.

But, in a league where we can use--or more strictly must play--a second signal caller, if points are the name of the game, it makes total sense to draft two top players at the spot as soon as is reasonable, for in such a league, a combination of Alex Smith and Russell Wilson can be deadly and in general more predictive than Antonio Brown and Tyler Lockett.

To further the equation, if you are indeed drafting in a format where you must play a pair of Quarterbacks weekly, grab a top one right away, a second within the fourth round, a third by the sixth, and if you can, a fourth.

This might sound insane, but I can promise you even three in the wake of injuries and byes can leave your team thin.

But, more important, the faster you empty that pool (remember that there is an actual scarcity at the position when you play two with 12 teams), suddenly in the middle of the draft your opponents will be scrambling for a QB and you can pick over receivers and running backs while your leaguemates are settling for Josh McCown.

Additionally, once the season begins, those teams either without a third QB, or worse, a squad suffering an injury at the helm, will be happy to swap for your surplus.

Finally, you might need the fourth arm in the event of an injury to your squad.

Draft day is big fun, and it also sets the tone for your season. It is also a time to be deliberate in our moves and selections, and simply going by ADP or fashion does not always bring a championship. And, well, if I can get Cam in the first round, and Lockett in the fifth, what I stick in between those rounds should be good enough to make me competitive, and out of the draft, that is all I can hope for.

By the way, if you are in a deep Dynasty format, grabbing the fourth QB there is similarly not a bad idea.

 

I have written often, and for as long as I have been playing fantasy games, that I think playing a lot of variations of the game(s) that tickle your fancy is a smart move.

For example, I play in a couple of AL-only leagues, in a 15-team mixed dynasty contest, as well as Scoresheet and Strat-O-Matic, and then DFS games. Strat-O-Matic, being a sim, and Scoresheet are wildly different in structure from the traditional rotoball, and DFS is a subset of that classic game that started all this lunacy. 

Though it is a bit tricky at first, navigating around and between different formats of the same basic game, I liken Fantasy Ball to Poker in that the cards/game is the same, but how the players/cards are exploited differs from parameters to parameters.

Supporting this, I have long written that though I started my Roto Ball journey playing Strat-O-Matic in 1978, it is through that game that I learned to appreciate both WHIP--which was not even a recognized statistic in those days--and OBP, and both those numbers govern a lot of my play today.

But, as with changes in our games, like moving from 4x4 to 5x5, or dropping AVG in favor of OBP, playing one variation over another expands our vision. Ideally, it allows us to see things in all formats we might not have ordinarily spotted.

Over the last couple of weeks, I participated in both a 2017 Mock (which I wrote about last Saturday) and now I am in the midst of a 2016 Dynasty Football Draft that includes two leagues, with 15 teams each, and will boast a roster of 30 players per team. Both of these draft formats are new to me.

Drafting from scratch is always a dicey prospect, whether you are in a year-to-year throw back league, or speculating for Opening Day next year when we are barely halfway through the 2016 season.

Does that mean J.A. Happ is a pick worthy of the third round or better, or that Aaron Rodgers slips to the later rounds because as good as he is, the Packers signal caller has a shorter shelf life than does Teddy Bridgewater?

The answer is I am not sure, but in contrast, who among us felt that Happ was worth more than a look in all but the deepest of formats?

 As with most of these speculative and also often rhetorical questions, we don't ever really know the truth until the respective season is over, but participating in these two new set-ups has made me really think about who has value now, who will have value in six months and who will in six seasons.

Of course, one of the things I try to balance is knowing that Tyrod Taylor might indeed be a killer QB in two or three years, but in the meantime, Rodgers will probably be better. So, if I want to compete, do I draft Rodgers now and stash a Jared Goff hoping that by the time Rodgers is nearing the end, Goff will be moving into his peak years?

Similarly, does A.J. Pollock, as a ninth rounder for 2017, become a steal? Or was he already a quasi one-year wonder, and rounds nine through 11 is the logical home for a guy who might hit .280-11-70 with 15 swipes?

Once again, if any of us actually knew these answers, things like the lottery would be a cakewalk. But, in drafting now for next year, I do have an idea of not just how my fellow drafters view Happ and Pollock at this moment in time and space, but the exercise gives us all a chance to see where players we favor might fall, or be sniped out from under our respective noses.

It is well documented that I am not a huge fan of ADP, save it gives me a skeletel idea of how ideally my fellow drafters rate a Pollock. But, when I draft, I try to ignore such external noise, as it feels to me like I am building a team to produce a set of stats according to those parameters noted.

That means it is the stats I am drafting, rather than the player, and any exercise that I can embrace that helps me assemble a roster of those best possible stats should theoretically make me a better player.

It is difficult for many of us to move out of our comfort zone, but that is what playing in many leagues with many formats can bring to us.

So, if the opportunity arises to play a game that seems out of the box for you, try to let go of preconceived notions and run to the differences, not from them. 

Your stats will thank you. So will your teams.

We are in the midst of the mock draft season, full on. But for the most part, that means football. However, last Monday, Tim McLeod, who among other things writes for our friends at Pattonandco, invited me to do a 2017 baseball mock, which was curated by yet more of our mates at Couch Manager.

It might seem like drafting a 23-man team for next year mid-season prior to the next Opening Day would be a piece of cake, but we were all surprised by how really hard the decision process for picks was. And, the exercise was fun and interesting and you can see the draft and results here.

As for me, I drafted in the 13-hole in a 15-team, 5x5 setup, and here are the results.

1.13  Starling Marte: Power and speed and getting better.

2.3  Chris Sale: Best pitcher in the American League.

3.13  Christian Yelich: Not unlike Marte, but younger.

4.3  Yoenis Cespedes: I think he is as good and productive as Giancarlo Stanton, so a fourth-round pick is a steal.

5.13  Jason Kipnis: More power and speed up the middle.

6.3  Nick Castellanos: At .295-17-52, I think the 24-year-old slugger has arrived.

7.13  Brandon Crawford: 61 RBI to date means Crawford's hitting prowess is real.

8.3  Kole Calhoun: Cannot believe Calhoun, who at worst is proving himself to be consistent, was still out there. 

9.13  Steven Wright: OK, who saw this coming? But, the guy seems to be good, and knuckleballers get whiffs and rarely hurt their arms.

10.3  Kenta Maeda: Another guy who I could not imagine in my rotation, but the numbers are good. (The fact is all my hurlers after Sale are kind of like that.)

11.13  Tanner Roark: More of the same, but I have always liked Roark and hoped last year was a bump. Ideally, this year proves that so.

12.3  Stephen Vogt: Dude can hit, and he is more than likeable as a person, too.

13.13  Jeff Samardzija: If the Shark can replicate his 2016, that will be fine.

14.3  CJ Cron: I think Cron was just getting into his "I belong here" groove when he got hurt (he was hitting .364-5-17 for the month when he got hurt).

15.13  Danny Valencia: Nice steady hitter who seems to have found a home.

16.3  Hector Santiago: Another strikeout arm who I think is mastering his craft and will get better.

17.13  Alcides Escobar: Just fine with ok average and swipes up the middle.

18.3  Yordano Ventura: Last starter, again one I am hoping takes a step up.

19.13  Joc Pederson: What the? OK, I can crapshoot on Pederson this late.

20.3  Yadier Molina: I worry about durability, but Yady can indeed hit and I do have a pair of starting catchers.

21.13  Kevin Pillar: My Utility spot gets filled by Pillar? OK with moi.

22.3  Hunter Strickland: I am gambling the next Giants closer is Hunter.

23.13  Ryan Dull: And the next Athletics closer as well.

Questions? Concerns? Thoughts? It was a weird draft, so feel free. And, don't forget you can get me @lawrmichaels.

 

I've never done a marathon as a runner, though I did a half once, and it took a week for my body to recover from the pounding. And, that was after plenty of regular running and training.

So, here we are. The second half has begun, starting that part of the baseball season marathon that makes the season so tough as we head into the Dog Days, which got its name because the dog star, Sirius, hangs on the horizon at night from August into September.

It is a hot lazy time: one when a lot of us go on vacation, and truth for me is once we go away, my schedule and routine are blown and I tend to forget to set rosters and make moves. Add in if we change time zones, then I am really in trouble.

Similarly, it is tough because football is looming and mocks and preparation are all over the place, so keeping that focus on your fantasy baseball team is a challenge.

On the other hand, with the Rule 4 Amateur Draft just a month behind us, there are shiny free agent prospects waiting to be gobbled up and placed on our ultra rosters. And, with the trade deadline looming, there is a potential influx of promising players in AL and NL-only formats to whet our appetites.

Just within the pre-All Star cycle, Aaron Hill and Brad Ziegler made their way to the American League, and now Drew Pomeranz joins the collective. There are rumors of Josh Reddick and Rich Hill going to the Dodgers, and Yasiel Puig moving to the Athletics, making for even more FAAB speculation.

That means there is the possibility for hope for most teams despite half the season being gone. But perhaps that is the beauty of not just baseball and fantasy games, but games--for baseball is just as much a game as is fantasy--are fun.

I play Words With Friends and Hanging With Friends on my iPhone, and I still have the Candy Crush Soda app on my phone, even though I have mostly become bored with the game. Diane is a genius at said game, and is somewhere around the 800th level after getting near 1000 in plain old original Candy Crush. (Diane also beat an original Pac Man arcade game back in the 70's when that game was as hot as Pokemon Go seems to be today.)

The truth is we all love playing games of one kind or another it seems. My friend Mark favors Go as a board game and when his reflexes were younger, tennis and softball. Now he plays hoops once a week. Diane likes the vids, but she does not really like spectator sports; however, she loves hiking with the dogs and riding her bike all afternoon, not to mention her time as a gym rat.

My pal Stephen swims and plays strategy and tactics games. My music mate Jeremy Steinkoler plays the drums for a living, but goes seriously after golf and archery along with playing in a couple of fantasy football leagues with me.

I am not sure what the allure of games and competition is, but the desire to play and come out on top seems to be both very old, and pretty much in our DNA since long ago.

The Greeks, after all, began the Olympics, and the Romans, I guess ironically, referred to their chariot races and gladiator combats as "games." Chess is thought to be 1500 years old, but Go is anywhere between 2500 and 4000 years of age.

There are those who scoff at fantasy games, even though the realm of fantasy's tentacles touches all of us one way or another, no matter what game or sport or even hobby one has. 

After playing golf with my "senior" group with whom I play every Tuesday and Thursday morning, there is a cluster of us who go out to lunch and discuss god and life and golf and sports and politics and stuff while stuffing our beaks and relating how much fun being retired really is (and how lucky we all are to be able to enjoy it).

All of the guys know I am tied to the Fantasy industry, and the notion of whether the game is gambling or not always seems to come up. Personally, I suppose it is if one is betting money, but similarly, though luck plays a factor, fantasy games are certainly games that take a knowledge of the game and players, as well as being able to abstract which players might indeed perform well enough to comprise a solid roster. So, in that sense, skill becomes a factor.

But, I try to shy from all of that. For me, simply getting up each day is a miracle, and surviving 24 hours without airplane tires falling out of the sky and crushing me, or cars smashing me, or errant golf balls striking me, is just as much luck as anything else on the planet.

I made this case to my golf mates, just as I would anyone, including you, dear readers. 

But, the bottom line is we like to play games because they challenge our brains and bodies, and they are fun. Especially when we win. And that is what I am trying to convey to my golf mates. That is what I try to convey to everyone.

And, after all, all those guys already play golf.

It is almost the All-Star Break, which means a few down days of relaxing, and of not tracking every box score in the universe, mostly because there really are no box scores for the Majors save the Tuesday game until things kick into gear next Friday.

My XFL and Scoresheet League teams are pretty much disasters, as documented in these very virtual pages, but my Strat-O-Matic team is holding strong, while my BARF squad, on the heels of a big Chris Sale for George Springer swap with Justin Mason, needs to get hot.

But, in the two most visible leagues in which I participate--AL Tout Wars and AL LABR--both my squads are in fifth place with points in the 60's, 30 points behind the leader. Yet, this is exactly where I like to be this time of the season.

In Tout, Larry Schechter has a commanding lead with 90.5 points, with Seth Trachtman the closest to first with 81 points and between third and tenth just 10.5 volatile points separate Patrick Davitt (69.5) and Steve Moyer (59) with my squad in the middle at 64.5.

My Tout team does have Kevin Kiermaier on the DL, and the reason I bought the rights to Sonny Gray's and David Price's stats was thinking they would be hot hurlers, and that I could swap a quality starter for a hitter come August. I suspect I could trade one of those two for something, but were their numbers better, the chances the return would be something that would help--some power in this case--would be good.

In LABR, I have 70.5 points, 23.5 behind leader Steve Gardner, and ideally, Brad Boxberger can return and give me 10-15 saves (though I am not optimistic), but there are points to be gained and I do have the offense to catch Steve, just like I have the roster, and the points are available, for me to catch Larry in Tout.

Obviously, things have to go right, but in my experience, the teams that set the pace the first half of the season often hit a lag come the dog days, and one other thing is my teams, no matter how bad, generally have a hot spell. Add in the fact that to a large degree, fantasy sports are not unlike the games they model in that the team that is hot at the right time is often the team that takes home the trophy.

Of course this means a few things:

  • Make at least one trade in Tout and try to make one in LABR, where I have an extra outfielder.
  • Stay vigilant making FAAB moves and tweaking my roster.
  • Exploit the waiver wire interleague moves to the best of my ability to grab as many innings and at-bats as possible.

The reality is though winning will indeed take a confluence of the right things falling into place, by the same token the teams I have had that were winners always were sitting exactly where my present LABR and Tout teams rest. 

So, for this break, it will be chill time, the All-Star Game with my friend Rosemary Nemec and her grandson Kenyon, and a clear head to strategize the second half.

That means if you are in a similar position, the season is hardly over, so spend the next week studying the standings, looking for potential point openings, analyzing where trades might be appropriate, and optimistically while pragmatically assessing what you have, where you can be, and what you might need to get there.

Oh yeah, since this is the break, maybe spend some time with the family, too.

I have been participating in a lot of football mocks as part of @rotobuzzguy This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. #MockDraftArmy of late, and the one thing that is certain is Wide Receivers are the focus. Antonio Brown goes first just about always, unless some miscreant like me decides he likes Todd Gurley more. But, even then, there is questioning among the drafters and readers and digesters of said draft.

It does make me wonder, though. I think back to the well documented tale of my first Tout Wars, when the league went 5x5 and the common wisdom was that this devalued Saves by adding Strikeouts as a category. For some reason, I did not buy into that logic, drafted two closers off the top by design, and won the league.

More recently, I remember not just doing baseball mocks, but even drafting knowing last March pitching was to baseball what ostensibly Wide Receivers are now to football as in plentiful, and full of potential points. Of course, the draft dynamics of football as opposed to baseball do make for different draft paths, for in football, two positions--Running Back and Wide Receiver--hold the bulk of point generating responsibility for maybe ten, as opposed to a baseball squad with eight position players and 23 players to draw potential points from.

But, when I hear all the cries for going Wide Receiver heavy, what I hear is the same voices who said Saves were devalued, and my response to that has always been, "Nonsense, points are points. It matters not from whence they came."

So, I wind up feeling sheepish about drafting Cam Newton in the fourth round of a mock, even when I suspect he could be among the top ten point generators in the coming season. And, especially in deference to the fact that Cam will likely touch the ball on every offensive snap that does not involve a kicker, while a WR might only see 20% of the result of those touches, I wrestle with what seems to be the contemporary logic.

As I have said before, it is not that I don't love, or even abide by stats. I love them with all their totally absorbing beauty. As in, I can stare at Ted Williams, or Willie Mays, or even Albert Pujols career numbers, season by season, for hours and find things that make me wonder.

I also understand that statistics, when extrapolated over one, or better many seasons, do give a true barometer of skill. But, what I wrestle with is baseball and football and basketball and tennis and golf and all the other sports are not actually played over the course of that macrocosm. Rather, each game is a microcosm of its respective season, which is in and of itself a microcosm of that larger career arc.

Well, since pitching seemed so deep this spring, I wondered just how different the pitching and hitting stats are at this point of 2016 as compared to last season, and here are the basics. Note that hitting stats from 2016 are current through the games of June 29. Data was then taken from a corresponding part of 2013-2015 and normalized so the games played are all equal.

 

 Category   2015   2016 
ERA 3.82 4.20
HR/9 0.96 1.15
K/9 7.64 8.05
BB/9 2.84 3.16
     

More whiffs this year, along with homers and walks per nine innings this year, and a higher ERA tells me maybe pitching was not so deep as projected, and as the owner of David Price and Sonny Gray in multiple leagues (where my teams are ok, but would be great if these guys pitch to those ephemeral projections), I kind of expected this.

What about hitters?

 Category   2015   2016 
AVG .253 .256
HR 2240 2869
Runs 9673 10497 
OBP .314 .322

So, more homers meaning hitting has improved, or pitchers are less effective, or some confluence of the two. Ultimately, though, this tells me there was no reason to favor hitters over pitchers any more than WR's over high scoring running backs and signal callers. As in, if Cam Newton averaged 25 points per game, why is he not an obvious first round pick? (I don't know the answer, but if you do, let me know.)

The other night I was driving home from band practice, listening to the Giants/Athletics game. The A's had a 1-0 lead early, but then fell behind 4-1, then moved ahead 5-4, then again fell behind 8-5, and when I got into my car to drive home, the score was Oakland, 10-9. In the time it took me to drive home, Oakland scored three more runs, making the score 13-9, but in the time it took me to simply lock my car, put my bass in the music room, and go into our bedroom to watch the end of the game, San Francisco banged out a pair of homers and got a runner on first. So, the tying run was at the dish when the game ended.

There are not statistical projections to account for that, any more than to project a 19-inning game in Toronto Friday, wherein Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney were called upon to pitch.

Truth is, one of the reasons I love baseball is because of incidents like the Giants/Athletics and Blue Jays drama. Another truth is the more this happens, and the older I get, the more I believe I will draft Newton in the first round and save Jordy Nelson for rounds two or three. 

You know?

The XFL is the toughest league in which I play.

Part of it is the guys in the league are tough. And, yeah, I play in some tough leagues, but most of the guys in the XFL are in the same leagues. Second, we basically have ultra rules, and it is very difficult to discover, let alone hide any kind of up-and-coming player irrespective of age or country of origin.

The XFL is a 5x5 with 15 teams, making it just deep enough to be thorough, and just shallow enough to fall into a false sense of security.

I have finished last in four of the past five years despite any number of more and less conventional methods. One year I purposely copped Albert Pujols and Roy Halladay with the idea of flipping them for prospects as quickly as I could within reason.

All these gyrations seemed to be giving me some favor, as in 2014 my squad not only finished out of last but moved up to sixth and things seemed so rosy. But no, as injuries and bad investments did me in, back into the cellar we tumbled.

I can deal with banging my head against a wall in a tough league, but what kills me is this format used to be my best: one in which I won back-to-back titles in the mid-90's. But, no more.

Still, I had a good and cheap keeper list when we convened at the XFL at First Pitch Arizona. I thought I had a great draft, augmenting my keeper list of Nick Castellanos, Yoenis Cespedes, Marcus Semien all cheap, and Zack Greinke and Kyle Seager moderately priced, I felt optimistic as we convened last November.

In previous seasons, I faded closers and tried to then pick them out of the free agent pool once spring training began and roles shook out. But this year, I bagged Craig Kimbrel ($16) and Roberto Osuna ($14). Then, during the draft, I kept an eye on balances while I tried to exploit the three "S's"--steals, strikeouts and saves--and needing an outfielder, when Jacoby Ellsbury was nominated, and bidding seemed to slow around $8, I put in a bid for $10 and no one challenged. I was stunned, never expecting to land the Yankees outfielder for such a moderate price.

But, awhile later, Prince Fielder was nominated, and with the focus on those three "S's", I realized I needed some pop, and Fielder was perfect at helping to solve that riddle.

Even more, I was stunned when the bidding stopped after I called out $26 for the guy who played in 158 games in 2015, hitting .305-23-98 with a .378 OBP. I couldn't believe that in the XFL I walked away with Ellsbury and Fielder for a total of $36.

Surely, this was going to be the year, with pitching anchored around Greinke, and two solid closers coupled with the pop of Fielder, Cespedes and Matt Kemp. How much better could we get? How about adding Travis Shaw as a reserve pick, and Gerardo Parra ($1) along with Marco Estrada ($6) and Brandon Finnegan ($4)?

Well, three months into the season, the question is how much worse could we be? And, the answer is two places in the standings, for at present my squad languishes in 13th place.

What did go wrong? I cannot honestly say I know, save my team is just not deep enough. Or, at least that is what I am telling myself.

The reality, whether I choose to admit it or not, was after the draft, I was happy to exclaim that Fielder and Ellsbury were going to lead my team to uncharted territory this coming season.

Since the season is now almost half over, this is mostly true. They led me, alright, just to the bottom, not the top. Unfortunately, I have charted the seas at the bottom of the XFL standings a lot more than I wished.

Last week, Major League Baseball held its annual amateur draft, giving the rebuilding teams first shot at the top prospects, and whetting the appetites of fantasy owners far and wide.

Before we take a look, though, remember the odds guys shoot right from the draft to the Majors is tough for there are a lot more David Clydes than Sandy Koufax's, and though indeed a lot of college draftees are moved much more quickly these days, a la Kris Bryant or Brandon Finnegan, the high school draftees generally follow the slower Jameson Taillon path, so pluck guys for your reserve list with that context.

That said, here is a look at the top 10 players from this past draft.

1. Mickey Moniak (OF, Phillies): The Phils rebuild is working pretty well, with Odubel Herrera and Aaron Altherr in the outfield in addition to a cluster of promising arms. So, adding the high school pick, Moniak, to help out in a few years should just make the core of the corps stronger. Moniak is a lefty hitting Southern California native with the requisite power/speed skills, and also has strong High School OBP (.505) totals, though we know the Show is a different game altogether.

2. Nick Senzel (3B, Reds): Drafted out of the University of Tennessee, the 20-year-old Senzel hit .332-13-126 over 160 NCAA games, walking 93 times to 82 whiffs (.426 OBP) and will probably be ready to pick up the hot corner guantlet in a couple of years. Senzel had a great Cape Cod session last summer, going .364-4-33 over 40 games.

3. Ian Anderson (RHP, Braves): No, this is not the lead singer from Jethro Tull, though there is a fine tradition now of rock stars with baseball dopple-monikers, like Carlos Santana, Steve Howe, and Bob Welch. But, as a high school Junior, Anderson tossed 53.3 frames, whiffed 91, and allowed a .115 batting average, though he is a few years away from helping Atlanta with completing their rebuild.

4. Riley Pint (RHP, Rockies): Aside from the frustraton associated with selecting a Rockies hurler, his name might be "Pint" but Riley can apparently bring it at 100-plus MPH. Plus, the Kansas righty, drafted out of high school, has a great curve. However, control is the issue, and that, coupled with simply playing in Coors, probably puts the right-hander on the long list of newbies to covet.

5. Corey Ray (OF, Brewers): Ray hit .318-27-138 with 92 steals over three years at Louisville, walking 72 times but whiffing 124. That means there is power and speed, but Ray will need to get better zone command before being moved up for serious Miller Park consideration. 

6. A.J. Puk (LHP, Athletics): How come there are so many players with the A.J. moniker? Beats me, but this kid is a 6'7" lefty, which alone suggests some potentially special skills. At Florida, Puk was 16-9, 3.42 over 192 frames, with 249 strikeouts. Puk, who was selected by the Tigers as a high school student, could be moved ahead aggressively on a team looking for help with their pitching.

7. Braxton Garrett (LHP, Marlins): Drafted out of Florence High, in Florence, Alabama, Garrett apparently has three strong pitches including a fastball that clocks in the low-to-mid 90's in addition to what scouts called among the best prep curves out there. Still, at age 18, Garrett will be a few years away as will a lot of the six high school hurlers selected this year.

8. Cal Quantrill (RHP, Padres): The son of Paul Quantrill, and a grad from Stanford, the righty certainly has a pedigree and resume, and he was drafted in the 26th round by the Yankees back in 2013. Quantrill tossed 129 innings as a collegiate, whiffing 118, and notching a 9-5, 2.58 ERA, and could be ready to help the Pads in their pitcher-friendly park by next season.

9. Matt Manning (RHP, Tigers): Manning poses a question, for at 6'6", as the son of former NBA player Rich Manning, he has the hoops option, plus a letter of intent to attend Marymount, meaning a gamble to reserve lists everywhere. Still, he can bring it in the high 90's and has a fine curve to complement, but as another high school first rounder, he has the most nebulous future of all picks.

10. Zack Collins (C, White Sox): A left-handed hitting catcher drafted in 2013 by the Reds in the 27th round, Collins opted for time at Miami where he played 187 games, hitting .316-41-181 with 174 walks to 162 whiffs (.469 OBP) and has very little ahead of him as a backstop. Collins can clearly hit, but pushing too fast with a catcher is not always the best path, as their primary gig is to learn to handle pitching, then focus on hitting. Still, no arguing his talent.

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