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Thursday 28th Jul 2016

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.

It is funny that just a week ago, Lord Zola and I were having one of our periodic chats that occur in GChat while we are both having at our keyboards for the day.

As I play in a couple of RealTime Sports DFS formats--Friday's Beat the Expert and the Tout Daily the same day--I was posting my weekly DFS piece and reviewing my picks with Z. It is fun playing devil's advocate--which we both do--not so much because it makes me rethink my selections, but much more because Todd is a very smart man, and the discussion is always challenging and revealing of thought processes much deeper than just which pitcher to fade.

Last week, I chose Vincent Velasquez and Nathan Eovaldi as cheap hurlers who could get whiffs and were going against teams vulnerable to the whiff. Furthermore, both hurlers had been solid of late, and both were moderately priced--under $7000--meaning I could seriously play with my hitters and stack my outfield against weaker pitchers.

There were other choices last Friday, such as Jordan Zimmermann, Danny Salazar, and in particular Noah Syndergaard, but as I suspected, the bulk of other players in both setups would likely roster Syndergaard, at least. I tried to choose what seemed to be the best path to points on a slightly less taken road.

When I first logged into RealTime, I could not have been happier with my choice, as both pitchers were into the fourth inning, both had whiffed four, while neither had allowed a run. In the meantime, my hitting choices were great with Eugenio Suarez and Kole Calhoun both homering while Didi Gregorius was also having a good day.

The short story was at the time I looked, I was in first place across the board with over 30 points during the first hour of play. All my pitchers needed to do was finish a couple of more innings each, whiff another six or so between them, and since both had a lead, just hang on with wins and I would finish the day in fat city all over.

 How much easier could life get, right?

But in life, as in baseball, there are fifth innings and come the fifth, Velasquez could not finish, and by the sixth, Eovaldi was chased with the pair surrendering nine total runs, wiping out all their good work of the previous hour-plus.

I knew the risks, although the analogy Z provided in my taking this route during the first cycle of the tout tourney (as opposed to the cash prize contest I face in Beat the Expert) was like picking the biggest pair of underdog winners the first week of the NFL season.

I understood Todd's point, and the gamble, but on the other hand the first few weeks of the NFL season are exactly when the craziest upsets seem to occur. Furthermore, I am just one who is much more able to embrace a risk and walk away early on, rather than play a safe cat-and-mouse path, I suppose because it is simply my nature.

In the end, Z proved to be right on the night, riding Syndergaard to a top ten finish in Tout, while I fell precipitously from the top to close to the bottom all over with the pitching meltdown.

So, this week, I again finished my piece early Friday morning, this time riding Lance McCullers and Sonny Gray--both under $8000--in a night when Stephen Strasburg, Gerrit Cole, Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale and Johnny Cueto were all being given the ball.

Again, my logic is the bulk of owners will exploit those top starters, so I looked for pitchers capable of striking out at least a half dozen, going against teams more vulnerable to the whiff, and again, grabbing hitters with a favorable matchup, like Bryce Harper facing Jeremy Hellickson.

I do post my piece, but all of us in the Tout Daily share our fave picks and Rotoman Webmaster Peter Kreutzer consolidates said selections and posts on the Tout site.

Well, when responding yesterday to Peter's troll for picks, I accidentally hit the infamous "reply all" button, giving all my Tout mates a chance to editorialize.

Of course, the conversation went straight to the "art versus science" path Z and I always engage; that is making the smart steady predictable selection of Kershaw or Strasburg over the contrary selection of McCullers.

After my flub, Howard Bender noted "would NOT using McCullers and Harper today be considered contrarian now?", but Jeff Erickson, who knows me all too well responded "no, because it is Lawr."

Still, the question bounced back and forth, getting quite funny, ultimately going back to Todd and me when I wrote, "Much to Todd's chagrin, I shy from the safe and smart DFS plays as often as not. But, somehow I do ok."

Todd responded, "Slight edit: I shy from the safe and smart DFS plays as often as not. But, somehow I do ok, much to Todd's chagrin."

In the end, I do understand still that if you are a steady and vested player in Daily games, percentages is the way to go if the objective is to beat the house.

But, in a lesser committed world, the muse will always pique me before any other type of siren.

Who knows? Maybe it is just an age thing. Charlie Wiegert added to the thread, "Lawr thinks he has the right recipe tonight and wants to share. Interesting, it seems like an all or nothing approach. I'm doing the same tonight, none of those top pitchers for me either. I'm with you Lawr, let the old guys rule!"

That is what I want to hear. And, what I felt better seeing is that as I wrote, McCullers had allowed four runs but whiffed four as well, Strasburg was not faring any better, with four runs allowed into the fifth.

Sometimes, all roads lead to Rome despite and because of our best and worst intentions, no?

It is a lost season for my Scoresheet team, this year incorrectly named "Help Make Lawr's Team Great Again." My run over the past six seasons in the league has been pretty good, with four playoff appearances over that span, including one trip to the BL Murphy League World Series (which I lost).

But last year, things started to fall apart. I thought I had a winning team, with the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Alex Gordon, Marcell Ozuna, Jonathan Lucroy and Kyle Seager. But another player, Albert Pujols, started to slow and Kolten Wong never developed as I imagined, and last year's squad, "Don't Shoot, Can't Breathe" (I change the team name to something topical every year) finished under .500 for the first time.

So, there was purpose beyond parody in the moniker chosen for my squad this year.

Unfortunately, the team did not get the message. I still froze Kershaw, along with Seager, Pujols, and Kole Calhoun, and made a trade with my mate Zach Kweller, giving him a 13th round pick and Michael Brantley for Brandon Crawford and Stephen Piscotty. But things simply went bad from the start as I paid too much attention to next year--grabbing Greg Bird, Jacob Nottingham, Matt Chapman and a bunch more minor leaguers--and did not build out my pen.

Scoresheet is a fun and interesting variation of fantasy ball in that it is a sim game, and includes factors such as defense and roster depth, not unlike Strat-o-Matic or Diamond Minds. All are similar, and yet all are distinct and equally pleasurable.

The Murphy league is deep with 24 owners, and a drafted roster of 37 which includes up to eight "soft freezes." That means a team may freeze up to eight active players, but should an owner choose to freeze just five, he or she--and the other owners who similarly have less than eight on their freeze list--draft out of the free agent pool until all 24 teams have eight players and then the draft proper begins. (Note that we can also freeze a minor leaguer as our 19th round pick, and a team can collect up to three 19th rounders in addition to the soft eight.)

In Scoresheet, solid pitching is probably the single most important thing, and though I had the anchor in Kershaw, and a decent gamble with Brandon Finnegan (whom I did freeze), that meant drafting the rest of my rotation after the start of the 9th round. So, 216 Major Leaguers were gone before I could look at my #3 starter. 

That turned out to be Ervin Santana, who is nothing spectacular, but neither is he a horrible #3, and followed up with Nathan Eovaldi along with either Henry Owens or Kendall Graveman as my #6 starter. But the reality is that Santana, Gravemen, Owens and Finnegan have been ok. They have not been nearly good enough, and as June arrived, I found my team struggling, 10 games under .500, which is essentially the road to nowhere.

The Murphy League also has a monthly free agent draft of two players through August, so that eventually a full roster is a complement of 45, and barring a swap at some point prior to freeze day, each team must choose among that list who will make up the soft eight of the coming year.

Well, with Lawr's team not getting particularly great again, and with the June draft upon us, I decided to cash it in and focus on the five other leagues where I might have a chance to win something. And, it isn't like I leave the team dormant, I set a roster, but I begin the process of rebuilding, something that I find very satisfying.

I sent an e-mail to the league, and wound up making three swaps over the past few days, with one more potential trade out there. In the note, I said Kershaw and Eovaldi were unavailable, but that the rest of the roster could be had, including my backup shortstop, Jonathan Villar.

What becomes looney is trying to determine value in a league where the 19th rounders are coveted, often more so than a regular starting player. For instance, I got Lucroy a few years back in exchange for a 13th round selection. This was a year before the Brewers backstop really broke out, and I was able to grab Villar and Travis Shaw--another gem I already swapped for a pair of middle relievers to try and stop leaking--within the late 20's rounds. And aside from queries for Piscotty and Calhoun, Lucroy and Villar were the points of interest along with my future draft picks.

Where things get silly to me is that I did make a swap of my catcher and back-up shortstop, exchanging them for Jose Abreu and Nathan Karns, but the offers for the pair ranged from the players I got, to the pair for a 24th rounder, to the pair for a 35th rounder. 

And, I do have to wonder if Lucroy and Villar are potential freezes next year, how could anyone offer less than a 10th round selection for either, let alone both.

I do get we often confuse the perceived value on draft day versus the actual value of a player today, but since the season has begun, the reality is those Draft Day thoughts and values mean nothing. What does matter are the contributions a player can make this year, and if the league is a keeper league, the potential disposition of said player in the coming season.

In other words, speculating on the value of Jackie Bradley, Jr., whom Larry Schechter purchased in Tout Wars for $5 (as opposed to the $7 I spent on Rusney Castillo) of what Bradley would have been had we known is as specious as trying to argue that JBJ only cost $5, so that should be factored into trade value.

Some years back--before the Giants won their three World Series titles--the Giants played a "What if Bobby Richardson had not caught Willie McCovey's line drive with runners on to end the 1962 World Series?" It was hopeless speculation for a team and city that simply had not won a title, and simply wanted to dream about it.

Those, I guess, are the guys I want to play against: the ones lost on "what if" instead of "what is."

I do love playing daily games, and of late I have been participating in a pair of leagues, the Bay Area Rotisserie-Fantasy (BARF) league as well as a FanTrax test league based largely on the monthly contests initiated by Ron Shandler at Shandler Park last season.

But, I have to confess, there are aspects of all these leagues and formats that drive me crazy, not so much because there are rules and formats, but in that I forget that I can stream players, change lineups, and so on. I don't think my frustration is actually rooted in being a cranky old man adjusting to the formats preferred by the next generation. Rather, I get busy and am simply not programmed to remember making moves on a more ad hoc basis than I did in the olden days.

So, in an effort to vent my frustration at my own forgetfullness, and thus achieve both a catharsis, and maybe help myself remember to make moves, I want to list some of the things that contribute to my regular utterances of "damn" when I check my teams and play.

1. Daily pitcher streaming - I get it. I like it. But, I also get distracted in the morning with various tasks--feeding the dog, making a tee time, going back to sleep--and I miss the boat on activating Mike Foltynewicz and Lance McCullers. I mean, can't Yahoo! send me a text reminder or something?

2. Hitting the save button in DFS games - I don't know why this particular function is so difficult for me, since every application and game in the galaxy seems to scream, "are you sure you want to make this move?" or "are you sure you want to save this?". But, no, I just seem to miss it. This weekend I missed in my Beat the Experts league I play at RealTime sports, when I pulled Max Scherzer for Friday's game in favor of Felix Hernandez, but missed hitting save. Ugh.

3. How come I can move players up and down on a daily basis, but I cannot snatch a player out of the free agent pool? - I can move Clayton Kershaw up and down daily in the BARF league, but if Ketel Marte is out, I have to wait till the next FAAB cycle to replace him? Bogus, no?

4. How come there are so many days of the week to have to remember all this stuff? - Ok, that is just a cranky old man query, but man, if scheduling and remembering what to do with which player in what league on which day is tough with two or three teams with even similar rules, how the hell can I remember in six leagues which all have different rules for different things on different days?

OK. I think I feel better now, although the rules are the rules and as such, I get to win and lose and live and die by them. But, at least until I check the boxes next--which I am just about to do--I will feel better.

Thank you for indulging me.

It is indeed awesome and wonderful watching David Ortiz blast his way through his final Major League season. At age 40, pushing through a last hurrah, Ortiz has a .312-10-34 line with a league leading .652 slugging percentage to go with a ridiculous 1.044 OPS.

In fact, Big Papi's final season reminds me of another Red Sox', when Ted Williams hit .316-29-72 during his final 1960 season, at age 41. With 513 homers to go with 600 doubles, Oritz will very likely join Williams in Cooperstown within the next decade.

Papi has become such a face of Boston, which is part of what makes his story so wonderful, and in fact, I am still trying to figure out why the Twins released the first baseman outright in 2002 following a pretty solid .272-20-75 season with a .839 OPS at age 26. I just cannot imagine what a team might be thinking in simply releasing such potential, but Boston did indeed see what Papi had to offer, signed him, and the rest, including three Series titles, is history as they say.

However, in the 20 years that Ortiz has been banging homers and boosting teams, he has never been a member of any of my fantasy teams. Big Papi is not alone, for some other players--Carlos Gomez, Jay Bruce, Rafael Palmeiro, Billy Hamilton spring to mind--have never graced my roster either.

I don't know about you, but while I look at players and numbers as the foundation of what I want for said dollars (or a snake draft selection), I also try to factor in upside and potential improvement over the previous season, balanced against the likelihood of a drop in numbers for whatever reason.

But, I have also held a sort of personal guideline that if a player had two less than stellar seasons, but a decent pedigree, that player was ripe for establishing himself (think Alex Gordon) while a player with a couple of good, and improved seasons might experience a correction, meaning don't pay too much for the resume.

Papi was always one of those guys, and by 2004, when he hit 41 homers, the price had simply gone too high for me in general. Plus, with each successive season, I felt a bad year was imminent. But, save a sort of blip in 2008 (.264-23-89) in a year that Ortiz hurt his wrist, Big Papi is just one of those hitters who could always hit.

So now, save some throw-in DFS plays here and there, Papi will ride off to the sunset without being on a roster of mine. He is, though, not alone as I have noted above with players who for some reason I dismissed. And, though I might have been wrong about them, once the dye was cast, well, these players never stood a chance.

For example, I was never a fan of either Jay Bruce or Adam Jones, and was discussing Jones just the other day with Todd.

"He has had pretty good numbers, but his on-base numbers just scare me," I noted to the esteemed Lord, finishing with, "and I am just sure he is living on balls in play that fall just right."

"True," retorted, Z, "save he is been living on those balls for six years now, so maybe he is better than you think."

Touche. But, once the fear of a bad season is there, it is difficult for me to shake.

When I started playing fantasy ball, Cal Ripken was already established as the best shortstop in the game, and in my AL-only set-up, he was worthy of a very high price. But he always cost upwards of 35 dollars for years. So, I always left the great Ripken alone, at least until his final year of play.

That year, 2001, happened to be my first year playing in Tout Wars. I remember nominating the then third sacker for a buck, and hearing crickets around the room, but this time, I realized a dollar pick of a full-time player was a good thing. And, the future Hall-of-Famer did get at-bats, but over the first half was hitting a meager .240-4-28. However, in July, the bat got hot and for the month Ripken was .368-5-16, earning my $1 investment right there. The Iron Man followed up with a passable .284-3-17, and helped me win my first title in the league.

There was no way I would have gotten Papi for a buck (Ortiz was $23 in Tout this year) but, well, I am sorry I never got to take advantage of the skills I knew the big first baseman had when the Twins let him go 15 years ago. And, I am indeed watching his curtain call with pleasure. 

I have always pushed more towards making sure my pitching is strong in my fantasy leagues over my hitting. It isn't that I neglect my batters, but rarely do I invest in a Giancarlo Stanton or Bryce Harper once such players manage a salary over $35 in auctions. As for straight drafts, I do look at hitters, but again, if Clayton Kershaw (who can alone help push pitching totals to the top of the standings) is available, that is my path.

In fact, when I think of the fun Bay Area Roto-Fantasy League (BARF), where I did indeed grab Kershaw with my first selection, I went A.J. Pollock with #2, and then Chris Sale as pick three, I have been struggling to replace my outfielder. But thankfully, my pitching is stable enough to keep my team in the hunt thus far.

But, aside from Kershaw, Sale, and that Jake Arrieta guy, the pitching aces of the year thus far are J.A. Happ, Rick Porcello and Mat Latos. David Price and Sonny Gray would be great only if their ERA's could be converted to batting average with the related numbers following in kind.

But, if we remember back to all the pre-season analysis and mock draft choices and flurries of experimentation, one thing was clear: there was no dearth of good pitchers. That meant sometimes stacking in favor of hurlers, and sometimes waiting until maybe the sixth round as I did as part of Howard Bender's (@rotobuzzguy) #MockDraftArmy.

In the end, I suspect most of us drafted and built our squads around paths and methods that are familiar to our respective comfort zones. Certainly in my most visible leagues--LABR and Tout AL--I went pitcher strong with the purchase of Chris Sale in LABR and both David Price and Sonny Gray in Tout.

Needless to say, I needn't go into the pain and concern I have around Price and Gray. But, in this year where we all knew pitching was abundant, how did the hurlers do versus the hitters in the Majors over the first month of the season? Mind you, pitchers usually do have the advantage over the first month of each year, when the combination of cold weather and timing give the tilt to the chuckers of the pill.

However, this year, at least over the first month, is not like last, as the pitcher's numbers below suggest:

Year K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA WAR
2016 8.15 3.30 1.06 3.98 65.5
2015 7.64 3.03 0.91 3.93 67.1

It is worthy of noting that in 2015, these totals involved 327 March/April games while this year, an additional 27 (354) games were played, and this difference is probably mostly due to rainouts and related schedule changes. But clearly, pitchers are biting it more than their hitting counterparts with nearly a half a run per game and .15 more dingers being hit this year. And, my suspicion is that control for pitchers might be a struggle, so although strikeouts are up, so are walks. This suggests that in critical situations, hurlers are pointing towards their power. Although that means strikeouts, it also means walks, hits, and homers as pitchers are forced into the middle of the zone. 

Similarly, adjusting these numbers around the Rays and Astros--both of whom are on pace to set seasonal records for whiffs--might be appropriate as the season progresses. But for now, the numbers speak for themselves.

What about the yang hitter's numbers to the pitcher's yin?

Year PA HR R RBI AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
2016 26757 740 3001 2863 .249 .319 .405 .316 95
2015 24708 592 2794 2645 .250 .315 .390 .307 92

Again, let's remember there were 27 more games played in 2016, but what jumps out are the 148 more homers hit, which breaks down to 5.48 homers per game over those unplayed contests.

And, though certainly strikeouts are up this year, average and OBP are pretty much the same between the two seasons. But the .015 bump in slugging is hardly insignificant.

Obviously, my "bed" is literally made at this point of the season, and I owe it to Price, Gray, and my own plotting to stick things out at least through June before I decide time is short and desperate times are upon my squads. And, knowing that hitters usually find their own zone with the warm weather not only makes me nervous, but has me thinking about just what I might even be able to do come July if pitchers are nothing and hitters are everything?

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