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Sunday 29th May 2016

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?

Since it is Mother's Day, aside from wishing all the women out there--mothers or not--the best of days, since Zach is likely taking care of familial duties, we have a special Sunday Bed Goes Up that maybe mom can read on her notebook, in bed, while you are delivering coffee and croissant.

Yesterday morning I did my due diligence, and after reviewing Lord Z's Daily Projections I made my plays at RealTime, and went about my Saturday. It was a quiet one as I usually play 18-holes on Saturdays with my mates Eric Hedgecock, Bob Ferrero, and Dave Eary, but Eric was out-of-town, with Dave and Bob having a last minute commitment they had to attend.

As Bob, Dave and I played Thursday, and I got another 18 in Friday, and since a spate of May showers were set for the weekend, I decided to bag playing and hang around the house with Diane, watching baseball, writing a little, playing Strat-O-Matic games, and messing around with my guitar solo practice.

So, I picked my roster early, had a couple of pivot plays, and monitored to ensure a full complement of players. One of my plays was Martin Prado, facing the ever-porous Jeremy Hellickson with his 1.391 WHIP and league leading nine homers allowed, but I got the word that Prado would not be starting Saturday.

Prado was a $3900 buy, and I had $300 in my cap left, but the only choice if moving up was Yunel Escobar ($4000) in a match-up, and looking down since, it was late in the day meaning most players were locked, my only reasonable choices moving down were Brandon Drury ($3000), Luis Valbuena ($3400), and Aaron Hill ($3500). Similarly, because it was late in the day, a lot of my players were also locked in meaning most of my pivots had already made their points.

Among the four--Escobar, Drury, Valbuena, and Hill--Drury was the most appealing, but for some odd reason I pulled up Aaron Hill's numbers, which were terrible at .171-1-8 over 85 at-bats. What was encouraging was that Hill had hit safely his last seven games (how terrible was his average before that streak?), so I shrugged, feeling rather stuck, and thinking Hill was due, reluctantly clicked on his name, adding the Brewer to my active roster.

Chris Sale and Bartolo Colon were my hurlers for the day, and going with Colon at $5600, I was able to parlay a fine outfield of Ryan Braun ($5900 and eight points), Christian Yelich ($5200 and five points), and Yoenis Cespedes ($5400 and nine points for a player I think is as good and dangerous as Giancarlo Stanton) so as the evening contests started, my point total was pretty good with or without Hill and it looked like I would indeed finish in the moolah.

It was late enough in the evening that Diane and I turned baseball off, and started catching up with Season 6 of Downton Abbey, but I kept my iPhone handy to score check, and laughed aloud when I saw Hill hit his first homer. After the numbers for the second dinger posted, I again chuckled now knowing I would win the daily challenge. And, then the third homer posted pushing Hill's totals for the day to 22 amazing points: probably more than he had scored this entire season before yesterday.

I confess, I am a stat guy, although I don't look at the minutiae most serious fantasy geeks use. I believe heavily in WHIP and OBP as source numbers, and strikeouts-to-at-bats as well as whiffs-to-walks and of course strikeouts-to-innings, but I also feel all the other numbers we look at are subsets of strikeouts and walks in some permutation. For, the bottom line is pitchers who keep runners off the bases will likely be successful, just as hitters who can get on base will be worthy of investment.

But I also understand we touch luck on a daily basis; but, most of the time that said gift is invisible to us.

However, I am unsure about the confluence of stat scrounging and luck that hit Aaron Hill and me at the same place at the same time yesterday.

If you think, though, that I am reducing my DFS win to luck, remember without Hill my squad still banged out an impressive 61.66 points, and a goose-egg out of third base would have still landed me in second place, one point behind Czervik67 who bested the fifth placers by another seven points. But, just a walk from my third base spot would have meant a tie, and anything above was still a win.

I think what it boils down to is to do your homework, but also trust your instincts. And, in this case, with limited choices at all positions my instincts pointed to Hill, and luck did do the rest.

However, the bottom line is that without having done the work in picking the rest of my roster, said luck might well just have been one of those invisible moments of the commodity.

For, the best way to take advantage of luck is to put oneself in the position to be able to do just that. Otherwise, it isn't luck, but rather just a missed opportunity.

Please feel free to comment below, and don't forget you can hit me up @lawrmichaels.

 

Sometimes, when it comes time to watch a ballgame, I find myself resorting to my infancy. Since I am indeed growing older, and since for some odd karmic reason as humans age, we revert to much of the form and needs that we had when we first arrived on planet Earth.

Specifically, if you have ever played with a baby--one old enough to play peek-a-boo, that is--remember how it was easy to feign disappearing by simply covering one's eyes.

I always thought of that as a sort of silly variation of playing god, but really I always associate said silliness with watching my fantasy pitchers, in particular.

Every year it seems, I need to be reminded that whenever--and I mean whenever--I turn on the tube to watch one of my pitchers, it is trouble. I know this is stupid, and as specious an argument as saying hot streaks should be factored into selecting a DFS player.

Except that sometimes, at the right time, that hunch player comes through. Of course, we do have to remember a big day is an isolated incident in the scheme of a true pattern of statistics a player might accumulate. But, similarly for most of us, a hot streak is almost impossible to ignore.

So, it only makes sense that when I turned on the Yankees and Red Sox on Sunday evening, I felt good about David Price going against Nathan Eovaldi, both of whom are members of my A.L. Tout Wars rotation.

Aside from the fun of a New York/Boston game, which is always full of fun and drama and hijinks, Price was coming off his best start of the year after striking out 14 Braves while Eovaldi had just twirled seven no-hit innings against the Rangers. I was anticipating a nice 2-1 game where each hurler bagged 10 whiffs and maybe I could squeeze a win.

If you watched, however, you know that both pitchers struggled over 12 aggregate innings (seven for Price, five for Eovaldi), allowing 12 runs, 18 hits and four walks with six whiffs. Somehow through providence, Price wound up with a victory, but the pair donated a WHIP of 1.83 to go with an ERA of 9.00.

I did start watching, and as soon as the game went awry for Eovaldi, I turned to Adult Swim, but during commercials and moments of inconsistent self-control, the game would re-appear and pow, as soon as I watched, something bad would happen.

Just this year I can think of a half-dozen like-situations, like Kendall Graveman, who was cruising his first three starts, with a win, a loss and a no-decision. But in the two starts where I challenged the rules of the universe and watched? How about 11 innings, 20 hits and ten runs.

Again, not only do I know this is stupid to think my detached watching of a quasi cathode ray tube could have much effect upon anything other than my brain's continued deterioration, but when I watch, it doesn't feel that way. And, as soon as I throw up my hands, after an untimely extra-base hit, and sigh "why do I watch my players?", Diane laughs and says, "Yes, you did that. Now end world hunger and all wars next, please."

I know she is right. Really, I know all of you who are laughing at my National Enquirer logic are laughing too. Ok.

Just answer this for me: When I turned on Sonny Gray Tuesday evening, the game was just through a pair of innings, and Sonny had just retired Ketel Marte when Steve Clevenger singled on the first pitch I saw. Before I could draw a glass of water, Leonys Martin smacked a two-run homer.

Say what you will. I am staying away for the good of the team.

Feel free to comment below, and you can always hit me up @lawrmichaels.

This is my third season since I ceased scoring games for MLB.com. It was a great job, but especially with my demanding ATT job, and my writing responsibilities, it was all just too much and the reality is by the end I was spread so thin that something had to go.

As it turned out, a year later I did retire from ATT, and I have thought about scoring once again should the opportunity present itself, but the bottom line is I like that I don't have to be at the ballpark two or three days a week for half the year. And, it isn't that I dislike the yard, but rather, I have indeed been to enough games and I like that I can do what I want when I want.

Still, there are things I really miss about being in the thick of the action in the press box at the ballpark, for the statistician gig was one where the data caster had to make sure and notch every pitch, and the relative disposition thereof, in real time. My seat was always next to the Official Scorer, and at ATT Park our seats were directly behind home plate, where we had the premiere view of the incoming pitch and subsequent play.

Breaking baseball down like that, virtually pitch-by-pitch, was a wonderful thing for me in terms of dissecting the game, and more important, for trusting my ability to see a player succeed or fail with my own eyes. And, the truth is, I have noticed players or skills over the years, and have often dismissed what I saw (or thought I saw) in deference to a scout or coach or person whom I thought had a greater knowledge of the game than I.

After all, I did not play the game above a competitive after work mid-week coed softball level ever, so how I would know to watch a player's feet as the first indicator of a potential steal was something I never would have known had Ron Washington not told me.

I do miss seeing little things, though. Like the snap on Sergio Romo's slider, which, when Romo was on, was the most wicked and controlled pitch I have seen short of Dennis Eckersley's version.

I remember the first time I saw both Kyle Seager and Matt Duffy swing the bat, both at spring training, and both with just lovely and easy and graceful line drive swings that just screamed to me, "I can hit. Trust me, I can hit."

Mostly, though, the clues to success I picked up had to do with pitchers. I was fortunate to score Tim Lincecum's very first start (five innings, five walks, five whiffs, if memory serves) and the bulk of Matt Cain's rise to stardom. They had wicked stuff, but I could tell when both were losing their games.

In Lincecum, it seemed he could not adjust to hitters laying off his slider that actually broke a foot before the plate, but ultimately, for both, suddenly one day neither could make the big pitch when they needed to. Say what you will about velocity and control and variation of pitches, but for me, the real strength of the game comes from first the rhythm the pitcher establishes, and second, the said hurler's confidence in being able to simply get the next out.

Because in both Cain and Lincecum, if nothing else, the look in their respective eyes when they made a pitch that said "I own you" to the hitter was a look I saw over a thousand times with each before something happened and suddenly both pitchers slipped into "I hope I can get you out," and then to "you are probably going to get a hit and there is not much I can do about it" that each now wears.

It is a tough game, but when watching one of the new Giants pitchers, Johnny Cueto, do his thing the other night, I was reminded that I did indeed also score the then Reds pitcher his first year, and he had electric stuff. And that reminded me of two other pitchers I saw during their first tour, Nathan Eovaldi and Edinson Volquez.

In fact, one reason I have always been good with rostering any of that troika is that over the last few years of my tracking every pitch, they were the livest arms of all.

And, it is why I still think each has their biggest season ahead of them.

For example, Volquez is still just 32, and while he did get knocked around by the Angels in his last start, he is indeed throwing in the mid-90's. He still has some of that movement, but he has also learned to pitch, something unfortunately it seems Lincecum could never really get. And, Volquez is on a very good team.

Cueto is just 30, with a big contract in San Francisco, where the right-hander has the role of #2 starter behind Madison Bumgarner. He too has that movement, and he too has learned to set up his pitches, so again, I expect a big year with the Giants and for the Giants.

But, the last player, Eovaldi, might still surprise you. When he debuted, Eovaldi was a young Dodger who clocked at a little over 100 MPH with his fastball.

Eovaldi, though, is still just 26, meaning he is just moving into those prime years of ages 28-32. Eovaldi has had two bad innings this year and the results are the 4.38 ERA, but with that is a 1.135 WHIP and 28 strikeouts over 24.3 innings, and Yankees or not, I think Eovaldi is on the verge of becoming the monster arm I anticipated in 2011. And, the no-hitter Eovaldi carried into the seventh inning earlier this week tells me things are changing for the 11th round selection of the Bums in 2008.

In fact, I would own all three if I could, especially the lesser valued Volquez and Eovaldi, who might still be on your league's waiver wire.

 

Second guessing seems to be second nature for most of us.

And, it isn't like I cannot be decisive, although if I cannot decide between the grass fed beef strip steak or the fresh coho salmon until the waiter in the restaurant is standing over me, order pad in hand, tapping his pen waiting for me to choose. Although the good news is once I have placed my order, I rarely wish I had ordered something else.

Truth is when I was younger I did second guess almost everything I did. Which job I accepted, or whether it would have been smarter to throw in with this girl rather than that. 

When I started playing fantasy baseball, however, second guessing haunted me almost on a daily basis as it seemed no matter who I had on my squad, a player I had thought about drafting was hot.

In 2001, my first year in Tout Wars, I had picked up Raul Ibanez for my reserve list. As the season progressed, I made some trades and Ibanez' totals were not that strong, and the outfielder lost to the roster numbers game and went into the free agent pool.

Another owner (I think it was Jim Callis) snatched Ibanez up, and the Royal established himself as an everyday player with a .288-8-35 second half that still grates on my nerves. The stupid thing is I won that year, meaning I didn't need Ibanez or his homers or RBI, but the fact that I let that production go still sticks in my craw 15 years later.

At some point within my first years of playing fantasy ball, I did have this realization about doubting my choices in life, especially in the game I loved, so I made a decision: I could not second guess any aspect of my life except fantasy ball.

In reaching this internal accord, I did not think my internal doubt mechanism would lessen, let alone stop, but I did realize that as much as I cared about my teams, this was the one aspect of my life where it didn't matter if I questioned myself ex post facto.

However, as I yielded to my own indecision, I found it easier to stop my internal doubting Thomas for some reason, determining that at any given time I was making the best possible decision for my team at large, and not to worry about the details: it was the team and results, not necessarily this move or that move that brought success or failure.

This has all worked pretty well until I started playing daily games, where sticking to my guns has hit me in the parental context of "do what I say, not what I do."

Just yesterday, Lord Zola and I were discussing our daily rosters and he noted, "I screwed up tonight - last second got fancy - put in Finnegan, took out Zob and Bryant - making it worse is I was using Arrieta who's facing Finnegan."

Of course, I commiserated with Z, but then noted, "Once I pick, that is it. I try to forget it for every time I change my original lineup, I regret not trusting my initial plays and instincts." This was after the monster 16-0 no-no Thursday.

That held true for almost 12 hours this last instance, for yesterday afternoon I entered my Tout Wars and Beat the Expert rosters, going with Robinson Cano at second, Ryan Howard at first, and Matt Duffy at third.

When I select my lineup so much earlier than first pitch the following day, I do always go back in, check the weather, make sure starters--like Felix Hernandez who was slated to start Friday but fell to a bug and was scratched--are indeed slated to play.

Aside from that, I try to trust those first instincts as my inner voice usually knows much more clearly what to do than my conscious rational one. 

But, as I reviewed my roster, and the starting pitchers, I simply could not resist adjusting my roster, and swapping out Howard for Chris Davis (facing the Royals' very hittable Chris Young), putting the red-hot Josh Harrison (8-for-22, with six runs, five RBI, and three swipes this past week) against Patrick Corbin in Arizona, and then Nick Castellanos at third facing another hittable arm in Josh Tomlin.

So, I remade my bed as they say, and this is what I will die with barring any rainouts, but now I am second-guessing the dropping of Cano and Howard (not so much Duffy, but that means he will likely have the biggest day), and I am almost hoping my also ran selections have a bad game even if my guys do. 

But, I also have a healthy respect for karma, and throwing negative energy out into the universe is not something a Zen Master would advocate. (Neither is schadenfreude, for that matter.)

I guess the bottom line is that I might understand the balance of the universe, but when it comes to fantasy ball, winning is everything, right?

My first year of playing Fantasy Ball, in 1988, I learned a lot simply by going through the season-long process. 

The most important thing I got was baseball in your head is not baseball on the field, meaning Wade Boggs was just not as valuable on your roster as he was on the Red Sox.

Another thing I got was a team wins with great $1 values. Miguel Cabrera at $38 might give a stat base, but a $1 Mark Canha is what pushes the numbers over the top.

And, I also learned a slow start for a team, and some players with hot starts is not necessarily the best combination for those of us playing season long formats.

That first year, one of the cheap buys I dismissed was Tom Brookens, then with the Tigers. The third sacker started out that season red hot, hitting .346-1-10 with a steal and 11 runs over April, and all I could do was kick myself for thinking Jim Presley had any redeeming social value at all. 

In fact, Brookens' owner, Terry Shelley, had his team, "The Terry Cloth Jocks," in first place, a slot he held going into the All-Star break.

In the end, Brookens finished .243-5-38 with four steals and 62 runs, meaning the bulk of his production was done, and the Jocks slipped into the lower half of the standings, out of the moolah. Presley finished .230-14-62 with three swipes, by the way with both costing around $7, if memory serves.

Cut to 1994, when the Cubs' Tuffy Rhodes hit three Opening Day homers at a time when most drafts and auctions were still held the first weekend after the start of the season, jacking his auction salary to $17 in my local league. By season's end, Tuffy finished .234-8-19, and I cannot remember where his roto team placed, but I know I won that year and Rhodes was certainly not on my squad.

What about 2006, when Tiger Chris Shelton clobbered ten homers in April, completing the first month of play with a .326-10-20 mark, yet by the end of the season was .273-16-47?

How about last year when Nick Martinez was 4-0, 2.36 going into the final week of May over nine starts and 55 innings, but finished 7-7, 3.96, and in the pen?

Obviously, maintaining such a level of play over the grind of 162 games is beyond difficult, and certainly, numbers are numbers and it is as foolish to completely dismiss a hot streak a la Shelton as it is a cold streak a la Yonder Alonso. But, over the course of the season, things have a way of evening out and while a vigilant owner must keep eyes on the trees, similarly, the forest and relative environmental impacts must also be considered.

In fact, though it is tough to see one's team among those at the bottom of the pecking order, let me remind that this is the best time to be there, for this is exactly when players who are still in the free agent pool can be had with ideally a maximum of innings or at-bats ahead, at the lowest possible cost.

And, since your team might be floundering, you too will be looking to tweak your lineup and the big place to patch holes is within said free agent market, while a dominant team, like Terry Shelley's Brookens squad, tend to leave things along and let the players play and not fix what doesn't appear to be "broke."

The reality is if your team is in first, never sit back and take it for granted until the season is over, or by the time Brookens has chilled, it is too late, while if your squad is in last and you have a chance to plug a questionable hole with Nomar Mazara, well, now is the time.

Similarly, if you are a Miguel Sano owner, take a deep breath and give the investment a chance to do what you thought the Twin could do when you drafted him.

Cause it is indeed a long season.

I was in the press box, working the Giants/Marlins game on May 25, 2011, when Emilio Bonifacio hit a short fly to right in the top of the 12th inning with Scott Cousins on third of a tie game.

When the ball was hit, we could all see Cousins poised to head for the plate just as we could all see Giants backstop Buster Posey brace himself while strong-armed Nate Schierholtz set under the fly, ready to throw to the plate. As this transpired, those of us in the booth were on our feet for we all knew there was a play at the plate and there was going to be a collision.

Of course the fallout from that play is well documented: Buster busted his leg, Cousins scored, the Giants back was largely broken then for the game and the season, and three years later the new rules about sliding into home was enforced. The new rule, 7.13, states "a runner attempting to score may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate)."

My truth is that I never ever want to see anyone get injured doing much of anything, and I get the Giants have a serious financial investment in Posey: one they want to protect at all costs to get the value out of said investment and fuel their team, ideally to a Series win.

And, I know I am kind of turning into a cranky old man (#iambecomingabesimpson) in a lot of ways, but similarly, I understand times change and baseball indeed must change with the times, not just to keep players as safe as permits, but to keep the baseball competitive and fan interest of this wonderful game growing and engaged.

Now, though, we have rule 6.01 which was invoked the other day, adjudicating that Jose Bautista went out of the baseline and attempted to disrupt second sacker Logan Forsythe, and as a result a game ending double play was called and that was that. This new law is known as "the Utley rule," after the Dodger second sacker's hard slide into Ruben Tejada last fall, for like Posey, that was it for the year for Tejada, although the remainder of the season was a lot less at the time.

As noted, change is inevitable, and safety is important, but at what point does the abandon with which the game is played becomes trumped by fear of infraction? I am thinking of Frank Robinson and Bill Buckner and David Eckstein and Brett Butler, all of whom played with dirty uniforms all the time, all of whom did not play to hurt the opposition, but to essentially win the play, and part of the game was that guys sometimes got hurt. That is what happened to Posey, and I believe to Tejada.

One of the problems with rules like 6.01 is the change really needs to be made from the bottom up, not the top down. In other words, t-ball and little leagues and then Pony and American Legion Leagues, and high schools, and then colleges all need to start teach the way to play is within the confines of the new rules, and as such they need to be strictly enforced all around.

I realize there are rules around such sliding in most little leagues, but suspect things get looser in high school and leagues like the American Legion, where the way the game was taught to be played was in trying to take out the guy receiving the ball if you could disrupt the play. Baseball has always been played as such, but even if little leagues ban the "take out" play, if colleges and other organized leagues and constructs don't, then there is no way for a player to consistently make "the correct" decision when coming into a base as part of a big play. 

I suspect both Utley and Bautista were indeed trying to do just that, and that is something that again has been taught always, so, how a 30-year old, who has been playing a certain way for 25 of those years, is suddenly supposed to retrain his muscle memory in what is really a pressure situation is beyond me.

To me, the issue is one of consistency, for again, unless some variation of the Utley rule is not embraced by all factions and levels playing baseball, we are asking for more confusion and upset than we already have.

More so, I understand fans like offense, and though I prefer no DH--for part of the beauty of baseball is everyone is supposed to show they can play both offense and defense--I can accept it. But, I just wish both leagues would simply follow the same rules, just to invoke that same kind of consistency.

I am on record to being against the use of instant replay, because baseball is a game played by human beings, and judged by human beings (you know, those guys we call umpires) and I simply think in the long run the replay undermines the authority of those umps, who do make mistakes, but not that many when one considers the number of calls made. Furthermore, more than often, even with the camera and film and slow motion, it is still not possible to see exactly what happened. But, the real nail in that coffin is one of the other beauties of baseball is the good breaks and the bad ones tend to even out, meaning justice finds a way to show her strength, whether we like it or not.

I hate to think that Rule 6.01 is just another aspect of our increasingly sentimental culture, that insists everyone get a trophy and that we are all winners. Don't get me wrong, I am all for supporting our fellow humans and encouraging folks to be their best, but I also believe (self) acceptance and success are different things. And, they are neither inclusive, nor exclusive.

Because like it or not, Rule 6.01 changes a lot of the game at its core, further blurring those lines between good competitive play and limiting the ability of a player to fully utilize his skill set and play the game using all the athletic and mental resources at his disposal.

Because if that becomes the norm, it would indeed be another shame for our species at large, not just baseball.

 

It is indeed the big NFBC draft weekend, and over the next week most of you will indeed be in bars and rec rooms and living rooms buying and/or drafting your team for 2016. Maybe it is a throwback league and you are drafting from scratch, or perhaps you are in an Ultra league salivating at the chance that Braxton Davidson--currently on your reserve list--might be brought up sometime later this season.

Irrespective, draft day is pretty much like Christmas day when we were younger: much anticipated, exciting, but fraught with hopes that players will fall to you and that it is possible to walk away from the draft with something that resembles a competitive team.

As a result of this, and as a public service, let me give you all five things to remember while you are drafting that will ideally help make the day a little more relaxing and maybe even a success, to boot.

  • In general there are a lot of players to be rostered with a myriad of varied skills. If you have you heart set on Giancarlo Stanton, but he goes too soon, or simply cost more than you budgeted, don't panic. There are a million ways to skin your league mates and the possibilities of C.J. Cron and Yoenis Cespedes could fetch the same as Stanton and even produce more. Just stay open and flexible and always have a couple of players you are willing to nominate and two or three paths your team assembly can take
  • Forget about percentage breakdowns spent between hitting and pitching. Honestly, I don't know why anyone would care about this save for some anecdotal purpose during or just after the draft, and maybe to run some stats on comparing auctions and prices of a bunch of leagues just to see what that info points to. But, essentially, you are filling a roster with the players you think will win. Your conviction and belief in said players should be a lot more valuable than how you broke down your bucks spent. And, obviously, balance is critical, so think more in terms of drafting a balanced roster rather than whether to spend 28% or 32% of you budget on pitchers.
  • Never let a bargain by. So, you hate Billy Butler, who went for $2 at LABR at the beginning of the auction, and had I not already grabbed Evan Gattis, I surely would have bid $3 for an everyday hitter with .260-15-70 capabilities in a deep league for $3. Someone else should have, like Butler or not. All that really matters is the hitter or pitcher deliver numbers and turn a profit, something Butler will do at $2, whether you love him or hate him.
  • As I have been saying, don't be afraid to fail big, which means it is OK to take some chances. Just not too many, and balance the two or three crapshoots you wish to make with a remaining roster of steady productive players who can indeed push your team's numbers in the right direction. But, there is so much information out in the ether, and so many chances for us to second guess or fear a mistake that in the throes of the draft, it is easy to forget this and chicken out. Mind you, I am not saying draft Eduardo Escobar thinking he will hit 20 dingers, but Escobar can hit eight and if you have a feeling he could push the total to 13 or so this year, fine, don't be afraid to bet on it. Just try to be objective in said acquisitions so that, as noted, your roster has that solid base and some upside.
  • Have fun. I can never say this enough as it is so easy to take fantasy and our leagues so seriously, but, remember: Fantasy is a game based upon another game where we watch a guy try to hit a ball with a stick. Play to win, but not at the expense of much of anything else, right? Cos we do it for fun. Right?
  • A few names to remember late: Jonathan Villar, Leonys Martin, Travis Shaw, A.J. Reed, Colin Rea, Ben Paulsen, Marwin Gonzalez, and Tyler Naquin.

The Conundrum

I was talking with my Wednesday golf partner, Brent Harrah, while we were playing a month back. We were discussing the OJ Simpson docudrama that was airing on TV, and Brent and his wife were digging it, while my wife, Diane and I thought it was beyond boring.

But, what I discovered with Brent, and then talking to a few other folks his age (he is 31 to my 63) is that most of the next generation liked the show a lot because they sort of remember the Bronco chase and ensuing trial of the century, but never really knew the details. Obviously, this was a different experience than that of Diane and me, who watched the whole messy affair on television.

So, cut to my Scoresheet team, where my mate in the Murphy League and RotoWire brainchild Jeff Erickson found himself with a treasured surplus of shortstops. Erickson had Xander Bogaerts and Corey Seager on his roster, and since we were approaching freeze list Friday, he offered a shortstop around for something “significant.”

I made an offer, but in the end, Jeff was able to swap off Seager for Chris Sale, which struck me as lopsided, and whereas I am never one to protest a trade, I am more than vocal with my opinion.

I asked Jeff about it—trading arguably the best pitcher in the American League for a guy with less than 150 at-bats—and he said this was commensurate with other offers he received, and even noted a few to me.

This struck the slowly turning into an old man (#iambecomingabesimpson) part of me, and over the LABR and then Tout Wars weekends, I found myself asking a number of my industry mates, both from my generation, and then Brent’s, what they thought about the swap.

The most cogent and interesting response was actually from my Mastersball mate, Brian Walton (of my generation), who noted “If they were both in an auction today, they would probably fetch just about the same price.” Brian also noted—at least before Seager’s spring injury—that both players would likely be gone by the start of Round 4. Both of which are probably true.

But, aside from that lovely theorem, I found an interesting generation gap in talking to my industry counterparts, and I think that points to changes in the way fantasy ball is played, in that younger players—say those of Brent’s generation—are much more willing to give up the potential safety of Sale in favor of the potential, despite the risk, of Seager.

The more I discussed with my mates, the more I wondered, and the more I wondered, thoughts about the evolution of fantasy baseball and more important, baseball on the field cropped up. As a result, I put together some numbers and questions to both understand and contextualize my colleague’s words and opinions, and see just how different the game is viewed at its core with respect to said risk management.

When I started playing rotisserie baseball, in 1988, there were no reserve lists with prospects or Ultra Leagues. In fact, in my home league, when we finished our auction in 1989, we allowed for a reserve list for a first time, and I made my top pick Ben McDonald, the then LSU #1 prospect whom it was speculated would be signed by the Orioles (it was an AL-only league, so I took the gamble).

That move initially rankled my league mates, who protested that we could not draft amateurs, although when I pointed out the rules said nothing about from where reserve picks could be drawn, they dropped the protest and started nabbing prospects themselves.

I lucked out that year, as McDonald was drafted by the Orioles, and got an August call-up even, but that was not the norm as even then most prospects still got two or three years in the minors before they even got a look at live major league hitters or pitchers.

And, with that, it took a while as players might make the roster, but another year or two and then a starting gig would come. The bottom line was in a game where at-bats and innings were everything—and success within that construct was critical—rookies in general made bad choices when building a fantasy roster and reserve list to compete in the current year (though as Ultra Leagues evolved, selecting younger crapshoot players has become beyond the norm).

That is because some confluence of age, experience, skill, and opportunity was a lot more fleeting in a world where aging Mike Gallego would get playing time every day over Kolten Wong.

That was the rule of thumb for a decade, and then Albert Pujols appeared in 2001 and showed us that sometimes a player is indeed so advanced at a young age, he can just do it all from the get go.

Pujols—who was not a first rounder when he came up, but did open the door to the possibilities—whet the appetites of fantasy players all over with the promise of guys like Josh Hamilton and Jeremy Hermida and Gordon Beckham and Sean Burroughs and other seemingly first round killer MLB June draft selections whom it was hoped could replicate Pujols’ success.

In thinking about this, about the fact that fantasy baseball is now a pretty well-established 25-years old, and that the generation who knew about OJ, but did not remember the details, it occurred to me that there is a gap that has appeared between those Boomers who started playing before the internet and smart phones, and the GenXer’s who have grown up with commissioner services, ADP, and the promise of another Mike Trout and Jose Fernandez. Note: A lot of those participating are too old to be GenX’ers, and not quite old enough to be Boomers. They are sort of Tweeners, but for the purposes of this piece, I lumped the generations together.

The Poll

At the suggestion of Larry Schechter, six-time Tout Wars champ and author of Winning Fantasy Baseball, I ran a poll of the Touts to get a little data and see if my notions of differences in generational strategy had any validity.  So, I sent a simple poll to the Touts (of which there are about 70 when we consider all five leagues) asking whether they would make the Seager/Sale swap. I got 32 responses to three questions:

1. Was the trade of Corey Seager for Chris Sale a good one?
2. Would you make the trade?
3. How old are you?

In support of the question, I noted that the Scoresheet League, in which the trade was made, allows for eight soft keepers plus one rookie we can protect in the 19th round. For the uninitiated, a soft eight—in the 24-team Murphy League—allows owners to freeze less than the limit of eight. Those teams who choose that path then draft out of the free agent pool and throw backs until all 24 teams have eight players, and then the draft proper begins. And, part of the value in swapping Seager was that the shortstop still qualified as a rookie, and as such could be carried as a 19th round pick. That means the team owning the rights to the young Dodger could freeze him as a ninth Major Leaguer, buried in Round 19.

Scoresheet is a head-to-head format, and is a keeper league, so obviously trading for this year as opposed to building for the future would always be a consideration. But for the purposes of my questions, I asked folks to think in that context of Brian Walton. Was the talent swap even in their opinion, and bearing that in mind, was it worth the risk?

Of the 32 respondents, 12 said it was a good trade, though only 10 said they would make the swap, while the age range ran from 28 to 65 years of age.

And, within those constructs, the average age of those who thought the deal was good and they would make it is 38.15 while the average age of those who would not make the trade is 56.33, meaning those of Brent’s “I just missed OJ” generation are much more willing than those of my “I am drinking more Maalox every day crowd” to take the plunge.

So, then the question(s) become(s) what had brought on this change in basic strategy from those of us who knew OJ Simpson first as a 2002-yard running back with the Bills, while the GenX’ers see him in an orange jump suit?

I think there are a couple of reasons for this change.

First, the number of rookies who are afforded an opportunity to play—and now start—at the Major League level has changed dramatically since my first year of rotoball in 1988. For, if we review the chart below--with numbers culled from Baseball-Reference--we can see how the number of rookies making an MLB debut has increased from my first year of play to last season.

While determining what years would be representative, I did indeed start with 1988 and then selected a few other seasons to compare and contrast. The seasons and thoughts are below.

  • 1988: My first year playing roto ball.
  • 1992: Year before expansion, as a means of comparison.
  • 1993: Year of expansion, with a major jump in promotions.
  • 1998: Last year of an expansion.
  • 2001: The debut of Albert Pujols.
  • 2010: Ten years after.
  • 2015: Because I noticed so many rookies being promoted, which is what triggered all this mess.
Year Hitters Debuting Pitchers Debuting Total
1988 141 86 227
1992 162 77 239
1993 203 104 307
1998 208 105 313
2001 199 116 315
2010 203 117 320
2015 227 150 377
 

In looking at those numbers, the obvious point of interest is that 150 more players tossed their first pitch or swung the bat for the first time in 2015 as opposed to 1988. We do have to take into account the roster expansions of 1993 (adding the Rockies and Marlins) and again in 1998 (with the addition of the Diamondbacks and Rays) creating the present 30-team model.

Interestingly, the big jump did seem to occur with the 1993 expansion, which pushed the number of debuts over the 300 mark for the first time, while oddly just five years later, and with the addition of those final two squads, the gross number barely ticked up.

Over the past five years, however, the number of debuts has jumped by 20% of the total pool, a huge increase in players and opportunities.

Furthermore, when we think to last year and Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa, Kyle Schwarber, Aaron Nola, and of course Corey Seager, it is hard to remember one season that included so many potentially prominent and dominant first-year players.

So, certainly the player pool, and more important, the reserve lists like that of Jeff Erickson, present the opportunity that make that risky play of swapping a solid starter for some serious everyday counting statistics.

The Observations

So, what do we conclude from all this?

Before attempting to address this, I believe there is one more factor influencing the GenX’ers and their apparent willingness to part with a steady star for a potential one.

My parents were of the post-depression generation that told us to go to college, get a job, stay with the company for 40 years and retire with a watch and a nice pension. But, keep life safe and secure, always knowing what lies ahead.

That worked largely for Boomers, but for the next generation, who grew up as clever and ubiquitous terms like “down-sizing” and “re-engineering” were created to mask the fact that the company was really cutting staff, there was a shock in discovering the corporate world was not nearly as safe as our parents advised.

Though I would need Margaret Mead or Louis Leakey to analyze and validate the anecdotal aspects of my sociological observations, for now it seems that the Boomers, raised under the aegis of living life carefully and indeed mitigating as much risk as humanly possible, would covet the ownership of Sale.

Conversely, the GenExers who now play fantasy ball—and often grew up with it as a normalcy as opposed to an eccentric game—often graduate from college with huge debt and in what has sometimes been a volatile job market. Couple that with the increased influx of tempting rookies and presence of the daily format and taking a chance on Corey Seager is a gamble, but one to be grabbed at with hope and possibilities as opposed to the fear of making a bad mistake.

In that sense, the game has changed, and perhaps I need to change my game a little accordingly.

In fact, one of the questions I was asked a lot as I prepped for LABR and Tout was “How do you win in such a league?”

To me, the obvious answer is know the rules and know the player pool inside and out. It does help to have drafted with your league mates previously, as that will give a hint as to how your opponents might assess talent and draft.

But, when I think about my biggest successes in playing fantasy ball, they were all the result of taking one or two big risks, be they at the draft table or making a trade. Similarly, it can be easy to be caught flat-footed with your team, both during the season, and season-to-season by adopting a strategy and then sticking with it while never really adjusting to changes in baseball, real and fantasy, both of which are indeed fluid.

So, make sure you do pay attention to trends both short and long term while prepping for your drafts and auctions. And, don’t be afraid to fail big, for if you are willing to fail big, you then stand a better chance of winning big.

I welcome your feedback on the topic. You can comment below, or catch me @lawrmichaels.

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