I always kind of crack up when my friends suggest that with the baseball season over, with the fall comes some down time. Surely, there is football to distract me from the respite suggested. But, those of us in the industry know that the span between now and the crazy culmination of travel and drafts that accompany spring training and the start of the season is not long.
Aside from writing profiles (if you ever want to prep for a draft or auction, try writing a few hundred!), this is the time of year that articles and projections and analysis and mock drafts with comments are all coordinated and sent off for publication. So far, I have participated in a couple.
Since we are essentially four months from the chaos of March, there have been surprises in the mocks I have witnessed. So, in order to whet your appetite a bit, as well as get your brain moving for the spring, here are indeed some of the surprises.
Carlos Correa (SS, Astros): Correa was a top five pick in both mocks, which makes him the hottest rookie I can remember. (Yes, Mike Trout did make a splash, jumping to being a top pick in 2013, but remember he lost some luster with a rugged first show in the Show in 2011). Such is the path of a 21-year-old shortstop with an .857 OPS. I guess we better get used to it.
Charlie Blackmon (OF, Rockies): Two mocks, and in both Blackmon was grabbed in the second round. Huh? It was Rotowire's Derek Van Riper who pointed out the .797 OPS with 31 doubles, 43 swipes, 17 homers, and 93 runs that make Blackmon pretty good across the board. Seems like he is getting better, too.
Kris Bryant (3B, Cubs): Not a big surprise, but Bryant is now more sought after than Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. Not sure if that makes sense just yet, but for sure he is a first rounder thus far.
Kyle Schwarber (OF/C, Cubs): Qualifying at backstop boosts Schwarber some, but he was grabbed by the third round in both leagues, ahead of picks like Brandon Crawford (20 homers at short is not bad) even though steals are not out there in Schwarber's crystal ball. I do love the guy, and have no issue with this in a way, though I would like to see a full season before I can figure out whether Schwarber is Matt Stairs or Adam Dunn (neither meant as an insult at all).
Miguel Sano (DH, Twins): Again, taken in the second round in both mocks, which is a lot of stock and upside faith to put on a kid with just 80 games under his belt, but what can you say?
Mookie Betts (OF, Red Sox): If Betts and his .291-18-77-21 line warrants a first-round selection, suddenly Blackmon, maybe a round later with equal power and extra steals, seems to be a steal.
Xander Bogaerts (SS, Red Sox): 196 hits last year, and nowhere to go but up, in theory. Bogaerts did slip to the third round. But again, that is a nice jump from last year.
Brian Dozier (2B, Twins): Dozier was a third-round pick last year in at least one mock, and repeated that with his return to mid-20's homers out of the keystone slot. Call me doubtful, but that looks like drafting out of scarcity to me, but reality is reality.
George Springer (OF, Astros): With Springer, as with just about everyone listed above not surnamed Dozier or Blackmon, a lot of stock in drafting early on is rooted in upside.
Since no wave of prospects like those who emerged in 2015 has ever occurred in baseball with the volume of last season, it is hard to assess which of these young guns will earn their draft price. They all could, but my guess is some will fall, suffering the Sophomore Jinx.
However, if you are indeed looking for some bargains as you begin to think about drafting in the spring, nominating the young guns early might leave some solid cheap vets for you to feast upon.
For the 15th year, I find myself in Phoenix participating in the BaseballHQ First Pitch at the Arizona Fall League for a long weekend's worth of seminars, fall baseball, and even some golf this year. But the best part is seeing dear friends, most of whom have grown up in and around the fantasy industry that has now taken hold of our culture.
It is pretty amazing to me, and I suspect to all of us. But here we are, and yesterday, for the 12th time, the participants of the XFL assembled to draft our 2016 teams.
The XFL has a $260 salary cap, allows for 15 keepers, and to compensate for the nebulous nature of rosters at the end of the season, we hold a 17-round expansion draft within a week of the season beginning. At that time, we can acquire prospects, who if retained have an initial $1 salary that increases by $3 a season indefinitely. As examples, I have Yoenis Cespedes at $13, now in his fifth year, and Matt Kemp at $31, in his 11th.
That combination of constraints makes for some interesting auctions, with generally strange and expensive runs of backstops, and peculiarities that found both Jhonny Peralta and Pablo Sandoval costing just a buck as part of the end game.
A few weeks back, I did list my keepers in prepping for the draft, but since I now have a team, here are the results. Note the bold F indicates the player was frozen, and I left the comments made in the earlier article.
Robinson Chirinos ($4, C): Hit ten homers over 273 at-bats last year, and I was keenly aware just how goofy the catcher costs can go, so I was happy to break the ice for my team, nominate Chirinos early, get him cheap, and move along.
Ryan Zimmerman ($13, 1B): I wanted Adrian Gonzalez, but $42 was more than I cared to spend, so I adjusted and grabbed Zimmerman, hoping he is settled at first and maybe healthy for the first time. And, Zimmerman did hit .311-11-39 over the second half, so maybe that mojo is back for the 30-year-old.
Jedd Gyorko ($10F, 2B): At value, but Gyorko salvaged a lot with his strong second half (.259-13-43) and since he qualifies at both second and short, it's worth the power gamble for a guy who could bang 30 big flies.
Kyle Seager ($21F, 3B): Pretty steady power source at third. Close to value, but still can squeeze a few bucks profit, and Seager might still have a monster year in his bat.
Marcus Semien ($4F, SS): Cheap gamble for a little speed and some power. Will look to kick his totals up next year.
Rob Refsnyder ($4F, MI): Another prospect gamble, but like Semien, Gyorko and several others on my team, their salaries only increase $3 a year as they were drafted as minor league prospects and promoted through the league.
Nick Castellanos ($10F, CI): Another former prospect, Castellanos is like a lot of the players on this list: great minor league numbers, lots of potential, but I need it realized, ideally this year.
Matt Kemp ($31F, OF): Again, close to value, but there have been big years in Kemp's stick, and he has certainly been very hot the second half of recent seasons. Kemp was another guy whose salary advanced to the tune of $3 a year and I am just not ready to let go yet (maybe that is the problem?).
Yoenis Cespedes ($13F, OF): Another salary control, if Cespedes can come close to his 2015 numbers, he will be a bargain and a half.
Gerardo Parra ($1, OF): Don't ask me. I hadn't planned on getting Parra. In fact, I nominated him for a buck and heard crickets. I don't expect another .291-14-51 season with 14 steals, but for a buck, I suspect Parra will give me a profit.
Jacoby Ellsbury ($10, OF): Don't ask me, redux. I needed speed, and Ellsbury was nominated for a buck, so I bumped it to $10. I hoped maybe I could grab Ellsbury for $15, but again, crickets with Ellsbury falling to me for $10. And, with the die cast, there were a few mumbles of "damn, I should have bid more."
Alex Rios ($5, OF): My last player acquired. If I can get 450 at-bats, that will be good for the price.
Prince Fielder ($26, UT): Almost as much of a shock as Ellsbury and Parra, after A-Gone went for $42, I just figured Fielder was too much to imagine. That was one reason I went for Zimmerman, who was nominated a lot earlier than the Prince. But, I guess money was tight later in the draft, and that Utility slots had been mostly populated, and that combo allowed me to grab Fielder at a more than modest price. My team's struggles in this very difficult league have been well- documented over the past few years, but if I have a ticket out of the cellar this year, the bargain prices I got for Fielder, Parra and Ellsbury will be the ticket.
Zack Greinke ($32F, P): Easy to justify based upon his 2015. At least I have an ace going into the draft.
Marco Estrada ($6F, P): A cheap endgame pick last year, Estrada certainly showed his stuff. The question is can it carry into 2016? I hope so.
Hector Santiago ($7F, P): Pretty much the same as Estrada, but younger.
Edinson Volquez ($9, P): I have always liked Volquez' stuff (I scored him at ATT his rookie season) and he has been pretty good for the last two years. Now 31, and a cog of a championship team, I am guessing Volquez is going to have a fine season as an experienced veteran.
Brandon Finnegan ($3, P): I couldn't freeze Finnegan, but I was happy to get him back. A hard-thrower and part of the Johnny Cueto trade spoils, Finnegan will go right into the Reds rotation barring something goofy. I think the first-round pick in 2014 is going to be really good.
Rubby De La Rosa ($1, P): Last pitcher, had a buck, deep draft, worth a gamble. With 14 future picks in March (I froze three minor leaguers in Hunter Renfroe, Billy McKinney and Aaron Blair), I can probably cover a few of the above slots as necessary.
Diane and I spent last weekend with the rest of the family at our Soda Springs house, taking in our last chance at the Tahoe-area weather before the cold--and hopefully rain and snow--pelt us this coming winter.
As noted before, the house has no TV (we do have a couple of flat screens and a store of DVDs), nor do our cell phones work, although we do have Internet so we can work and track ball scores and other important aspects of the digital age.
I was sitting at the dining room table when the e-mail from the MidWest Strat-O-Matic league came in, announcing the final season standings, and lo-and-behold, my Berkeley Liberators grabbed the second National League Wild Card spot, meaning I got to face my friend Steve Belmont's Tempe d'Mets squad.
2015 has been a rugged year for my season-long and keeper teams. I finished near or at the bottom in Tout Wars, LABR, and the XFL, and my Scoresheet team completely melted down for the first time in the six years I have played in the Murphy League.
But, in Strat, the sim league that lets us play out last year's totals in a head-to-head fashion this year, the Liberators squeaked 94 wins to grab the second Wild Card spot in a 30-team format that plays the same schedule and basic schedule and guidelines of Major League Baseball (save some standard usage rules).
Needless to say, a 30-team league is very tough with the only time I have made the post-season previously being in 2008 when Jason Grey's team brushed me aside on the way to a title. From 2009-2011, the Liberators won 263 games (no playoffs, though), but then the team began getting old, so I gutted them and began the rebuild process which was indeed brutal for the next years until now.
So, when I read the e-mail that I did make the playoffs, I was not only excited, but blurted it out to the bulk of family members who really had no clue what I was talking about. (They know I am in the Fantasy industry, but as for what I do, I might as well be a rocket scientist for NASA.)
I do think the XFL offers up the toughest competition within any league in which I play, but Strat-O-Matic, which I started playing in 1977, is my favorite.
Strat, for me, is a lot like listening to baseball on the radio, which is something I grew up with in a less enlightened electronic age than we have now. And, listening on the radio is still something I really love because a good announcer (the Bay Area is truly blessed there) will paint such a vivid picture that as listeners, we can truly visualize what is being conveyed in real time, making our imaginations as powerful, if not moreso, than watching a game on the tube.
When a Strat game is played out, the hitter does indeed step into the box, and we roll the dice, which is analogous to the pitch being delivered. That is followed by the results of the dice roll, which is tantamount to the batter swinging the bat, and then we move to the respective pitcher's/hitter's card, which tells us if the ball was fielded or booted or hit out of the yard or any of the million possibilities that lead to the final disposition of the play.
So, just like on the radio, I could see it tTuesday when my Marcell Ozuna clubbed a Garrett Richards pitch deep into the PetCo night, only to have the ball snagged by Justin Upton as Steve and I duked it out in my mind's eye just as clearly as if the late Bill King was calling the action.
While Strat is indeed my favorite of all formats, I do get the same kick and feel from playing in Tout Wars and the XFL and all the other formats of baseball simulations I have been playing since I got my very first Cadaco game in the early 1960's.
I do love baseball, and I do love playing games. I do love figuring things out as well, and I like running things, meaning pretending to be a Major League GM, assembling a squad for the long or short term, and then outwitting my league mates is so perfect that it is why I play.
I do love daily games too, mind you, but the bottom line is I don't play for money, and the incentive for me in any contest is that I want to win (though I try not to be obsessive about it) and the incentive to not finishing last is just that: I never want to be last in anything.
But, as fantasy sports grab attention and have become so mainstream, now causing issues concerning fine lines between gambling and skill, and what is better, daily or season long, the truth is for me the game and the play transcend all of that. Much like watching Game 1 of the World Series the other night told all of us why we watch and follow the goofy and wonderful game of baseball.
Steve and I did play our game out against the backdrop of the epic Tuesday contest between the Royals and the Mets, and in the end, my Liberators could not muster enough offense to whip Richards and d'Mets, and we lost 3-1.
It was tough, but I don't care, for I made the post-season and successfully rebuilt my team into a winner, outsmarting at least 22 other teams in the MidWest League.
Next week, I draft my XFL team for next year, and in a few months the spring cycles of leagues start all over again.
I cannot wait, because like I said, I love baseball and I love playing sim games. And THAT is the bottom line for me.
The success of my failure in the XpertsFantasyLeague is becoming legendary.
Years of teeth-gnashing, and attempting to strategize into a winning team against the toughest across-the-board players in the fantasy universe (IMHO) is no easy task.
To tell the truth, the format--mixed, 5x5, 15 teams, 40-man rosters, 15 freezes, $260 cap--is one in which I excelled enough in the early 90's to give me the confidence to get into this industry in the first place. And, in a league where Yu Darvish was drafted a year before he was signed by the Rangers, there is no hiding anyone from anyone.
Clearly, building via the Minors is the way to go, as the 2015 winner, Steve Moyer, was able to pull Carlos Correa and Kris Bryant out of his reserves at an aggregate cost of $2 (they will be a cumulative $8 next year) and win by 17 points. The strong past winners, however, have all built from this basic formula, and after spending close to two seasons house keeping, grabbing prospects and low-priced deals for stars, my team moved to sixth place in 2014, and I felt I was ready to really make a charge at the title.
Tell it to David Wright, Kenley Jansen, Leonys Martin, Yan Gomes and the various injury-prone under achievers I managed to acquire, finishing with 26 points, my worst finish anywhere ever (and only 103 points behind the leader).
The XFL holds its auction at First Pitch Arizona, making the whole affair essentially the first draft of the next year (for most of us anyway, rumor has it Lord Z just finished an NFBC draft that started the day after the regular season ended). This timing makes projecting who will be starting, in the Minors, on the DL, or on another planet in March mere speculation.
A few years back, I made a dump trade for Francisco Liriano when he first came up, and was happy to freeze the young flame thrower for $10 according to the rules of 2006. Then, after I announced the freeze, Liriano and the Twins announced that their lefty would be missing the entire 2007 season after arm surgery. Or worse, Peter Kreutzer and Alex Patton froze Oscar Taveras for $4 going into 2015, and as we all know, Oscar unfortunately had his career cut short.
Aside from those roster risks, there is also the difficulty of playing against the likes of Patton and Kreutzer and Moyer, Ron Shandler, Greg Ambrosius, and my mates Todd Zola and Brian Walton, among others.
So, following a miserable showing, I do need to rebuild, but I similarly managed to salvage some decent bargains in a league with a somewhat shallow reserve pool, but one that can only be accessed monthly during one free agent draft.
So, who did I keep, and why?
Jedd Gyorko ($10, 2B): At value, but Gyorko salvaged a lot with his strong second half (.259-13-43) and since he qualifies at both second and short, worth the power gamble for a guy who could bang 30 big flies.
Kyle Seager ($21, 3B): Pretty steady power source at third. Close to value, but still can squeeze a few bucks profit, and Seager might still have a monster year in his bat.
Marcus Semien ($4, SS): Cheap gamble for a little speed and some power. Will look to kick his totals up next year.
Rob Refsnyder ($4, MI): Another prospect gamble, but like Semien, Gyorko and several others on my team, their salaries only increase $3 a year as they were drafted as minor league prospects, and promoted through the league.
Nick Castellanos ($10, CI): Another former prospect, Castellanos is like a lot of the players on this list: great minor league numbers, lots of potential, but I need it realized, ideally this year.
Matt Kemp ($31, OF): Again, close to value, but there have been big years in Kemp's stick, and he has certainly been very hot the second half of recent seasons. Kemp was another guy whose salary advanced to the tune of $3 a year and I am just not ready to let go yet (maybe that is the problem?).
Yoenis Cespedes ($13, OF): Another salary control, if Cespedes can come close to his 2015 numbers, he will be a bargain and a half.
Zack Greinke ($32, P): Easy to justify based upon his 2015. At least I have an ace going into the draft.
Marco Estrada ($6, P): A cheap end draft play last year, Estrada certainly showed his stuff. The question is can it carry into 2016? I hope so.
Hector Santiago ($7, P): Pretty much the same as Estrada, but younger.
That gives me $115 for some speed and power and relief to fill things out, but that is easier said than done.
In the Minors, I still have:
So, as with any league and season, I go in with optimism. We shall see, however, in the toughest Rotisserie league in which I play.
Baseball is a beautiful game. It is pretty to watch, whether we are viewing Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner going at it for eight innings without allowing a run, or Bud Norris and Jeremy Guthrie just lasting two each, and getting pulled with the score locked at eight apiece.
It is a game that takes our breath away when played well, and forces a Homer Simpsonesque "Doh" with a slapped forehead when we see a miscue. But, one of the beauties of the game is that it is indeed the same game, whether played by six-year-olds in T-Ball, or the for now defending Champion Giants, across the bay from me at ATT Park.
I do remember going to watch my friends George and Julie's son Zach--then around six--play in a game once. Julie knew I wrote for the same paper as she at the time (USAT) and that I scored games, but she cautioned me as we approached the stands, advising that the skill of play in the Lafayette fields of green was not like that where the Giants roam.
I told Julie I knew this, but as noted above: baseball wherever played and among the game's wonders is that at every level, you can see something equally brilliant, or bonehead.
Julie sort of nodded but I suspect she did not necessarily agree. Sure enough, as we sat down a kid hit a seed to first base, where there was a runner. The first baseman stuck out his mitt and the ball found it, the first sacker stepped on first, and poof, an unassisted double play in T-Ball.
On the other hand, Wednesday night gave us a Toronto/Texas game that I will never forget. Ever. There were miscues coupled with luck, both good and bad (though I challenge you to name just one aspect of your life that didn't involve said luck), and the baseball gods of the highest order, observing the scene and meting out justice appropriately.
I sent a bunch of Tweets out about just how much crazy fun the whole thing was, and mostly got pushback about the sloppy and terrible play. I do understand wanting to see perfect play, especially at the Major League level during the playoffs.
But, let's face it, we are watching human beings, and well, human beings tend to be imperfect. As in baseball, which specifically has a category known as "errors", suggesting perfection is as elusive in baseball as just about every other aspect of life.
And, the truth is, the craziness of the Choo/Martin blocked run-scoring toss back was nutso territory previously unencountered by the bulk of us during regular play, let alone the playoffs. And, the three straight errors the Rangers made right after (four in the inning total, if you count the pop Rougned Odor could not track down) pushed the inning into the Twilight Zone, with Jose Bautista's home run/bat flip moving the game towards some kind of 2001-type transmogrification. (Note, we do need to remember that Willie Davis did indeed commit three errors in one inning in 1966.)
I have indeed seen and tracked a lot of games at this point in my life, but I have never seen anything quite like Wednesday, including a 53-minute half inning with just four runs scored. It was fantastic, and high drama and good fun most of us can relate to rather than a Max Scherzer no-no.
It did seem to me, though, that there was a large contingent of fans who were particularly dour and condescending regarding that crazy silly inning, which is too bad, because the chances are indeed that none of us will again see the likes of the Jays and Rangers game the other night. As time passes, I suspect hindsight will prove the game to be much more a funny nostalgic piece of trivia than anything that will make too many folks other than maybe the Rangers involved too skittish.
The game did remind me, though, of my favorite pieces of insanity that I ever witnessed on the ball field. Mind you, these were all live, and professional, though I do remember some killer local amateur plays, like the unassisted double play in Zach Anderson's game, or my friend Jeanne Schuman's and Bill Pollock's daughter Zoe running down a fly ball in left center field during a Berkeley High playoff game in Willie Mays/Vic Wertz fashion.
Anyway, just to keep the levity as we move into the Championship series, I thought I would list my five favorite plays I have seen in person. Note that I have seen three no-hitters, and scored one perfect game (Dallas Braden's) and saw Rickey Henderson break Lou Brock's stolen base record along with some other great stuff. But, these are my all-time favorite plays. And, I apologize in advance for being a bit long-winded this time, but if you love the game, I think it will be worth the read.
July 22, 1999: The New York Penn League, and I am watching Auburn playing St. Catharines. With the Stompers losing 5-4 in the top of the seventh, Victor Morales hit a ball with one out that shortstop Donaldo Mendez booted. Morales got greedy and made an ill-advised attempt to take second. He would have been out, dead to rights, but a funky throw and fumbled catch allowed Morales to safely touch the bag even after over-sliding. So, his team is down by one, and he is in scoring position. with the three and four hitters due up. Undaunted by the benevolence of the baseball gods, Morales inexplicably took off with the first pitch, trying to steal third, and this time third sacker Luis Dominguez applied the tag. St. Catharines lost.
November 1, 2001: At the Arizona Fall League, Yankees hopeful third sacker Drew Henson made an across-the-body Brooks Robinson-type spear of a screaming bouncer before it passed the hot corner, stepping across the bag into foul territory. It was an incredible snare, and Henson set, and threw to first. Unfortunately, Henson's arm had also been that of Michigan's collegiate QB, and that is what took over as Henson did not only throw over the first baseman's outstretched glove, and the stands. The ball sailed over the fence and park too, landing somewhere in the parking lot. Henson made three errors that game, walked once, struck out twice, and hit a double.
August 23, 2011: With Pablo Sandoval on third and Aubrey Huff on first, in the bottom of the sixth, leading the Giants 4-0, San Diego's Jesus Guzman cleanly picked a hard bounder hit by lefty Brandon Belt. Guzman was playing back, and off the bag, and the Panda took off from third with contact, but then slowed a quarter of the way as he saw Guzman pick the ball. Pablo danced, staring Guzman down, while everyone in the pressbox was mumbling "tag the fucking bag." But, Guzman did not take his eyes off Pablo, who kept edging to the plate until Jesus could no longer take it. Pablo broke for the dish, and Guzman uncorked a rocket to catcher Nick Hundley. Unfortunately, the throw went into the dugout, allowing Huff to score and Belt to park his heels at second. Meaning zero outs were recorded, the batter went to second, and two runs scored.
August 29, 2001: In what may be the wildest scoring game I ever saw (Diane and I saw a pretty good one at the old Yankee Stadium in its last year, when Johnny Damon went 5-for-5), the Cardinals beat the Padres 16-14 following a nine-run second inning. I remember the night at old Busch Stadium well. A full moon seemed to be rising under the arch from where I sat as Gerry Pagano, the bass trombonist of the St. Louis Symphony, played a lovely solo National Anthem. which set the tone for such a memorable evening that featured a 4-for-5 night from Ryan Klesko that included two homers and two doubles that were almost big flies. There were a ton of crazy things in the game, but the best was following a bunt single in the bottom of the fifth by Edgar Renteria, Eli Marrero hit a line drive single to right, moving Renteria up a base. With none out, St. Louis invoked a double steal with a pair of strikes on Bobby Bonilla, who threw his bat at the ball and sent the club flying towards third sacker Phil Nevin, who sidestepped the bat and in the process the throw from catcher Ben Davis. Both the bat and ball landed sort of together in left and Reneria scored on the E2 (error charged to Davis, not Nevin, though the throw wasn't so bad, rather Nevin abandoned post) with both bat and ball landing at the feet of a puzzled Rickey Henderson, who looked up and spied Marrero now chugging to to the plate and let go of a more than errant throw, meaning two runs. The call--or lack of--of interference regarding the projection of the bat forced the Padres to make a protest to no avail. By the way, the pitchers, Chuck McElroy and Jose Nunez, struck out the side that inning, meaning without the errant bat the two runs likely would not have scored as there were only five batters that frame.
September 27, 2008: At ATT, with one out in the sixth inning, Pablo Sandoval singled, and Bengie Molina followed, hitting a shot off the top of the right field wall. Bengie hit it hard, and was not fleet afoot, so he was held to a single, with Sandoval moving to third. With the Giants trailing 5-3, Bruce Bochy sent Emmanuel Burriss in to pinch run for Molina, but just before the next pitch, Bochy called time. He got the ball Molina had hit, noticed there was a green splotch, and asked the umpires to look again, suggesting the green meant the ball hit the copper at the top of the wall, and if that was so, it was a home run. The umps looked, and sure enough, Molina was granted a homer in what was the first overturn of a hit to a homer after the invocation of the instant replay use for such calls. Molina got a homer and two RBI, but Burriss, who was announced and on the field, got the run scored. When Burriss finished rounding the bases and trotted into the dugout, Bengie said "nice hit" to him.
It was kind of hard to believe, watching MSNBC's "All In" Wednesday when the lead to the story in the next segment was last week's Draft Kings/FanDuel miscue where it was revealed that employees of those two companies have access to data not privy to the public when playing DFS contests.
It made me think of 1988, when I played in my first local league, and then of 1993 when John Benson hired me to write in and edit his annuals (it is where I met Steve Moyer, in fact), three years before I went live on the Web with CREATiVESPORTS.
As we largely know, those were the days of the "USA Today" posting weekly team and individual statistics on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and shortly thereafter one could expect his or her league's weekly standings.
In '96 I did launch the site that merged with Mastersball a number of years back, and that got me the notice of a real pioneer in the industry, Rick Wolf, for Rick hired me to be the first minor league and fantasy analyst for the fledgling CBS Sportsline (my boss back then was another name known to all, that of Scott Engel).
It was good fun in those early days; a tight and small community that bonded during the .com boom, but just before blogging and tweeting and Facebook became the norm. In those days, we did bear the scorn of fans and the industries--primarily baseball and football--that we loved and modeled, who said we destroyed fan loyalty and were just a bunch of geeks who embraced the clear brilliance of Daniel Okrent's Rotisserie model, and ran with it.
AL-only and NL-only expanded to mixed leagues, then to ultra leagues, and now to daily contests, showing the game has certainly evolved in the 27 years I have been part of the wave.
And, now as we all know, being a fantasy geek is among the coolest things one can be on earth, and there are commercials for games and especially DraftKings and Fanduel on the tube, all the time.
Everyone plays fantasy something. There are shows on all over the place, and when you think about our virtual universe, it kind of makes sense. It also proved that as counter-intuitive as broadcasting games over the radio in the 30's, and on TV in the 50's, that rather than limit the focus of fans who listened to, or played games, the fan base actually grew.
Fantasy has grown such that every major sport now owns a chunk of some kind of game, show, vendor, or some combination thereof, and that means there is a lot of money involved in all of this.
And, that means potential problems in a lot of ways as witnessed by last week's fracas.
In the wake of the initial charges, and pending investigation, it is easy to be judgmental and act superior, just as it is easy to get uber-defensive about both the problem (privileged access to information for employees) and the subtext (is it gambling or not, and save five of our 48 contiguous United States, the answer is "no, it is not gambling").
The truth is we can all have a myriad of ideas and theories and opinions on the above, but to me the reality is they don't really matter. What does, is that the eccentric little industry that Wolf, and Engel, and Greg Ambrosius, Ron Shandler, John Hunt and so many others (and amazingly me included) started to push publicly 27 years ago has indeed made it as a powerhouse game and market, and what that means is, like it or not, those of us who play and provide games and content for fantasy have to act like objective grown-ups about this, and work as much as we can with the powers that be to keep the games we love to play as straightforward and above board as our local league would be.
If you think this "scandal" has let you and the industry down, remember that the bulk of the crazy growth that has put fantasy commercials on a visibility par with those of car insurance and Viagra, has really just been over the past four-to-five years, and that, to quote Yegraf (Alec Guinness), about the post-WWII technological advance in the Soviet Union in Dr. Zhivago, "we have come very far very fast."
For some reason, within all of this, I think of cell phones and their ridiculous impact and intrusion into our lives as analagous to fantasy's suddenly loony explosion into the mainstream.
In 1988--the year of my first league--think of what kind of cell phone you owned? Probably none, but then the first few giant clunky ones that came in a sort of plastic looking shoe box were produced. The phones did start getting smaller, but then there were reports and studies that the phones might be emitting radiation and causing brain damage to the users holding the receiver near their heads.
So rules and policies and procedures and guidelines emerged, but nothing like the fallout from the 2006 accident in which a Utah youth, while texting and driving, ran into a pair of nuclear scientists, killing both (see the book A Deadly Wandering, by Matt Richter for information on this and other like cases), for that was the start of the rules and laws and campaigns around texting and driving.
Now, I am not trying to say that texting and playing fantasy are the same, nor is the death of a pair of innocent scientists comparable to cutting corners to win a Sunday fantasy contest. But, note as well it took almost 20 years within the growth of the cell industry for texting while driving to simply become a campaign, something we all think now should have been built in from the start.
I am suggesting that there are not always said rules and guidelines to govern new and burgeoning industries because we are largely unable to foresee potential fall out until it hits. And, for the fantasy sports industry, now is this big public test of endurance and viability.
I do realize the investigations that are now taking place are working at a level far beyond that of meager site operators like me, let alone luminaries like Greg and Rick, but, it is similarly true that all politics really are local, whether we choose to admit it or not: rather, it is whether or not we choose to engage as individuals. That means supporting our products with integrity, being open and honest, and maybe even contacting our Congressmen/women and Senators, letting them know that we support reasonable patrolling of the fantasy game.
It doesn't matter whether you think in terms of games of skill, or hate daily, or mixed leagues or Strat-O-Matic (though that is so hard for me to understand): the issue is, if you like to play sports simulation games, and want to keep the industry growing and alive, rather than bitching, or questioning, or saying "I told you so," how about working at making fantasy, which for now is as legit a concern as there is, work so we can continue to play in the broad daylight, away from the cloaked shadows and basements of nerdom.
Either that, or in the words of Larry (fantasyhead Robert Wuhl) as noted in the great "Bull Durham," it might be time to find a job at Sears selling major home appliances.
Patience has not come easily to me in this life.
I was pushed ahead two grades when I was in grade school (in addition to having a late October birthday), meaning I was always two-plus years younger than all my classmates. And, no matter how I may have been able to compete intellectually with those older and wiser, emotionally I was still just that much behind.
As we know, the subtleties of age dissipate with said commodity: that is, as we get older, the gap of understanding and experience between years doesn't matter so much. However, the difference between being eight and ten as far as the sophistication of worldliness is huge: so unlike that say, between being 48 and 50 years of age.
I like to think I have slowed down over the years. I attribute a lot of my ability to quell the reactive portion of my nature to my late son, Joey, who endured some serious birth anomalies, and a limited existence of external abilities. Joey couldn't walk or talk, and was in diapers and a wheel chair for all of his 22 seasons, but the reality was you could only go as fast as Joey as in you will only go as fast as your slowest component can go.
If we were ready to go out, and Joey had a sysout in his diaper, everything stopped until that was handled. Those of you who have dealt with babies know exactly what I am talking about, the difference being Joey's body stayed in the perpetual baby state for all of his life.
What this did, however, was force me to slow down, and take a deep breath, take a look around, and not necessarily react to things in life.
OK, laugh if you will. Sure, there are other more important aspects of my life that Joey, and the patience he dragged in his slipstream provided, but, one of the sweet byproducts of this learning was to make me more patient with my players and teams and rosters in fantasy games.
Sure, I do fall victim to that urge we get when our closer gives up eight runs with two out in the ninth, not just blowing a save, but our collective WHIP and ERA in the process.
But, thanks to Joey, I can hang onto the likes of Mark Trumbo, as the season and a few games usually are not so much to stir my desire to cut players from my teams.
Obviously, while this is good in some ways, being active over the first few weeks of a season--baseball and football, anyway--but, especially in football, it is so hard to get a feel for who is going to do what after just three games.
For example, I find myself the owner of Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, Carlos Hyde and Matt Jones, in some form of every league in which I play and for the most part, I have been unable to play any of them at the right time, let alone know they will pick it up as the season goes forth.
I look and see all the transactions my football league mates make, and other than little tweaks like dumping Mohamed Sanu for Eric Ebron wherever I could, I feel better just letting the guys I have see what they can do.
I do remember that last year I drafted Tre Mason around the 19th round of my Kathy League Gifford draft, but he did little those first weeks and it was bye week and I dumped him. In the end, my team was lousy and I dropped Mason, whom I would have been able to freeze in the 16th round this year.
So, this year, I am trying to remember what I learned from Joey. Take a breath.
The fact that Trumbo has posted a .266-13-41 line for my $82 in FAAB doesn't really help. But, it doesn't hurt, either.
We have all been there.
It wasn't a whim thing. Carr was maybe hurt, and he was going against the usually tough Ravens defense, so if his game was hampered, so would be Cooper's, I thought. So I went Nick Foles and Anquan Boldin, which wasn't so bad, but collectively they weren't equal to either Carr or Jones, making Boldin more of a creme brulee than gravy.
I have had this happen regularly in DFS baseball this year, with some periods of 10 days where Cory Spangenberg jumps out at me and I play him and he gets ten points, or the converse ten days where I cannot pick a winner even if that means taking Paul Goldschmidt when he is starting against Jeremy Guthrie.
Don't get me wrong: I am very clear that there is a basic skill needed to be successful at fantasy games. You do have to know the players and the weather and the teams and the parks if you want to be successful for any protracted period.
But, for those head banging moments when I do the most research--like Max Scherzer over Miami in Washington--and make what appears to be a pretty good play that runs amok, all I can think of is I might as well just throw darts at a dartboard for my picks. And, that always reminds me of this great scene and clip from the wonderful, "Young Frankenstein."
And, I am not suggesting what Inspector Kemp does with his darts was the right thing, but it does get exasperating sometimes when our concerted effort to make a rational choice is completely usurped by some combination of lack of reason that stumbled onto luck at the right time (what else explains the Fish beating Scherzer).
Of course, it doesn't help that a week later, Jones suddenly becomes a "must start former sleeper darling" who then gets shut down by a feisty Giants defense.
But, like I said: I know we have all been there, and it is part of the games we love and play. In fact, that "chance" factor is indeed a lot of what not only makes life interesting, but it touches us everywhere.
Was it some chance by which you met your partner or landed your job? We have three dogs, all rescues, all of whom just happened to be at the right time and place for us to notice and grab them. Was that luck, or a supreme being, or the force, or kind of one of those situations like baseball, where if you concentrate and make the best moves you can consistently, you will win 55% of the time, and if you can do that, you will be good.
I like to think of it as putting yourself in the position of taking advantage of luck when it comes your way, for if one is prepared, chances are he or she will be able to assess and handle the situation, be it romance or a Nelson Cruz dinger, appropriately.
I do have a team sports analogy of sorts that I do like to contextualize in determining the difference between a good team and a bad team.
If we think in terms of baseball, and the error, it works like this: A good team is more likely to take advantage of an error made by the opposing team, and less likely to be victimized by their own miscue more often than a poor team. Maybe this only means 10-15 times a year such a situation comes up, but it is enough to put the Royals in the postseason, and leave the White Sox practicing for 2016 on the south side.
I saw Theo Epstein mention that there have been talks around expanding the MLB Wild Card match-up from a single game to a best-of-three series.
Now, before I wax philosophical and political and bore half of you into reading something that you don't think has anything to do with baseball or football, let alone sports, let me say I totally dig Theo. Aside from being a guitar player, Theo "fixed" the Red Sox, and Theo will have "fixed" the Cubs within a few years, something no one else could do for 100 years.
Second, I LOVE the Wild Card game and adding that team to the mix. It opens so much more in terms of opportunity, and equally important risk, and that fosters rebuilding for conservative teams and going for it as it applies to contenders, promoting or trading and making the second half so much more interesting and exciting.
In fact, I have no issue with expanding it to a series rather than a sudden death game in theory.
But, the real underlying principle for this expansion is building TV revenues by adding potentially four more games of playoff play, and that means viewers and related prime time ad money.
To be clear, I am not against money either, although I sometimes wonder just how much is enough? And, where does a season that used to be done by October 15 and now could move into the second week of November draw the line?
I am not trying to be a cranky old man by invoking that there were no playoffs when I first watched baseball, although the entire face and configuration of the leagues and standings and teams has transmogrified over the 55 years since the game grabbed my attention.
Things change. This I understand and accept. And, in order to survive, we must evolve with the rest of the planet, whether that means using Twitter, or separating your recyclables, or wearing a seat belt, or whatever isn't the way it used to be.
Does that mean more is good? And, though there is clearly a TV market to drive a few more games, should dollars always drive what we see?
But, another argument in favor of expanding the Wild Card is that after the grind of the season, one game should not be the decision point, and while I get this perspective, that sort of logic is fueled by the very frenzied idea that does not allow our culture to accept losing gracefully.
To apply to baseball, it is tough to lose a season to one game, to maybe one bad pitch or one bad hop within that one game, but if you extrapolate baseball and numbers and innings and pitches and at-bats, at some point every season boils down to one of those happenstances.
This is actually true of a bad bounce in football, a funky roll on the carpet in golf, or even how one might meet their future partner. There is always an element of luck or coincidence in just about every endeavor of life. The challenge is adjusting to the results.
So, while there is an argument that says one Wild Card game should not be decisive after the 162-game grind of the season, again, let's draw a line somewhere. Otherwise, we might as well expand the schedule to 200 games, or the Series back to best of nine, please.
In the wake of more NFL silliness, by virtue of our good friend Roger Goodell, it is that time where the baseball season is winding down, and various leagues have begun discussing rule changes for the coming season.
I have to admit that for the most part, these discussions drive me mad, just as does Goodell suggesting that he no longer wants to be involved in disciplinary actions within the NFL. I mean really, Roger? Then exactly what is your job if you cannot oversee some order and structure as Commissioner?
But, I will leave the last laugh with Tom Brady and his precision ripping apart of the Pittsburgh defense while I focus on my MidWest Strat-O-Matic league, where as the season winds down, issues of player usage has forced the argument.
The MidWest league is a serious keeper league that allows freezing of up to 28 players a season. The catch, though, is that in order to freeze a full complement of hitters and pitchers, we must not overuse players.
Because Strat-O-Matic is a simulation of the previous season, so, we are allowed the same use of the previous season, plus 20%. As an example, I have Zack Greinke on my team. The Dodger hurler knocked out 202.3 innings last year, so in the MidWest League I get him for 242 innings this year.
By invoking this rule, we all get a little extra use of our resources and we don't have to worry about injuries because again, the use we get for a player who missed half of last year is simply the play--at-bats or innings--plus that 20%.
As owners--and the league has 30--it is up to us to monitor the usage of our players, but really, that is not so difficult as the Strat-O-Matic software does indeed track that usage. As I write, I have used Greinke for 182 innings, meaning I have to be careful over the final two months of play to keep his totals under that 242 threshold, or my 28 freezes starts to erode, depending upon how egregious, and many instances of abuse there are.
We have tried other methods of quashing this usage issue, and though this is fairly severe, it is not only the best method because it leaves us, as owners, responsible to monitor and control our teams, and leaves us culpable if we don't.
Overuse might not seem like an overtly big deal, but, in replaying last season, imagine if I simply chose to start Greinke every three days instead of every five? How different would my team be with a stud pitcher going that often, especially against weaker teams (and the truth is, there are always warnings that overuse of a player can skew the results)?
Furthermore, if the idea of playing fantasy and simulations is to give us that chance to simulate real baseball, then it ignores the times that the Aaron Harangs have to take to the hill. Because the reality is, they do.
The problems that have come up though, is with two-thirds of the season gone, teams have hit their limits, and suddenly they have to either scale back the use of their best players (and risk getting clobbered by the better teams) or risk serious penalty.
Now, a couple of years back, when I was in the throes of serious rebuilding, I did not pay enough attention to my reserves. I traded away almost all of my stars for future considerations, but I left my team beyond vulnerable, and overused such that I could only freeze 17 players, which was rugged.
However, it was my job to monitor my players and use and know the rules, and I sucked it up, and now those future picks and trades have given me a contender this year, which is good.
The problem is that there is a complement of owners who want to ease the rule, primarily because they have a hard time both winning and keeping within those usage parameters.
If you think these rules are harsh, so be it, but, the league is not totally hard hearted, for each team is given four players, two hitters with 250 at-bats, and two pitchers with 150 innings each. Mind you, these guys are terrible. If you play Scoresheet, they are equivalent to the "Triple-A" players that game populates on your team when you have run out of resources.
However, the issue for owners at draft time becomes, do I grab prospect C.J. Cron in the fourth round with his 242 at-bats last year when I need at-bats, or do I take Allen Craig and his crappy 462 at-bats and protect myself against those usage vulnerabilities?
As with most leagues, the owners in MidWest love their prospects, so what they do is indeed pick Cron over Craig, and then run short of innings, and then with this time of year comes, they have a freak-out and suggest the rules need to be changed.
And, that is what sets me off for they knew the rules at the end of last year, and going into the rookie draft, and even through the course of the season.
So, what that tells me is that changing the rules in order to make it easier for them to win or play is more important than living with a tight rule that monitors and penalizes all of us equally and fairly.
To me, the only reason to really consider a rule change is because there is something ambiguous in the verbiage of the rule, or because the rule unfairly takes advantage of some teams and not others.
But, spare me changing them to make the game easier for you. I don't want to hear it. If you cannot deal, find another league. Got that, Roger?
I was majorly bummed in the North American Internet Fantasy Football League (NAIFFL), as managed by my mate Lord Zola, when I went to make my ninth round pick, tried to grab the Seattle Seahawks, and discovered the Tequila Party Gnomes had already nabbed them three picks earlier.
NAIFFL is pretty much a standard league that allows for the freezing of three players, meaning the ninth round is really the sixth round of the draft, and truth is I love grabbing the Seattle defense right about when the Gnomes nabbed them for a lot of reasons.
For one, they do score more points and make more tackles and picks then any other team, at least over the past couple of years.
It is interesting in that in the five #MockDraftArmy trials, run by Howard Bender (@rotobuzzguy), I bagged the Seattle "D" four times, three in the eighth, and once with the first pick of the ninth round, and pretty much each time my pick was followed by comments about selecting defense so early.
But, in truth, was it really early, and is it a mistake to jump at defense so seemingly early in a draft? Well, of course "early" is a relative term for the size, point format, and roster requirements of your league, but most of my leagues have 12 teams with standard defense.
However, the Seattle defense averaged 9.6 points a game last year, and according to the ESPN rankings, the Hawks are generally the first defense taken, and usually around the fifth round (though I don't know how many teams the average ESPN league has) or on average as the 60.3 pick per league.
However, it is that 9.6 points that is important to me, for Brandon Marshall is the wide receiver drafted closest to that slot at 60.5, and he averaged 7.1 points last year, while Joseph Randle tops running backs as a parallel, also at 60.3 but having averaged just 2.4 points last season.
In a different format, my bud Zach Kweller grabbed J.J. Watt right out from what I thought was under me, also in the eighth round, in a league where we take three defensive players instead of a defensive squad. The scoring gives credit for catches and TDs, both of which Watt can get, but also sacks, tackles, fumbles forced and recovered and again, Watt averaged over 10 points a week last season doing this which is pretty good.
I did grab Luke Kuechly, who averaged 7.25 points a week last year two rounds later, right between rookie Marcus Mariota and Nick Foles, who was injured the last half of 2014. In fairness, this league allows a super-flex play, meaning two active quarterbacks can be a good thing, but unless something breaks in Kuechly's leg, since we have to play three of these defenders, it makes sense to grab the guys who seem like the productive ones.
For in the league, a big week (meaning a sack, a couple of tackles, and a fumble recovery with a score) is worth 20-plus points, just as good as a big week from Foles.