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Saturday 30th Apr 2016

I was 22 years old when Dr. Renee Richards caused controversy, particularly in the sports (and tennis) world, when she underwent a gender change, and then asked to shift from the men's USTA to the women's tour. I don't remember having any specific judgments around the affair, aside from I had a hard time getting my brain to understand how hard it must be for a human being to shift their sexual identity.

I bring this up because the other day, when Caitlyn Jenner offically came out on the cover of "Vanity Fair", I happened to be on SiriusXM with our friends Ray Flowers and Kyle Elfrink, and I asked why Caitlyn did not keep the more attractive and alliterative surname of Kardashian?

I was joking when I said this, but it did occur to me that the comment could be misconstrued as anti-Caitlyn, which is certainly not what I meant or how I meant it.

I do think that a lot of what Caitlyn has done is beyond courageous for again I go back to that basic thought of changing directions partway through life when simply existing, surviving, and getting a modicum of acceptance and approval from those around us is a big enough deal such that to change one's basic point of view and basic persona mid-stream just seems overwhelming.

Doing this in a public eye, however, really tears the roof off the sucker, as George Clinton would suggest, but though it is a big deal, it makes me shudder to think that Richards did all this in 1975, a year before Jenner won Olympic Gold, and 40 years before Jenner announced her change.

Still, I am not trying to diminish Jenner's act or courage, but sometimes these days I wonder just how much is truly worthy of our interest--for none of us has a right to know much of anything about the personal lives of others--how much is the same morbid curiosity that makes us stare at a highway wreck, and how much of this is Caitlyn's insecurity that her fame had dwindled and her alliteratively surnamed family's fame has exceeded his own.

I did not watch Jenner's Diane Sawyer interview, but "fortunately" Diane did and she told me the gist, and though I was not that interested in general (just the same prurient curiosity we all have, but I try to suppress it), I did again think it was brave of Jenner to "come out" like that publicly.

But then, a week later, I saw there was to be another show where Jenner wanted to talk about how she broke the news to her family, and now I understand there is an eight-parter out there where Jenner will review the whole process with an equally curious public on one of the cable channels.

And, then there was the cover of "Vanity Fair," and all that hype makes me wonder just how much of this is really for Caitlyn, how much is ego, and how much is a cash cow.

Let me be clear, though, that my bottom line is that anything anyone can do publicly to help the cause of the oppressed and/or misunderstood is a good thing, so if Caitlyn's coming out gives reassurance and acceptance for just one person, that means it is a good and valuable process.

But really, I don't care that much about the Kardashians in the first place, and the reality is that were Jenner not a well recognized member of that family, who are simply famous because they seem to have too much time and money, none of us would care that much about the whole affair.

Which really means the heroes are really the likes of Dr. Renee Richards, or within the baseball world, our friend Christina Kahrl of ESPN, who did all this brave stuff before our eyes years back at a time when being gay was not as accepted as it is now, and when making the transgender move made people's heads spin.

It is good that heads are indeed no longer spinning, in fact the whole idea of the "Vanity Fair" cover does give me some hope for our self important and somewhat silly species, but I also wish this was not such a big deal in the first place. 

Not making the change, any change in life, for divorce, marriage, college, children, moving, occupation, and all the trappings that are presented to us within the arc of our lives are both challenging and full of potential lessons. 

What I wish is that we really could just keep our minds on our own path and business, and not make such a huge deal about everyone else's.

Back during the pre-season, my (well, everyone's) bud Andy Behrens, who leads the motely crew of writers known as the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA), sent notes to a number of us asking to organize and sort of guide a league among a collection of writers for the coming season.

Andy trolled the writers and I set up an AL-only league, and Andy gave me a list of "volunteers" and we drafted right before the season began.

I wanted to make this a tough league, and though I do indeed love playing the daily format, I wondered how many of my FSWA colleagues had played according to some of the original roto rules Dan Okrent and his mates first used.

So, AL-only, no reserves, no FAAB, with the waiver picks awarded last-to-first each week. Teams could trade, and have up to five players on the DL, but otherwise, 23-man traditional roster with just weekly moves, in a 5x5 set-up.

So, my "volunteers"--Chris Kay, Howard Bender, Tom Schriner, Rob Pallazola, Mike Wollschlager, Mike Nease, Jim Bukowski, Jeff Boggis, Keith Hernandez, DT Short, and Randy Ball and I--picked our squads among the slim pickings of such a deep format.

It was tough, and tougher compounded by such early season fun as Chris Sale's ankle (sigh, I got him), Ervin Santana's suspension, and Josh Hamilton's everything, making a fun and interesting scramble then within the rules to plug holes (or at least try to).

Unfortunately, projections were run for the league, and worse, my team was at the top of the projected winner list, something that the rest of the league acknowledged, suggesting they were playing a "legend" when they played against me. However, my reaction was fear, as I knew if nothing else, top of the projections was "the kiss of roto death." Although, I did name my team "The Obscure Legends."

After a little bit of administrative craziness--and then thanks to our pals at RealTime Sports, Tim Jensen and Mike Rooney, who gave the time and commissioner administration for the league--things got going and Monsieurs Kay, Bender and Pallazola moved atop the standings while my team, as expected, sank like a rock.

As it is, with active playing of the waiver wire, my team has climbed out of last and is within striking distance of tenth place, a triumph considering our start, but with Chris and Rob having such dominant hitting teams--both with very good pitching--while @Rotobuzzguy Bender has really strong pitching with good hitting--finishing much higher than even fifth seems like a pipe dream at this point of the season.

However, playing is still fun, as is varying the format and tightening the rules, even if my team dies a slow death in the process, for this is a game where we play because we love baseball and bonding with our fellow junkie buds.

In this case, the latter holds true for me: I am happy to win somewhere else, as necessary.

 

Like many of you who may own Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, I have both a lot invested in the guy, as well as watching each start and hoping "this time a three-hit shutout over eight innings with ten strikeouts and four baserunners."

Kershaw is the anchor of my Scoresheet team, that is seriously struggling, and he was the centerpiece of my NL LABR team wherein I spent $40 on the lefty figuring he would make the rest of my staff so much better that all I need do was focus on my hitting.

I have long stressed the importance of patience in this crazy fantasy game, and I am certainly sticking with the centerpiece of my strategies involving Kershaw in every league I can find. Still, I understand having doubts, so in order to reassure all of you, let's take a look at some really fine seasons by some other really fine southpaws as it turns out over the past years, and a primo season for each.

Frank Viola (Twins, 1988): Over the first and last months of the 1988 season, as Viola helped push the Twins to postseason play, he was 6-2, 4.08 with a WHIP of 1.29, but in between, from May through August, he was 18-5, 2.04 over  180.3 innings with a 1.07 WHIP. Viola finished the season 24-7, 2.64, with a 1.13 WHIP while winning a Cy Young.

CC Sabathia (Indians/Brewers, 2008): CC won a Cy Young in 2007, and in his contract year of 2008, the lefty was 1-4, 7.88 over April with a WHIP of 1.701. Sabathia was 6-8, 3.83 and getting it going, when he was swapped to the Brewers and had a run of 11-2, 1.65 over 130.3 innings. He finished 17-10, 2.72 over 251 frames with a 1.153 ERA, placing fifth in the Cy Young and sixth in the MVP voting.

Johan Santana (Twins, 2004): In 2004, over April and May, Santana was 2-4 across 61 innings with a 5.60 ERA and a 1.491 WHIP. Once it was June, Santana went 18-2, 1.62, with an 0.712 WHIP, finishing 20-6, 2.61 with an 0.921 WHIP, while winning a Cy Young.

Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers, 2014): Last year, Kershaw was 3-2, 3.57 with a 1.22 WHIP over April and May, but after June, 18-1 over 163 innings, finishing 21-3, 1.77 with 239 strikeouts over 198.3 innings, winning both a Cy Young and an MVP.

So, if you own Kershaw and his 2-3, 4.32 mark so far, take a deep breath and let Clayton do his thing and let the weather and his arm warm up together.

kershawWhen I drafted my NL LABR team, the whole squad was built around the single bid of $40 for Dodger pitcher Clayton Kershaw.

As documented in my post-LABR article, My Toughest Bid Ever, I was trying to emulate teams built around the great Pedro Martinez, whose presence made the rest of his pitching staff better.

Not that I was chintzy with my other pitchers. I got Gio Gonzalez ($13), Mike Fiers ($8), Brett Anderson ($2) and Brandon McCarthy ($14) to support Kershaw, and also picked up Chris Heston and Jeremy Hellickson as reserve picks. So, my starting pitching should have been very good. The Achilles heel of my pitching was no real closer, with Kevin Quackenbush and Sergio Romo being my failed gambles.

Obviously, losing McCarthy hurts, but having Heston to plug into that spot should have kept the ship mostly righted, but in reality my team, as tweeted the other day, is the Daniel Cabrera pitching staff.

At the time, I was last in Saves, ERA and WHIP, in the middle of the pack in Wins, and first in strikeouts.

In fact, among all those arms, Heston, at 2-3, 3.35, with a 1.22 WHIP is the best pitcher of the lot.

What makes me optimistic is my hitting--anchored by Joc Pederson, Kolten Wong and Marcell Ozuna--is doing pretty well with 35 hitting points, and a good chance to pick up another six to ten.

But, my hurlers, with just 23.5 points, who should have been charging forth with dominance in WHIP and ERA to support the strikeouts, have indeed been the disappointment.

The question is what, if anything, to do?

The answer, I think, is nothing (well aside from trying to add some saves).

As the warm months come into play, all around I am banking on improved pitching, led by Kershaw, who has really been better than his 1-2, 4.26 mark. It is just that 1-2, 4.26 is not what I dropped $40 for.

However, I think this is a classic opportunity for true patience to simply let Kershaw do his thing, and sink or swim accordingly.

For, I like to think I should expect more consistency from Fiers and Gonzalez, and when ready, Patrick Corbin also is my property.

What makes what is going on interesting to watch is that as noted, I really did completely build my team around Kershaw, so I really do sink or swim accordingly.

Obviously, the summer months will tell, but unlike several of my other squads who are in the lower depths of the standings, these guys have some room to move, and I think they have the skills to do it. More important, if you had a plan going into the season, do your best to see it through.

And, well, whenever I have had really successful teams before, they were not unlike this team, simply waiting for one guy to pick up the gauntlet.

So first, if you can assess your team, and see a squad that is indeed underachieving within what you perceive to be a strength, take a deep breath and give your guys a chance to do it. I know this is really hard to do with one-quarter of the season nearly spent, but hang in there and have a little faith in your ability to assemble a team.

Second, Clayton, it is ALL on you now!

 

I have written so often about how much I love watching Sunday football, it feels foolish to state it again.

But, I do. Since I live on the West Coast, the day starts early with the pre-game shows on the tube already in progress by the time I wake up, and by 10 am, my time, games are on full tilt boogie. Add in that the football season is through the generally colder weather, and a fire, and chowder and the coziness of being inside, like a bear hibernating, gets conjured within me on those days, making things just wonderful.

I did start questioning my viewing last year, after the ridiculous handling of the "Ray Rice incident", both by the Ravens, and more importantly by the NFL. So, since Roger Goodell is in charge of that industry, I place the responsibility on him for being a complete Human Resources idiot/meltdown in handling the problem. goodell

So, now, as we just have finished the NFL draft, there is yet another pair of nasty scandals on the doorstep of Goodell and his ilk.

There is Deflategate, which is stupid and funny and a pathetic basis for a scandal, but first, what about the implicit advocacy of #1 pick Jameis Winston by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?

In case you did not know, in 2013--the year Winston won his Heisman--he was under investigation for rape in Tallahassee, although somehow the case sort of dissipated under an Everglades fog and by happy coincidence, Florida State just happened to win a National Title (for some better background, I highly recommend Charles P. Pierce's fantastic article from Grantland, The FSU Problem).

It is true that we are ostensibly innocent until proven guilty, and that there are two sides to every story, but check out this review of the recently released film, The Hunting Ground, and tell me if you don't think:

a) We have a bad problem.

b) Our college sports system has badly distorted perception of right and wrong.

c) Our college sports system, supported by the administrations, have let down our young victims in protecting them against predators.

d) Our collective sense as human beings is so twisted and distorted, that it is hard for me to sit here and type, peacefully.

Like I said, we have a bad problem.

My understanding (based on a clip from "The Hunting Ground"), is that one FSU administrator who coordinated the resources and support for victims of rape said that in her tenure at the university, there were a good 100 cases where the crime had been judiciously reported to her office. Yet, no one had ever been charged, or suspended. As in zero-for-100.

Now again, even after reading this, and the links, you can have your doubts about innocent till proven guilty, but this is Winston's own statement with respect to the charge:

"I did not rape or sexually assault…I did not create a hostile, intimidating or offensive environment in the short period of time that we were together. [The accuser] had the capacity to consent to having sex with me and she repeatedly did so by her conduct and her verbal expressions. I never used physical violence, threats, or other coercive means towards [the accuser]. Finally, I never endangered [the accuser’s] health, safety, or well-being."

Add in that apparently, there were such charges leveled against Winston not once, but twice, and well, maybe there could at least be a trial?

Instead, Winston is a #1 pick, ironically for a team whose mascots are known for their propensity toward pillaging. But, from the NFL office, or even the fans of the game, and even with a supposed push against domestic violence, what do we hear? Nothing.

Scandal II? Deflategate. 

Now, on a bunch of largely annecdotal information, there is a chance Tom Brady will be suspended. 

Huh? 

To be clear, I do believe that Brady could easily tell if the weight of one football varied from another of the same species. It's his job.

There is that apocryphal story about pitcher Jim Palmer, who was fussy about the baseballs he threw, and would often ask for an exchange, and that one ump returned the ball Palmer wanted to swap, and the pitcher could tell right away. Well, maybe Brady's touch is not quite that of Palmer, but this is like asking a surgeon to not be able to understand the feel of every tool of his trade.

In addition, whether or not there have been rules surrounding the management of the football, the fact that those rules have been haphazardly, if ever, enforced until the second half of the Colts/Pats game really does not ring of any kind of equal treatment.

Like the Ray Rice incident, Deflategate does beg for process and enforcement of the rules unilaterally, and then, if a violation is discovered, you have guidelines on which appropriate action can be taken.

The fact that Brady might be worthy of suspension while Winston is now a multi-millionaire just convinces me that I am an idiot and that indeed I don't know right from wrong.

OK, I can deal with being an idiot.

Adults get the luxury of being idiots, and most of the time we survive despite ourselves. But, why do we bother trying to get our youth--a lot of whom watch football--to recognize that domestic violence is bad, as is cheating, and worse, if you do wrong you will not only be caught, but get in trouble, while turning a blind eye when there is money to be made by exploiting the same kids a few years later?

Worse, why are we surprised when things seem to go awry, especially after the same privileged athletes are never held accountable? (There is a lot of information out there confirming both that Winston has been a fine athlete to this point, but that he is similarly hardly a choir boy.)

It isn't that I don't believe in forgiveness or redemption, and, I understand making mistakes, but I do wish, if nothing else, the NFL would be represented by someone who at least really did know the difference between right and wrong.

But, like it or not, Goodell is in charge of the adminstrative insane asylum that seems to be in charge of the morally defunct NFL, so he might either want to take charge and earnestly try to set the whole business on a steady and straighter path.

As for me, much more of this and my Sunday mornings in the fall will consist of TCM.

Remember, you can follow me on Twitter @lawrmichaels.

 

Back in Graduate School, I was amused to discover that within the realm of literary criticism lived a "pitched battle" between the Radical Historians (those who feel a book or poem should be read within the context of the language/time it was written) and the Deconstructionists (those who feel a book or play becomes a new work each time it is read or performed).

Of course, we were English students, so "pitched battle" meant sarcasm and innuendo and epithets flung cavalierly at one another, But, as with anything, there are two sides and both are virtually intransigent not to mention contemptuous of the opposing view.

So, I guess it should not surprise me that during a review of one of my DFS pieces, Todd advised me that among serious players, using Batter v. Pitcher (BvP) numbers was really too small of a sample, and not predictable. Rather, he said, lefty/righty match-ups, ballpark factors, and the weather were much better predictors of potential daily outcome than a straight BvP factor.

This puzzled me, and began a pretty good dialogue because for me, the philosophical Zen guy, this makes no sense, while for Z, the I am a Scientist Excel guy, the inverse is so. (I also must admit that first, some of our best conversations are a result of this difference in our perspectives, and also it explains why we make a pretty good team when managing together for we do have a world view.)

Actually, what Todd said was that there have been fierce arguments regarding the fantasy baseball version of the Radical Historians v. the Deconstructionists. In fact, he pointed me to this great piece he wrote for our friends at the Fantasy Alarm.

To be clear, I love statistics, especially baseball ones. And, though I am probably over-educated, I have never taken a Statistics class. But, to me, percentages like OPS and OBP are beyond intuitive, just as is WHIP. OBP tells me whether or not a guy gets on, and WHIP tells me whether a pitcher can keep those same guys off.

That said, there is a fascination I have that transcends that simple interpretation of success and skill, making just looking at the line of a player who has been around a few years hypnotic. And note, if the player did not have a Major League career, a minor league record can be just as fun and goofy and inexplicable and wondrous as can a line from the bigs.

What strikes me as funny within the disconnect between the BvP and Spreadsheet camps is that I would think, by definition, the spreadsheet/stat guys would be all over the fact that Evan Longoria was a good pick last night against Chris Tillman because the Rays third sacker has faced Tillman 28 times with a .429-5-7 line. So, that means Longo has 12 hits off Tillman, and nearly half have been homers, which to me is really a difficult stat to ignore.

In fairness, I agree that weather and lefty/righty, and ballparks do factor in, and should be given some serious credence, but I would have to think it is just as foolish to dismiss numbers like those of Longoria in this situation.

My feeling is if we think of ten at-bats as a minimum, and a player has some success or failure, that is at least worth considering as a tie-breaker. Because, while hits can be flukes as well as victims of circumstance, so can they be the result of a delivery that allows the hitter to simply pick up the ball a fraction enough to be the difference between a fly out and a double in the gap.

Baseball is, however, a more than passive-aggressive environment for such arguments, at least in a larger context.

For, this is the game where if Longoria goes 2-for-5 against Tillman Friday, and scores a run, it will be agreed that the hitter has the pitcher's number (Zen guys). Should Tillman win the battle of the zone, we will say "he was due" (Excel guys).

The truth is, I don't really care as long as my picks keep being correct.

By the way, you can indeed play daily against Rob, Marc, Pasko, Brian, and me at the Mastersball 50/50 Challenge.

August 31, 1997.

I remember the day Princess Diana died so well.

Not so much because of the passing of the Princess, but because that day also marked the opening of the NFL Season that year, a season in which I drafted the great Jerry Rice for the very first time over his 12 years of play.

It is so vivid because Cathy and I had planned on taking our dog Macaroni down the coast to play in the Pacific Ocean, for it was a Labor Day Weekend, and Sunday was sort of up for grabs.

I say sort of because it was pretty clear I was going to listen to football no matter where we were going, so, we piled into our Pathfinder and took off. Since the Niners are indeed local, I flipped the game on to see how my star player was doing, and got there just in time to hear that Rice tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee on a reverse play.

Between 1985 and 2003, there was only one season in which Rice did not play in all 16 games, and that was 1997. Needless to say, that was pretty much my season. Even if I could have salvaged it somehow--and, I am sure I tried hard to make the best moves I could--that injury took all the hope and speculation out of the year.

Since I am a big Ervin Santana fan, and especially since he is undervalued in my opinion, I own Erv in several leagues. He was my #1 draft pick (a ninth-rounder in a 24-team set-up where we freeze eight) in my Scoresheet League. I traded for him in my Strat-O-Matic League, and I got the new Twins righty for just $10 in Tout Wars as a #4 starter behind Chris Archer ($17), Yordano Ventura ($16) and Chris Tillman ($14).

Obviously, "was" is a key word, as we all know that Santana was suspended for 80 games before the first pitch of 2015 was completely reasoned out.

In Scoresheet, I planned enough ahead, picking up Kendall Graveman as a sixth starter, so I plugged him in and put Ervin on my reserve list, and in Strat-O-Matic, I will worry about how to fill the innings missed next year because Strat is based upon the numbers of the previous season (that means Jed Latkin, to whom I traded Matt Harvey, has to wait till next year).

In Tout, I did buy the cheap ($2) services of Marco Estrada, who can help a little, but not like a regular 200-inning pitcher who strikes batters out.

In fact, Santana has 41 career starts over the month of April, with a 17-14, 3.90 mark to go with a 1.216 WHIP and 214 strikeouts over 165.6 innings.

As it stands, my Tout team is tied for fifth with eight wins, has a seventh place 4.14 ERA, eighth place 1.291 WHIP and tenth place 95 strikeouts.

However, if we toss in an average Santana April over the past decade he has played, we would get a couple of points each from wins and WHIP and ERA, but with 21 whiffs my team would jump into first place in that category, meaning an average Santana season would lift me from eleventh place and 53.5 points to tied for fourth with 71.5.

Of course it is early, and I am sitting on Santana till the All-Star Break, when we will joyously embrace Big Erv upon his return, but the question is can my team keep pace enough in the interim to realize the theoretical boost when Santana can join the rotation? How fine is the balance between success and failure in a tight and competitive league? One guy's worth?

Obviously, if my offense can keep it up, the question is will what I get from Ervin be too little too late?

For right now, it is kind of like Jerry Rice and Princess Diana all over again.

One guy. Crazy.

 

It is funny. I always know that I am going to write about Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey and heroism and integrity and just what fantastic examples of both of those ideals these men represented every year now since Jackie Robinson Day began.

I am sentimental (Oscar Wilde noted that a cynic is just a disappointed romantic, so I guess that is me sometimes), and I find Jackie Robinson Day, the retirement of his uniform, his incredible perseverance and success, and the entire impact his donning a Dodger uniform and taking the field 68 years ago had on all of us, nothing short of miraculous.

I do consider Robinson crossing the color line in baseball more significant than cases like Brown v. the Board of Education, and on a level with that of Rosa Parks not stepping to the back of the bus for no other reason than she was tired (the best reason of all). I can only imagine the courage and conviction that rested within these humans, as well as Mr. Rickey, who engineered the whole Robinson project. And, yes, those cynics among us can dismiss and say he was trying to make money for his team and be successful, but still, Rickey pushed forward because it was also the right thing to do. For, we all know all the other owners and virtually all the players, including many of the Dodgers, were against Robinson playing.

Jackie did not just play: he excelled in a way that is more than breathtaking. He was a Rookie of the Year, and his 1949 MVP season is really spectacular when you think in a deeper format (just 8 teams, all in one league) that he hit .342-16-124 with 122 runs scored, 37 steals, a .432 OBP along with 66 extra-base hits.

Though of course Google and Instagram and Twitter were hardly to be imagined when he accomplished this, Robinson faced no less scrutiny by a public that was far more conservative--and even restrictive simply because of age and custom and history and environment--and not as accepting as we have today. Not that our society and planet don't have a ways to go with respect to acceptance, but had Robinson "failed", who knows how much that might have set back the Civil Rights Movement and push towards equality that followed with breaking the baseball color line?

And, had Robinson merely been good--a .270 hitter with some speed and pop--that probably would have been enough. But, the truth is, he was a great player who simply excelled when the pressure was the greatest, and that is what makes a real star. (It does amaze me that Jackie could perform that well under a microscope when I have trouble hitting two golf balls cleanly in a row at the driving range.)

bryant_krisHowever, with the call-up of Kris Bryant yesterday, and all the buzz surrounding that event, I could only guess what the impact might be on Robinson were for some odd reason his moment in history be pushed forward those 68 seasons?

More important, it is silly to see that within baseball there is so much controversy surrounding Bryant, and whether he should have been advanced to open the season, or whether the injuries to Tommy La Stella and Mike Olt precipitated the move. Irrespective, there is certainly as much buzz as I can remember with a debut, but the significance of Bryant's debut means very little in the context of Robinson's debut.

Likewise, it is crazy that Bryant has already been labeled a star, that we have him in the Hall, making more money than Warren Buffett, and possibly controlling all land south of the Equator when he has just had his first couple of less than successful at-bats.

I do hope Bryant fares well, for sure. I hope all the young Cubs do well, as that makes a great story and adds to the lore and charm and history of the game, just as did Robinson in his own time. And, if I had to gamble, I would think Jorge Soler proves to have a better career than Bryant.

But, I also remember that Mike Trout guy having some trouble to start off, so I would caution us all to remember that contextually, and think about how much pressure Bryant just might feel getting started.

And then again, think of just how off-the-charts the performance of Jackie Robinson was given the circumstances.

It is all so amazing.

I was a bit taken aback when Steve Moyer handed me my copy of The 2015 Prospect Digest Handbook, by Joseph Werner, which I promised to read and review.

It is not so much that I feared Werner's--who has written for ESPN, Beyond the Box Score, and Baseball Info Solutions--approach or verbiage.

It was more the book, which is sort of coffee table sized, looked like a major tome, and I feared the drag of "Moby Dick" within the 400 plus pages, and that I could never wade through it all in a timely fashion, and that meant a speedy review might well be a pipe dream.

Lucky me, for I was wrong.

In reality, Werner has essentially used his space in a fairly agreeable (and spread out fashion) to simply map out the Top 20 prospects for each team, donating 10-15 pages for each franchise, both summarizing the organization's 2014 draft picks and moves, an analysis of the Minors in general, and then simply rating those players top-to-bottom, giving each player the better part of a page of scrutiny and opinion. Then following the review of the relative Top 20, there is another list of additional prospects who could be worthy of tracking.

The author does give us an introductory chapter in which he introduces his "Comparison and Likeness" (CAL) player classification system, which contextualizes "Weighed Runs Created Plus," measuring a "player's contributions scaled to 100, which is league average."

As such that allows Werner to ostensibly compare Charlie Blackmon, Eugenio Velez and Alex Presley--each of whom has a clearly different skill set--on somewhat equal footing.

Fair enough.

Truth is I have my own rating system, which I both like, and which similarly ranks hitters and pitchers with a common baseline focusing on age, level of play and ability to overpower coupled with command of the strike zone.

So, Mr. Werner has his means of comparison, and I have mine. In fact, Werner also lists a Top 250 in his book, which coincidentally, is the number of prospects who appear on my list that Mastersball publishes after each season.

What I was more curious about, was how closely--or not--Werner and I assessed prospects and their potential impact, and whether or not we were on the same page.

In writing this, I was not so much looking for validation of my own methodology (although such confirmation at least makes me a little less insecure, at least for a moment) but rather to see how others might indeed determine potential skill set, viability, and impact of a young player in an objective manner.

The truth is, Werner's results are pretty convincing, at least to me. I say this because on the whole, he likes young players I like, and though a rank might be a little different player to player, essentially we have the same Jengo blocks in the same package, just stacked a little differently.

Since there are prospects my list gave me I had not noticed prior to running my algorithms, I wanted to see what Werner thought of those guys, if they even hit his radar as well.

Lucas Giolito (CAL #5/MB # 13): We clearly both love the 6'6", 255 pound 20-year-old who killed it in the SALLY League last year (10-2, 2.20 with 110 whiffs over 98 frames).

Aaron Blair (CAL #71/MB #60): Joseph noted the Arizona pick logged 171 whiffs over three levels last year over 154.3 frames, something I also spotted, and we both liked that the 23-year-old is a big (6'5", 230 lb.) right-hander.

Kyle Freeland (CAL #75/MB #70): Ranked as #3 in the Rockies chain, by Werner, we both liked that after being selected eighth in 2014, Freeland signed, went to work, and blasted through Rookie and Low-A ball (30-0, 1.15 over 33.3 frames).

Dilson Herrera (CAL #60/MB #1): 21-year-old potential shortstop actually spent time in the Majors whom Werner ranked second in the Mets organization, while Herrera was my #1 overall prospect. Again, in such a context (4,000-plus play in the Minors each year) the difference between #1 and #60 is small. Essentially, we are on the same page.

Franmil Reyes (CAL ?/MB #152): The Padres man-child rated #11 within the San Diego chain, while I gave the 6'5", 240-pound 19-year-old a higher nod, that could be due to age issues. Per MLB and Baseball Reference, I had Reyes' age as 17 (he played in the MidWest League last year, producing a .248-11-58 line. It now seems Reyes was actually 18, hence variation, but obviously he intrigues both of us (we both alluded to his linebacker-based body).

Clearly, our methodologies are pretty much in sync, so I could simply say he is right and leave it at that.

But, Werner does go more in-depth than I do, giving three-quarters of a page of pretty good narrative to each of his selections.

If you do love tracking prospects, and trying to stay ahead of the "Who is the next Mike Trout?" curve, the book, which is far more accessbile than intimidating, despite the size, is a must (of course so is my Top 250 list!).

Baseball is so like religion and politics.

Is there a god? Damned Obama! How the hell could Theo Epstein send Kris Bryant down?

It is not like any of the above declaratives/interogatives did not elicit some kind of visceral response out of you, right?

How about mentioning Josh Hamilton, or Ervin Santana, one of whom avoided suspension despite a history of drug abuse, while one was knocked out of half the season for getting caught with PEDs in his bloodstream?

We all have our opinions, and that is part of what makes the human experience so wonderful, and at the same time exasperating.

And, I am no different from most of you with those opinions. I think Jim Kaat and Tommy John should be in the Hall of Fame, no question, and so should Rock Raines and maybe even Dwight Evans and Bill Buckner (just that sentence probably wrankled some of you, right?).

And, while we all have our reactions to Hamilton, and his lack of suspension (how could that be?) and that of Santana (uh oh, I have him on three rosters), it is Bryant, and the comments on an e-mail thread that really piqued me to write about this today.

Within the e-mails, initiated by my old Bill James league mate Bryan Busse, it was asked "how the Cubs management could possibly send down the home run leader this spring to save a year's worth of salary?"

Virtually none of the 10 or so folks who responded to the question liked the move, and the reactions were  "I hope the Cubs lose a playoff spot by one game because of this dumbass move," invoking both a superior attitude and schadenfreude in one nifty sentence.

theoOne e-mailer, a Cardinals fan, was thrilled with the move, thinking it would make it easier for his team to make the postseason, and that was typical, for not one person spoke up on behalf of Cubs GM Theo Epstein, who has made the woeful Wrigley-ites the envy of every franchise with his brilliant drafting.

No slack then, for the guy who finally brought a pair of World Series titles to the Red Sox after a century of curse, and whose Cubs are suddenly a 6-to-1 bet to win the Series come October.

Which makes me wonder, what does someone have to do to get a little respect?

In fairness, I do often wonder about the moves made by GMs in baseball and football, truly wondering what these guys are thinking half the time. Barry Zito for seven years, for example, was just about as bad a deal as has been made over the last decade (and I am still a big Zito fan).

Well, dumb or not, Brian Sabean, who closed that deal, won three World Series titles during the bulk of Zito's tenure, so just how terrible of a job did Sabean do?

As for Epstein, is it not enough that he has first, lifted the Curse of the Bambino, but among Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo, and Bryant, Theo (who is also a pretty good guitar player) has assembled a collection of prospects that is enough to raise envy in any kind of baseball team, fantasy or real (how many of his guys do you have on your reserves, roster, and within your minors?).

I am pretty sure that Epstein understands the implications of getting himself an extra year's service from his future star at the expense of a couple of weeks and ten games, but the reality is if the team can simply go 5-5 until Bryant arrives, that should be fine.

And, should it be that the Cubs do indeed finish one game back, and that "failure" is attributed to a "lack of Bryant," well, the team will only get better, and the Cards and the universe better get ready for some rough times from 2016-2020.

Bet Theo does get the last laugh.

Last November, at First Pitch Arizona, Jeff Erickson, Peter Kreutzer, Ron Shandler, and I got together for our annual Tout Review from the previous season, and planning for the coming year.

The four of us--who drive the LLC--only get to see one another in person at the AFL, and then again at Tout itself in late March, and though we have pretty regular conference calls, face-to-face just makes everything that much better.

Sitting in the Marriott this past October, Jeff mentioned an idea--that he said Peter originally posed--of instituting a new league in addition to the four currently enjoying success. This league would be dynamic: the rules, participants, and format would all change from year-to-year, and the four of us would rotate driving the league each season.

This league would be known as "ToutX."

Since Ron is the original Tout, we deferred to him, saying he could employ any format he wanted, and we would work rules and fill the league accordingly.

Ron asked if using a variation of his monthly Shandler Park game that runs monthly cycles, instead of daily or yearly or H2H was ok, and we agreed, it was dealer's choice, and this season Ron was the dealer.

Shandler Park's four-week cycles do differentiate from other formats, but the league is also 4x4, using more esoteric and team oriented numbers, such as saves + holds and runs produced. There is a 32-man roster (23 active) with a $300 salary cap. The format allows for Friday roster changes, so pitcher streaming and platooning can be exploited during the busiest days of the ballplayer's week: the weekend.

However, to add a wrinkle--as well as get the ToutX participants into the New York festivities, which are fun and if you are drafting, some hard work--Ron posed that the initial rosters would be drafted as a snake format, but using the Shandler Park pre-assigned salaries.

What that meant was that for the first month of the season only, if you drafted Chris Sale, you had exclusive rights to the White Sox pitcher for the month, as opposed to the remainder of the season, when new four-week rosters would be drafted via the website utilizing the standard rules the Shandler Parkees now use.

With rules and format set, the dogged Peter set about the screening process of getting ten participants who were in the industry with requisite experience and reputation, but not yet involved with Tout Wars. Nominations were gathered, and invitations sent, from within came another great change: the addition of Stephania Bell and Andrea Lamont as the first women (yay) to participate, becoming part of the "X" factor.

This all seemed like good stuff, but with the swirl of activity that precedes each Tout, I did not give the game that much more thought, for there were logistics, as well as the addition of a Tout Daily game, that took focus.

However, last Friday, as Ron and I walked through the first traces of some Manhattan spring snow to breakfast, I told the Shandler Park brain that I felt pretty sure that the ToutX hybrid draft/auction was going to be the most interesting activity of the weekend.

If all the participants checked the rules and scoring, they would see that Mike Trout was not necessarily the most prudent allocation of resources, and sure enough, the top two players selected were Bryce Harper ($15) and Adam Jones ($13).

But, prior to the draft, as I anticipated to Ron over grits and eggs and toast, reasoning all this out might not be as simple as it seems.

It was true. The whole spectacle--which took just over a couiple of hours, which is not bad for 320 players--was just a fascinating and completely different spin on how to value and exploit player skills.

Had you coveted Sale, he would have been yours. Knowing the Southpaw might miss a few starts was not worth the $26 price tag, so Sale, along with Michael Brantley ($30), and Craig Kimbrel ($16) went undrafted by the ToutX'ers. Add in that Jon Lester ($22), Jason Kipnis ($17) and Jordan Zimmermann ($20) all went as reserve selections, and you can see how all the traditional barometers of skill and potential sort of went out like a wild pitch.

So, the participants, like Jake Ciely and Jeff Boggis had to battle out for normal end-game targets like Dan Otero and Garrett Jones right smack in the middle of each round, while tasty prospects like Kris Bryant sat on the sidelines, waiting for a punched dancecard that never happened (Bryant is surely hot, but the combo of his $15 price tag, and potentially missing the first two weeks of the season caused the particpants to eschew his services this cycle).

In fact, the whole draft dynamic became as interesting a piece of 10-way on-the-fly chess strategies as I have seen in awhile.

I do think ToutX will be a lot of fun to follow through, and equally important, I think that Ron's new format might well be the seeds of a fantastic new variation of a game we already love far more than we probably should.

And, if this year isn't good enough, wait till next year, when Peter, or Jeff, or even I get to conjure the playing field.

Look here for all the particulars about ToutX

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