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Monday 24th Jul 2017

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.

Now, I am not saying I would take Watt over Aaron Rodgers or even Joique Bell, but I similarly think points are points, and I don't care where I get them, controversy or not.

Once more, we have a review of one of @RotoBuzzGuy's (Howard Bender) #MockArmyDrafts, and again a 12-team PPR draft (next week we will get back to non-mock ramblings here).

This time, I selected first, which is fun for the first pick, then torture for 23, then good for two, and so on, so without any further ado, and as we get ready for our football drafts, let's take another look.

peterson_adrian_mock_resized1.1 Adrian Peterson (RB): Once more, a year off so his body is rested, and he has something to prove.

2.12 Latavius Murray (RB): Looking for a solid second back. It might have been early for Murray, but drafting at the wheel, I doubted he would be there for my fourth pick (and I was right: another owner said he would have grabbed Murray before he came back to me).

3.1 Emmanuel Sanders (WR): With Jordy Nelson gone, Sanders was easily the best wideout available at this point.

4.12 Julian Edelman (WR): Throw him the ball, and he catches it. If he can stay healthy and mimic past years, that means 90 catches and 1000 yards in a PPR league.

5.1 Joique Bell (RB): Stepping into the #1 role in Detroit, I expect Bell to flourish.

6.12 Ryan Tannehill (QB): Went in Round 5 last week, so I am happy to have my targeted QB right here.

7.1 Martellus Bennett (TE): 91 catches last year is a lot. Nabbed Bennett during the same round last week, in fact my next three selections all fell to the same rounds as last.

8.12 Anquan Boldin (WR): The guy just plays hard, so it is hard to not like him.

9.1 Seattle Seahawks (DEF): The best defensive players means the best chance to score some points each week.

10.12 Doug Baldwin (WR): Under-rated, but that will end this year when he steps into the #1 role.

11.1 Danny Woodhead (RB):Does a little of this and a little of that and always has a few big weeks in him.

12.12 Dan Herron (RB): #2 running back in Indianapolis can catch the ball as well as break out with some big runs.

13.1 Mohamed Sanu (WR): #2 WR in Cincy bagged 700-plus yards last year as a back-up. Think he steps it up this year.

14.12 Derek Carr (QB): I am looking at Carr having a breakthrough, as well documented. He has made every one of my mock teams and this is the lowest I have grabbed the Oakland signal caller, so he is still under the radar.

15.1 Caleb Sturgis (PK): Kickers are interchangable parts. I took the guy left with the strongest leg, but no sentiment or anything else. (No NFFC slots for kickers.)

See the entire draft HERE

This past Thursday, @RotoBuzzGuy (Howard Bender) held his fourth week of #MockArmyDrafts, a day later than in the past this season (meaning I could not post on Thursday), but as all of our drafts are rapidly approaching, today's space is dedicated to this latest 12-team PPR draft.

This time I drafted in the tenth spot: not great, but good on the return, once the draft kicks into gear. Note this time I also listed the recent NFFC ADPs, although I don't like ADPs any better for football than I do for baseball. I comment accordingly.

1.10 Matt Forte (RB): Was hoping Marshawn Lynch would fall to me, as long as I was going with an older back. I do like Forte, who does everything well and is the Bears' offensive mainstay, but I worry about him aging. (NFFC ADP: #17. #10 for me.)

2.3  Jordy Nelson (WR): Second time in a row I bagged Jordy on the return from the lower end of the draft. Love him, just love him. (NFFC ADP: #11. #15 for me.)

3.10 Joique Bell (RB): I like Bell, and I think he is on a team that will score some points. He can do everything, and, well, it is PPR. (NFFC ADP: #84. #34 for me.)

4.3 Julian Edelman (WR): Pass receiving machine, averaging 91 catches a season over the past two seasons. And, he returns punts. (NFFC ADP: #37. #39 for me.)

5.10 Amari Cooper (WR): Rookie gamble, but I like what the Raiders are doing. At least I want to like what they are doing. (NFFC ADP: #48. #58 for me.)

6.3 Martellus Bennett (TE): While I really cannot stand Jay Cutler, I do like a lot of the weapons he has. Bennett is one. (NFFC ADP: #69. #63 for me.)

7.10 Anquan Boldin (WR): Older, but steady and heady. Boldin does have 1,000 yards each of the last two seasons. (NFFC ADP: #74. #82 for me.)

8.3 Seattle Seahawks (DEF): Seattle has, on paper, the best defense. (NFFC ADP: #131. #87 for me.)

9.10 Darren Sproles (RB): Catches passes, runs the ball, and catches passes. Good flexible fill-in for bye weeks. (NFFC ADP: #137. #106 for me.)

10.3 Doug Baldwin (WR): Baldwin becomes the go-to guy in Seattle. I'm buying it. (NFFC ADP: #159. #111 for me.)

11.10 Cam Newton (QB): I really was focusing on Ryan Tannehill, who I had been grabbing around the 7th, but he was snatched up in the 5th, so I waited, and grabbed Newton, ostensibly as a #2 signal caller. (NFFC ADP: #110. #130 for me.)

12.3 Brian Quick (WR): Coming off injury, if the Cards can stay healthy, I think Quick follows up on last year's progress and has a break-out season. (NFFC ADP: #127. #135 for me.)

13.10 Derek Carr (QB): Truth is, I am planning on using Carr, who I think will completely step it up as the Raiders improve, as my #1. If you watched him last season, you will have seen incredible poise and skill for a rookie. I probably could have drafted him last with the amount of attention he gets, but this is just fine. 11th round last week. (NFFC ADP: #235. #154 for me.)

14.3 Eric Ebron (TE): Second at this spot, and another player I think will break out. (NFFC ADP: #158. #159 for me.)

15.10 Greg Zuerlein (PK): Kickers are interchangable parts. I took the guy left with the strongest leg, but no sentiment or anything else. (No NFFC slots for kickers.)

See the entire draft HERE

If you have been following around here this year, you probably know that I returned to playing golf after a 41-year layoff.

I documented my goofy return in the article "Aces", but since I did pick the clubs back up, I have been playing a lot. As in four-to-five times a week, playing a course three times, and then hitting the range a couple of times.

The game is so different to me than as a kid. I don't remember much in the way of strategy as a teenager aside from trying to simply hit the damn ball as hard as I could, ideally in the right direction.

But, as an adult, likely coupled by changes in the game, things have become so much more cerebral to me. I see a serious golf course as a miniature course on steroids, with patches of ice plant and bunkers protecting greens like a moat offers a defensive edge to a castle replacing windmills and silly slopes and dancing clowns.

In a way, that makes the designer evil to me, but being one who likes a challenge, this has all become part of a homogeneous game where thinking about shots and clubs and how to approach depending upon my lie is tantamount to some complex IT decision making flow chart.

But, after regular play over six months, I have indeed witnessed an improvement in my game with my tee shots straightening out for the most part, and my fairway shots getting there too. Unfortunately, the Zen to golf--aside from being in the moment each time you strike the ball--is that as one aspect of your game improves, almost by rote, something else deteriorates.

Or, as I tell Diane, one day it takes me four to hit the green and I two-putt, then next two to get on and I four-putt, making both rounds completely different yet exactly the same.

It is hard to describe why this peculiar game has seriously nailed me, but you know things are getting strange when between innings of the baseball game that has my attention, I switch to whatever golf tourney is on, and then back to baseball, depending upon who has which commercial first.

This particular weekend, though, has been extra interesting as with the PGA taking place in Wisconsin, I have not only been glued, but an entrant to a beginning Fantasy Golf contest at Draft Kings, where for my first go-around, I simply picked six golfers and the score is based upon eagles, birdies, and pars earning points, while bogeys on down cost.

So, the golfers I picked in the $50K Salary Cap game are:

Bubba Watson ($9900)

Dustin Johnson ($11,200)

Zach Johnson ($8400)

VJ Singh ($6500)

David Toms ($5600)

Jim Furyk ($8100)

I did well enough with Dustin Johnson in the lead, but as the second round winds down, there is a learning in Zach Johnson and David Toms, as neither looks like they will make the weekend cut, and that means no points, and no points in golf is like no innings or at-bats in fantasy baseball.

bubbawatsonI cannot say what prompted my selections, aside from Watson, who is fun to watch and simply crushes the ball, but a lot was based on my watching Bridgestone last week, where Bubba came on strong, and where the Johnsons and Furyk fared well. 

But, I do have to say it is as much fun to watch, and track and sweat out as are any other variation of fantasy sports.

As for Bubba and Dustin: please keep crushing it dude, and I will try to do the same.

Do look for us to cover more in the fantasy golf world in the future, though!

Like I said: it's fun!

I remember the first time I encountered the martial arts form of Aikido, which essentially uses the power and strength of an opponent to your advantage. Per Wiki, "Aikido techniques consist of entering and turning movements that redirect the momentum of an opponent's attack, and a throw or joint lock that terminates the technique."

Aikido, as a philosphy and means of martial arts, dates back to the late 19th Century to Morihei Ueshiba, and was designed as a physical defense that would essentially disarm the enemy without hurting them.

Now, I am not saying there are not bad people out there in the world who need not be spared the rod as they say, but the world has indeed changed a lot among the Internet and Twitter and Facebook and Smart Phones, and it is seriously time for those with a more parochial view to take a step back and think not only of what is being proposed or enforced, but also the ramifications of said action.

It happens so often, for example, Donald Trump maintains he could have made a deal with the Iranians in two minutes. Yeah, right. Obviously, Trump views the Iranians as the evil enemy, and while in no way do I mean to defend Iran, it takes very little to try and work with them to be part of the modern international community. Not to mention whether he likes it or not, there are a lot of subtleties to negotiating such a deal, whether anyone likes to admit it or not.

For, though that might sound naive--and even acknowledging Iran has hardly been trustworthy in the past--in the end Iranian kids will want McDonalds and Air Jordans and iPhones and that means business with the west and that means the Internet, and iPhones are the means to this end, whether anyone likes it or not.

But, for some reason, we have this idea that punishment--subjective or not--should still be harsh and almost selfrighteously so. goodell

Though I have indeed felt this way for a long long time, every time Roger Goodell does something, all I can do is smack my forehead and scream "D'oh" in my best Homer Simpson voice.

This latest craziness of upholding the Tom Brady suspension because there was circumstantial evidence thought to be on the cell phone that Brady was alleged to have destroyed is not just stupid: it is an open invitation to pass on control of the activities in the league to the U.S. Court System.

Of course, we all know of Brady's four-game suspension for his part in deflategate, even though no concrete evidence was ever produced that proved Brady was the brains let alone involved with the crazy affair. But, as I have written before, by the time deflategate happened, it was really too late to do anything about it, and the problem appeared to be the NFL never unilaterally administered any procedures with respect to the care and handling of the ball.

So, instead of acknowledging a problem and that something may have gone on with the Patriots/Colts footballs, and then going on to present a program to ensure the care, handling, and custodianship to a neutral party for every game from now on, the league suspended Brady.

Now, I am not saying the Patriots are model citizens, and as smart as I might think Bill Belichick is, I am not sure I would want to have dinner with him. But, there is no question that the Pats coach is smarter than Goodell.

Because the corner that Goodell has painted himself--and by proxy the league--into is that if the court overthrows that circumstantial conviction for his role in the ball scandal--and not destroying his phone, which was the means by which the suspension was upheld--that is basically telling every player suspended from now on that if you don't like what the Commissioner says, go to court.

And, should the court back Brady and Robert Kraft, that more or less makes the rulings of the Commissoner pretty much impotent, and that means why even bother with him.

Goodell, or those opposing the Iran deal, as an example, but really anything where there is an intransigent black and white solution to a problem, will always create an entire new set of problems for themselves by acting in this way. But taking a step back, and setting up a formal public structure to follow shows not just thought, but suggests that if there is a re-occurance of the transgression, it is clearly on the miscreant.

Which is kind of like Aikido in that it allows the guilty party to hang themselves.

As it is, the only one who will be hung out to dry is Goodell.

Ok, so if you were anticipating something sports related here, sorry. In fact, if you don't have pets, you are likely excused as well. But, if you do live in a "pack" situation--which can mean dogs, kids, goats, birds, snakes, whatever as far as I am concerned--you might want to just throw caution to the wind and hang in there for 900 words or so.

Of course, we are indeed all familiar with the dog days of the baseball season, the period towards the end of July, and into August when Sirius, the "Dog Star," and the eye of the constellation Canus Major hangs in the late summer sky.

And, this past couple of weeks entering into those dog days have been challenging ones in my circle of hound owning friends. Diane and I have three dogs, two of whom, Mahi, aged 13, and Jazzmine, aged 15, were clearly in their twilight years. 

Mahi had been in generally good shape though his aging body is such that his legs cannot receive the message sent to move as fast as when he was a young dog, and as a result our white German Shepherd spends time needing help up after a spill. The whole thing reminds me of the great Little Feat song, "Old Folks Boogie," which features the line "when your mind makes a promise that your body can't keep."

jazzyBut Jazzy, whom I adopted when she was five, had been suffering from lymphoma since early this year, and though she was basically hanging in there, I was aware our time together was drawing short. We went to Pismo Beach with family in mid-June, and by the time we came home, after a few weeks of travel, that time had come.

It is hard for me to write how much Jazzy and I had bonded. She came to me at a time I really needed her, about seven months after my wife Cathy passed away from breast cancer (just ten years ago) and a few months after my son Joey followed his step mother in 2006. At that time, we had a dog, Macaroni, but Roni was almost 12, and he was suffering the same loss of neural control that now plagues Mahi.

My sister-in-law, Jill Hedgecock, suggested that I get another dog to "help keep Macaroni young," but her real subtext was that Roni would also be gone soon and within a short period my entire family would be gone. So, I decided to look for another dog, and just happened to spot a picture of Jasmine (I changed the spelling of her name) and thought I liked the way she looked.

So, Jazzy's owner brought her over, and that was that: she lived with me forever after. Jazzmine was indeed my heart dog, and I was her human, and I can think of dozens of times when we looked at one another over the ten years she was with me when we were in the same zone. In fact, after the loss of my family (Macaroni did leave eight months after Jazzy arrived), I credit Jazzmine with being the catalyst to helping me out of that very dark and difficult portion of my life.

She was cute, and smart as a whip, and though Jazzy was a low-key/low-maintenance dog, she was very self assured and would not back down if she had a path to follow. 

pual_curtisIn all, she was a lovely creature, but sadly, I had to let her go on July 8. But, an eerie thing is my friend and fellow roto analyst Paul Sporer wrote a note of sympathy when I tweeted Jazzy had left us, and said he was concerned about his Beagle, Curtis (named for Granderson), who had been suffering an undiagnosed illness for a few months.

Strangely, that same night that Jazzy left, Curtis also took sick and departed this plane as well. Note that one of the things that really triggered my friendship with Paul was his bringing the pup to First Pitch Arizona several years back, and just seeing the Beagle (I needed a dog fix) made me feel better.

If you have, or have had a dog or cat or like pack member, you know what a hole this can leave. As a man who also lost his only child, I cannot say the loss of a pet is as hard by a long shot, but neither would I dismiss the whole affair by any means. 

Further, when your pet goes, the thought does go to replacing, but then the issue becomes questions of how soon, and how will I know it is the right dog, and am I honoring my deceased pal by "replacing" him or her?

Still, the universe is a strange place. Several months ago, our friend Jeanne Schuman told us that the dog groomer we had in common had our next dog, a black Lab, that our groomer Dianne had rescued off the streets.

jeepDiane (my partner with one "n" as opposed to our groomer friend who uses two) and I agreed we were not ready for a new pup over and over, until last week when she suggested she wanted a third dog, and we both thought "hey, why not check out the lab Dianne had?"

It didn't take long. Diane stopped in up the street and I finished playing golf and essentially brought Jeep (actually, Eugenia Jeep, named for magical dog Olive Oyl presents to Popeye) home with us to join the pack. Amazingly, right at the same time, Paul got a new Beagle named "Charlotte" (they are calling her "Charlie," and I referred Paul to Alfred Hitchcock's "The Shadow of a Doubt").

To say that Jeep just stepped right into the groove of our household is an understatement, and I have to admit that though I still have a hole in my heart where Jazzy has gone, the beauty of life is we do move on. And, part of that equation is that if we are open, the voids in our hearts do more than refill: when given the chance, it seems all hearts, human, canine, whatever will embrace and grow and comfort beyond what any of us mortals could ever imagine.

I have worked hard as I have aged to learn patience.

By nature, I am not a patient man, but a combination of life's challenges has pretty much forced the issue, and I must confess that generally I prefer the calmness that comes with taking a deep breath while waiting to react or make a decision.

In general, that has ruled my fantasy baseball (and football, for that matter) strategies over the years, and I am comfortable for the most part as I understand if Derek Jeter bats .142 in April, but finishes the season with a .285 average, that should I trade or dump the former Yankees shortstop when he is cold, I am giving up five months worth of .310 hitting.

Meaning prudence in this case is both wise, and rewarding.

But, it is interesting to look at the Tout Wars American League Standings, where my team name seems indelibly stamped in at last place, and to look at the transactions at the halfway point of the season, per team, and see if making a lot of moves makes that much difference.

Team Place in Standings Points # of FAAB's
Chris Liss 1 88 21
Mike Podhorzer 2 87 13
Jeff Erickson 3 76 12
Jason Collette 4 75 27
Rob Leibowitz 5 70.5 15
Ron Shandler 6 66 15
Rick Wolf/Glenn Colton 7 65 16
Larry Schechter 8 62 11
Andy Behrens  9 58 11
Seth Trachtman 10 53 14
Steve Moyer 11 45 17
Lawr Michaels 12 34.5 9

Aside from Monsieur Podhorzer, who had arguably the best draft with 59 of a possible 60 offensive points in his basket, there clearly is a lot more aggressive roster swapping among the top teams than the lower tier of hopefuls, like me.

And, while I did make the biggest FAAB purchase thus far (Mark Trumbo for $83), nothing seems to help me, or for that matter any of my mates who populate the bottom half of the standings.

We all know that the early-season FAAB grabs tend to be the ones that pay off the best, and this season has been just an incredible one for advancing top prospects like Miguel Sano and Joey Gallo in the American League. 

But, despite the 34 FAAB moves made by the top two teams, the only really interesting and impactful players seem to be Lance McCullers and Shawn Tolleson by Chris Liss.

That tells me the key to winning is a lot more rooted in drafting the best team in the first place, and simply making it better via FAAB, because for the most part, my last place hope and goal is to simply climb to 11th.

It has been that kind of year.

Welcome, and thanks for tuning in on the actual Fourth of July holiday.

Since we are just about at the season midpoint, it is now pretty easy to see which of my teams have a chance to do what, which in my season-long teams is not very good.

In the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR), where Clayton Kershaw was the centerpiece of my draft (at $40, and more to come on that in a few weeks), my team is in eighth place, about 45 points behind leader Derek Van Riper of Rotowire. And amazingly, that is the only league where I have a chance to do much.

Clearly, Kershaw does need to kick it in gear, but there I managed to make a few trades, including Lucas Duda for Carlos Rodon and Gio Gonzalez for Jason Grilli, fixing my closer issue. And those deals--with Steve Gardner and Shawn Childs respectively--were pretty easy to negotiate.

Kind of the same in AL Tout Wars, where I swapped off one of my closers in Cody Allen in a deal that netted me the pop of Nelson Cruz, although my main objective there is to simply crawl out of the cellar.

But in all my other leagues--which are the keepers, while LABR and Tout are throwbacks--making a deal has been tough, and the issue is usually that horrible disparity between perceived value and actual value.

In Tout, I did turn down a deal recently where I was offered David DeJesus, to ostensibly push my last place OBP, in exchange for the very weak hitting thus far Mark Trumbo (whom I grabbed for $88 in FAAB). Unfortunately, DeJesus, whom I saw a lot in Oakland, has only a .255 OBP over the past month, and the chances of his playing time being reduced are a lot greater than Trumbo, no matter what the Mariner DH does. I passed.

With David Wright, Sean Doolittle, Kenley Jansen and Alex Cobb as part of my XFL core, that team, as you can imagine, never had a chance. I have made some deals there, picking up picks and prospects. But, in that format, where I can keep 15 players, I can be a little flexible and in a tough rebuild, I now have Jon Gray and Billy McKinney and some extra picks in next March's expansion.

But, I have found swapping in my Strat-O-Matic and Scoresheet leagues tough.

My Strat team is actually very good, although the one thing I could use is a serious fifth starter (my guys now are Dustin McGowan, Brandon Maurer and T.J. House), and I regret not trying to move on either David Price or Cole Hamels, who each went for a 2016 second-round draft pick. (Since Strat is a simulation of last year, that means in this 30-team league, Kris Bryant and Carlos Correa et al will not be available until next year.)

I did try to make a move for Adam Wainwright, but a second-rounder was not good enough, even though that was the cost of him five years ago and next year I will get minimum, if any, use of him. Wainwright is five years older than that last trade in 2010, but somehow a second rounder is not equitable to Wainwright's owner, though it seems fair to me.

Tougher, in my Scoresheet contest, we can freeze a soft eight of what will be a 37-man squad, and are also allowed to protect one prospect as a 19th round selection. Soft eight means within the 24-team league, we can freeze eight plus a 19th rounder, but that the teams who keep less than eight draft until we all have that number starting in Round 9.

My team has struggled this year, my first such in Scoresheet, largely because my ninth round pick this year (as in first selection) was Ervin Santana, leaving me to scramble for a fifth starter.

There are teams who would like to grab my first baseman, Albert Pujols, as well as one of my four good outfielders--Steven Souza, Alex GordonMarcell Ozuna and Michael Brantley--in exchange for a 19th rounder (each team can collect up to three of them), a 25th rounder and Oswaldo Garcia in exchange for Gordon, Pujols, George Kontos and my last two picks.

This basically suggests that I can get a prospect who might be good some time in the future for two freezes and I just don't understand why someone would think that is even or fair.

Not that I mean to either trash the owners, or write extensively about my teams, but rather, this is the time when deals are made, both in keeper and throwback contests, so I'm simply walking through my litmus test for swaps. That is, would you as the owner do this deal were everything in reverse?

So, put yourself in your trade partner's place, and then even ask them if they would do the deal were they in your shoes, and equally important, ask them why.

Trading is tough. So, don't be afraid to trade, but realize that trades should hurt both teams while also offering a chance at numbers, either immediately or sometime in the near future. Similarly, weigh the pluses and minuses carefully!

Again, the happiest and safest of Fourth of July holidays to you and your family.

This last week had been a fun one: one I had anticipated for months.

Last fall, Diane and I drove down the California coast to visit friends in the southern part of the state. We stopped in San Luis Obispo to visit our niece, Kelly Hedgecock, who lives there with her partner Paul Carvalho--they both graduated from Cal Poly, and Paul is completing his Masters in Marine Biology--and Diane and I took Kelly out to lunch in nearby Pismo Beach.

Pismo is a lovely area: one little beach town that is sort of the center of five little beach towns that offer surfing, sunshine, great seafood, and of course the beach, not to mention the wonderful Monarch Dunes golf course Eric (Kelly's dad and my golf partner) and I played on Tuesday (very challenging, despite the short 5880 total yards).

So, after that fall visit, we talked with Eric and Jill and all agreed to rent a condo for a week during the summer and hang out on said beaches and links in close proximity to Kelly and Paul, rather than their always driving up north. The place we stayed was indeed just feet from the beach, and it was nice enough, but the Wi-Fi promised was at best schizy, such that my laptop could not even find the network, pretty much knocking me off the grid save my IPhone.

The truth is that was ok with me because it was a holiday, and my mates Todd and Zach could cover for me posting and tweeting the stuff I handle, so aside from watching the Warriors dispose of the Cavaliers Tuesday evening, no TV, no internet, no nothing save my e-mails and a couple of tweets.

That is what a vacation is supposed to do: give respite from the craziness of the world, and that we got, such that we did not find out about the massacre of the nine humans in a South Carolina church until Thursday morning, as we sauntered back up the coast to our home in the bay area.

I have written enough times on this site, and in this space even, over the years speaking out against such holocausts and atrocoties and bigotries. I am sorry to do it here where I know you look for a break from the craziness of the world, much like we went to Pismo for a few days.

But, too many times--Newton, Aurora, Gabby Gifford, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, and Freddie Gray just to name a few of these outrages--the behaviors we exhibit as Americans when we are ostensibly all created equal, all supposed to be subject to the same laws, and where the justice associated with these slaughters is not even close to meted out in a fair manner despite "equal protection under the law" we are supposed to enjoy.

Somehow, 300 million guns are not enough in our country, and somehow just simple laws controlling who gets to have guns, and where, and what kind is more important to protect than are the lives of the citizens who wind up being victimized by those same weapons.

Just in poking around, I discovered that between December of 2012, when Sandy Hook occurred, and June of 2014, when a student killed another student, wounded a teacher, and then killed himself in an Oregon school, there were no fewer than 74 school shootings. That is schools, where our children learn, right?

But, trying to simply be sensible and reduce the number of bullets in the clip of an automatic weapon that the forefathers never imagined, is not only an impossibility, but it has been protected with simply an interpretation of the second amendment that suggests we have the right to maintain an armed militia, but nothing about personal individuals having a similar arsenal.

And, those gun laws are also protected by the same bigots who do not understand that the Confederate flag is just as offensive as a Nazi flag, both symbols of oddly similar supremist philosophies, the victimization, exploitation, and death of millions of humans at the behest of those in charge, essentially at a whim. 

But, as with protecting the gun owners, rather than the victims, the flying of the flag is alluded to some kind of honor despite the fact that the banner really represents the worst within us, and the reality is it also represents a treasonous revolution that simply failed, and while it may be considered noble to die for a cause, that particular effort was an evil one.

I wrote awhile back about the Supreme Court dismantling a lot of the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, with Chief Justice Roberts declaring that "racism in America was over."

Obviously, that is not even close to true as we can note simply from the cause of the South Carolina perpetrator.

Of course, all the talking heads are buzzing about how could this happen and how to stop it, but it does not seem like anyone with any real power is particularly interested in pushing back bigotry (think of a right wing portrayal of the President as Hitler), let alone controlling what kinds of weapons our responsible citizens can own.

It does come up often enough that Americans do need to have a serious discussion about race, and I do think that is right, but I do think we are approaching this in the wrong way.

I have thought about this in the context of Caitlyn Jenner's conversion in concert with the resignation of Rachel Dolezal from her NAACP post because she lied about her race (and, the truth is the lie was worth a firing, but her race had nothing to do with it, per the NAACP).

While it is true human beings come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and colors, the truth is we are all the same: we are all neurotic beings looking for some acceptance and acknowledgement somewhere during our limited time on earth so that we don't feel our individual existences were meaningless. And, if freedom of choice and expression are traits American exceptionalism is supposed to emcompass, then who is to say that Jenner is a man or Dolezal is African American but them?

And, though culturally we might identify or be "typecast" as African-American, or Muslim, or Jewish, or Asian, first we are all Americans. 

Second, there is only one race that covers this spectrum both here and abroad.

It is the human race. 

That is what we are all part of, and until we deal with the idea of humans as part of that homogenous collective, there is very little hope for any of us.

Way back in the early 80's, when I first became affiliated with the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR), the thing that triggered my interest was strikeouts.

I am not sure how or why this happened, or why I was drawn to whiffs, but what prompted that curiosity was the change in the all-time strikeout leaders. What I saw was that the all-time leaders, the greats I had always thought of as the greatest strikeout men of all time, such as Walter Johnson, Cy Young, and Tim Keefe, were rapidly being displaced.

By the 90's, that famed troika from the past began dropping, and now Johnson is #9, Cy Young is #20, and Keefe #27 (right behind Warren Spahn and Bob Feller). 

Some of this change is likely due to roster expansion in that with the leagues growing, the quality of the teams starting batters went from 16 between both leagues, to the present 30, diluting the hitter's pool. While it is true that the new lions of strikeouts, like Randy Johnson and Steve Carlton and Bert Blyleven had long careers, they certainly did not log the number of innings per year that Johnson, Young, and Keefe did.

But, hitters did swing the bat more than the hitters of yesteryear, and with the promotions of hitters like Joey Gallo and Kris Bryant, surely the acceptance of young hitters who make big swings, mash big homers, and create big masses of whiffs is more than just acceptable. It is the norm.

To be sure, I like both Bryant and Gallo a lot, and think they both are ready and will have fine careers, but if you look at their numbers, there should be something  disturbing about Bryant whiffing 162 times last year, meaning one-third of his 492 at-bats finished with a strikeout, while Gallo whiffed 179 times, or 41% of his 439 at-bats.

One of the reasons I do think Gallo and Bryant will succeed is that both do walk a reasonable amount of the time, but most up-and-coming hitters do not have the combination of power and strike zone command that this pair of great young batters do.

And, while it is true that the all-time strikeout leaders started to become displaced in the 80's, since that time the list at the top has remained pretty stable, for CC Sabathia, who ranks #31, is the highest active player on the list, with only five pitchers actually pitching the bulk of their careers before 1950 out of all those top 31, but with just Johnson and Javier Vazquez the only pair to have thrown within the last five years.

However, among the top 30 single-season strikeout leaders, only Ryan and Johnson are on the list with the remainder largely being pitchers from the dead ball era and just after.

If we look at career strikeouts, the only batter among the top 30 all-time who is active is Alex Rodriguez, while the only player active in the 50's is Mickey Mantle at #26, but we have to go all the way to #113, for Babe Ruth, in order to find a player from a really by-gone era.

Equally interesting, we have to go back to Don Lock, who is tied at #217 on the all-time single-season strikeout mark for hitters with 151, which he garnered in 1963, in order to find a name not familiar to those of us who have followed ball and hitters over the past 20 years or so.

Meaning the number of individual strikeouts batters accumulate these days is way greater than in the past, while the number of whiffs starting pitchers are recording are way down.

I am guessing with specialization and relievers and situational hitters, that is where the balance of whiffs that are charged to hitters but not logged by starters lives, but on this Saturday morning, I have to wonder, just where did all those whiffs go?

I do think strikeouts and walks are the key to everything pitchers and hitters do, and they are indeed the stats that truly bind the offense and the defense, being commonly tracked to the success of each. 

But, again I ask: just who is logging all these whiffs?

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