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Tuesday 25th Jul 2017

As another roto season winds to its close, it seems fitting to bring this column back around to its foundation – a discussion of league rules. More appropriately perhaps would be to say the discussion of league rules process.

Sometimes, it is cool to share with others specific new and innovative approaches deployed in our leagues, backed up by supporting rules, of course. Yet many times, these new ideas do not fit the league structure or format or even tastes of other owners who are reading this.

Instead, this is going to be a very basic column with just one key message - consider any adjustments to your league rules now.

Let’s start with the timing question.

No doubt that many have already checked out of baseball and are deep into the football season. I don’t understand those who can only juggle one ball at a time, but that is a discussion for another day.

You are likely not among those who have left baseball behind, however. After all, you are reading this fantasy baseball column in early October.

The 2015 season for your leagues will never be fresher in your mind than right now. Start by writing down those areas of contention that popped up during the season. (In the leagues I run, all year long, I maintain a simple list of such items that is stored on my computer. This helps the recollection process considerably.)

Whether you have an existing list or need to start a new one, your next step should be to review the items. The first question should be whether the issue is real. Many are not. Like any of this, it is a judgment call, though, so if it was important to someone in the league, it should probably get a fair hearing.

Next question is to consider the potential actions to be taken as a result. Is it a simple item such as moving a key deadline or is it a topic that would lead to substantial change and require considerable discussion among the league members? An example of the latter might be going from batting average to on-base percentage or migrating from 4x4 to 5x5.

Unless your league is a dictatorship, the next step is to decide how to elicit opinions from the league members.

My advice is to write an explanation of each proposed change in simple terms and include how the league constitution would change as a result. That way, everyone is starting from the same point.

If for some reason, your league does not have written rules, change that ASAP. Find a comparable constitution from another league and modify it to fit. No need to reinvent the wheel.

Now, how do you have the discussion? E-mail is often the fastest and most convenient for many. It also helps frame the evaluation process. Unfortunately, e-mail can also be the most chaotic.

In one of my leagues, a 15-teamer, any league discussion via e-mail is like open mic night at the local comedy club located at the Holiday Inn. There are so many clever comments made that sometimes the issue gets lost.

If your league software has a private message exchange or forum capability, use it. Having a documented history of the dialogue could prove invaluable later. It is much preferred to wading through what could be dozens of e-mails, with potentially different comments on different discussion threads, as replies are invariably not made to the most recent remark. Let your system help you here.

However you do it, do it now. Do not wait until next spring. Sure, the discussion will be a lot shorter, since few will remember the issues. The downside of waiting is that it will be likely that the same problems will be encountered again next year.

Instead, discuss potential changes and decide on them now, update your constitution and look forward to a smoother and more enjoyable league operation next season as a result.


Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Like most of the rest of the fantasy world, I am participating in daily fantasy sports (DFS), and doing just fine. So why do I have an empty feeling about it?

This year, I have been thinking about this a lot and have decided what is missing for me is a staple of roto, the human element.

My fantasy baseball journey began almost a quarter century ago when my brother-in-law convinced me to join his AL-only 4x4 league with his high school and college friends. I had already been following Major League Baseball closely and the competition intrigued me. With a math background to boot, I had a feeling I could thrive.

When all is said and done, I subjected myself to years of painful eight-hour auction drafts - waiting while my brother-in-law flipped through magazines, paralyzed over whether or not to make a $1 bid - for one reason.

I wanted to kick his butt, which not only did I do, but years later, my oldest son did, too.

You see, my motivation was simple. My brother-in-law is younger, stronger and faster than me. No matter the athletic endeavor, his higher level of talent comes to the surface. But, he has still never beaten me in fantasy baseball, and I remain very proud of that fact.

I know I am not alone.

The devotion that we have to our drafts, our teams, trading and trying to win is a common thread that so many of us share. In fact, ESPN's Matthew Berry essentially filled an entire book, A Fantasy Life, with hilarious reader-submitted anecdotes highlighting their often-crazy fantasy passions.

Over the years, I competed in high-stakes games, including the National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) and its football counterpart, the NFFC. While I did just fine at them, I eventually stopped playing. I had spread myself too thin with too many leagues and these lost out.

To me, the money just wasn'€™t the allure. I really enjoyed the friendships with Greg Ambrosius and Tom Kessenich, who run the games and their playing regulars. Though the leagues themselves had different members each time - for obvious reasons to avoid collusion temptation - the reality was that many of the same people play in the same games in the same cities every year.

One of the most fun parts of my NFFC preparation was to meet friend and former CreativeSports peer Lori Rubinson very early on draft morning at a New York City diner. In what must have seemed to observers to have been some kind of bizarre version of sports speed dating, we spent multiple hours firing names at each other to solicit the opinion of the player's fantasy prospects for the coming season.

My work at CreativeSports, which later merged into Mastersball, led to some of my closest friendships and eventually into invitations to compete in industry leagues. Though I have never yet won the XFL, Xperts Fantasy League, my 2009 National League Tout Wars title has been my career highlight to date. Not a penny changed hands.

Two things are tied for my favorite part of the First Pitch Arizona Forum, held in Phoenix around Halloween each year. One is going to Arizona Fall League games and sitting in the desert sun with my industry friends, talking prospects and whatever else comes to mind. The other is the XFL auction draft, held during the event without supporting materials of any kind.

My springs are not complete without a trip to Spring Training, followed by a weekend of Tout Wars drafts against the backdrop of the Big Apple. It is an opportunity to catch up with several dozen industry friends and competitors in an amazingly fun setting.

For me, the common thread is being with friends and hopefully, beating them. Winners are remembered, and if not, one can rest assured the first-place finisher will remind his/her league mates.

Daily games do not give me the same satisfaction. One faces different players, usually anonymous screen names, each day. Even if one scores a big win, few know it and it is almost sure to be forgotten in 24 hours or less.

Money is nice, but for me, peer recognition is far more important.

Next season, I hope to find the best of both. I am going to seek out a DFS league with friends. A format where we can pick new rosters each day and have daily winners, but keep running standings of the daily results over the course of the season with a big winner at the end.

In 2015, Tout Wars offered a version of this, with a once-weekly DFS game, split into monthly tournaments with a winner's€™ championship at the end. Alas, while I did well most weeks, I continued to fall just short of placing in any of the monthly tourneys. I was among those who successfully lobbied to add a wild card in the future, which had it existed this year, could have been my finals ticket.

Finishing first in a DFS marathon against friends would mean something, giving me the chance for that roto-kind of satisfaction from a series of daily sprints. I am pretty sure that is where I hope to get my DFS fulfillment in 2016.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

I’ve said it many times before, and I am certainly not the first – or the last - to make the point. In leagues with free agent allocation budgets (FAAB), spend aggressively early. You know the reason – the sooner you can start accumulating results, the better.

It is easy to say but more difficult to do - effectively.

For example, in National League Tout Wars this season, here are the most expensive April acquisitions, along with the results they have delivered since.

Archie Bradley, $42: 2-3, 5.80 ERA, 1.626 WHIP

Kevin Plawecki, $32: .228, two home runs, 18 RBI

David Buchanan, $27: 2-7, 9.00 ERA, 1.959 WHIP

Trevor Cahill, $27: 0-3. 7.52 ERA, 1.785 WHIP

Now, just to be clear, I am not throwing stones. I readily admit that I placed bids on all three of the above pitchers, but fortunately, others were willing to pay more.

As one would expect, as the season got underway, there was money to spend and owners willing to spend, as indicated in the above. At least in 2015, however, there just weren’t good players to buy.

Or were there?

The real trick is not overspending on long-shots, but instead identifying diamonds in the rough. First-month NL Tout bargain buys included:

Matt Duffy, $4: .342 OBP, 10 home runs, 60 RBI, eight steals, 61 runs

A.J. Ramos, $1: 23 saves, 2.70 ERA, 0.988 WHIP

They don’t even have to be sexy.

Jeff Francoeur, $1: .300 OBP, 12 home runs, 42 RBI

After all, you can have the opportunity to make a lot of $1 mistakes and still not spend $42.

Granted, the main reason the league leaders are in those positions is due to the quality of their draft day selections, but I also do not believe it is coincidence that the first and second-place teams are the ones who added Duffy, Ramos and Francoeur in April. And they cost Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus and Tristan H. Cockcroft of ESPN a grand total of $6.

It should go without saying that the top-scoring teams avoided the early big-money mistakes.

Fast forward to the interleague trade deadline. Partially because Tout owners had rostered most of the top prospects in the NL long before they were called up, there was still a lot of FAAB remaining on the table in July.

Here is where the big money went, along with July-August results since joining their new NL teams:

Yoenis Cespedes, $78: .331 OBP, eight home runs, 23 RBI, four steals, 20 runs

Jose Reyes, $78: .287 OBP, three home runs, 12 RBI, five steals, 10 runs

Brandon Moss, $75: .347 OBP, two home runs, four RBI

Nick Swisher, $46: .362 OBP, three home runs, 11 RBI

Michael Bourn, $46: .228 OBP, no home runs, one RBI, two steals, no runs

Sadly, the poorest performer, Bourn, was my big purchase, but this article isn’t about me.

Other than Cespedes playing out of his mind in his first month as a New York Met, Reyes delivered the best August counting stats from among this group of pricey acquisitions.

Reyes’ owner is none other than Gianella. By spending his money smartly early, picking up bargains like Ramos and Francoeur, but not wasting it during the season, he was able to conserve enough cash to add a strong contributor in Reyes for the home stretch.

Is it surprising that Gianella has been in first place for months?

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

No matter what line of work you may be in, chances are very good you would be excused from reporting for duty for a few days for the birth of your child.

Not so, if you are professional baseball player, apparently. By the way some act, you’d think we were still in the 1960’s.

Last season, New York Mets infielder Daniel Murphy was trashed by a segment of baseball observers for spending two games away from the team to be with his wife while she was giving birth.

Never mind the fact that he was taking advantage of a capability allowed for all players. Since 2011, the collective bargaining agreement between Major League Baseball and the Players' Association allows for up to a three-day paternity leave absence.

Several prominent radio talking heads spoke for themselves and others who are living in the past.

"You're a major league baseball player. You can hire a nurse,'' 60-year-old host Mike Francesa said of Murphy on WFAN, the Mets’ flagship radio station. "What are you gonna’ do, sit there and look at your wife in the hospital bed for two days?"

On another WFAN show, former NFL quarterback and host Boomer Esiason agreed. The 52-year-old said that Murphy's wife should have had a "C-section before the season starts."

After widespread criticism was aimed in his direction, Esiason quickly backtracked.

This non-issue issue did not go away, however. Several weeks ago, it was St. Louis Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal’s wife who had the audacity to deliver her child during the season while her husband’s team was in first place.

This time, the critics included a Pittsburgh-based sports media personality named John Stiegerwald, age 67.

On Twitter he said, “Trevor Rosenthal taking 3days paternity leave in the middle of a pennant race is ridiculous & another sign of the wussification of America.”

It is sad that in today’s world, some men cannot appreciate the importance of family values for all individuals, even highly-paid professional athletes. Even if they don’t agree, they have no right to criticize others for their personal decisions.

One man who has never been accused of being a wuss is Tony La Russa. He is one of baseball’s long-time tough guys, not ever willing to back down to anyone. However, the current Chief Baseball Officer of the Arizona Diamondbacks, age 70, grew up in the game in a time long before paternity leave became commonplace.

In a book in which he fully cooperated, Buzz Bissinger’s “3 Nights in August,” La Russa shared his long-standing regret over how he dealt with a similar issue in his early days of managing.

Six months after making his eight-month pregnant wife move to Chicago against her wishes when he took his first managerial job with the White Sox, La Russa’s wife Elaine was hospitalized with pneumonia. It was early in the 1983 season and his family, including a three-year-old and the new baby, had not yet moved up from Florida to Chicago.

La Russa chose to remain with his club, asking his sister to take care of his children.

As the manager told Bissinger two decades later, “How was I stupid enough? I should have left the team and taken care of my wife and kids. I’ve never forgiven myself for that and they’ve never forgotten.”

The bottom line is that no one should be shamed for wanting to take an equal role in parenting. Those who cannot accept that don’t deserve the time of day.

Now, you’ll have to excuse me while I go and play with my beautiful granddaughter.


Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

On Friday, Jack Zduriencik was fired as general manager of the Seattle Mariners. It was not an unexpected move as he was leading one of Major League Baseball’s biggest disappointments of 2015. The M’s were 10 games under .500 at 59-69 and 12 games out of first place after showing renewed promise by winning 87 games last season.

Since, the club had added proven hitters in Nelson Cruz and Mark Trumbo, yet manager Lloyd McClendon’s club is only four games out of last place – just ahead of another surprisingly poor performing team in Oakland.

In Zduriencik’s seven years at the helm of the American League West organization, the Mariners managed just one other winning year, way back in his first season of 2009.

Managers who preceded McClendon included Don Wakamatsu and Eric Wedge – both having departed under very tumultuous circumstances. The former essentially faced a player revolt and was fired while the latter walked out because of the trying organizational working environment.

Back near the very beginning – in 2009 - is when my long-held uncomfortable feelings about Jack Z began – more than anything because of what others were saying about the then-still unproven GM.

Still, there seemed no doubt that Zduriencik had earned his shot at the big chair. His success leading Milwaukee’s scouting operations had brought the Brewers an impressive nucleus that included Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Yovani Gallardo, J.J. Hardy and others. In fact, in 2007, he had been the first non-GM to be named Baseball America’s Executive of the Year.

He came into Seattle with a reputation as being an ideal meld of old-school scouting and new-wave analytics.

After a huge turnaround in 2009 during which the Mariners improved by 24 games over the year before, the “Jack Z is a genius” movement gained significant momentum, apparently fueled by special love from the saber community.

In March 2010, a Fangraphs article anointed Seattle as baseball’s sixth-best organization. One of the many reasons cited was the organization’s hiring of well-known sabermetrics analyst Tom Tango. The closing: “After years of being a joke, the Mariners have made one of the most impressive turnarounds in recent history.”

That same month, Sports Illustrated ranked Zduriencik, with barely a year on the job, as the #5 GM in all of MLB. Author Tim Marchman stopped just short of genius worship, calling Jack Z. “one of baseball's most highly regarded minds.”

Reality was far harsher. That season, the Mariners went on to win 61 games and lose 101, the team’s worst record since way back in 1983. So much for pronouncements.

It didn’t get much better over time, with the team taking until 2014 just to get back to .500.

Perhaps the most damning criticism of Jack Z’s reign was included in a December 2013 Seattle Times report, “Dysfunction at the top: Eric Wedge, others point to trouble in Mariners’ front office.” The article included charges made by former special assistant Tony Blengino.

Blengino, who had worked for Zduriencik for the Brewers and Mariners, had been fired earlier that year. As such, one might question his motives. Yet, Blengino minced no words. He asserted that he wrote "virtually the entire job application package Zduriencik gave the Mariners in 2008, depicting a dual-threat candidate melding traditional scouting with advanced statistical analysis.”

“Jack portrayed himself as a scouting/stats hybrid because that’s what he needed to get the job,” Blengino said. “But Jack never has understood one iota about statistical analysis…”

The Seattle Times article went on to assert that “Numerous unhappy scouts and executives have quit or been fired by the Zduriencik regime.”

"‘They’ve humiliated people they’ve let go,’ a then-current scout told the Times. ‘And the ones still here hate it. They hate the way they’re treated.’"

Speaking of scouting, his supposed strength, Zduriencik has stumbled, rightfully taking heat for his three fruitless top-five picks. They include Dustin Ackley (second overall in 2009) and Danny Hultzen (second overall in 2011). It is too early to call Mike Zunino (third overall in 2012) a bust, but the catcher has clearly disappointed. In fact, just one player Zduriencik drafted in his years in Seattle has become an All-Star - third baseman Kyle Seager.

Zduriencik’s free agent acquisitions (starting with Chone Figgins through Robinson Cano), and trades (for Cliff Lee and sending away Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero among others) also did not make his clubs a regular contender. Instead, each year extended Seattle’s second-longest playoff drought in MLB, stretching back to 2001.

And ultimately, that continued futility is what led to Zduriencik’s firing. Whether he is a genius or more likely something less, the teams he assembled simply did not win.

Here’s hoping his successor is given a chance to truly chart his own path before any unreasonable labels – whether positive or negative - are placed on him.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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