Archive for the 'fantasy baseball' Category

An Ear for Human Tendency: Pointing Out A Great Yahoo! Fantasy Baseball Column

via flickr user rogerchoover (click-through)

There’s something a little grating about the fantasy baseball posts and trade/contract rumors that look to 2011, even in the thick of the 2010 season. It suggests a level of obsessiveness that’s a little uncomfortable for me, like people who plan their next vacation while they are still on their current vacation.

That said, I’ve found an exception to the rule: this Yahoo! fantasy baseball article, 10 Questions: 10 for ’11, by Chris Ryan. On the surface, this would seem to be your typical fantasy post about booms and busts and draft picks and what-have-you, which is well and good, that’s why I was reading it to begin with.

But I started to enjoy this column on a slightly different level, as I started to get its logic. The questions in question are basically, “Who is next year’s X,” in which X is the player that embodies one of the 10 fantasy baseball phenomena.

Here is an example:

Who is next year’s … post-hype pitcher who causes owners to exclaim “damn, I can’t believe I forgot about that guy” when said pitcher lives up to his billing in Year 2.

2009 Version: Clayton Kershaw
2010 Version: David Price
2011 Version: Brian Matusz

There is some explanation as well, but what really got me interested was the identification of these phenomena, and how on point they are. “Yes!” I found myself saying when I saw David Price’s name on this list. His hype was enormous, then he had a “mediocre” year as like a 21-year-old so everybody forgot about him, and now he’s the stud we all expected. The space of a year wiped our brains of his potential, which he–and deep-down baseball people, too–obviously didn’t lose sight of.

It’s a simple idea, but Chris Ryan has rendered it perfectly in these questions. He’s used his eye for pattern to shed some light on our common experience as baseball fans and fantasy baseball players, the way that Chuck Klosterman so often does in his work on music and popular culture.

Here’s another one, ’cause they’re fun:

Who is next year’s … can’t miss youngster who disappoints on a season-altering scale?

2009 Version: Chris Davis
2010 Version: Gordon Beckham
2011 Version: Starlin Castro

This one’s also perfect because I totally disagree with him, mostly because Starlin is on my fantasy team. I drafted Gordon Beckham this year, and experienced the season-altering disappointment. Ryan’s in my head!

Anyhow, I just thought I’d point out what I consider a fantastic example of how a little insight, some research, a good ear for human tendency and a laptop can change the world.

30 for 30: Silly Little Game

ESPN took a break from its coverage of the NFL draft to acknowledge the National Pastime in Silly Little Game, a part of its 30 for 30 series of films. Silly Little Game is a documentary about the founding parents of Rotisserie baseball. The story is re-told through the magic of interviews with scions and gauzy reenactments.

Both Eric and I are on the heels of reading and discussing Fantasyland, a book about fantasy baseball from ancient times through this very second, so this recent renaissance of the history of Rotisserie just seems to keep going and going.

I’m not totally up on the public’s view of the 30 for 30 series, except for the occasional bout of extreme praise that I’ve heard here and there. I’m not much for college sports or Al Davis stories, so I haven’t made a solid effort to watch any of them until Silly Little Game predictably caught my eye. I consider it a success when long form storytelling makes it into the popular culture.

The production value of Silly Little Game is a few notches above the typical Behind the Lines or whatever crappy Fox Sports docudrama of the week that they used to show after I got home from baseball practice. The goofy, improvisational dialogue and fast and loose historical reenactment style definitely owes something to the drowsy recreations of Drunk History. And I am surprised at how funny this film actually is. I haven’t–since the days of Olbermann and Patrick riffing on highlights on Sportscenter–associated ESPN with laughter.

The many interviews with the founding fathers and mother are the highlight, though. Dan Okrent and his compadres reminisce about the first draft, the unanticipated obsessions that developed around Rotisserie baseball, and the labor involved in gathering statistics. They are joyous reminisces, too, which for some reason the film decided unnecessarily to sour by including the subsequent failure to monetize the game. I’d have been happier with the narrower story scope, and Okrent himself admits near the end–refreshingly–that it was probably better off that they made no money, as they had only started out to have fun.

The film not only tells the story of the first Rotisserie season, but it also addresses the challenge of visualizing fantasy baseball in a creative way. Floating numbers and actors playing Bill Buckner and random relief pitchers, and the film gleefully cheesifies the mental life of a Rotisseries baseball addict. A little self-consciousness can go a long way, and it separates this cheerfully schlocky dramatization from, say, an episode of Rescue 911. Directors Adam Kurland and Lucas Jansen don’t truly believe that a mad rotiserrieman spun madly at his gyrating poultry as Dan Okrent narrated the nascent rules of the game that would rule the world, but it makes for good documentary.

I’m a sucker for nostalgic gatherings of intellectual types, so this is all right up my alley and I could listen to these folks tell stories all day long.

PnP Fantasy Baseball: Now with Actual Strategy!

On Eric’s recommendation, I just read Sam Walker’s book Fantasyland, about his madcap pursuit of victory in a league of fantasy baseball experts. On his heroic journey, Walker works to find a balance between the cold, hard numbers and the soft, gooey lives of the individual players. He is a sports journalist with clubhouse access, and he uses that to what advantage he can, against most of the objections of his sabermetrically gifted NASA-analyst employee, as they build a team.

It’s a drama for the times, and even if it’s from 2006 and the names have changed, the debate remains the same. I left feeling as conflicted as ever — also being so into fantasy baseball right now that I’m afraid my head will explode. (Note: I am extending Eric’s recommendation on to you, and I’m sure this won’t be the last you hear of this awesome book.)

Sam Walker, author of Fantasyland

One personalty- framing device of the book is strategy. Who uses it, who doesn’t, how one strategy can foil another, what market inefficiencies hidden talents are out there. The fantasy experts are renowned for their acronymical strategery, from drafting only cheap pitchers (this particular league was auction-based, but the same idea can extend to the draft position) to sticking with established, consistent stars, to chasing in on  the underrated young guns. With every goofy personality, there is a corresponding strategy. As I read and became fascinated with the acrobatics, I realized something: I employ very little significant strategy when I play fantasy baseball, and what little I have has been extremely successful.

I should preface by saying that mine isn’t a very strategic brain. While viewing the big picture looking for revealing trends, I’m often side-tracked by the proverbial passing butterfly, and an hour later I’ve forgotten what it was I was looking for in the first place. This just happened when my brother-in-law asked me to evaluate the overall worth of his old baseball card collection. I opened the trunk, caught of a whiff of old cardboard, and Wilkered away the next few hours poring over the right side of the top layer of cards.

My point being, I don’t surprise myself with my lack of proper fantasy planning. However, a few hours reading Walker’s book and a five hour plane ride across the country proved sufficient ingredients in the crucible to produce some real-life strategic thinking. This will be the year when I approach fantasy drafting with a sense of purpose, with a team point-of-view. I will exploit the prejudices of others; I will Beane them, and I will claim victory.

As Up in the Air and then The Blind Side played on the crappy little screen on the airplane, a mere day after the Oscars no less, I said to myself, “What is a real fantasy baseball strategy?” After I awoke from the hour-long nap that caused, I determined that strategy is finding value in something that others will overlook or ignore, thereby devaluing what they are pursuing (I got a C+ in the only economics course I ever took, FYI). The most valued stat, I figured, was home runs. The opposite of home runs are steals, and the opposite of slugging percentage is batting average. I would employ a strategy that valued steals and singles, and that treated home runs like Nate Silver at a Veterans Committee meeting.

I thumbed through a copy of SportsWeekly’s Fantasy Baseball addition, starring Chone Figgins and X-ing Evan Longoria; starring Brian Roberts and X-ing Adrian Gonzalez.

It was exhilarating.

For years I’ve drafted fantasy teams with that “best available” approach that I’m guessing a lot of amateurs like myself use. I had a sense of who I liked, who I thought would do well and who I had no interest in, but there wasn’t a unified theory. I wasn’t looking for a type of player, just good players. The hope was that this intuitive gathering of talent would result, obviously, in the best team. Sometimes it did, sometimes it didn’t, but ultimately I came out of the draft feeling like I’d just dreamed it and ended up with a list of dudes.

Not so with The Iron Kirtons. That’s the team I just drafted (Kirton is my middle name). They are swift, and small. I drafted them with a special knowledge of particular goals. I was focused in a way that I’d never been before in a fantasy baseball draft. I had particular targets, overlooked by many but with the kind of secret skills that would enable me to dominate the categories where others would lag: runs, batting average, steals. (I went with the old school categories in this league, as they feel kind of classic, and they allow room for a more diverse approach to Rotisserie strategy, which is important when you don’t know what you’re doing).

Because I know that you’re interested, here’s the starting lineup (with pitchers, I went with the usual selection of middle of the road starters in the middle of the draft, not much interesting there):

They won't be saying "Going, Going Chone" anytime soon, and that's fine with me.

C – Yadier Molina, 1B – Joey Votto, 2B – Brian Roberts, 3B – Chone Figgins, SS – Ryan Theriot, OF – Ryan Braun, OF – Carl Crawford, OF – Denard Span, Util – Hunter Pence, Util – Nyjer Morgan, Bench – Placido Polance, Bench – Adrian Beltre, Bench – Felipe Lopez

Yes, I know, it makes me slightly queasy too, this team of slap hitters and burners who are lucky to punch a homer out four or five times a year. But that’s the BEAUTY of it. I figure, if it makes me uncomfortable, that must mean that there’s a vision behind it. And that’s why I enjoyed drafting The Iron Kirton: there was a sense of purpose. I battled sweating palms as I let traditional sluggers pass by (except for 4th overall pick and pretty speedy slugger Braun, and irresistible high average slugger Joey Votto) because I trusted my plan. Whether or not the plan pays off this year, I will have learned something. I will have planned.

Fear us, Yahoo Public League #430362, for we are The Iron Kirton. We will steal. We have a plan.