March 2010

Tales of early April – Emilio!

The first couple weeks of the baseball
season are often the most critical for fantasy purposes.  Every
season breakout players are quickly scooped up, while slow-starters
are prematurely dropped for awaiting scavengers.

Last year my buddy proclaimed himself
a “guru” as he rushed to drop Yunel Escobar for Emilio Bonifacio
and his unbelievable three-steal, four-hit Opening Day performance. 
Couldn’t really argue as Bonifacio doubled his career average with
a .485 clip through the first seven games – but it was fun to childishly
mock “Boney-face” as he hit .234 the rest of the season, while Escobar
produced commendably for another guy’s team.  The guru
would’ve been better served picking up a more highly-regarded player
like Adam Lind or Wandy Rodriguez, who didn’t shock anyone by parlaying
good first weeks into big time breakout seasons.

 Inversely, nothing will make
someone go Kenny Rogers on their laptop more than cutting a guy who’s
been awful for a prolonged stretch, only to see him instantly go on
a tear.  Ubaldo Jimenez had three consecutive starts last April
where he couldn’t get through the fifth inning and compiled a 12.00
ERA.  Naturally I lost patience and cut him, then witnessed a string
of seven-inning gems and Ubaldo finishing the season with precisely
the stellar numbers I expected when I drafted him.   Similarly
frustrating scenarios played out with Gavin Floyd and Ricky Nolasco
in 2009, but even Ghandi would have dropped Nolasco with his 9.07 ERA
and a demotion to the minors in May. 

It’s not a groundbreaking assertion,
but if a guy has a high upside and successful track record, hang with
him even through a nasty struggle early on.  If a guy has a.240
career average and not much fanfare as a prospect, don’t cut anyone
with potential value for him no matter how much he rakes in the first
week. 

Speaking of players with .240 career
averages, Rickie Weeks was taken in the 21st round of both
my league drafts and dropped within three days.   There are
late bloomers, and then there’s a 29-year-old who years ago brilliantly
began waggling the bat above his head in the box, fooling scouts into
comparing his bat speed to Gary Sheffield’s.  He’s managed
to survive more than five sub-mediocre seasons in the majors thanks
to this trickery, so don’t let his hot month-and-a-half in 2009 dupe
you. 

Even with a strong start, I wouldn’t
waste time on Weeks – or fellow bat-waggler and first-round bust Lastings
Milledge.  Yes Milledge hit .291 after a mid-season trade to the
Pirates, but showed very little power or speed – four homers, 20 RBIs
and six steals in 58 games.  The 25-year-old has been around enough
to show he’s too over-matched by Major League off-speed pitches to
become a productive fantasy performer.  

One youngster whose early success I
would buy into is Florida’s Cameron Maybin.  The talented 23-year-old
is currently flying under the radar after he was all the rage in 2009
draft guides, but tripped over the Mendoza line to start the year. 
Maybin hit .319 with a .399 OBP in 298 Triple-A at-bats after being
demoted in May of 09, and slugged .500 with a .293 average and 19 runs
scored in 28 games during a September call-up.   He’s a
quintessential post-hype sleeper who likely went undrafted in most mixed-
leagues, and has the potential to put up Shin-Soo Choo-esque numbers.

However if you do pick up a guy like
Maybin in the first week or two, be careful who you drop. Six months
of banging your head against the wall could potentially do some serious
damage.

Fan Interference – Act I

The first thing I learned to read after
some book about dinosaurs was a baseball box score.  The first
baseball game I can legitimately remember watching is Twins-Braves in
Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, when Jack Morris pitched 10 innings
and Dan Gladden scored the winning run of a 1-0 game.  I was hooked
on the sport after that classic, and growing up on Long Island I followed
in my father’s footsteps and became a Mets fan.   

Back in 1991 I wasn’t too young to
relish in the Braves’ anguish as a Mets fan, so two playoff appearances
in 19 years could very well be karma.  The Mets’ struggles have
shaped me to become what I would call a realistic
baseball fan.  I will try to channel this jadedness into good-natured
content for your reading pleasure. 

People who also root for a mismanaged
team that consistently fails can share the attraction to fantasy sports,
where at least you have control over the fate of your rooting interest. 
I’ve played the game for over 13 years, finished first and finished
last, but always lead the league in transactions.  To me, what
makes fantasy sports enjoyable is actually being a manager, constantly
adding new players and making trades.  Not the most patient individual,
I’m quick to cut a guy in a bad slump for a fresh name – you might
call it a George Steinbrenner approach to the game. 

Fantasy sports is, in fact, a game,
so why not actively play it? Being a conservative owner in fantasy baseball
is like the guy in a pickup basketball game who just sets picks and
plays defense.  You have to shoot once in a while to have fun,
otherwise just run on a treadmill.  Just like if you’re not going
to makes moves in fantasy baseball, you might as well just save the
spot in the league and stick to reading box scores.  Having the
same players on your team for a while is just plain boring. 

Nothing is more satisfying in this
game than recognizing a guy off the waiver wire who turns out to be
a breakout star.  Nothing is more frustrating than being loyal
to a guy just because you drafted him and watching him go one-for four
with two K’s every game (can you hear me Alex Rios?). 

Why would you care about all this? 
Because all season long if a player emerges who is worthy of a potential
pickup – even in the deepest of mixed leagues – I’ll
be all over it.  I have enough experience getting burned by impulsive
drops or finding free agent gems to have a decent grasp on whether streaking
players are worth picking up or passing up, and which slumping players
are worth cutting or holding on to.

I have friends who refuse to play fantasy
baseball because they claim there are too many players to keep track
of.   With 750 players on active rosters and countless Minor
Leaguers in the mix their concern is understandable, albeit whiny.  However
this concern is a central reason why I love baseball and fantasy baseball
especially, there is constant source of new information to digest and
examine.  If you’re feeling too overwhelmed to put the effort
into monitoring all the game’s players, I’ll do my best to take
some of the “pressure” off so you can stand a chance in your league. 

Combine some general fantasy baseball
musings from my unique perspective with some hopefully useful advice
sprinkled in, and you get Fan Interference.  Enjoy.