Monday, April 18, 2011

Roster Management and Fantasy Baseball Nerditry

The second-best thing I can say about this morning's Patriot Day shellacking, for which I dragged myself from a lying position to a sitting position on my bed at the ungodly hour of eight in the morning, is that at least Yunel Escobar's ninth-inning Monster-scraper prevented the 9-0 forfeit final which would have inevitably led to hundreds of Wilnerisms (on twitter and elsewhere) about how the Jays might as well not have shown up. The best thing I can say about the game is that it made me look like a genius for picking up Jed Lowrie in my fantasy pool last night.

Does that make me a bad Blue Jay fan? I'm not sure. There was a time, about seven or eight years ago, when I would be down at the Dome and find myself subtly pulling for some scrub in the other guy's lineup to get a bunch of two-out singles and stolen bases, and it would lead to internal conflict and angst. I was never sure when it became fair to actively root for my fantasy team over my chosen team. With a 3-0 lead in the ninth did I want my fantasy guy to hit a solo homer or was that too risky? Blowouts were easy, but the close, the close games were torture.

Since that time, I've lost most of my interest in traditional fantasy baseball. I've played in some form of league almost every year since 2002, but I've gradually come to the realization that I suck. And now that I'm no longer fifteen, I've discovered various other games and preoccupations which are far more enjoyable than fantasy baseball. Poker and pool...simulation baseball, which involves managing an entire roster. Fantasy baseball was real players, sure, but somehow it never felt as real as a sim league team. Simulation baseball has a narrative in a way that a statistical mishmash of all-stars and middling regulars can never really possess. When one starter on your fantasy team pitches a complete game shutout while another gets knocked out in the second inning, what happened to your "team"? At the end of the day you might get 11 innings pitched with a 3.00 ERA, but those numbers don't say anything about what happened on the day. I love baseball for the tension, the drama, the storyline, and bottom-line fantasy boxscores never carried that tension. There's tension in that you don't know if you're going to win, and there can be comebacks in terms of a team having a great Sunday to win a Head-to-Head matchup, but I don't know - I just never felt the magic.

Anyway, I've not felt that magic all the way to the tune of a 4-17-3 record through the first two weeks of the season. Yes, you read that right - my winning percentage is, after the Red Sox' awakening, worse than the worst team in major league baseball. So, much as I was prepared to play out the string with half an eyeball on the team en route to a sixth-place finish, I decided that my record was an insult to my baseball intelligence. With one MVP (Hamilton) and one Cy Young Award winner (Greinke) on the DL and one Ramirez (Manny) in retirement, drastic changes were needed.

So I thought back to my fantasy days of yore. Way back in 2005, which was about a dozen changes of addictions and lifestyles ago, I managed to win a single measly fantasy league. Incidentally, I dominated it, and just so coincidentally, it was against many of the same guys who are dominating me in my current league. Back in 2005, I was a dyed-in-the-wool baseball geek scouring forums for "Rate-My-Team" threads, while these guys were the casual high school ball fans who had a beer or two at the game, showed up on draft day and ignored their teams for the rest of the season. (Still, in most of my leagues against hardcore players, I finished somewhere in the 10th-12th range - I wasn't that good.)

Nowadays, it's almost too easy to be good at fantasy. (Ironic coming from me? Okay. But regardless.) This year, Yahoo offers so many tools to help the fantasy initiate that I don't know where to start. Watch Lists? Performance Analysis? What is this junk? What happened to trolling because they were the only website which listed probable pitchers? I'm only 24, but I feel like cranky old Fast Eddie grumbling in The Color of Money:
This ain't pool. This is for bangers. Straight pool is pool. This is like hand-ball, or cribbage, or something. Straight pool, you gotta be a real surgeon to get 'em, you know? It's all finesse. Now, every thing is nine-ball, 'cause it's fast, good for T.V., good for a lot of break shots... Oh, well. What the hell. Checkers sells more than chess.
Fuck, I'm too young to be a grumpy old man. I wasn't very good back in 2005, but back in 2005 I worked hard to be mediocre. I didn't have the game itself suggesting who I should pick up. So I had to rely on advice from better players: Never take a three-for-two deal, because roster spots are money. Flash-in-the-pan pitchers come around more often than flash-in-the-pan hitters. Draft a stud in the middle infield/catcher spot or don't bother; the fourth-best catcher is barely a step above the twentieth-best. Keep a roster spot or two open for spot starters who can be dumped as fast as they're picked up. Etc, etc. I didn't always make good choices, and I never really learned the National League, but at least I was making some strategic moves to keep me in the middle of the pack.
Now back to the Blue Jays (yes, getting there): today, AA7 and his crack investigative team sent David Purcey to Oakland for, essentially, Rajai Davis. Yes, the same Rajai Davis who is currently on the Jays' disabled list. The obvious guess here is that during the negotiations over the winter, Beane asked for Purcey and Anthopoulos countered with Danny Farquhar, but now that the Jays have essentially given up on Purcey they're giving the A's their man.

At first blush, it's an odd move, given that at the time of the trade, the Blue Jays were pitching Luis Perez - amateur free agent Luis Perez of the poor minor league stats and peripherals - in a blowout loss to the Red Sox. What does Luis Perez offer that Purcey can't? Couldn't they use Purcey as a long-man, and save him for the late innings of a 9-1 game instead of calling up some AAA scrub?

But one of the first pieces of advice I ever got about fantasy baseball was: don't clutter your roster. It's always nice to have one or two sleepers in your back pocket, but don't hang onto aging superstars like Juan Gonzalez (then) or Magglio Ordonez (now) well past their best-before date. If a guy has limited positional flexibility and declining numbers, there's likely something better to be found on the waiver wire, something that may provide you greater flexibility down the road. If you pick up an up-and-coming shortstop for the corpse of Vladimir Guerrero, then you can trade your Starlin Castro for a Brett Gardner and, because Gardner will play everyday, maybe then dump your fourth or fifth outfielder and pick up some young starter with a 2.50 ERA (Jordan Zimmerman, anyone?).

Anyway, all I'm really trying to say is that a guy without an option is an anchor. If you can't throw strikes at the big league level and you can't be demoted - hello JoJo Reyes - then sooner or later, it'll come to crunch-time. Better to wave good-bye now and let the roster breathe.

(And in the process, as a fantasy owner with a .190 winning percentage, I've managed to lecture you about fantasy baseball. Sorry.)

1 comment:

  1. i still think they should have kept Purcey around a bit longer... after all this is a 'rebuilding' season. cutting a guy after two weeks of baseball is not what i'd call rebuilding