Thursday, March 29, 2012

The 2010 Yahoo All-Stars (or, Why I Suck at Fantasy Baseball)

The post-Ides of March: when I remember that I don't really care about college sports, when even exciting Raptors wins are tempered by the knowledge that guys like Alan Anderson and Ben Uzoh will soon disappear back into oblivion, that Jose Calderon won't be on the next playoff team, and that every meaningless W counts against a draft pick. The end of March is when MLB blueballs us with non-televised out-of market games at three in the morning. Those bastards.

And so I fill the void with fantasy drafts, constructing team-worlds that don't seem to matter quite so much as they did a decade ago, but still give me an excuse to gossip about the upcoming year like a teenage girl sneaking into a bar for the first time with her girlfriends. Who's worth pursuing? What wallflower hasn't found his true potential? And do any of us actually have a clue what we're after?

Some people approach their drafts with surgical precision, buying Baseball Pro almanacs and immersing themselves in projection systems (I'm not going to extend this awful metaphor any further, I promise). Me? I prefer a less scientific approach, one that straddles the fine line between ingenious-bargain-hunter and clueless-chump-chasing-names.

When I first got into fantasy baseball - circa 2002 - I couldn't figure out why people were dumping on 35-homer Juan Gonzalez as a high pick. Well, it turned out the fantasy experts knew their shit - Juan Gone was a chump pick, a guy who had one decent half-season left and would be out of baseball within three seasons. In contrast, a guy like Paul Byrd, a journeyman junkballer, was getting a lot of hype because he was on his way to a miraculous 17-win season, and that sort of thing matters in fantasy.

But as I played more and more fantasy baseball (with very limited success), it seemed this effect got overblown. Everyone wanted to discover the next Albert Pujols and nobody wanted to get stuck with the corpse of Mo Vaughn, so as guys became more educated more and more superstars found their way to the bottom of my drafts. I never became uber-successful with my strategy, but by 2005 I was playing half a dozen leagues and contending in half of them. I was pretty much your run-of-the-mill fantasy player - I played a casual league against some co-workers and walked all over them, but I couldn't hold the jockstrap of a legit fantasy geek.

Of course by last year, when I played another league against the same casuals I landslided in 2005, I finished 9th out of 10, headlined by my "sleepers," Manny Ramirez and Jason Bay. So this year, when drafting for the same league, you might think I'd learned from my mistakes (and I guess I have learned not to punt saves and steals right out of the gate). But my core strategy never changed: find value that's dropping. And who offers more upside than a guy who's proven that he has MVP talent? So, without really trying, this year I set out to draft an all-2010 All-Star Infield (round in parentheses):

C Joe Mauer (6th)
1B Adrian Gonzalez (1st)
3B Alex Rodriguez (5th)
SS Hanley Ramirez (2nd)
2B Chase Utley (9th)

Of those, Utley was easily the worst pick, with what emerged right after the draft as a potentially career-threatening-injury, and I probably took Mauer and Hanley a bit high. But on the back of four guys who could easily break right and wind up top-5 on the MVP ballot, some power pitching (my true sleeper, Ubaldo Jiminez, dropped to the 14th) and some speedy/young breakout/hot waiver wire outfielders, I like my chances to recover from last season's disasterfuck.

Or, y'know, maybe next year I'll turn off the basketball game and actually do my research...

Monday, March 19, 2012

Baseball Season

My ex-roommate once mentioned that watching sports on TV was completely antithetical to the spirit of sports because devoting yourself to a team obligated you to spend three sedentary hours staring at a screen. He was right. But there's more to it than that. Living vicariously through other people's athletic achievements on a refracted frame of glass is about a lot more than the experience of competition. To be honest, the thrill I once got from watching live competition is now found elsewhere in my life - in playing pool for myself, in negotiating convoluted sim league trades where the "roster" of players is one I have constructed (both still indoor sports, admittedly). But the fact that I have found personal outlets for my competitive drives doesn't completely devalue the source material.

I live in Victoria. Victoria is a small town on an island - from a climate perspective, at times an almost subtropical island. Because of our proximity to the ocean, among many other factors, we don't have clearly delineated seasons. Some years we'll have a summer afternoon in January and a snowstorm in March, and other years we'll have one blizzard all year and not much else of a winter. This year our main issue has been occasional hurricane-force winds. Other than being awakened by my bedroom window rattling in the 100 km/hr gales, though, I've found it a very temperate February and March. Which is to say, there has been no real solstice moment. My recollections of Ontario are of the calendar solstices coming early, but once the weather finally broke, the season was over. A few weeks of slush and then spring, a couple of brisk winds followed by barren trees for Hallow's Eve. It might still be zero on Opening Day, but by Easter more times than not spring was in full throttle towards summer.  It's not like that here. Spring doesn't so much emerge from winter as it becomes a more consistent version of itself, and as such the barometers of the seasons become something else. Hockey on TV means winter, college basketball means spring, baseball means summer.

So watching Brett Cecil face off against Cole Hamels with his inferior stuff (but better results) yesterday was about so much more than just the most meaningless of meaningless blowouts. It was baseball, real live baseball. Yan Gomes as Arencibia's doppelganger from facial hair to position to alma mater? A BautistaBomb? Eddy in left field? Anthony Gose flashing his wheels? Jimmy Rollins gifting Ben Francisco a stat-padding single which led the main offensive outburst of the game? Hell, a Mickey Mick suicide squeeze?  Spring, hope eternal, whatever other sterile metaphors you choose to bestow upon it; a hallmark moment which prepared me to dig in for the 162 games that matter.

This is about a lot more than sitting on a couch and watching paint dry.

I've always liked the perfect closure of the annual baseball season; unlike hockey or basketball, the seasons don't flow against the Gregorian calendar. Every baseball season marks a year, and you can mark the years of your life off by the seasons. 2007 - staggering bleary-eyed through the halls of my dormitory during first-year exams for a rainout. 2010 - a rebirth, the first year without Halladay, and that spring I was leeching cable off my far more established and alien roommate. My university years were a dark place, mostly literally (so many hovels without television access), but even still, I refer back to the baseball seasons by the years. 

Take 2006: the year of the all-in push. Ricciardi went after Glaus, Burnett, Molina, Overbay and Ryan. It was also the year I graduated from high school, piled into a beat-up truck and drove across the country to start a new life at university. False hope? The '06 Blue Jays were good, but not good enough, and eventually the failure of those five drove Ricciardi out of town. Victoria wasn't everything I thought it would be, but it was something, and I'm here six years later a different person than I left.

Of course this yearly encapsulation isn't perfect in a real-world sense; the school years themselves adhere much more closely to hockey or basketball season. Living in a Canadian university town, I can tell you firsthand that there's a lot more action in April than there is in October or December. Still, as I while away the next two weeks enjoying my laissez-faire city, preparing for fantasy drafts and trying to bring my sim team a championship, I will know that when the next Blue Jays game comes on television, it will mean something.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Misdirection (Alex, Omar and the game)

Let me be the target, let your bullet hit, I'll handle that
Let me see you flex aggressive ignorance, see half these cats
Stagger like the simple common sense to put one foot before the other

So these pitchers, man. Blanton. Lannan. Floyd. Spring training beat writers would have you believe that the Greek is licking his chops at the visage of every John, Joe or Gavin on the market, but then this is The Game. Who is the real target? Is it the system, man? There are five starters in camp, plus Luis Perez, Carlos Villaneuva and enough prospect pitching depth to tickle the fancy of the nerds. Things are not always as they seem. And why on earth would the Jays, a team with three left-handed-hitting young outfielders already, be linked with Gerardo Parra, of all people?

The infield is set: Lawrie, Yunel, Johnson, Lind. Arencibia and Mathis split the catching until D'Arnaud is ready. Bautista, Rasmus, and the winner of Snider/Thames fill the outfield, while Encarnacion DHes. Three bench spots go to an infielder (Vizquel), an outfielder (Davis) and someone else (McCoy?). Any other roster spots go to the loser of the LF battle (if a starter goes down) or to the somewhat inexplicable ex-Indian monster in camp of Ben Francisco/Luis Valbuena (if it's bench depth that's needed)...And then of course, we get to the prospects...and there's no reason to bother with the Heches and Goses and McDades of the world until those situations presents themselves. 

So Snider for Blanton and Arencibia for Parra? Sheeee-it. I'll pass - if you're going to sell that as an all-in push, you better sell me on a good reason why you gave Manny the old bait-and-switch. Fuck that. And Blanton's nothing but a two-bit hustler anyway, more Poot than Bodie. If you're trading upside for established talent, make it real talent. 

Even Gavin Floyd. There's too much smoke to that fire to pin it on Alex's head. I don't think Kenneth Williams plays it quite so smooth. When he tells a reporter he's not looking to move Gavin Floyd, I believe that statement (superficially). And is Floyd really all that? If there's a bounty on his head Alex will keep his distance. More likely, if he's searching for a pitcher at all, there's someone who can give him Floyd's innings but with a far smaller premium to be paid. Which brings us most obviously to name #3: John Lannan, a 27-year-old whose team seems awfully eager to be rid of him given his numbers. Is he Randy Johnson? No. Is he better than Brett Cecil? Maybe. He's a pitch-to-contact product of the NL East who's making 5 million dollars, but he's also a 27-year-old who has been a thoroughly solid starting pitcher for four seasons, and that's not entirely worthless. Not worthless, that is, if Anthopoulos sees a roster spot for him - and therein lies a big if; McGowan will more than likely be seen in the major league rotation if he is seen at all, and the other four projected SPs each deserves their slots as much as Lannan might.*

But I don't really buy the Lannan talk, either. John Lannan just doesn't seem like Alex's type. He likes them young and hot, not middle-aged and average. How about moving Snider for someone like Brian Matusz (and presumably something else as well)? It was only a couple of years ago that Keith Law, sour grapes or none, alleged that Matusz was a lock to be a better big league pitcher than Ricky Romero. And before last season's shit brigade, he wasn't all that bad at all. 

Attitude problems are fair game, so why not shitty seasons? Dan Duquette is new to Baltimore, and while he's no stranger to under-the-radar pitching superstars, one imagines he might have less attachment to a certain high first-rounder than some members of the previous regime might have.

Although (poetically, perhaps) broaching the subject brings up the clusterfuck in Baltimore. I mean, of course, the abomination of an Orioles' front office that presumably drove Tony LaCava back to his old digs, not the political situation portrayed on The Wire, although they probably do have their similarities. Can Dan Duquette even trade Brian Matusz? Would he try, if only to piss off his overlords?

P.S. Smacketology. Awesome.
*Sidebar: Does anyone know if there's any kind of limitation on teams acquiring major league players and assigning them to AAA? I mean, aside from the obvious - service time requirements, opt-out clauses, the like - is there anything to prevent a team acquiring a prospect who also happens to be a young starting position player on a division rival and stashing him in AAA?