Cool story, bro

When I started here at THT Fantasy, there were a few things I told myself I wanted to avoid doing with this column. No. 1 was recounting “cool story, bro” tales from my own leagues. This week, I’m going to break that constraint, but I think it will be worth it because this story is not only one for the ages, but it actually touches on several topics that have been discussed in THT Fantasy columns over the past year.

This past week I was involved in a semi-final match-up of a H2H league. I was matched up with the league champ, who basically ran wire-to-wire on the strength of an unstoppable pitching staff and good enough offense. This owner is also one of my best friends. He got out to an early lead in the week, but by the weekend I had fought back and had taken a very tenuous 8-4 lead by Sunday morning.

Now, this league allows real-time drops and adds, so you pick players up for the day they play, and you can add and drop players up until their game starts. I know some readers dislike daily transactions, much less day-of transactions, but I think this feature adds an element of real managerial strategy. This is the first time I’ve played with this feature, and as somebody who often relies moderately on streaming starters, I’m certainly going to lobby for keeping it next season. Essentially, I think it takes daily transactions to its logical conclusion; if you have to pay attention on a daily basis, why not just make it real time?

So, back to Sunday morning. I am holding leads in all the pitching categories (the league is 6×6 –traditional 5×5, plus OPS and K/BB). I have large leads in the counting pitching categories, a decent advantage in ERA, and small advantages in WHIP and K/9. Here’s where the chess maneuvering comes into play.

I play softball on Sunday mornings, my adversary sleeps until he looks at the clock and feels embarrassed to be 30 and still asleep at that hour. …That’s the way to spin it if I want to feel superior. He might recount this fact as, “Derek starts drinking before I wake up.” Both of these assertions are fair. Either way you look at it, I knew I was going to have to set my line-up before he would. When I walked out the door at around 9 a.m., I had left my lone starter scheduled to pitch that day, Brett Myers, on the bench. He had a tough match-up against a potent Reds offense and I felt the need to protect my rate stats.

I spent a bit of time asking myself whether my opponent would go on an all out add/drop binge, potentially wrecking his staff for the season, in order to take a shot at supplanting me. I would have in his shoes, but I wasn’t so sure he would. He’s generally conservative and I thought his more likely course would have been to just try to outpitch my team, granting me the wins and strikeouts categories, while hoping to take the edge in WHIP and K/BB. While I was being passive in one sense, I was also saying that I wasn’t going to give the lead back to him; he was going to have to earn it by his players performing well.

I got home at about 3:30 p.m., after playing a double-header that started late and consisted of two extra-inning games, plus stopping off at the bar that sponsors us to watch the first half of the 1 p.m. football games. My opponent was supposed to meet me at my place to watch the Jets, Pats game at 4 p.m. On my way home, I was reminded of an article written here a year or so ago about fantasy sports in the age of the smart phone. I wondered what my opponent had done strategy-wise, as I thought about my Blackberry sitting at home on my dresser. When I got home, I found that he picked up a flood of pitchers and was coming after me, kamikaze style, with all his might. At this point, I realized that he was really on my heels in strikeouts and had a chance to tie me in wins. The rate stats were about where they were in the morning, still in my favor, but within one blow-up of tipping to him. I also noticed that Myers pitched very well and his seven scoreless innings, five Ks and imminent win would have been all I needed to sew up a win. No time to look back though, I decided I needed a handful of Ks because my opponent still has another pitcher going at 4 p.m. My options were limited, and I chose Chris Naverson over Doug Fister, mainly because I’m just basing my decision on who is more likely to give me five strikeouts. I’ve pretty much calculated that if I can maintain that category, I should win.

At commercials of the Jets game, we’re switching over to the Brewers at the Giants on the Extra Innings package (he owns Zito). Naverson is getting shelled. He records only 1 strikeout, giving me almost no cushion and torpedoes my K/BB in the process (walking 4). That category tips. We’re now at 7-5, in my favor. Zito leaves the game with my opponent trailing me by 2 Ks; Naverson had already hit the showers.

My opponent has succeeded strategically though. He controlled the action. He had less to lose and he acted first and put me in a position where I had to make a decision under compromising circumstances. This is underdog art of war 101; kudos to him.

The day continues. The Jets are winning and we’re queueing up the Texans and Redskins on the computer feed. (We’re actually both Giants fans.) We have offensive players still going. OPS flip-flops, settles at a tie and then tips slightly in his favor. Hong-Chih Kuo, who he owns, comes in and pitches two innings in an 11-inning affair with the Rockies. Kuo records three Ks. My opponent has now overtaken strikeouts, WHIP,and K/9. There’s only one game left in the evening and I am down 7-5. Things are looking bleak. I own Manny Ramirez, but he’s not in the evening’s line-up. I trail slightly in OPS and am behind my two RBIs.

…But, wait; we have real time add-drops. Are there any outfielders in that game who are unowned? I can drop Manny for one of those players and hope to eclipse my opponent in OPS. He owns Juan Pierre, and if I don’t make a move, he’ll just bench Pierre, keep his OPS ahead of mine and win. Now I decide I’m going to control the action. I have my choice between Casper Wells and Brennan Boesch. I choose Wells; he’s hot and I get the righty-lefty match-up with Danks on the mound for the Sox. Plus, I get to make a Kids reference, as I pick him up, I slur, “the dopest ghost around!” (Rest in peace, Justin Pierce, and Harold Hunter, for that matter.)

Top of the seventh, one on, Wells at the dish. Could it really be? Uh huh. Put it on the board, yyyeeesss! Well, I’m sure Hawk didn’t say that when the “bad guys” homered, but I’m unaware of a signature home run call offered up by the Detroit broadcasters. Anyway, my last minute pick-up has paid off. I’ve tied the RBI category, and taken the lead in OPS. I’m up 6-5. Champagne would be in order, but the New York Giants are in the process of inducing a vomiting fit. This is the craziest pick-up fortune I’ve had since I was propelled from third to second place in a big money league in 2008 on the second-to-last day of the season by pair of homers by desperation pick-up, Josh Anderson. Josh who? Yeah. Exactly.

Anyway, my glory lasts about 40 minutes, because two innings later, Pierre delivers an RBI single to break the tie. We’re back to 6-6, and that’s how the week ends. The tie-breaker in this league was not home runs, as I think it is in many H2H leagues, but rather seasonal H2H record, which is in my opponent’s favor. So, just like that, it’s over. I take a second to bask in the irony of me, a full SABR convert, pulling out OPS, only to lose in the RBI category… at the hands of familiar whipping boy, Juan Pierre, no less.

This was certainly one of the most exciting days in my history of playing fantasy sports. I’ve won money on the last day of a season and lost money on the last day. I sat with a friend for the last game of a season only to see us finish in a dead tie in a roto league, with a number ending with three zeroes on the line. But, no day had more ups and downs, back and forths than this past Sunday. It was a match-up that was compelling just like a well played real game is, and it served as a reminder of how fun fantasy sports can be.

On the surface, this is just a self-indulgent story about my league – an abuse of my privilege as a columnist. But, if you look deeper there are several important themes and lessons to be gleaned from this story. For one, the way you set up a league creates all kinds of opportunities for strategy and game play. The same-day transaction feature makes this whole episode possible. If we had to have made our moves Saturday night, I would have just seen what my opponent had planned to do, pitched Myers and made whatever other waiver-wire moves I felt I needed to in order to counter his strategy. The days play out passively – no Naverson implosion points swing, no short-lived heroics from the dopest ghost around.

This anecdote also speaks to the potential advantage of the smart phone. Had I had my Blackberry with me, I could have checked the league sometime between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. and given myself more latitude to react to my opponent’s strategy.

Finally, this series of events points to the importance of forcing your opponent to make a decision. By sitting Myers, I told my opponent to “come and get it,” refusing to allow him to profit from my player’s play. He took the challenge with full vigor and put the pressure on me, forcing me to take what I knew was a bad, but in my mind necessary, risk. I can’t emphasize this enough; my opponent put me in a position where I found it necessary to gamble on what I thought were fairly poor odds.

This is one of my most important pieces of advice to those of you who find yourselves behind in the these semi-final, and final match-ups. Radically adjust your strategy if you must, but force your opponent to have to react to you. When leading, your nature is understandably to be more cautious and passive. This is perfectly logical, when a person is winning under an existing system, he or she is inclined to support the continuance of the status quo. Revolution that topples the existing order of things does not happen from the top, it must happen from the bottom. And, with everything on the line, there is no tomorrow. You may lose on your terms, or on your enemies, but winning is only possible on yours.

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Comments

  1. Jim said...

    Wow, I’m glad I don’t play in this type of league. It really seems like it doesn’t matter who has a better team but who is lucky enough to pick up the right guy at the right time (or have internet access when someone else doesn’t.)  A couple years back when the Rockies/Pads played game 163, a member of our league added a bunch of players right after the season would have been over, meanwhile the first place team was out having a fun Sunday only to find out later that his championship might not happen if Jorge Julio strikes out two batters. Luckily the moves didn’t make a difference and the better team won, but it prompted us make rules to prevent this type of thing happening in the future.

  2. Dave said...

    I really liked this account, and I think the message is important.  I think there is another implicit reason to be the aggressor in this type of situation: in forcing the action, your opponent gobbled up the better pitchers available that day—you were forced to choose between Narveson and Fister because he had ALREADY taken Lowe and Bonderman (or whoever he picked up).  Even if you are leading, forcing the action earlier than your opponent limits his/her options.

  3. David Wade said...

    Don’t apologize- I love fantasy baseball / football stories.  I think Dan Okrent said no one cares about someone else’s fantasy team, and that’s pretty much right- people generally don’t want to hear other people’s lineups.  However, Sam Walker’s Fantasyland is awesome and shows, to me at least, that fantasy sports stories in general can entertain, as does yours.

  4. Derek Ambrosino said...

    Jim,

    I don’t mean to unload here, but these types of sentiments do kind of irritate me. Basically, I’ve played fantasy baseball under several different rules formats, and each one has its benefits and drawback, while promoting some values and de-emphasizing others. I would not reduce a daily, or day-of transaction league as a race to the wire. Also, in that league we have weekly transaction caps to prevent egregious streaming and such. If you want to use a move to make a move like I did – dropping a superior player getting a day off, for one game’s worth of ABs from an inferior bat, then you are going to start being bitten by your tendency to enter poor value propositions very quickly.

    I’ll go a step further – my personal bias is heavily in favor of at least daily transaction leagues. (Notice, I say my bias is for X, as opposed to just debasing Y). This bias is strongest in H2H leagues with weekly scoring periods. You’re already at the mercy of tiny sample sizes, and therefore I think you should have the greatest latitude to counteract those forces through shrewd gamesmanship. If I’m only expecting to get a handful of starts for the entire weekly match-up, and my starter is a last minute scratch, it’s very nice to know that I at least have the option of looking for a replacement.

    For some reason, it seems acceptable to reduce daily transaction leagues, or streaming techniques to a race to the mouse, devoid of skill, preparation and strategy. But, what about the other side of the equation? If (the collective) you can implcitly label these league owners hyperactive simpletons, would it be equally accurate to label weekly transaction leagues as seeking gifted slackers?

    I mean, this is like the false dichotomy of athletes who succedd via talent versus hard work (the 2000 version of the sports racial stereotype, btw, but that’s another discussion). Clearly, owners who are successful year in and year out are both attentive and hard working, as well as skilled and prepared.

    Tweaking league settings will tilt the balance one way or the other, but daily transaction leagues forgive lack of insight no more than weekly transaction leagues forgive indolence.

    Again, Jim, I don’t mean to slam you here. But, I do feel there’s an elitist double standard against leauges that reward hustle. If we’re trying to, in any way, reflect the values that enable real life success, dismissing such an element is quite naive. In real life, you have to have a great idea AND be the first one to the patent office (website?).

  5. Derek Ambrosino said...

    Dave,

    Thanks, I’m glad you did. And, yes, that was another advantage. Had I had enough moves left under my cap, I would have proactively picked up the best spot starter options and stashed them on my bench just to prevent my opponent from using them. I’ve actually done this in the past. I’ve been in plenty of roto leagues where there is rampant spot starting for the last two or three weeks of the season by those with innings to make up who are seeking wins and Ks. I’ve actually been in a situation where I didn’t want to spot start (or couldn’t based on my innings pace) but picked up good options anyway (sometimes 2 days in advance) just to make sure that those who wanted to spot start were left with the bottom of the barrel.

    A few years ago, I was in the thick of the race in a league with a few thousand bucks in the pot. The past two weeks devolved into some of the contenders waking up earlier and earlier just to get first crack at the spot starters (some of us were waking to block the better options, some of us to scoop them.) I believe my friend, Joe, even took to setting his alarm, waking up and going through the options, making his moves and then going back to sleep. Sometimes it’s all about who wants it the most.

    Now, this anecdote may seem to contradict my rant directed at Jim’s comments, but it is important to realize that this was not the overarching dynamic of the league. It was a confluence of circumstance that occurred over a short period of high leverage days, and the league’s collective willingness to indulge and one-up each other created something of real life hyperbole. I believe that was actually the season that culminated in the tie that I reference in the article.

    Some may thumb their noses at these kinds of tactics, but the world is like that. Recently, I heard that Gucci started sending Snookie Louis Vitton bags, so that she would start carrying them and people assocating her with Gucci’s competitor. (I may have gotten the specific brands wrong). This is freaking genius. Sometimes, you gotta be cutthroat and dastardly to get the job done!

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