First Pitch Arizona

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in THT Fantasy Focus. If you play fantasy baseball, check out the Fantasy Focus blog for timely and intelligent fantasy analysis.

For those of you unaware, this past weekend I attended Baseball HQ’s 13th Annual Fantasy Baseball Symposium at the Arizona Fall League (also known as First Pitch Arizona). In Sam Walker’s book Fantasyland, he said that First Pitch Arizona, “to the Rotisserie elite, is sort of like Davos, Renaissance Weekend and Mardi Gras condensed into three days.” It’s, essentially, the biggest fantasy baseball conference of the year. Baseball HQ says that “nowhere else will you find this many fantasy baseball analysts in one place at one time!”

The first thing I’d like to say is how much fun this conference was. If you ever have the opportunity to go, it’s a great time. The presentations are very interesting and you get the opportunity to meet a lot of intelligent baseball fans.

  • The weekend kicked off on Thursday night with a welcome reception for the speakers and attendees. As part of this, an annual fantasy competition called the Arizona Challenge was held. It is a retro auction in which everyone in the room has $50 to get three players with no position restrictions.

    I was able to take third place in this competition, which I am pleased with considering that it was my first year in the competition and because going in I wasn’t exactly sure how the rankings would be decided (turned out that it was just like a regular fantasy league, with the winner of each category received as many points as there were participants). My strategy was to get as much value for my money as I could and forget about which types of players I got, since I wasn’t sure how the rankings were calculated anyway.

    I was able to get a $22 Takashi Saito, $12 Joe Nathan (I think it was Nathan… I know it was a closer), and $16 Brian Roberts. In retrospect, it would have been better to grab another hitter instead of the second closer because I was already getting a good ERA and WHIP with Saito while getting a decent number of saves and strikeouts. Still, under the circumstances, I think third place was pretty good. Also, I was only four points out of first while I was 14 points ahead of fourth place, so I really had a chance of winning with my team anyway.

    I know I’ve talked about it in the past, but I think this is another testament to how much more important value is than strict production.

  • My favorite session was Rick Wilton’s (Baseball Injury Report) presentation, “Injuries in Perspective“. He talked about the research he did into Tommy John surgery, about labrum injuries, about the spike in injuries in 2007, and about the effect of PEDs on baseball injuries. He also talked about several players he thinks will struggle with injuries next year and revealed his top rebound candidate for 2008. He then fielded questions from the audience about players they were curious about.

    Rick really knows his stuff, and for 2008 I would highly recommend subscribing to his service. You’ll get in-depth injury analysis for a multitude of players, something I can’t provide for you. Some of the new innovations he’s rolling out next year sound really cool too. For instance, you’ll be able to get an email sent to you (daily, I believe) updating you on 20-25 players of your choice. Make sure you check that out at some point during the off-season. It will be an enormous help for your 2008 draft and season.

  • Another excellent presentation was the session on stats, “In Quest of Accuracy.” There was some great dialogue about what exactly constitutes accuracy. What should be considered accurate? If a player is projected to hit 45 home runs, would you consider it a success if he hits 44? 40? 38? It is a subjective thing that will differ from person-to-person. An excellent article about this kind of stuff can be found at Baseball HQ.

    Also, if a player is projected to hit 45 homers in 550 at-bats, but he actually hits 45 homers in 300 at-bats, is the projection actually a good one? There are different ways to arrive at the same final stats, many of which are completely out of a player’s control. If a player doesn’t get enough playing time, for example, but has great rates, the actual fantasy stats won’t be there. All these types of things were discussed by the panelists and members of the audience. Overall, a fantastic session.

  • The “Rules Innovations Forum” was very thought-provoking as well. There were some interesting ideas presented not only by the speakers but by other attendees.

    There was a discussions on how draft order should be decided, which is something I talked about with other attendees during some of the down time. Many people don’t like to reward poor play with higher draft picks, while others dislike the idea of tanking in order to secure a better draft spot, simultaneously screwing up the rankings at the top of the standings.

    One idea that struck me as particularly interesting was this: the first teams to draft are those which perform best in the second-half, excluding those who place in the money. The money teams automatically go at the end. This could cause a third or fourth place team trying to get fifth, but at least teams in the lower half remain interested even after they are out of the championship hunt and the number of teams tanking would be far fewer.

    In redraft leagues, I liked the idea of the “Kentucky Derby System” used in National Fantasy Baseball Championship competitions. An order is determined randomly, and whoever gets the first pick gets to decide where he or she wants to pick (first, second, last, wherever). Then the second person chooses from what’s available, and it goes on down the line until everyone has a spot.

    Another cool NFBC innovation was the “Third Round Reversal.” While this was more meant for football, I found it interesting nevertheless. The first two rounds of the draft go as usual (1-12, then 12-1). But at the start of the third round, instead of the first team picking again, the twelfth team picks and it goes as normal from there. Again, this is better suited for football where the teams picking in the top 3 have a major advantage. Baseball isn’t really like that.

  • Another really cool session was the “Breakouts at the Ballpark.” There were eleven different analysts sitting in different sections of the ballpark. Attendees were allowed to sit with one analyst or sift in-and-out of the different sections and talk about a variety of topics (each analyst took a different one) while you watched an Arizona Fall League game. Different topics included injuries, minor leaguers, constitutional conflicts in your league, a discussion on ratio stats, and more.

  • The 6th Annual XFL Experts Draft (which is actually an auction) was held there as well. Ron Shandler noted that fantasy drafts aren’t really spectator sports, and there were less than a handful of guys who stayed for the whole thing. Nevertheless, I found it very interesting to watch: seeing what kinds of trends emerged, seeing how certain players were valued, that sort of thing.

  • On a somewhat unrelated note, I found it incredible how many Dusty Baker jokes were made. It wasn’t like one or two. It was like six or seven throughout the weekend. He was constantly being brought up in regard to Reds pitchers like Aaron Harang, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey, and Matt Belisle. I thought this was very interesting given David Gassko’s article about Baker from last year that found that he doesn’t really ride his pitchers as hard as people think. Is it possible that he only rides his aces hard?

Miscellaneous musings

  • During the two minor league sessions, second baseman Matt Antonelli of the San Diego Padres was a name that came up quite often. Most of the guys there love Antonelli, and I have to concur. Looking at his minor league stats, he looks like he could develop into a great player. He takes a lot of walks, makes good contact, steals bases, and developed nice power this year.

    One speaker mentioned that Padres GM Kevin Towers won’t be seeking a second baseman this off-season, opting to start the year with Geoff Blum, Craig Stansberry, and Oscar Robles sharing time at second. This seems to indicate that Towers thinks Antonelli will be ready sooner rather than later. To further validating this theory, I spoke with another writer who said that he had a source with the Pads that told him Towers is extremely high on Antonelli. He’s definitely a guy you might want to target in a keeper league and keep an eye on as the season begins.

  • Everyone on the minor league panel also really liked Clay Buchholz. We all know he’s good, but these guys really liked him. When someone asked if they liked Buchholz now more than Tim Lincecum, Philip Hughes, and Yovani Gallardo at this time last year, they all said ‘yes’. I too love Buchholz, probably more than I did the other three last year.

    Even with the re-signing of Curt Schilling, I don’t think Theo Epstein will begrudge Buchholz a spot in the rotation. CBS’s early rankings have Buchholz as the #100 starter, and their early mock draft saw him go in the last (23rd) round of a 12-team mixed league draft. I think he’ll be a steal in 2008.

  • I spent some time over the weekend with a couple of guys that play in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC). The NFBC is a high-stakes fantasy game that pits hundreds of player against each other. The guys I spent the most time with go by the names of “CC’s Desperados” and “Fat Tub of Goo.” CC’s Desperados has been the most successful NFBC player over the past four or five years, and Fat Tub of Goo was the champion this year. CC’s said that he had read some of my THT Fantasy Focus articles, although the bulk of the stuff I cover isn’t really conducive to NFBC play.

    Still, we had some interesting conversations, some of which about the NFBC and the drawbacks and merits of its different setup. For example, to avoid collusion, there is no trading allowed in NFBC play. This makes the skills of drafting and properly utilizing your FAAB budget essential. It’s certainly an interesting way to play and would be an excellent challenge. I’d love to try it one day, but I don’t know if I could ever truly embrace a game with no trading.

    Another interesting thing we talked about was the Average Draft Position tool that the NFBC website provides using hundreds of mock draft results from Mock Draft Central. This looks like it will be a very useful tool for our own 2008 drafts, helping us to gauge market value for many players. Mock drafts begin December 1, so this is something we’ll definitely be keeping an eye on.

  • On the last day of the conference, I was able to catch up with Gene McCaffrey of Wise Guy Baseball, who had actually told CC’s Desperadoes about the Hardball Times in the first place. I caught him as he was going in to eat breakfast, so we only spoke for a moment, but he said what a huge fan he is of THT. I too have been loving the content on the main site recently. Excellent work guys.

  • Dave Bush is a player I was very high on coming into 2007. A lot of the other guys in Arizona were as well. During the “Fact or Fluke” session, his name came up. Bush’s 2007 was ultimately declared a ‘fluke.’ As I had also surmised, the panelists said that Bush was very good in 2006 but was simply good in 2007. A few said they would make it a point to target him in their drafts.

    Still, at the Xperts Fantasy League (XFL) auction that was held on Saturday, he went for just $6 while guys like Dontrelle Willis and Chien-Ming Wang, who I consider inferior, went for over $10. Very interesting. If he gets a spot in the rotation, I think Bush will make a nice profit for fantasy owners in 2008.

  • I ran into a couple of guys, Heath and Justin Shaffer, that a run a website called RotoChamps. They got to telling me about their favorite league. The setup is incredibly complex, but sounds like an enormous amount of fun. It’s a 16-team keeper league with an extensive minor league system and an intricate contract system. They even have an arbitration system set up and allow teams to buy players out of arbitration and sign them long-term. The longer you wait, though, the more you pay.

    There were tons of smaller rules, and they will be forwarding me their league constitution soon, so maybe I’ll share some of the more intriguing facets of it with you guys in the future.

Concluding thoughts

While it was a very fulfilling weekend and while I met a lot of great guys, there were many that I just didn’t get the time to talk to. I won’t list names because I don’t want to leave anyone out, but I think this is an enormous credit to the First Pitch conference. There is just so much going on and so many knowledgeable people that it is impossible to talk to everyone. It could be extended for a week, and you might not get your fill.

As I said at the beginning of the first part of this series, if you ever get the chance to go, you should absolutely do it. Aside from the terrible toll the time change took on my body, having never been west of Pennsylvania before, it was a fantastic experience.

Anyway, that’s it for now. We’ll be resuming our regular fantasy content over the next few days. We’ll probably be taking another look at BABIP tomorrow and then we’ll do a few more player profiles. I’m hoping to begin testing the HitTracker home run system by the middle-to-end of next week, so hopefully everything goes smoothly there and we can begin looking at some hitters.

If you have any questions about the conference, or any suggestions for player profiles, feel free to shoot me an e-mail.

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First Pitch Arizona

Hey guys. I forgot to explain that I’d be missing for a few days. I’m currently in Arizona for Baseball HQ’s 13th Annual Fantasy Baseball Symposium at the Arizona Fall League. I’ve been pretty busy over the last few days, but I do have some interesting things to talk about from the conference, so look for a couple of posts at the beginning of next week. Until then…

EDIT: One more quick note. If any of you happen to be at the conference and would like to talk to me in-person, feel free to shoot me an email or find me tomorrow morning.

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