Friendship and disappointment

Some weeks I spend a fair amount of time thinking about the topic for this column. Other weeks inspiration comes naturally and organically. This week, the latter is the case.

I write this column on a Saturday afternoon in between trips to bathroom. Sure, being sick is never fun, and even less so on a weekend. But right now I’m supposed to be away for the weekend at one of my best friend’s bachelor parties. My duffle bag sits on the floor, still fully packed. My cell phone is off, partially because I was holding out hope to take a nap, and partially because I don’t want to be taunted when the drunken phone calls start, detailing the debauchery I both fear and love that I will never grow out of. I’d rather not live vicariously though this one; I’d rather isolate myself and do my best to pretend this is just another quiet weekend at home. I’d rather pretend this is just another opening paragraph to another column.

I love my friends and I am disappointed I am not sharing this weekend with them. I’m sure they are disappointed that I am not there as well. So, it seems only natural this week’s column should deal with disappointment.

But, first a few more words about friends, and more particularly—friends and fantasy sports. Most of the owners in my main league were supposed to be at this party this weekend. My foremost league is the best kind of fantasy league there is—a league of friends. I’m recruited for tons of leagues every year and many have encouraged me to play more established expert leagues, or high-stakes national leagues. While, I’m not necessarily opposed to joining these leagues, they could never replace the leagues in which I participate with my friends.

As people grow older and more successful, new obligations and responsibilities emerge. We have to work longer hours, we build families and must accommodate the demands of partners and children, we have to help with homework, fix things around the house (or break ‘em worse), we have to help care for older, ailing family members. It’s not surprising that we often lose touch with friends, or at least see them much less often. For many groups, fantasy sports helps to preserve the fabric of a group’s friendship. It’s an experience we all can share and a source for bonding. It’s an uninhibited, private forum for us to prod one another in ways we might not want to do on Facebook or the like. And even as our wives and girlfriends complain incessantly about how we are always talking sports and fantasy sport, they are unknowingly bonding over fantasy sports too, indirectly.

I don’t mean to knock anybody who plays public leagues, or hig- stakes national leagues exclusively, nor am I trying to flaunt my situation to my readers—I’m aware that for many, building a league that includes many of their best friends that is also functional and competitive is just a circumstantial impossibility. But, I must say, you guys are missing out.

In a given year, if I was offered the proposition of either winning Tout Wars or my home league, I wouldn’t even think twice. No amount of e-fame among my fellow fantasy dorks can replace a year-long mandate to talk trash to James, Joe, Andrew, Pete, Chris and the rest of the crew.

If you have a league situation that is like mine, take a moment to realize that you are very lucky, and take another to thank your crew! In the meantime, I’ll look forward to finding out what ridiculous offseason trades were made this weekend, among the renally-corrosive revelry that was James’ bachelor party.

Now, let’s get into a few players who are likely to waken with explosive diarrhea on the morning of your fantasy team’s bachelor party.

Adam Jones:

Jones’ price has remained largely in check this offseason. At the peak of his hype last year, I was expecting to see Jones pushing for top 50 consideration in 2010 pre-ranks and ADP. Yahoo has him pre-ranked at 73 and MDC has his ADP at 89. At his ADP, I couldn’t really blame somebody for taking a shot on Jones and his talent, but I’m skeptical for a few reasons.

First, after his torrid April and May, Jones was beyond pedestrian, posting a .764 OPS in July, sandwiched between two marks in the low sixes in June and August.

Second, his power numbers just didn’t seem to add up. In 2009, he hit fewer balls in the air than in 2008 while retaining an almost identical line drive percentage, yet he hit twice as many homers. While this may just be the normal development of power that can happen in players Jones’ age, the pattern stands out to me. Jones’ BABIP and increased ground ball percentage indicate that he should have hit higher than the .277 mark he posted last year, but I’m just not sure what to make of the power surge, especially since 11 of his 19 dingers came in that first two-month hot streak. I should note that Hit Tracker indicates that he did not benefit much from “lucky” or “just enough” homers; his clouts did register as legitimate.

Perhaps there just isn’t enough data yet to make a solid determination about Jones’ power quotient, but I’m not convinced. For perspective, Jones did hit 25 homers in 101 games in his final season of minor league ball.

Third, I’m skeptical of Jones’ speed. Jones swiped 10 bags last year, giving his owners fantasies of 20/20 or 25/25 potential. However, Jones never stole more than 13 bases in a season in the minors. I don’t see his speed as a legitimate asset for fantasy purposes. While 10 to 15 steals don’t hurt, they’re not much of a reason to draft Jones over more established power threats at the outfield position. I’d rather take my chances with Andrew McCutchen going one spot behind Jones according to ADP, though his power breakout upon call-up was inconsistent with his minor league history.

Javier Vazquez:

Most offseasons, I like Vazquez. He’s often been a target of mine because he fits the criteria of durable, low-profile, boring veteran with low walk and high strikeout rates. Players like this usually represent bargains. However, this season ADP has him as the 12th-highest-drafted starter.

To be sure, if Vazquez tosses 200 innings again, he’ll flirt with 20 wins and he’s as good a bet for 200 strikeouts as anybody not named Tim Lincecum (or Mark Reynolds). However, it is also worth remembering that we are talking about a pitcher who will be 34 this season and who is moving back to the slugfest that is the AL East, and pitching in a telephone booth to boot. Vazquez sharply lowered the percentage of fly balls he gave up last year; if that dip does not hold this year, he could be in trouble.

There are 68 places of ADP between Vazquez and teammate A.J. Burnett. This seems strange to me, as Burnett and Vazquez possess similar upside, as far as I can tell. The points in favor of Vazquez are better control and established durability.

Finally, let’s remember that we’ve been here before with Vazquez. In 2005, he came over to New York coming off what was then a career year. He started the season well, even making the All-Star team, but ultimately flopped. Personally, I think the Yanks gave up prematurely on Vazquez. That not withstanding, a younger, stronger Vazquez was not a fantasy ace in the AL East in 2005, nor is he likely to be worth the price for such in 2010. I normally like to grab one stud starter and then fill out with underrated veterans and high-upside pitchers. My advice would be either pass altogether and take two pitchers in the pick 75–100 range, or to take the plunge a round earlier and grab yourself a true, sure-thing stud, like Dan Haren.

Rafael Furcal:

With an ADP of 133, Furcal is certainly not fetching premium prices. Still, he’s the ninth-taken shortstop overall and, frankly, I don’t see any reason to believe he is a viable starting option in a shallow league. Furcal was never much of an asset in any categories beside runs and steals. Hitting atop the Dodgers order enabled Furcal to score 92 runs in his dismal 2010 season, so it seems fair to expect he’ll figure out a way to eke out a valuable runs totals again. But last year he didn’t even run much, attempting only 18 steals and succeeding at a mere 2:1 ratio. I’d much prefer taking my chances 20 spots earlier on Alexei Ramirez or holding off 20 picks and rolling with Asdrubal Cabrera or Elvis Andrus.


Early Sunday afternoon as I was getting out of the shower, my doorbell rang. It was a delivery, inscribed on the card were lyrics from O.D.B.’s “Brooklyn Zoo” and the package, from 1-800-FLOWERS, was this, and I assure you the sentiment was more sarcastic than sympathetic:

See, wouldn’t you want to play fantasy baseball with these guys? This is a rather grandiose way to kick off the trash talking. The teddy bear will be my team’s logo this season!

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  1. Jonathan Sher said...

    Derek – Hope you feel better soon. A few thoughts:

    (1) Adam Jones.  I agree it’s unlikely we’ll see a spike in stolen bases, but I do think we might see a jump in homers. Looking at HitTracker, not only did Jones double his homers in 2009 but he hit them considerably farther. In 2008 his average true distance home run was 383 feet; in 2009 it was 403 feet. So while he hit fewer fly balls last year, he also hit them considerably harder and with more arc—the latter a bigger factor as the MPH off the bat jumped from 104.2 to 104.9. By comparison Mark Teixiera MPH was 104 and average home run was less than 400 feet. Putting that together, Jones hit the ball harder in 2009, and given his age – he won’t turn 25 until August – I think it’s more likely than not that trend continues.

    (2) Javier Vasquez. He may be over-rated at his ADP but I wouldn’t drop him to Burnett territory. You noted the durability difference and is is huge. Vasquez has started at least 32 games for ten years in-a-row; Burnett has started 30 games three times in nine years, and while he did so the last two years, he remains a significant injury risk. Also, while Vasquez did have his worst season with the Yanks (in 2004, I think, not 2005), he did pitch three years for the White Sox and his FIP was 3.86, 3.80 and 3.74. I know the AL central is not the AL east but Chicago is a tough pitcher’s park that has inflated runs more than the new Yankee stadium did last year. I don’t expect Vasquez to match or even come that close to his 2009 numbers with the Braves. But I do expect him to pitch as well as he did with the White Sox, and with the Yankee offense behind him that will mean a lot of runs.

  2. Greg Simons said...

    I’m in the same boat as Brian M, 500 miles from my league mates, but I make the trip every spring for our auction.  It’s always one of the best days of the year.

  3. B N said...

    “I’m aware that for many, building a league that includes many of their best friends that is also functional and competitive is just a circumstantial impossibility.”

    - This is indeed very true.  I used to be in a league with a lot of my good friends.  Unfortunately, many of them were either huge flakes or tremendously bad at fantasy sports.  After a couple years of domination and one final year of weird stat categories that made for an almost random winner (a completely unmanaged team took 2nd, no joke) the league dissolved into nothingness.  But it was still good times.

    “And even as our wives and girlfriends complain incessantly about how we are always talking sports and fantasy sport…”

    - Maybe it’s just because I have an awesome girlfriend, but that has not been the case.  After seeing me enjoy fantasy baseball, she’s decided she wants in this season.  smile  Those with girlfriend/wife nagging should maybe see if they can take the “if you can’t beat em, join em” approach.

  4. The Nena said...

    As one of the gents in your main league I take great pride in what you have written in this column. It really is an oddity to have a league that is both highly competitve and contains a very close group of friends. Our league certainly has both. And from a competitve standpoint I would bet on almost any owner in our league as an entrant in any expert league.

    As for the bachelor party to my knowledge there were no trades but there was certainly plenty of banter and debauchery. I can assure you of that.

    Glad you are feeling better Derek and you were certainly missed over the weekend. I am also glad to hear you laughed about the flower and teddy bear delivery. Although you are right that the sentiment was more sarcastic than caring it was certainly sent because your presence was missed no matter what anyone else tells you.


  5. B N said...

    “grab yourself a true, sure-thing stud, like Dan Haren.”

    - And if you’re really smart, trade Haren away at full market price before his seasonal decline after the all star break…

  6. Derek Ambrosino said...


    My gf is accepting of fantasy as well; she works in the baseball industry and usually plays in at least one fantasy league herself each year. The girlfriend of one of my best friend runs an all girls fantasy football league, and my gf is banned from it because they say that with her knowledge, it’s too much like opening it up to the guys.

    The Nena,

    Thanks for the kind words. Looking forward to another great season. For all interested, over the past seven seasons of our league with largely the same group, The Nena here has the most titles. He was also the owner of Adam Jones last year.


    Ha. Thanks. Actually, mostly Air Maxes (particularly 95s) and Air Force Ones on that set of shelves. There are other shelves and a storage spot too (for Jordans, Barkleys, Pennys, Foams, etc.). And, then there are the hats… I’ve been trying to think of an excuse to post some sort of baseball-themed hat/jersey/sneaker of the weak feature, but I kind of feel like I’ve already lowered the caliber of discourse on this site enough with my borderline Bill-Simmons-ish column style.

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