Internet-capable phones and fantasy sports: A love story

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First overall pick Stephen Strasburg adds himself to his own fantasy team after signing with the Nationals. (Icon/SMI)

Hypothetically speaking

Imagine you are at a sports bar watching the (insert favorite team) game. Your team is winning in the ninth inning, so (insert favorite team’s closer) comes in to pitch. You have two reasons to root for him to convert the save: 1) it would mean your favorite team gets a win and 2) you own this closer on your fantasy team so you would get a save.

Keep imagining, there are now two outs in the ninth with no one on base. Things appear to be going well until the last batter hits a short chopper back to the mound, the closer goes to field the ball, turns, and fires to first for the final out. Instead of celebrating, however, you are mainly concerned because your closer is now laying on the field grimacing and holding his right leg. The replay shows how his knee landed awkwardly while fielding the ball and your first thought is: “I better go add his probable replacement.”

OK, maybe you have some compassion for this closer as a human being and your first thought is one of concern for his health, but definitely your second thought is about his replacement.

Unfortunately your phone is some old, barely functioning mechanism and does not get internet access, so you will have to wait until you get home to add the backup closer. I suppose you could ask someone near you if they have a 3-G capable phone and if you could use it quickly, but let’s say everyone around you is creepy and you would rather not. So you wait until you get home and a few hours later when you are home, you find someone else has already added the replacement. Too slow! If your closer is out for any extended period of time, not adding the backup could easily cost you a point or two in saves and just as easily a spot in the standings.

And that is just for one example—over the course a season a bunch more situations of the sort occur, obviously having a large impact on the final standings. Now, this is not true for all league types, so before we move further let’s discuss the leagues this impacts the most.

League types

In weekly leagues obviously this has no impact since there is one waiver deadline per week and nothing can be done in between each deadline. Only daily updated leagues are involved in this conversation.

Another thing to note is that the scramble for free agents is more prominent in deeper leagues because—and sorry for the analogy—they play more like fantasy football leagues when a running back get injured. In deeper baseball leagues people may be looking for anyone who gets playing time, meaning several teams may want to pick up a player likely to receive more at-bats given an injury to a starter. In these leagues free agency is like the 19th century Wild West; it’s a free-for-all and anything goes. May the man who gets there first win.

In a shallower league, however, there is a good chance you will not add an injured starter’s real-life replacement since a better option might already exist in free agency. In shallow leagues the scramble will only occur with injured closers and promoted rookies—an injury to an everyday player does not necessitate whipping out your iPhone or rushing home since you are likely the only person looking for a replacement at that time and you will have several options to choose from.

So the question remains: In a shallow, daily updated competitive league is an internet-capable phone necessary to win? Of course you can win without one, but at how large a disadvantage are you putting yourself? I do not intend to try to quantify this amount, that would be a very Cistullian pursuit (nothing against you, Carson); instead I will focus on how it affected me in the Yahoo! Friends & Family league this year to give a tangible example.

Rough quantification

I will preface this by saying that I finished in a respectable fourth of 14 in the league (especially considering it was my first year in it) and that I myself own one of those decrepit phones mentioned earlier. Let’s run through some of the players I was unable to add because I was late jumping on breaking news and how things might have played out differently.

Below is a breakdown of the league standings by points per category (click to enlarge).

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I made quite a few terrible picks in this draft, and one of the worst was Brandon Morrow in the 12th round. When he was ousted from the Mariners’ closer job early in the season, I was late to pick up replacement David Aardsma, who ended the season with 38 saves. I also missed out on adding C.J. Wilson the first two times Frank Francisco headed for the DL.

Because I missed out on these saves, late in the season I decided to trade Denard Span for Andrew Bailey to gain some ground in the category. Bailey did pitch great for me in August and September and earned me a few points in saves, but Span also hit surprisingly well over that stretch. In this league where most of the hitting stats were ultra-competitive, losing Span’s bat to add saves easily cost me a point in steals and a half-point in average that I otherwise would not have had to sacrifice had I gotten saves from Aardsma or any other reliever that inherited a closer role for however long a time. With some of those saves I also would have gained a full point in saves by breaking free from the annoying three-way tie I finished in for that category.

I can conclude that not being quick enough to add at least one or two replacement closers cost me around 2.5 points in this league.

On my team you won’t find many of the better “emergency pickups” of 2009 since generally I was beat out by the other managers to add them. Some examples of those players are Nolan Reimold, Gordon Beckham, Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones. I did have some good pickups throughout the year—Zach Duke, Seth Smith, Jonny Gomes and Martin Prado were all pickups that contributed to my team. All of these players are more of the “non-emergency” variety however, meaning there was no scramble to add them at the time. Had I waited another day to add them, they probably still would have been floating in free agency. I chalk those adds up to good thinking more than fast fingers.

It is hard to quantify the impact owning one of the emergency pickup players would have had, though I do feel comfortable saying one of those players is worth a couple points in terms of league points. Overall, by being slow on adding players—a slowness caused largely by not having a 3-G cell phone—I forfeited around 4 to 5 points in this league. Looking at the league standings those points certainly could have propelled me into third place and who knows what could have happened.

Final thoughts

Missing out on free agents over the course of a season can have a large impact on the standings, as shown in one of my leagues this year. The race to add players is an aspect of leagues that some enjoy and others do not. If you are against it, consider playing in leagues with weekly free agent addition periods.

If you are all for it, make sure you have your Blackberry or iPhone available at moments notice, a Twitter account that follows the breakers of news in the baseball world, and—getting progressively more eccentric—an MLB.TV subscription. Going back to the comeback chopper situation at the beginning of this article, no one saw that closer get injured earlier than the guy watching the game live.

I am not advocating that most people go to such lengths to ensure they are able to add players faster than anyone else; most people do not care enough. However, if you are in a highly competitive league and are consistently getting beat in adding the desirable free agents, not only will it be frustrating, you probably will not win the league.

You have to decide how much of a “fantasy baseball geek” you are willing to be.

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Comments

  1. Eugene said...

    I have a 3G phone but I have a simple solution : don’t play in non-weekly waiver-claim deep leagues unless the league is so deep all the replacements are drafted too.  In my mind, the point of fantasy baseball is to recognize skill in baseball forecasting.  It takes little forecasting skill to recognize that a closer has gone down and to hit a button first, it just takes dedication.

  2. Derek Ambrosino said...

    This applies not just to injuries, but job security as well. If you know you are traditionally slow to the wire, you many have to bump the top tier, reliable closers up your sheet on draft day. You may also want to expand your pitching bench and hold more prospective closers.

    Getting to the wire quickly is something that makes a difference in fantasy baseball, like it or not. So, if you’re not willing to rejigger the types of leagues you play in on that basis, the best thing you can do is try to hedge against your own weaknesses.

    Self awareness is key. I discuss this in my upcoming article as well.

  3. Andrew said...

    Leagues that use daily add/drops lose just a tad of credibility IMO. Fantasy should reward the skilled owner, not the owner with the most free time. For any leagues with considerable stakes up for grabs, FAAB is a must. It’s the most fair way to acquire free agents.

  4. Paul Singman said...

    Derek, your comment on closers was something I planned on discussing in a future article as well. I’m interested to see what you have to say on the subject.

    Andrew, agreed, FAABs are the fairest and the most fun.

    I guess my main point in this article is that if racing to add players is not your thing, you can easily set league settings so that it is not part of your league, and you don’t put yourself at a pretty significant disadvantage from the outset.

  5. Derek Carty said...

    Much bigger fan of FAAB than any other system, though I think there are worse things than first-come-first-served.  For example, the FSIC this year simply had a waiver order that reset every week so that the worst team always got the best player.  This meant, being one of the top teams, that we never had a chance at guys like Cliff Lee, Holliday, Smoltz, DeRosa, Garko, or any newly-anointed closer.  I have more qualms with a system that rewards poor play than I do with a system that rewards a quick trigger, though FAAB is the ideal way to go.

    That said, whatever format you are playing in, I think you have to take any advantage you can, and my BlackBerry has come in quite handy at times in first-come-first-served leagues.

  6. Derek Ambrosino said...

    Andrew,

    While I’ve certainly felt resentful on occassions when I’ve lost out on a pick-up because I wa pre-occupied at work, I think it’s a little dismissive to imply that daily pick-up leagues “lose credibility.”

    I think the judgment of what leagues have “credibility” is far more of an individual and subjective one. As long as there aren’t egregious inherent biases in the way the league itself is set up, I think the credibility is largely established by the internal composition of the league.

    I remember a friend of mine telling me about this incredibly advanced sounding league he joined. It seemed cool, well thought out, and I presumed it would be competitive. Then he showed me the draft results and I was like, “what a bunch of morons.” Another acquiantance of mine put together this great league with all sorts of great features and extensive minor-league roster options, pay scales, etc. and the design proved too advanced for half of the league and it led to a handfull of teams just serially exploiting the others. Meanwhile, some of my most competitive and fun fantasy baseball experiences have been in yeoman 10-12 team mixed draft leagues with daily transactions.

    I also think it’s a little shortsighted to reduce daily transactions to “rewarding the owner with the most free time.” People still have to make wise decisions; more chances to do something smart also means more chances to do something dumb.

    And, to be a bit trite, in the age of blackberries, VPNs, and so forth (in addition to families, second jobs, etc.) many of us find our “free time” shrinking by the day. Multitasking, or figuring out how to keep actively involved in our hobbies, actually is something of a [life] skill.

    …The day I consider, “well he’s a 20-year-old single college student” as a legit reason why I lost a fantasy league is the day hike my pants above my belly button while shooing kids off my lawn!

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