Fantasy fluff the right stuffby Jonathan Sher
August 30, 2010
I never thought I would be caught. I had been so careful to cover my tracks, only logging on when I thought she was asleep and erasing the incriminating history when I was done. After two decades of being faithful to my first love, I was restless, but not reckless.
When the phone call came, I could hear the hurt in her voice and I knew I was in trouble. "I though I had married someone who shared my traditional values—I can't believe you're seeing someone else."
I stammered, tried to compose a plausible alibi, but she would have none of it. She had seen me all those late nights sneaking off to my my new-found attraction.
"I want the truth," she yelled!
"You can't handle the truth," I thought . . . but I told her.
For half my life I had been faithful to one type of fantasy baseball based on the book that inspired a lot of us in the 1980's written by Daniel Okrent and friends who coined the term rotisserie baseball at a formative gathering at a New York City restaurant—La Rotisserie Française. Our leagues used auction to mimic free markets with salary constraints and enough owners that we would struggle to fill our rosters with talent, forcing most teams to take risks and settle for mediocrity some places to afford excellence elsewhere. Rules were structured in such a way as to limit roster moves to no more than once a week. The leagues allowed keepers so owners could build for today or tomorrow. All these rules serve one over-arching goal: To make the experience of playing fantasy baseball much like running a real baseball team.
But after 20 years of realism, I was ready for an escape. And when a different sort of fantasy league flashed her lashes at me, I resisted for as long as I could, but in the end, I was too weak. There she stood, dressed in nothing but a snake draft and the promise of a wealth of choices that just weren't possible with a traditional gal. There would be only 14 owners for a mixed-team league and the only limit on roster moves was the strength and speed of your typing finger, of, if you are more adept than me, your typing fingers.
Five months have passed since that fateful night when I threw caution and tradition to the wind. I've learned a lot about my new mistress, my old sweetheart and even myself. But the two most salient lessons are this:
(1) Deep auction leagues are more realistic.
(2) Sometimes realism sucks.
When real baseball teams lose a good player to injury, there is not often another stud waiting to take his place. The same holds true in deep auction leagues, a brutish fact that's been driven home again and again in my Can12 A.L league. Spending chunks of time in the disabled list have been Kelly Shoppach, Mike Cameron, Derek Holland, Hector Rondon, Asdrubal Cabrera, Mike Montgomery, Kendry Morales, Shin-Soo Choo, Matt Weiters, Michael Saunders, Alex Rodriguez and JJ Putz. Two of my key acquisitions joined them: Connor Jackson and Jacoby Ellsbury, who surfaced long enough to tease me with four steals in one game before re-joining my dragoon of disabled.
I covered my first loss, Shoppach, by spending way too much of our free agent budget on John Jaso and tried to replace Cameron and Choo with Jackson, but there was little I could do as injuries mounted.
By comparison, losing players in my shallower draft league has actually been kind of fun: There's enough surplus talent that when one player goes down it the replacement choices are varied and interesting. Brett Anderson goes down twice so I picked up Gavin Floyd, Brett Cecil and Wandy Rodriguez. Magglio Ordonez is lost so I pick up Andres Torres. In recent weeks I lost Nelson Cruz, Carlos Gonzalez and ARod in short order, so needing runs and batting average, I picked up Jose Tabata, Coco Crisp and Neil Walker.
No major league team enjoys that depth of talent or the ability to trade for it, though I guess you could make the case for the latter with the New York Yankees. It's not at all realistic.
But it is fun.
It also provokes a number of strategies on draft day:
(1) The more shallow the league, the better it is to take risk on players with high ceilings who might fail because of injury or because their performance hasn't caught up to their skills. In a deep league, those risks are fraught with risk. If a player crashes you are very likely riding with him down the elevator shaft. But in a shallow league, when an elevator falls, simply get off and catch another player on the way up.
(2) The availability of good players make it more likely rival owners will prematurely cast out talent which you can then scoop up. In my draft league you could assemble a pretty good starting staff just from cast-offs in April and May: Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez, Phil Hughes, Gavin Floyd, Brett Cecil, and Wandy Rodriguez—I picked up Hughes in April, Floyd in June and Cecil and Rodriguez in July.
(3) Daily roster moves also makes it easy to churn players for counting stats, especially starting pitchers.
(4) It's less crucial in a shallow league to draft for a balance since there will be ample means to shift priorities. In a deep auction league you generally must trade to shore up weaknesses and that leave your future in the hands of rival owners in your league.
(5) While you are less dependent on trades in a shallow league, a shrewd owner may find it easier to pull one off since he is not limited to the player on his own roster when trying to make a swap. Earlier this year I was looking to move Mark Reynolds because he was killing my batting average and was ready to dump Brian Matusz because it seemed clear he was at least a few months away from turning the corner. I approached a rival whom I knew had the misfortune of being a die-hard Orioles fan and in desperate need of home runs and RBI. I wanted Ryan Braun. He wasn't quite ready to pull the trigger. A few days later, Pedro Alvarez was called up and I claimed him within minutes. Adding him to the package cemented the deal.
(6) Generally avoid taking pitchers in the middle rounds because the crap shoot's not a whole lot better than the late rounds and there will be un-drafted talent that will perform well. In our league, among the 11 owners who actively managed their teams, more than half of starting pitchers taken in rounds 10 to 15 were dropped before the All-Star break. After round 15 there was good talent including Mat Latos, Clay Buchholz, Francisco Liriano, Phil Hughes, Andy Pettitte, Stephen Strasburg, Brandon Arroyo, Shawn Marcum, Diasuke Matsuzaki, Ted Lilly and CJ Wilson. I largely avoid taking pitchers in early rounds too—I I took none in the first five rounds and two of my first three taken didn't pan out: Javier Vasquez mostly bombed and Anderson missed most of the season due to injuries.
My new flame has been fun—I've quite enjoyed my shallow draft league and for many of the reasons it isn't realistic. It doesn't hurt that I've been in first place for most of the time since early-June and have opened up a sizable lead as we head toward season's end. But I think it's more than that. I love the fact that frustrations and setbacks can be short-lived.
I realize, of course, that one can play in a deep draft league or a shallow auction league but I think the reverse is more often the case: Draft leagues are more apt to attract casual fantasy fans who don't want to know the names of major league backups or a prospect list that goes deeper than a top-10. Playing both for the first time had been an eye-opener.
How about you? Have you played in both deep and shallow leagues, auctions as well as drafts? Do you prefer one over the other? Why?
Jonathan Sher is a veteran investigative reporter, a one-time lawyer and a rookie fantasy baseball writer. He welcomes comments, questions and suggestions at sherpalumbo AT rogers DOT com.
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