Internet-capable phones and fantasy sports: A love storyby Paul Singman
October 13, 2009
|First overall pick Stephen Strasburg adds himself to his own fantasy team after signing with the Nationals. (Icon/SMI)|
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Paul has been managing fantasy baseball teams for many seasons and writing for THT Fantasy over the past three years. He is currently a student at UPenn welcomes readers' thoughts at his email here or in the comments below.
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