Why I don’t write Fantasy Focus articlesby Brandon Isleib
September 11, 2008
About the same time that I started writing for THT, it was time for my first head-to-head draft. I've been doing Rotisserie-type formats for most of my life, but this was something new: a league to which I actually paid some money ($30), and a league with all dedicated people, even though I only knew a couple of them (a college friend and his family made up about half the league). At any given time in this league, there are nine active hitters (basically an AL lineup) and seven active pitchers, with a generous nine bench slots and one DL slot. It was nice to have a new challenge in the face of a stagnating fantasy experience.
The problem was that I had no good frame of reference for the stats involved. Total bases were worth a point each, and strikeouts subtracted a point each. Similar quirky differences between head-to-head and Rotisserie made it rather difficult for me to translate my thinking by draft time. With strikeouts being bad, I aimed for hitters with good plate discipline (walks were worth a point as well) so that at least my offense didn't drag me down, and I really aimed for pitching because I understood the categories.
My hitting didn't look great coming out of the draft—Carlos and Derrek Lee were my best men—and the closers were as retro as Seinfeld (Troy Percival and Todd Jones, with George Sherrill thrown in). However, my starting pitching looked great: Jake Peavy, John Lackey, Scott Kazmir, Ben Sheets (my perpetual fantasy man-crush—"the things he could do if he were healthy!"), Aaron Harang and my secret-research guy, Justin Duchscherer. (Isn't it always fun when you grab your secret-research guy and it works out? I would say that's more fun than winning the league, but I've only experienced the former....) I had grabbed the aces for five teams in a 12-team league, I suppose in large part because I was willing to write off a month or two on Lackey's and Kazmir's DL stints in order to get better performance down the road.
For a while, this recipe worked great. One of my bench/keeper picks got promoted earlier than expected and was certainly better than the Scott Rolen/Casey Blake mess that I had at third base; I dare say that Evan Longoria has worked out for me. I also picked up Carlos Quentin from the free-agent list right before (probably the day before) somebody else would have; he, Pat Burrell and Shane Victorino have formed a fairly sick outfield for me. Harang wasn't winning much but he was pitching well, and all my other pitchers were coming out the gate with some solid numbers (particularly Duchscherer, of course). Even without Lackey and Kazmir to start with, I roared out to a 3-1 record.
And then the bottom fell out. I had a number of lucky wins through the season (where I might have had a below-average amount of points, but I was facing the worst team that week), but it caught up with me. After a three-game losing streak, I was sub-.500 and wondering if I needed to do anything. Now, mind you, I'm one of the most conservative fantasy players ever. I made only 12 acquisitions this whole year, and I never make trades in the first month, as I want to see my team play out before I send anyone packing. The offense just wasn't clicking very well, and the nature of starting pitching made things difficult.
And then the bottom came right back in. I proceeded to surprise just about everyone with a six-game winning streak, putting me in first place at the end of June at 9-4, with nine weeks to go before the playoffs. I was stunned. Could I be this good at fantasy baseball, that my first head-to-head experience could bring home a pennant? Had I cracked the head-to-head code? Was I the bizzomb?
Well, apparently not. Unfortunately, there's no such thing as a fantasy trainer, but I needed one, as my closers became rehabbers and Duchscherer was hip in all the wrong ways. Aaron Harang started losing me points whenever I pitched him, and my offense was good only if it had the pitching to back it up. I had been pretty bad up the middle most of the year, with Rickie Weeks at second and Stephen Drew at shortstop (a bench pick that surprisingly started outperforming drafted shortstop Edgar Renteria), but it started catching up with me big time. I could not see the bottom falling out again because I had tasted such success early, and I could not respond in time. Add to this my evaporating good luck in matchups, and disaster was in the camp. From the end of June until the last week of the regular season started, I won exactly once. If I had been able to use minor-league stats for my team instead of major-league ones, I might have won, considering how many of my guys were on rehab stints at any given time. I finished at 11-11 (amazingly, only two games back), rather confused and wondering what went wrong.
As much as this Red Sox fan doesn't want to admit it, I'm the 1908 Yankees 100 years later. The Yanks (or Highlanders) started June at 20-15, which wasn't much but was enough to be on top of the league. They went an astonishing 31-88 over the rest of the year to go all the way to last place, making it one of the worst, if not the worst, season in Yankee history. There was no fire sale, though there was a change in attitude; it was just plain awfulness in New York. I identify with them way too much. It's hard to have 22 weeks with streaks of 3-1, 0-3, 6-0 and 1-6 all in a row, but so it goes.
This season wasn't without its bright spots, of course. I didn't make awful picks or anything; I just had no clue how to adjust when things went downhill. I wasn't used to the format at all, and the stats involved were enough of a language barrier to keep me from getting what I needed in the strange land that is head-to-head. As a four-keeper league, Longoria, possibly Quentin and any two of my ace pitchers will make a nice core to build around. But as you can see, even if I have some philosophies and ways I run a team, that doesn't mean they're good ones. I have no idea if all the fantasy baseball writers out there run good teams or not; it's not like chess where you have those funky Elo ratings based on wins and strength of opponent and all that. "Oh, Derek Carty has an 1743 head-to-head rating and a 1876 in Rotisserie; I'm definitely listening to him!"
All I know is that I'll stick to my historical articles, and that all of you fantasy intrepids will be better off for it.
References and Resources
Here's my team. In keeping with previous years of player references in team names (Hamelin Horrors, Listach's Lions, Belliard Homers, and Gagne with a Spoon), I run the Pete Schourek-en. Feel free to groan at the pun. I'm used to it.
Brandon Isleib is a lawyer and writes about stuff sometimes. He can be reached via the electronic mails.
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