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News Aggregators: A Cautionary Tale PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Sunday, 12 February 2012 00:00

a.k.a. What Time is Miller Time?

What fantasy competitor does not want to be “in the know” about what is happening with hundreds of players across the 30 different organizations that make up Major League Baseball? Unfortunately, no one has the time to conduct all that investigation first-hand, so we all take advantage of news aggregators to augment what our eyes and ears tell us.

I am all for that, but want to ensure we don’t get lazy and spoiled, and as a result make sub-optimal roster decisions.

Covering one organization from top to bottom in unusual depth as I do with the Cardinals means that I receive a lot of inquiries from friends and other industry figures about St. Louis’ prospects. That is especially the case this time of year.

I don’t mind at all, as any question can open up some very interesting two-way dialogue. The number one subject in this area in 2012 to date has been pitcher Shelby Miller, a top-ten prospect across MLB according to a number of national raters.

Speaking of dialogue, under the guidance of our esteemed Lord Zola, staff members of Mastersball and our partners at KFFL are participating in a weekly virtual roundtable discussion that appears on Mondays at KFFL.com.

This coming week’s topic of discussion is what fantasy baseball enthusiasts should be doing to get ready for March drafts. I chimed in with advice that could be characterized as cautionary.

“Getting as close as possible to what the people are saying who are actually in spring camps and around the players and coaches is very important. Personally, I am extremely close to one team in particular and can gauge the knowledge level of a national site from what they say about that team. I have seen analyses of playing time and positional battles that originate from some of these sources that are far from reality. As in so many areas, stick to name brands you can trust.”

Around that same time, I was contacted by a member of our staff who is participating in a slow draft in a redraft league. As the rounds were approaching 20, a rapidly-dwindling pitching pool led to an inquiry as to when I would recommend taking Miller.

Not knowing the league, player pool, roster sizes or rules meant that I stayed away from a specific recommendation. Instead, I explained the variables that would affect Miller’s MLB introduction as well as his playing time prospects and provided my odds of various possible occurrences. They ranged from making 20 starts in the majors to not appearing in the bigs at all in 2012. There are a number of factors that play into this, both on and off the field. I am not going to go into them here, but will detail them in another article.

I will share my bottom line right now, though. I give Miller very low odds of making a significant fantasy impact anytime in 2012.

A couple of days later, I came across a perfect illustration that brought these two situations together, with Miller as the subject, of course.

In a typical opening-of-spring-camp article identifying question areas for the 2012 Cardinals, St. Louis Post-Dispatch beat writer Joe Strauss (an excellent source, by the way), said the following:

“Top prospect and two-time organization pitcher of the year Shelby Miller, 21, is projected to open the season at Memphis and is a serious contender for next season's major-league rotation. A strong summer could allow Cardinals fans a glimpse of the 2009 draftee at Busch Stadium in September.”

That is every word Strauss wrote about Miller’s prospects to reach St. Louis this year in his 2,300-word article.

He had even less to say about starting pitcher Jake Westbrook.

“A rotation of Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse, and Jake Westbrook appears set unless (Roy) Oswalt is signed.”

As is very standard in the industry, a number of national sites which aggregate baseball information noted the Strauss article and prepared the typical CliffsNotes-type summary capsules about many of the individual players mentioned.

As I said from the very start, this is a handy kind of service, one which I use regularly. After all, I need the same help you probably do with the 29 other systems.

(I will digress for a moment and mention a pet peeve of mine. Too many sloppy writers credit the aggregator as the source of the news, rather than identifying the actual news gatherer. This may seem trivial to you. To me and many reporters, it is not. If you ever played the game “Telephone” as a child, you will understand why it should matter to you, too.)

Back on point, here is my core issue. One must always be on guard when the aggregators put their spin on the news.

Continuing with our example, one unidentified “analyst” concluded from the Strauss article that “if Westbrook opens the year in the rotation and struggles, Miller could be in position to take over.”

Just to be clear, he is talking about 2012, not 2013. Now, I understand that everybody wants to be the one who predicts an unexpected move with the next hot prospect before it happens, then take a big, public bow if it actually comes to pass. However, in cases like this, the statement does not pass a basic sniff test.

Of course, it “could” happen. Then again, do you want to make a decision based on something that has a very, very, very small chance of actually occurring? That would perfectly characterize the potential of Miller reaching and sticking in a major league rotation early in 2012.

There are multiple assumptions behind the statement offered by the anonymous “analyst,” none of which are supported by the referenced article or by my in-depth knowledge of the actual situation. I won’t go into them all, nor will I identify the site where this originated, as that is not my point. You’ll have to take my word for it. This is just one example of the kind of thing that happens all the time on any number of sites as staffers are scrambling to share all the news all the time.

In summary, my advice to you is to take the basic news provided as valuable input, but be very careful with recommendations offered - unless you know and trust the provider of the analysis by name.

If you use a news aggregator that attempts to go beyond basic factual reporting to draw conclusions and make recommendations, ensure a link to the source story is included. If they don’t, find a different trusted provider.

Just having the link isn’t enough by itself. Use it. If you are considering taking action with your fantasy roster based on the news you read, then you owe it to yourself to take the extra time to click on the link and actually review the source article.

Just as in the case of this Miller example, your conclusion may turn out to be very different.

 Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 14-year history. He finished second in each of the two subsequent seasons. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com and weekly in-season at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Sunday, 12 February 2012 10:47
 

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