It is not much of a secret that I am a big fan of Strat-O-Matic, the delicious sim game created by Hal Richman. Strat, which I began playing in 1977, was indeed the game that whetted my appetite for Fantasy Baseball and all the craziness that has ensued both in my life, and that of the development of Fantasy Sports over the 40 years since.
Similarly, I like to play in tough leagues. Surely AL Tout and LABR are some fairly stiff leagues, and the mixed XFL might be the toughest roto format of all, a league in which I struggle to finish sixth no matter how many years or angles I am willing to sacrifice. My Scoresheet League boasts 24 teams, allowing just eight freezes, and that can be difficult, but my two Strat Leagues are the ones that I love managing.
There is something about playing out the games, for though there are no actual dice the way my leagues play out, there is still an active punching of the enter key to force play, and thought before each "pitch" for me.
Of the two leagues in which I play, one, the MidWest Strat League is a keeper format that allows us to freeze up to 28 players from year-to-year. As the game sims the previous year, there are usage rules so penalties can be invoked for overage and other infractions that cut into freezes, something that can hurt in a league where every at-bat and player is needed.
That contemporary player league is a 30-team configuration where each of us plays in the home park of a Major League team, playing out that team's schedule. For example, I play in ATT Park, so my Berkeley Liberators play the Giants home and road games, accordingly,
It is good fun, and I am more than excited about the prospects for my team next year for it includes surprises like Leury Garcia, Ariel Miranda, Jimmy Nelson and Ervin Santana.
But, nothing is as wild and crazy as my other league, the Summer League of Champions (SLOC) that is comprised of 24 teams, with each rostering 10 players drafted from the Hall of Fame set, and the remaining HOF players go into a player pool of a specific year the league agrees upon.
This year, our 10-man freezes were augmented by 1961, meaning the likes of Rocky Colavito, Norm Cash and Roger Maris got tossed into the draft pool (remember, Mantle, Mays, et al were in the HOF set, so they were already drafted and not eligible out of the 1961 set).
I have struggled hard in this league over my five years in, trying to figure out how to win when Ralph Kiner is a bench player and Eli Gerba can face and whiff the Pirates great.
There are a couple of things that work out funny in a league with such strange personnel as Elio Chacoan and Bill Dickey sharing roster time, for all 24 teams have similar constructs, and what that means is hitting is largely everything, and no one is really out of it.
For either of my league's games are usually due a certain day of the month, and since Di and I had some airplane time going to New York and back, I played my dozen remaining games in the air coming home from the FSTA.
Playing these games out can be exhilirating, depressing, hypnotizing, and generally a lot of fun, But, the thing about these games is no one is really out of it, and getting those last three outs is indeed so difficult.
At least twice during my 12 contests, which started brightly with a pair of wins, then a pair of losses, then five straight strong and satisfying wins, which led into a brutal sweeping by the Mayberry Bullet, who bested me 5-4, 20-4, and then 13-1 to take any wind out of any sails I might have had.
At least twice during the home series my teams held six-run leads going into the seventh inning, and neither time could they hold it, and that is with Al Hrabosky and the great Webster McDonald topping my bullpen.
I do see that hitting is everything, but over the years, especially with Strat, pitching always trumps the batters, so I am having a hard time giving up old habits that tell me having Bob Gibson is more important than having Stan Musial.
But figuring this all out, and in the end being successful with it, is quite a reward when there are 23 other guys trying to do the same, no?
If you don't know Strat, and love the nuance of the game--Strat accounts for stealing and baserunning along with range and arm skills, the ability to hold runners and hit in the clutch, and a myriad of other micro plays within the game. Give it a try. Strat is pretty tough to give up once it's in your blood!
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As it was June, that meant the Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA) was holding its annual Summer Convention. Diane and I always attend this soiree--there are now over 600 companies within an industry that generated $7.2 billion last year--for it means a handful of days in New York in addition to seeing so many buds in the industry.
As it was this year, Diane worked as the event photographer while I was drafting in the Experts B-League (which I refer to as "Beleaguered") for the industry has grown such that there are indeed "A" and "B" leagues, and though A gets the hype, B is no easier. Also note, the teams Todd and I have driven over the past four years always make the playoffs, and generally die in the championships. Not this year!
There is a caveat, however, that the winner of B moves "up" to A, and the last place A team is relegated to B. The draft allowed for a standard PPR 16-player roster which includes kicking and defense.
And, before you check out the players, for whom the comments will be brief, I did take a different route for me, going hard after Wide Receivers and then Running Backs who can catch before thinking of much of anything else. That meant fading at Quarterback, but that actually worked itself into my larger plan. In a 14-team league, I picked in the 13th slot.
T.Y. Hilton (WR): As long as he stays healthy, Hilton should catch 80-plus to go with 1000 yards and whatever scores follow. That is a start.
Amari Cooper (WR): This was a tough choice between Cooper and Dez Bryant. I went Cooper partially because I love the Raiders and their top pass catcher, and partially because I feared Bryant getting hurt.
Michael Crabtree (WR): Not a homer pick by any means, If I draft in the 13-hole, again there was a long wait for my next pick and Crabtree is not only very good, he is John Taylor to Cooper's Jerry Rice. Well, maybe not quite that good, but it is an analogy, for a good defense cannot double-team both of them and with Derek Carr, they will both get ample looks.
Paul Perkins (RB): In what appears to be an evolving offense, Perkins seems to be growing into the #1 RB slot. The second-year runner averaged 4.1 yards per carry last year along with 15 catches for 162 yards.
Bilal Powell (RB): Powell rushed for 722 yards last season while catching 58 passes for another 388 yards and should continue to be a major offensive cog.
Theo Riddick (RB): A great complement to Powell, Riddick missed six games last year but still ran for 357 yards and caught 53 passes for another 571 yards.
Cameron Meredith (WR): Quietly caught for 888 yards last year on 66 receptions.
Martellus Bennett (TE): Should now be a formidable weapon with Aaron Rodgers slinging the ball his way.
Philip Rivers (QB): I focused hard on RB and WR knowing the professional and productive likes of Ben Roethlisberger and Rivers would be around when I needed them. Rivers is such a pro and now he has a bunch of fun new weapons, all very good. Big fun, and a lotta potential points.
Cameron Kupp (WR): #3 pick of the Rams is a speedy selection who should get a lot of chances to strut his stuff on a young, changing offense. Kupp set collegiate Football Subdivision Championship all-time scoring, reception, and yardage records.
Robert Woods (WR): Was a Bill last year, but this year is a handcuff to Kupp where Woods should get a chance to improve upon his 61 catches and 613 yards earned last year.
Tyrod Taylor (QB): Taylor, who can run and throw, has yet to realize his potential, but he will, and I hope this year. He can score with the ball and pass, and as a tie to Rivers, I am good.
Evan Engram (TE): All-American first-round pick of the Giants should get every chance to succeed.
Jalen Richard (RB): A perfect foil to big Marshawn Lynch, Richard averaged 5.9 yards a carry, ran one for 75 yards and a score, along with 29 passes caught and should also figure big in the Oakland offense.
Graham Gano (PK): At this point, all kickers are alike. I will stream, pick, and choose.
Jacksonville Jaguars (DEF): Hoped to bag the Steelers (they open against the Browns) but they were sniped, so will stream depending upon the matchup and ideally stumble into something.
You can hound me @lawrmichaels. Well, not really, but kinda.
Last Monday, the MLB First Year Player Draft commenced to much fanfare. The draft is indeed a lot of fun, whetting the appetites of fantasy owners far and wide in anticipation of the next Mike Trout or Aaron Judge.
However, it is indeed an arduous climb from the ranks of Top Prospect to everyday Major League play, so we should all remind ourselves it takes time for prospects to be big league ready, if they ever are. And also remember, the majority never will become full-time Major League ballplayers.
It is, however, fun to speculate. So, here are ten names I have some hope for, and why. And, aside from Brendan McKay, they are in no particular order. (# in parens is overall draft number.)
Brendan McKay (#4, 1B, Rays): My favorite pick of the draft reminds me a lot of John Olerud, who was drafted by the Jays in the late 80's. Olerud played at Washington State for three years, hitting .443-33-131 while going 26-4, 3.17 over 241.3 innings. McKay, a lefty like Olerud, hit .327-28-131 while going 31-10, 2.15 over 310 Louisville frames. Olerud, who wound up a first sacker, hit .295-255-1230 over 17 years in the big leagues. Plus, Olerud made the Majors at the end of the year he was selected and he never went back. That is a pretty good profile, and is why I have the most faith in McKay making it.
Hunter Greene (#2, RHP, Reds): Hit .337-13-72 with 62 runs as a high schooler, while whiffing 145 over 121.3 innings, going 12-5 with a 1.62 ERA. He's a few years away to be sure, but at 6'4", 210 pounds right now, Greene should fill out all over.
Austin Beck (#6, OF, Athletics): A bit of a gamble as Beck hyper-extended his throwing arm in 2016, but he belted 12 prep homers his senior year while hitting .500 with a .700 on-base percentage. Apparently, he is a tools player, and a lesser first round name as Billy Beane is wont to grab. Remember Nick Swisher?
MacKenzie Gore (#3, LHP, Padres): Lanky lefty, throws hard with a fastball close to 95 to go with a solid curve and slider. He is just 18, so three-to-four years away anyhow. But, a hard-throwing lefty with control is hard to pass.
Jeren Kendall (#23, OF, Dodgers): We can expect a good pedigree from Jeremey Kendall's progeny, and Jeren hit .309-32-152 over three years at Vanderbilt with a .386 OBP. 193 whiffs, though.
Brian Howard (#231, RHP, Athletics): 25-5, 3,52 over 256 innings with 254 strikeouts at TCU and just ten homers allowed. Look at some of the arms the Athletics have drafted over the past years, and for sure they are good at the prospects. Whether the guys can stay healthy and have a career is another thing, but they for sure have been talented.
Lamar Sparks (#158, OF, Orioles): This Texas High draftee can hit the high 80's with his fastball, and he has decent bat speed. But most important, he was a track star who ran a 6.5 100, which is pretty fast. Speed is what I look at first: how fast and fluid the guy is.
Heliot Ramos (#19, Of, Giants): The Giants nabbed the 17-year-old Puerto Rican as their first rounder, with speed akin to that of Sparks, plus power potential. And, the Giants have always done well mining Central America.
Keston Hiura (#9, OF, Brewers): What a great name for a ballplayer, so hard not to like. And, Hiura hit .375-22-135 over three years at UC Irvine, which makes another reason to love the kid who was an Anteater. Just 123 strikeouts as a collegiate to 93 walks, good for a .466 OBP.
Clarke Schmidt (#16, RHP, Yankees): The Pinstripes have been building within the Minors pretty well, so it is logical to look at the team's top pick this year. At South Carolina, Schmidt was 15-9, 3.21 over 230 innings with 254 strikeouts and a 1.23 WHIP.
Don't forget to follow me on Twitter @lawrmichaels.
I saw Edinson Volquez pitch as a member of the Reds in 2008, the year he won 17 games for Cincinnati. I was actually scoring the game for MLB.com, and Volquez made an impression upon me like two other young pitchers for whom I tracked every pitch. Johnny Cueto and Nathan Eovaldi were the other two, and the three had the most electric stuff I have ever seen in young arms.
As a result, it has been sort of disappointing, not that any of these guys has been bad; I just imagined Chris Sale-like totals from at least one of the troika. In fact, Cueto has been pretty good, Eovaldi has had flashes, but after 2008, Volquez switched from power pitching to nibbling corners, resurrecting himself into off-speed success in 2014. In fact, he was good enough for me to exploit that year and the next in deeper roto leagues, but last year I had to let go, with no thought of rostering under any circumstances this year.
A lot of ESPN players were with me as Volquez is only owned in 26% of their leagues, and was acquired in 21.7% during the last week, after the Marlin tossed a no-no earlier in the week. Amazingly, Volquez rewarded his new owners with a second straight great start. In fact, Volquez has allowed just one run over his last 21 innings.
The real focus here is that a 33-year-old pitcher, on an iffy team, who has tried to reinvent himself, was just so in the zone on June 3 that none of the D-backs could hit him. And, for a wonderful nine innings, Volquez was among the best pitchers ever.
Let's cut to last Tuesday, to the Reds, a team not unlike the Fish in that they have a lot of good and interesting young players, but are still in the process of defining themselves. Well, whatever else be said, 27-year-old journeyman/utilityman Scooter Gennett, with a career .281-42-191 line, had arguably the greatest single day at the plate, hitting four homers, driving in 10, and accounting for 17 total bases.
Of all 17--six in the AL, and 11 in the NL--players who have hit four dingers in a single game, Gennett is the only one to have double-digit RBI, suggesting his day beat four-homer games by Willie Mays, Mike Schmidt, Ed Delahanty, Lou Gehrig and Chuck Klein, all Hall of Famers. But, it is not like some of the other guys who banged four big flies were slouches, for names like Bob Horner, Shawn Green, Gil Hodges, and Rocky Colavito also grace the list.
Like Pat Seerey, who hit four in a game in 1948 but only managed 86 for his career, or Bobby Lowe, who hit four in an 1894 game and totaled 71, though we do have to acknowledge he played in the dead ball era, Gennett is no more a star than is Volquez.
That, however, is one of the things that makes baseball so beautiful in my view, for guys like Volquez or Gennett can indeed rise to the occassion on a given day and turn in some eye-dropping numbers.
In my own time of witnessing the inexplicable, I scored Dallas Braden's perfect game, and witnessed Jose Jimenez' no-no, as well as the bizarre combined no-no Bob Milacki tossed, augmented by Marc Williamson, Greg Olsen and Mike Flanagan (Milacki was hit in the arm with a liner and had to leave the game).
In St. Louis a few years back, I saw Ryan Klesko hit two homers, coupled with a pair of doubles that banged off the center field wall at old Busch Stadium, finishing his day's work with a single on a day that with a little wind, Klesko might have made Gennett the 18th guy.
That means I have memories of those great moments from "lesser" players just like I saw Willie McCovey's final hit (a double off the wall at the old Stick), Ken Griffey Jr.'s first hit (also a double, off the Coliseum wall and Dave Stewart), along with Rickey Henderson setting the all-time base stealing record.
The beauty of baseball is that in my mental memory chest, all these performances swirl together, enhancing the wonder and magic of a game that is beautiful to watch, easy to understand, and impossible to figure out.
If you hate this, Tweet me: If you love it, Tweet me too @lawrmichaels.
Jim Bunning was one of the established MLB pitchers when I started seriously watching baseball in 1961. Like Whitey Ford and Warren Spahn and Robin Roberts and Don Drysdale, Bunning was just one of those stars, who managed to win 17 games for the Tigers that year, and another 19 the following season, and that suggested to me that he was a good player.
Certainly he was a great baseball card to get, having thrown his first no-no in 1958, and whiffing three Red Sox on nine pitches in 1959, then moving on to the Phillies where he tossed a perfect game in 1964 (interestingly giving Tracy Stallard, the same guy who allowed Roger Maris his 61st dinger in 1961, yet another losing end of a trivia question).
Bunning, as we know, retired from baseball in 1971, and moved on to have a lengthy career as a politician, going to Congress in 1986, then moving to the Senate in 1998.
It was in 1997, as Bunning was preparing his campaign for that move to the Senate the following year, that I met and had a brief exchange with the ex-pitcher.
As it was, when I started CREATiVESPORTS in 1996, working a fantasy job became a second career for me, so while I was at it, I joined the wonderful Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), attending the organization's summer convention in Kansas City that year, then a year later in Louisville, home to Bunning.
SABR offers a lot of good stuff over its three-day summer fetes, and that year we saw an Iowa Cubs game, and I walked around the old streets of the town that was pivotal to the South during the Civil War. To easterners, that might not be too interesting since the war was largely fought in the east, but for a Californian, whose idea of war was either Viet Nam or Peoples Park, I found the lovely old part of the city, with cobblestone streets, oozing with some quiet charm.
Pee Wee Reese, who passed away not long after the convention, was on a player panel along with Carl Erskine one night, and the next, Bunning delivered the keynote address to the group.
Mind you, politics was already changing a lot. In fact, even before Ronald Reagan ran for office in California, former actor George Murphy was appointed to the US Senate. And, by 1996 Jesse Ventura had already completed his term as Mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, and like Bunning's move to the Senate, things were gearing up for Ventura to challenge for the Governor's seat in his state.
At the time, there were gyrations around the presidential potential for 1998, although I don't think Bunning mentioned politics. But, when he finished his speech, the ex-hurler agreed to sign baseballs. Since I had a pretty good collection of Hall of Fame signed balls, I had brought one for Bunning to sign.
I went up to the podium, and waited my turn. And, before I continue, it is probably not much of a secret that my political beliefs, and those of the very conservative Bunning, would not be in synch. But as I handed my ball to him, I wistfully asked, "what do you think about the possibility of Jack Kemp winning the Republican nomination for President, and Bill Bradley winning the Democratic nod? Then the election would be between the NFL and the NBA?"
Bunning sized me up--long hair, ripped jeans, high top Cons--and dismissively said, "That's ridiculous: nothing like that could ever happen."
I will acknowledge that I do not think and observe like the rest of the world, but I am pretty realistic, and the question did not seem nearly as preposterous to me as Bunning seemed to take it. For a year later, Ventura, a former professional wrestler, did win the top job in the state of Minnesota.
Perhaps my curious prescience was a lot more on target than Bunning's cocky and rather self-righteous attitude? Interestingly, though I still have the ball Bunning signed, his signature has all but faded from it, and the truth for me is I don't really care.
The reason being that though my question might have seemed silly, I was onto something, and deserved at least an "I hadn't quite thought of that angle," and maybe even have elicited a chuckle. But, that little interchange made it clear to me I didn't really like the guy, no matter how many games he won or whatever else he did.
I have actually thought about that moment with Bunning more often than I wished over the 20 years since it occurred, especially as our politics have moved from at least somewhat concerted and thoughtful compared to the ignorance and that same self-righteousness driving both how we pick our leaders, and sadly, how the elected then "lead."
I do wonder if Bunning, who did pass away last week, ever flashed on our interchange and said to himself, "damn, that hippie in Louisville was right." In truth, I doubt that ever happened, but the possibility of such an "I told you so" does make me feel somewhat vindicated. But, I am indeed loathe to call the late pitcher much more than a small-minded human being at a time when we needed more.
If you are familiar with the "Three True Outcomes," you know that within baseball nomenclature, the phrase refers to the strikeout, the walk, and the home run: the three baseball play instances that involve only the pitcher, catcher, and batter. That is, there are no defensive aspects to the clarity of the play.
Clearly the strikeout and homer are those things that dominate the game and our interest these days, something that is a far cry from the game I watched as a kid, which, in and of itself, was a far cry from the game being played 50 years earlier.
As long as I have been able to understand and interpret statistics, I have felt that walks and strikeouts were indeed the key numbers that are important in determining the potential success of a hitter.
Now remember, I am not a mathematician or scientist like my mate Lord Zola, so there are not necessarily probabilities or algorithms that lie at the bottom of my wonderings about numbers. But I have always felt that hitters who do get walks, and and keep the whiffs down, will become better hitters and as a result, producers.
But, at least as a player of simulation and Fantasy games involving baseball, it has been strange for me to see the rise of the whiff and the fall of the walk, although surely in deference to the big fly.
I did wonder over the last century just how much flux there had been in the increase of whiffs, to those of dingers, to the expansion of the leagues, and the ostensible drop off of the walk. Or, at least that was the theorem--if that is the term--under which I was operatiing, that although the number of homers might indeed be up, hitter effectiveness is certainly way down.
But, in sticking with the three true outcomes, I was surprised to see that over the decades, the average number of walks per game has indeed increased, but nothing like strikeouts, which are up almost six, while homers are up one entire home run over the turn of the 20th Century.
|Year||# of Teams||#of Batters||League BB||League K's||BB per Game||K per Game||HR per Game|
The thing is, at least to me, while I dig homers, doubles and walks seem easier to come by, and walks and doubles and singles, even easier. More important, regular runners on base similarly adds advantage to the offense, for it forces the defense into a formation that potentially opens the area for a fair hit to be placed.
Similarly, it seems to me that working the count, forcing pitches, and working walks--which does not necessarily mean being a passive hitter--was a fun way to win, for playing small ball is a lot like David whipping Goliath, and that appeals to my sense of the underdog. However, looking at say the Royals of the 70's, who had great teams playing small ball, I have to think that is the defense to the Whiff/HR game that dominates today.
I do love watching teams rebuild, assembling the parts that will lead to success in a fashion the front office thinks will be successful. By the same token, I admire coaches like Bill Belichick, who see the game as the masses approach it, and figure out how to exploit in a different way, and to a new level.
That was what made Bill Walsh, Don Shula, and Tom Landry great football coaches, but similarly, seeing the path to victory differently is also what made Bobby Cox, Earl Weaver, Whitey Herzog, and maybe now Bud Black, who seems to have figured out how to make pitchers successful in Coors.
I guess what I am saying though, and what I miss with the game as it is played today, is that I like when players think, and while I admire power, outthinking and outsmarting the opposition has always been way more satisfying to me.
I do think, however, that there will be a renaissance of small ball, at least with some teams and managers, and that maybe the beauty of the walk, as it forces the pitch and subsequent play, will get some better respect. It might slow the game down again, but to me the game becomes chess instead of checkers.
Holler at me @lawrmichaels.
I have been a big Ervin Santana fan, going back a number of years. I traded for Erv in my Strat-O-Matic league three years ago, and it was there I began to appreciate a fourth starter of Santana's resume, not just in Strat, but in any deep league.
If you look to my pre-season Overvalued/Undervalued list at USAT, I gave Santana his props, and have him in at least three leagues. Needless to say, Erv's fantastic start has been great, not just for my teams, but there is no shame in suggesting a guy might be good, and then he is.
But, I did not know that Santana and Fernando Valenzuela are the only two pitchers in history to start eight games, and have at least six quality starts over which one run or less was scored. I learned this while watching the Twins on Wednesday as I looked forward to the surprisingly fun Minnesotans taking on the equally curious Rockies.
No sooner had the local broadcasters announced this stat--emphasizing the .129 BA and six total runs scored against Erv--a homer was hit, followed by a double, some more mischief, and suddenly it was the third inning and Erv was behind 3-0.
I have written about this phenomenon over the years it seems, that any time I watch my players, especially pitchers, it is the kiss of fantasy death. And, it happens every year. Just this year, early in the season, I turned on Sonny Gray, who was cruising into the third, but then allowed the archtypical walk, seeing eye single, questionable call ground out that was called safe, a double to the gap, and then home run, all with two outs. So, instead of quietly going into the fourth inning with maybe a run allowed, my ERA and WHIP appear to have taken a Barry Bonds supply of steroids, adding five each of hits and runs, all of which occurred as soon as I turned the game on.
But, as a corollary, on nights when I cannot watch, like last Friday when my band was playing, I do better, confirming the hex my viewing holds over my players. For, last Friday, I finish a strong fifth in the Tout Daily, and won the Mastersball Daily, and climbed a spot in the Tout standings while cranking out rockabilly.
Now, a rational mind might ask, "Are there not games where you have no shares in any players?" The answer, thanks to the formats of AL and NL-only, Mixed, Scoresheet, Strat-O-Matic tossed in a salad with DFS dressing is, "No." And, of course, this plague is not limited to baseball, as in I take personal responsibility for all of Jay Cutler's career picks, but since baseball is a six times a week game, there are simply more opportunities for the infliction of pain.
Some of the issue is that I love watching baseball (and listening on the car radio, I confess), so it is hard to turn off. And, even if I do, I was raised by Eastern European Jews, so that no matter what I do, I feel guilty. Meaning, if I skulk to a different channel to hide behind Mariska Hargitay's skirts in "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit," I know I am letting my readers down by not judiciously watching every swing of every pitch.
What compounds the issue is baseball is such a voodoo oriented game when it comes to superstitions and streaks and winning and losing. We need look no further than Crash Davis' moving "Always respect the streak" speech from "Bull Durham" to confirm this. And, we all know how taboo it is to simply think "no-hitter" when one is in process.
However, the issue is again "What to do?" The best I can do is coin the word #fanticide (which can double as a hashtag), which is defined as:
"Turning on the TV to watch your players, who are performing well. However, as soon as the game is turned on, your players implode. Either your pitcher gives up a two-run bomb, or your batter hits into a double play."
That is #fanticide. It doesn't just kill me softly, it kills my team as well.
Holler at me @lawrmichaels.
I've been thinking a lot about the streaming of players both in fantasy, and extrapolating those thoughts to the Majors the last few weeks, for the topic has come up during my new talk show on the FNTSY Sports Network, The Tout Wars Hour (each Thursday at 9:00 PM, ET).
During discussions over the week, my partner Justin Mason and I talked not so much about just streaming pitchers with Peter Kreutzer, Steve Gardner, and Jeff Erickson, but the thought of players in a shallow league basically drafting a team and streaming the hot hand in and out of one's lineup, using the reserve pool and FAAB as a replacement path, is something we have all witnessed.
To be sure, there is nothing illegal or I suppose even wrong with drafting Ender Inciarte on draft day in a 10-team mixed league, snatching up Aaron Judge a week into the season, and playing Judge theoretically till he gets cold. Then said owner would dump Judge back into the free-agent pool and pick up say Danny Valencia (laugh if you will, but Valencia's numbers from May through August are historically wicked).
And, if Valencia, true to form cools off after a few weeks in the lineup, said owner would drop the Seattle utilityman in deference to ideally another hot bat--perhaps Judge or Inciarte if still there--and fuels his or her team as such. That means all 23 players are subject to dumping, and theoretically recall at any time over the course of the season.
Playing like this, as suggested, is certainly within the rules of most leagues, but at the same time, the process seems contrary to the intent of a league in the first place, and that is to try and draft the best team on draft day, augmenting and filling holes as necessary via that same free agent pool.
I do have to say that it makes me think because the latter is the game I want to play, and truthfully, I play in deep leagues as a rule, so there is very little opportunity to even try a tactic like "roster streaming", as I have dubbed it.
Similarly, I am in general against making rules that favor or inhibit any particular kind of strategy, meaning I am very conservative thinking. You have a tight set of rules and constitution within your league, and that set of guidelines becomes much more constant than dynamic with tweaks and changes every year.
Furthermore, I think that roster streaming is a tough way to try and win much of anything, not to mention it could be a lot of work relative to the payoff.
However, innovation and thinking out of the box are things I admire, even if the path at hand is not one I conjured or employed. However, think about coaches like Bill Walsh and Bill Belichick, or managers like Bobby Cox and Whitey Herzog, and understand the unorthodox approach they took not only led to success, but widespread change in the industry. Meaning I am hard-pressed to sit in judgement.
Which brings me, seemingly inexplicably, to the Colorado Rockies and their pitching staff, which as inexplicably sit at third in the Majors with a 4.26 ERA coupled with a third-best in league 5.2 WAR.
What is particularly compelling about the success of the Colorado pitchers this season is that the team is 22nd in the Majors in whiffs per nine at 7.67. My truth is that I always thought the only way a Rockies starter would really be successful was if he was dominant, and going into this year I thought a push towards Jon Gray, who bagged 185 whiffs over 168 frames last year, was the way to go.
Gray was supposed to lead the pitching staff this year, but instead he has been injured while the likes of Tyler Chatwood, Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela have led the Rockies to a first-place, 23-13 mark through Thursday. And, they have been doing it with ground balls.
In fact, Freeland and Chatwood are among the league leaders in ground balls induced with 66.7% and 55.7% outs recorded on the ground for the hurlers, suggesting the very opposite of my solution for pitching success in Colorado. In fact, the Rockies lead the league in ground ball rate at 55.2% and are last at fly ball rate at 22.7%.
Of course, just six weeks into the season, it is too early to tell, but it seems to me three or four off-speed ground ball pitchers, coupled with one hard thrower to move around in the rotation, along with one each of a lefty and righty ground baller and power pitcher for set-up and/or closing seems like it could be an effective way to go.
Of course, pairing a hard-thrower with an off-speed guy is nothing new in MLB, but employing the use to such an extreme is not something that has been exploited.
Either way, it will indeed be interesting to see how the Rockies fare as the season progresses. And better yet, if it works, will the other 29 teams think about following suit just like using the shift, or situational pitchers, or any other like tactic?
Better yet, it will be equally fun seeing how hitters try to adjust back, for we all know adjustment is always on the menu for hitters and pitchers. It is the name of the game.
Whether you agree or not, you can always find me @lawrmichaels, and do tune into the Tout Wars Hour. Great guests, lots of strategy, covering baseball, football, hockey, golf, hoops, soccer, and NCAA!
About 35 years ago, after I had known my friend Mark Berenberg for a few years, after one kind of baseball discussion or another, he said to me, "Lawr, you should have a radio show: you'd be good at it."
I laughed this off for a number of reasons. I had a job, at the time working for the City of Oakland, and though I played some strategy board games, the closest I got to the field at the Oakland Coliseum was on Fireworks Night when management let us on the field, and I knew no one in the industry, let alone had anything in my resume or background that pointed to any kind of a life or career in the baseball industry.
Within a few years of Mark's statement, i was married, and with a family, and though I wrote, and had season tickets to the Athletics, due to my own life with illness, and the congenital birth issues surrounding my son Joey, keeping a straight job with solid medical benefits all around was the path I felt I must follow.
I had been playing Strat-O-Matic for a few years by then, and in the late 80's was pulled into my first Fantasy League, and I enjoyed pretty good local success. Then, by virtue of a quirk, I started writing for John Benson in 1993.
During that time, the strange confluence of two things--the growing interest in Fantasy games, and at the same time, the proliferation of the Internet--changed a bunch of the parms to get into sports writing, a field I sort of joined vicariously via Benson. But, in 1996, while I was between jobs, I did indeed learn some HTML and started CREATiVESPORTS, and from there worked for and with enough folks in the fantasy and sports industries that I started to get some recognition for my writing, analysis, and playing skills.
With that the exposure continued and I wrote for my own site, but a bunch of others--Fox Sports, MSNBC, MLB.com, Ron Shandler--and more and as the Internet wormed its way into every fabric of our lives, similarly so did Fantasy and commissioner services and changes in the game and on and on.
Over that time period, radio shows were dangled before me, or should we say my mouth and imagination, which are always on the prowl, but nothing ever came to fruition. Either a lot of expensive equipment was necessary and it was up to me to pay for the electronics needed to operate from home, or the time slots, or the format, or one thing or another got in the way.
Still, Fantasy grew like crazy, and so did the Internet as a vehicle for listening to music, the radio, and virtually every other field of entertainment known to man, and shows featuring the likes of Scott Engel, Matthew Berry, Stephania Bell, Ray Flowers, Howard Bender and Kyle Elfrink flourished via ESPN, Sirius/XM, Fantasy Alarm, RotoExperts, RotoWire, and so on.
I was often a guest on the shows hosted by these folks, happy to talk baseball and music and movies, and always having the most fun, and I was told I was always good on the radio, but still a chance to really yak my butt off for millions was somewhere out there, but not in front of me.
But, a few years back, when DFS really started to become mainstream, my partner Todd suggested a Tout Wars podcast, and somehow last off-season this suggestion came before the Tout board, and per the board, I began to explore the possibilities, and did so with Mike Cardano, who runs the administrative side of the FNTSY Sports Network.
Thus the Tout Wars Hour was born (although in truth, the show runs two). As a sidekick, I went to my pal Justin Mason, the head honcho at Fantasy Friends With Benefits, for a few reasons. First, he is a good guy with whom I not only enjoy talking, but with whom I have an easy time playing off of, and it seems that is mutual. Second, he knows his stuff, which you can confirm by checking out the site and their great podcast. Finally, he is 30 years younger than I, meaning he represents the generation that is now exerting influence upon the industry just as mine did 25 years ago.
Last Thursday, we had our premiere show, though thanks to some shakedown technical issues, the show did not run live, but this coming Thursday, from 8-10 PM ET, we will indeed be live, not just talking fantasy, but focusing on trades, prospects, and drafting, and most important, on strategy and tactics.
And, in doing this we will be talking with the writers and analysts you trust the most. We will have regular features with Doug Dennis (covering relief pitching), Matt Thompson (covering the minors), and of course Lord Z does get to join and talk about numbers for sure, and especially DFS and the NFBC.
So, somehow, nearly 35 years later, Mark's prophecy has come true. I am not sure how he knew, but, well, here we are. So, please do check us out. Big fun, lots of info, and the plan is to go way beyond baseball!
You can indeed follow me @lawrmichaels.
Last fall, as Jeff Erickson, Peter Kreutzer, Ron Shandler and I were planning out this year's recently held Tout Wars, we were trying to determine the participants for each league. During the discussion, Ron told us he was switching from the American League, in which I have played against him for nearly 20 years, to the Mixed League.
"I am afraid of the potential chaos the 10-day DL might cause in a deeper league" reasoned the BBHQ and league founder as to why he wanted to make the change, although as the leagues and game has changed, we have all tried to stay open and flexible with respect to who plays what, where.
The bottom line is that I did not give nearly so much thought to the negative impact Ron anticipated, but the reality is that as we complete the first month of play, The Bearded One was prophetic.
Among my two AL-only leagues, as I write, I have 11 players on the DL with very little in the free agent pool to try to skim any points from. However, in my two mixed leagues--the XFL and BARF--I have six down, although with a 40-man roster in one and four more in the other.
This suggests what Ron was saying was correct for the larger player pool not only reduces the chance that one of my guys will go down on one side, similarly there are more players available on either the reserve list or the free agent pool to ease the pain of a loss. For example, in both the XFL and BARF, I was able to cop Avisail Garcia out of the pool two weeks into the season.
I understand that roster management and injuries--like trades, suspensions, and slumps--are just aspects of the fantasy season that we must endure, and I am ok with that. But, it seems like teams are going wacky overboard crazy using the new short-term Disabled List.
Certainly, I am not advocating injured players muscling through a problem, rather than allowing said issue to rest rather than be exacerbated. But, I do continue to wonder not so much what has happened to our whiny selves and bodies, but where this will end?
The last thing I wish to sound like is a crankly old Abraham Simpson character (I did begin a hashtag a few years ago called #iambecomingabesimpson), screaming about how the old days were when men were men and how crappy everything is today. For, even though I have gotten fussier about some things as I have aged, similarly I love going to new places, trying new things, listening to new music, and simply trying to stay open to different ideas. And, I love my iPhone and Blue Tooth stuff and other electronic toys the age has brought us.
But again, DNA does not change that much over say 50 years, so how come there were four-man rotations where guys could actually throw 250 innings, and hitters did not break hamate bones and no one had rotator cuffs, and so on? And, how come so many guys suddenly need Tommy John surgery?
I think the answer to that can be found on television where ads for Ciala, Lyrica, Humira, Stelara, Chantix, and Eliquis generated $4.5 billion worth of revenues in 2014 as Pharma tried to convince us how screwed up our bodies were, and how only their compound could cure things that generally some rest, exercise, and a good diet will fix.
Over the course of my 54 years of Crohns, I have taken a lot of meds, including Stelara and Humira--neither of which worked even close to as well as CBDs--each of which cost over $1200 per injection while a three-month supply bottle of CBDs is $43--and while again I don't want to knock advances made in science and medicine, in a culture where no one is responsible for anything, I guess it shouldn't surprise me that rather than work on fixing a personal issue ourselves, we simply want the Dr. to "prescribe something that makes it all better with a minimal amount of effort from you or me."
I do get that ballplayers are extremely expensive investments, and that human beings are funny and often fragile creatures, but somehow, in the land where everyone gets a trophy and everyone wears a helmet and everyone is a potential enemy, we have lost it and become wimps.
Let me be more specific, although I am not saying this in a political sense, but one thing that Donald Trump has done for our culture is make it acceptable to say the word "pussy" publicly irrespective of meaning.
So, we have not really become wimps. We are pussies. God help us.
If you hate what I wrote, you can tell me @lawrmichaels.
Diane likes to watch the Investigation Discovery channel, which I refer to as "The Death Channel." Along with standards like "48 Hours," and "On the Case With Paula Zahn," there are some shows that poke even more to the unknown and dark side of the human experience.
"Who the Bleep did I Marry," and especially "Deadly Devotions" are programs that truly look at how we can be exploited by the more devious side of society, and though these shows are serious, dealing with murder and omnipotent and arrogant behaviors, similarly are they goofy. The shows are silly in that invariably there are a bunch of dumbells trying to pull off major crimes, thinking they can outsmart forensics and video tape with flimsy excuses and rationales.
For some sad reason, the suicide of former Patriots Tight End Aaron Hernandez last Wednesday, someone tossed off by the rest of society as if he were one of the Investigation Discovery shows incarnate, living with the title "Evil Kin", reminded me of all this and the choices we make and how things can simply go way wrong all over.
I still remember vividly how excited Fantasy Football players were following Hernandez' solid 2012 season when he ripped off a 42-yard run, showing all of the world what a deadly weapon he was, able to run, catch, and block. Hernandez paired with the equally dangerous Rob Gronkowski gave the Patriots a double Tight End combo with possibilities like no other team before.
That off-season, the Pats upped the committment to Hernandez, giving him a $40 million five-year contract extension. Truthfully, the thought of a pair of young, talented, and aggressive receivers under the tuteledge of Bill Belichick, who manipulates his roster and talent better than any other coach ever it seems, was too much to imagine.
But, as the Chief Dan George--a character in the great film "Little Big Man"--said, "sometimes the wind don't blow and grass don't grow."
As it was, I was on a shuttle, riding from Midway Airport to downtown Chicago on the way to attending the FSTA Summer convention when the news broke that Hernandez had been busted in association with the murder of Odin Lloyd on June 26, 2013. At the convention that speculated on player performance, the coming football season, and athletes in general, there was certainly a ton of buzz and speculation surrounding the whole affair.
In the end, the whole story just seemed like another run of a special member of society--this time an athlete, rather than an actor or politician--having their own set of rules and accountabilities from the rest of us.
There was never a question how talented Hernandez was, being an All-American at the University of Florida, and winning the John Mackey award in 2009 as the best collegiate Tight End in the country. The receiver was then drafted in the fourth round in 2010, a day after the Pats selected Gronk as part of the same draft.
During his subsequent rookie year, Hernandez was the youngest rostered starter in the NFL and became the youngest player to catch over 100 yards of passes since 1960, completing his first full season with 45 receptions, 563 yards, and six scores. In 2011, Hernandez was a Pro Bowl alternate, but what he really did to catch our eye was run for 42 yards against the Giants to kick off Super Bowl XLVI.
But, clearly attitude and entitlement were also paralleling the talented but troubled receiver, who was linked to a felony battery charge following a bar fight in Gainesville in 2007, a double-shooting in Gainesville three months later, a 2012 Boston double homocide (for which Hernandez was ironically cleared just a few days before he took his life), a car shooting which cost a friend his sight in one eye on June 13, 2013, and then five days later, the murder of Odin Lloyd for which Hernandez suddenly took the fall.
I guess as with many celebrities, Hernandez simply felt he could do whatever he wanted and get away with just about anything, much like those who are eventually found culpable in shows like "Evil Kin," and surely, Hernandez was not only screaming for attention, but for someone or something to give him boundaries of behavior, something that never did happen until he went too far.
With his arrest and conviction, Hernandez was wiped clean of the NFL, of the Patriots, of Canton (who removed a photo of the young star scoring immediately following his arrest), and his death Wednesday probably tied together all the elements of a wasted life to the tune that most people reading that Hernandez had taken his own felt "good riddance."
And, I am not about to argue with them, or suggest he was a soul worth saving. Although, in my view, we are all worth such salvation, irrespective of when it comes to us.
What bothers me so much about Hernandez and his meteoric ups and downs is how someone so talented, with everything in the world we would theoretically want to make us happy was not enough. The fame of the NFL, a $40 million contract, TV exposure, a partner and child (Hernandez and his partner Shayanna had a daughter Avielle in 2012) did not provide enough validation or confirmation of his existence that he had to kill and pretty much destroy the lives of at least four people--himself, Lloyd, his wife and daughter--in order to prove something that in the end meant nothing but tragedy and sorrow all around.
It is a sad commentary and reminder that certainly money and external success mean very little when push comes to shove.
You can always find me @lawrmichaels.