Picking Baseball Teams is Not Just Fantasy
March 27, 2017

It's part of the sports calendar. As sure as the first Saturday in May is the Kentucky Derby, the first Monday in April is the NCAA Basketball Tournament championship, and you know by listening to Jim Nantz that the following weekend is the Masters, the weekend before baseball starts is Fantasy Draft Weekend.

This day does not come lightly. You have 30 closers to identify, remember (or figure out) who changed teams, and decide which of the highly touted prospects will be on Opening Day rosters. It doesn't really matter if Corey Seager is slightly better than Francisco Lindor, but if Seager's oblique isn't ready for 162 games, you are in trouble. You need to know these things if you are going to be better than the others in your 2017 fantasy league.

If you don't realize how competitive of a person you are, just get in one or two of these leagues. You'll find out in a hurry. In most cases, it's not even about winning prize money, or even beating your friends, it's just knowing that you have the best team.

I am in two of these so-called fantasy leagues, and the two are very different. One is an online league (which I won last year), 12 teams, head to head competition, and a so-called 'keeper' league, which in this case means you can keep up to six of your players from last year. The other league (which I finished dead last in), has only six members, you have to bid on players, statistics accumulate during the season, and you get points for various categories. Both of the drafts were over the weekend—one on Saturday, and one on Sunday.

The Saturday draft was in what I call the Moe League (our commissioner's name is Moe). That's the six-team league that I suck at. All of the participants are friends and co-workers, and this year, we held the draft at Moe's house. The league basically works like this: You pick any players you want (14 hitters, 5 starting pitchers, and 4 relievers). If you are the only one who picks that player, you get him. If others pick that player, you have to bid on him. There's a 30 dollar salary cap, so spending three (mythical) dollars on one guy is pretty expensive (Mookie Betts went for $4.26). After all the bidding is done, you get to draft from the pool of all remaining players until you fill out a roster.

That's actually the fun part, and honestly, I went away from there thinking my team is pretty darn good. But, during the season, as some guys underperform and others get hurt, you can make changes. This can involve bidding on that guy that starts having a great year that no one saw coming. If you are trailing in batting average points but leading in home runs, you might want to get a better hitter, but if he doesn't have much power, you can lose your home run edge. It's stuff like that where I don't have the time or the energy to keep track of during the course of the season. If you ignore a couple of weeks, you are sunk, so you need to pay attention during the year.

The other league, the online league, drafted yesterday. Instead of going to Moe's for pizza and beer, you sit in front of your keyboard in a virtual 'draft room'. The process takes an hour, but the success really comes in the pre-planning. You are allowed to keep up to six guys from last year (I decided to keep five), and a week before the draft, you choose your keepers, and a day or two later, you find out whom everyone else kept. Then, you know who is available, you also know where you pick in the draft (reverse order of finish from last year—least picks first, first picks last), and then you can decide which players you like out of the ones that you guess will be available when it's your turn.

For example, there were about five players I really liked that I thought I could get with my first pick (sixth round since I kept five guys). Four of them were gone, so Wil Myers was my choice. The Padres will be horrible, but Myers will be good. I had it all planned that I would get Adam Jones, Mark Trumbo, and Danny Duffy in the next three rounds, and I did. There are always surprises (someone kept Felix Hernandez even though he had two pitchers that were ranked higher, and I really wanted Jose Peraza as my second baseman, but someone beat me to him), but that's the fun. Each week is a one-on-one competition to see who has better numbers in 16 different categories (most leagues it's 10), and the schedule just so happens to have me facing the guy I beat in the championship last year.

In the online league, I only personally know two of the other players, but I've been in this league so long, there are rivalries built up against people who live in different parts of the country. In the Moe league, I know everyone, I think I'm more versed in major league baseball and the players, but I can't seem to translate that into points in the league. I keep trying, and I'm trying again this year.

While some, even sports fans, scoff at the idea of investing so much time and energy into something like this, it is true that you follow the game a lot more closely. Maybe we don't really need to worry about who the closer for the Washington Nationals is going to be, but if it isn't Shawn Kelley, my team is going to suffer. Also, if you are a big fan of a 'real' team such as the Dodgers, don't pick Madison Bumgarner to be on your fantasy team. You don't want to root for him to do well. Some of those situations are unavoidable, though. When Wil Meyers faces Clayton Kershaw next week, what do you do? Fantasy or reality, a Kershaw strikeout is better than a Myers homer any day.

Opening Night: It seemed like ESPN had a nice little tradition going, but not for much longer. Last year, instead of one Sunday Night opener, there were three games on Sunday, all featuring playoff teams from the year before. That's happening again this year, but not next. With the new collective bargaining agreement having more off days built in, the season will start during the week next year. Having a special Wednesday Night game (or Tuesday or whatever), just doesn't work.

Las Vegas Raiders: NFL owners voted 31-1 (Miami for some reason was the no vote) today to let the Oakland Raiders move to Las Vegas. The team will stay in the East Bay for at least two more years while a stadium is built in southern Nevada. Like fans in San Diego, it's sad that a team is leaving, but the NFL has made it quite clear. If your stadium sucks, and you can't figure out how to build a new one, we'll give you about two decades to fix it, and then that's it.

More Raiders: The difference between this move and the Chargers, is that the Raiders are staying, for now. They could have played in a 20-thousand seat stadium that houses UNLV and the Las Vegas Bowl, but they don't have to. The Chargers probably could have had bigger crowds if they got to stay in San Diego until the new LA stadium is built, but will be playing in a 30-thousand seat soccer stadium in Carson instead.

Final Four: Go Gonzaga!

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