Everybody Hates Chris Johnson.

I just came across this Chuck Klosterman story in Grantland about how fantasy football is changing people’s relations and expectations for players. He concludes the piece with a quote from Bob Dylan, that famous fantasy football player, that simply kills it and is well worth reading the whole thing to get to. (I’m not quoting it here, because that would be cheap.)

But while you’re reading consider that Chuck may not have the changes fantasy sports have wrought exactly right. He says, “What I’m proposing has more to do with how a few grains of personal investment prompt normal people to think about strangers in inaccurate, twisted, robotic ways. It’s about how something fun quietly makes us selfish, and it’s about the downside of turning real people into algebraic chess pieces.”

I don’t think there’s any doubt that a few grains of investment from fantasy players has twisted investors’ thinking in fantasy sports. That happens. If you write about or play fantasy sports you see it all the time, the mocking of a player’s illness (mono!) or his guts (rub some dirt on it!) or delight in his injury (thank god!). But where I think Klosterman misses is in thinking this is a symptom of fantasy sports only, as if a barroom (or stadium) full of Phillies fans might not ride an player for not performing up to snuff, too.

One of the dark secrets of our obsession with sports, all sports not excepting the fantasy version, is the way we as fans invest our time and passion in a player or team and the way that investment can privilege us to strip away the humanity of the players involved and turn them into our entertaining (and sometimes disappointing) pawns.

It can, at times, seem as if the act of putting on a uniform turns the player into some sort of superhero, who is expected to endure the savagery that is heaped upon him in exchange for the veneration and material rewards he receives. This is not a function of the fantasy game, which really takes the original local team relationship and extends it to the entire universe of players in the league. Rather than focusing on our disappointment with our local football team and its players, coaching and management, in fantasy we apply those same emotions to a broader universe of players drawn from across the country, plus we have to confront our own failures of coaching and management layered on top. That’s one horse-sized bitter pill at times to swallow.

Klosterman gets at this in his conclusion, but I think the difference he draws between real fandom and fantasy fandom is without distinction. The danger here is in the competitive gasses sports rooting fracks out of us. In both cases, that’s something we should not be proud of. Instead we might try to root better, though it doesn’t sound like Bob Dylan expects us to.

Fear the Duck!

Don Drooker goes by the name the Duck, not because he waddles or quacks but because he, um, well, I don’t know. I’ve played with Don in the XFL for ten years now (our 11th draft is coming up in three weeks) and he’s won four times. It turns out that Don waddles and quacks in other leagues, too. He played in three auction leagues this year and won all three. He writes with humor and grace and pride about one of those leagues here.

Reviewing Your Work: Mike’s A Moron Edition

My friends at Roto Think Tank put out a first-rate website full of servicey advice and strategic insight. RTT’s Mike Gianella has been a contributor to the Fantasy Baseball Guide for a number of years now, and today posted his comments about his Picks and Pans in the 2012 edition. How’d they work? Not so hot, which is why he gets to use the funny title. Though he’s way too hard on himself for Bonifacio and a couple others.

What I love about Picks and Pans is that it’s a blank slate. The experts are encouraged to pick and pan whoever they want, which usually means they meant it when they said it. So you get a somewhat objective view of a group of peoples’ subjective judgments about the upcoming season, before the season. And afterwards we get to see just how easy it is to be wrong.

Bravo to Mike for manning up.

The Forecasters Challenge 2011: We have a winner!

Yes, in this quirky little game that Tom Tango has put together over at the ever enjoyable and challenging insidethebook.com blog, Ask Rotoman won the official Best Projections of 2011 competition, edging out the Consensus picks of all 22 forecasters (as well as beating the 21 other forecasters, as well).

You can read Tom’s post about the competition, which is for the most part his way of trying to demonstrate that the value added of a “projection system” over the weighted averages he uses for his Marcel the Monkey projection are slight. There is another side to that story, but we’ll leave that quarrel for another time.

The bottom line is that projections take many forms, for a variety of distinct purposes, and no one has come close to cracking the rather substantial variance in player performance that can only be attributed to luck (or unluck). I make projections for my own use, because I need to know what’s going into them, and I offer them to customers because they ask for them. I hope that’s because they trust that what I’m putting into them is the best stuff we have to work with. This year it turned out that the Challenge agreed, which is nice.

Congratulations to Consensus, RotoWorld and KFFL, each of which won one of the unofficial contests, and to Consensus and RotoWorld, which finished high atop the z-score derived standing for the four combined contests.

Dan Lozano and Albert Pujols: A Brian Walton Winner.

Deadspin has published a takeout of “King of Sleaze Mountain” super agent Dan Lozano based on anonymous files it was sent recently. It is no endorsement of Lozano and his behavior over the years to say that this story of a preternaturally adept chameleonic salesmanship and cheesy hooker procurement leaves one feeling a little dirty, because there are only two real issues that seem to have legal legs and a sports implication:

Does Alex Rodriguez own part of Lozano’s business? This is not allowed under the rules of baseball, I gather, for all the obvious ethical reasons you can imagine, but there is some evidence that he does, and Deadspin doesn’t dig beneath the surface of the accusation to find out if that evidence is real or not. And,

Did Lozano push Albert Pujols into an ill-advised contract back in 2004 in order to generate cash flow he needed personally? Again, Deadspin makes the accusation and leaves it at that.

My friend, Cardinals-watching Brian Walton, didn’t leave it at that, and takes a look at the facts of what happened in 2004 with Lozano, the Cards and Pujols at scout.com. You can read his excellent piece at stlcardinals.scout.com.

All we can say to Deadspin is, That wasn’t hard now, was it?

Forecasters Challenge

Tom Tango runs a neat little competition at The Book blog. He’s just published year’s first results for the three unofficial contests and the official one. My projections were in the top quarter in 2009 and are there again this year.

It’s exciting, even if the takeway is that our Consensus picks are better than any individual forecaster’s.

Rob Neyer leaves ESPN

I started working for ESPN in 1995, when the newly launched ESPN Sportszone paid me for the baseball projections I’d put together for the book, “How to Win at Rotisserie Baseball.” The book wasn’t published that year because the publisher worried that the lockout, which killed the 1994 World Series, would kill the 1995 season. The ESPN Sportszone launched in April, shortly after the players and owners settled, and my projections became the first fantasy content on the fledgling website.

In 1996, ESPN paid me to go to Spring Training and report from the camps of Florida from a fantasy perspective, and somewhere in there Ask Rotoman was born. At some point that year, Rob Neyer became my editor. As he says in the fairwell note he posted on his blog at ESPN this week, he was an improbable fantasy baseball editor, and my recollection is that he pretty much left me alone. Now he’s moved on from ESPN, and good luck to him at what I hope proves to be a lively and successful tenure at SB Nation.

His first week there as National Baseball Editor has been energetic and promising. Rob is one of the most original and vibrant of modern baseball writers of the Internet era ( though not necessarily on the Internet). He’ll have a broader canvas to work on at SB Nation, and a chance to wrest some of the power away from the corporate giants. Go get ’em, Rob, for all of us.