Optional Reading

Texas Rangers : News : Texas Rangers News

Jamey Newberg writes a handy summary about player options and roster decisions, what is usually a pretty dull topic. Whether a player has options or not (RA Dickey has pitched in the minors each of the last 10 seaons, but has used just one option) is a major determinant of whether he makes the big league team, so this isn’t trifling stuff.

Fantasyland. Roto’s second best book.

Fantasyland: A Season on Baseball’s Lunatic Fringe by Sam Walker

It is an axiom that there is nothing more boring than hearing about someone else’s fantasy baseball team. Unless it’s their fantasy football team. Most of us figure this out pretty quickly, and those of us who don’t most likely live alone. Sam Walker doesn’t live alone, but when this Wall Street Journal sports columnist committed himself to winning Tout Wars his first season playing fantasy baseball he clearly knew that he wasn’t the story. Not all of it, anyway.

Which is why his book is such a hoot. Rather than adopt the solitary lifestyle of the typical fanatic Walker uses his baseball credentials and ample payroll (he spent close to $50K during his year of play trying to win Tout Wars AL 2004) to rub the fantasy game against the real game. And while he says that he hoped to use the sparks that flew to beat the so-called experts at their own game, his real subject here is the fire of baseball’s essence.

Is the game the domain of the grizzled scouts, the usually less-than-introspective ballplayers, the front office guys, the most diehard of fans, the usually less-than-introspective sabermetricians, or who? Walker has ingeniously woven the stories of all these unusually focussed people into one season in Tout Wars, during which he hired Sig Mehdal as his stat guy (Sig went on to contribute his injury database work to the Bill James Handbook, but that was later), and Nando, another fine fellow as his player biography expert, an astrologer (who perhaps he didn’t listen to closely enough), an exotic dancer (to mess with geeky minds during the Tout Wars auction) and a host of fantasy services, all with the aim of gaining a decisive edge.

But if that sounds like rotopass.com or Fantasyland coverthe story of a guy’s fantasy team, don’t be misled. Walker crisscrosses the country, meeting fantasy experts, his opponents (often the same guys) and many of the players he rosters and gets their reactions to his team, his proposed and executed trades (I’ve long enjoyed David Ortiz stories, but Ortiz’s response to Walker asking if he would mind being traded for Alfonzo Soriano is indelible), their feelings about what sabermetricians say about the way they play, and his attempts—as his season careers out of control—to get managers and general managers to take advantage of the special information he has gleaned from watching the game so closely (and listening to his advisors), but all of this is informed by his larger themes and not the question of whether his team will win or not.

Walker is a fine observer, a funny writer, and a good sport. His attempts to get Jose Guillen reinstated by the Angels late in 2004 because it would be more fair to his roto team is a clever bit of street theater that I suspect is much more successful in the telling than it was on the street. It also makes Mike Scioscia look good at exactly the moment he might have looked his worst. Walker’s book shines in his conversations with Jacque Jones, Doug Mientkiewicz, Bill Mueller, and other players, general managers and fantasy experts. Above all this is a baseball book.
It is while he with the first group that Walker shows us something new about the game, but he comes to feel quite comfortable with the so-called experts, and it is his profiles of these guys that are most impressive (because I know many of them I can vouch for his good eye) and risky. I enjoyed them immensely, but it is always interesting to read about people you know. Will the general reader? I suspect those who take BaseballHQ or Rotowire or Baseball Info Solutions or Wise Guy Baseball or Stats Inc or Matt Berry or even Baseball Prospectus (at least Joe Sheehan) seriously will get a kick out of this book above and beyond all the fun baseball info (on a theoretical level, Walker doesn’t break new ground, nor does he try to).

But the baseball stuff, the players and those who select them, and Walker’s lively storytelling will carry those who don’t give a hoot about Ron Shandler and Bill James and Keith Law and Mike Gimble and Dan Okrent and the other geeks whose stories he tells, through a gentle and appealling baseball book that pokes and prods our understanding of what the game is and how it works.

For my part, I was a founding member of Tout Wars. My friend and sometimes partner Alex Patton named the league, though I still like (given our roots in rejection of LABR) my alternative name: REBL (Rotisserie Experts Baseball League). And I would have loved to have someone like Sam Walker pick apart my game play the way he does that of Trace Wood (who won TW the year Sam writes about) and the other guys he played against that year. I had the pleasure of getting Sam to write for The Fantasy Baseball Guide 2006, not knowing that he had a four month old in the house, but reading his book I wish I played in the AL Tout Wars that year rather than the NL.

But that’s vanity. This may be the most fun book you can can read about fantasy baseball that isn’t really devoted to helping you win. And, unlike the Universal Baseball Association, Henry J. Waugh, Proprietor, by Robert Coover, which Walker doesn’t mention, it might actually help you win anyway.

The Baseball Analysts: A Look at Unearned Runs by Pitcher Type

The Baseball Analysts: A Look at Unearned Runs by Pitcher Type

For various reasons we’ve been looking at the issue of unearned runs and how they affect our perceptions of a pitcher. This Rich Lederer article digs in and gets more specific, which may help savvy fantasy players identify guys who might get lucky. (And reveal why it hurts more when they don’t.)

Minor Leagues blog featuring John Sickels

Minor League Ball :: Minor Leagues blog featuring John Sickels

Sickels is always thoughtful, knowledgeable, hard working and pleasant. His site is full of information and opinion, and is becoming part of my routine. I don’t know why it took so long. For a while he was the only reason to visit ESPN.com, and then they let him walk.

The Best Projections in the Universe

Baseball HQ: HQ Today

I received a copy of John Burnson’s Graphical Pitcher 2006 today from Amazon. No time yet to delve deeply into charts, which present a cognitive problem, at least at first. How to absorb a ton of information until you speak fluently the local dialect? I did read all the text, which is informative and entertaining (as the ultra-bright and engergetic Burnson always, in my experience, is). But the real wow is a study he (they?) published at baseball HQ last year after randomly drafting gazzilions of virtual fantasy teams, calculating virtual standings, and tracking which players appeared more often on winning teams.

This is a brilliant way to solve so many player valuation problems, one that was hinted at when roto stat service pioneer Jerry Heath published which players appeared most often on the last place and first place roto teams in the leagues he served. But taken to this level I believe it qualifies as original rotisserie research, which is a rare thing and about the highest praise I can give.

Which got me to go to baseballhq.com looking for the original article. I didn’t get to WOW before stumbling over this article Ron published in his free weekly newsletter last week. It doesn’t say much more than last year’s “Player Projections are a Crock” article did, but he says it more vehemently. I agree with him, as you know if you’ve been coming here regularly over the past few years, but I think he’s giving short shrift to the key role of the fantasy tout, which is to identify not only which players are going to get worse or better but which are going to get the most better or worse relative to public expectations.

The most important number to know, if you could, would be what price a guy is going to go for in your league.
The second most important is to know how to maximize each player’s contribution by putting together a solid roster. Ron has long focused on this in very constructive ways, but Burnson’s article in The Graphical Pitcher 2006 (and presumably archived somewhere at baseballhq.com) makes you say, “Wow.”

Mock Draft Central: Fantasy Baseball Guide Mock Draft

Mock Draft Central: Draft Grid

I often feel like an explorer. For instance, the link above is to the draft grid for the Fantasy Baseball Guide 2006’s mock draft. But maybe you have to be a MockDraftCentral member to access this info.

I’m posting it here to find out. And if you’re reading this and it doesn’t work it’s because I’ve washed up on some shoals and have yet to find my way back. And I’m going to suggest to the sensible Jason Pliml that he make some of this info available for free, so that we all can see how useful his aggregated info is.

In the Guide there are five pages of mock draft player comments and strategy notes, and Matt Berry’s incredibly funny rationale for why he didn’t actually draft his mock team. And why maybe it doesn’t matter.

Ben Maller Writes the News

Ben Maller

Well-written summaries of most of the day’s interesting stories from around the Major Leagues. Well worth checking out just to keep up.

USATODAY.com Salaries Database

USATODAY.com Baseball salaries database

The new Ask Rotoman blog will be chockablock with references to useful and timewasting services on the web. This is a good one. Track your favorite team’s salary by year, or your favorite player’s, or see how your team in this year or that wasted its precious dough, here.

The Baseball Analysts

The Baseball Analysts: Abstracts From The Abstracts

I ended up at this site because of these abstracts of all of Bill James’ Baseball Abstracts, from 1977 to 1988. At one point I conceived of a project creating a comprehensive index to James’ books, because I found myself spending a lot of time looking for his little studies of this or that. The WWW and the explosion of baseball research published there means that James’ work is easily found in reference (if not the actual stories) through Google. Still, these amiable descriptions of the contents of each book are nearly as enjoyable to read as the originals.

Baseball Analysts also has a very nice set of links to important and interesting baseball information. Nice work.

Stop buying.

Buy Nothing Day : Adbusters

The day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday, supposedly because that’s the day retailers hope to go into the black on the year. Everything from then until the end of the year is rich, dark gravy. Somehow this little bit of trivia has turned into a wild commercial free-for-all, with dedicated shoppers lining up at Mall entrances before the sun comes up! Crazy, or you can buy nothing.