The new one is up. Sheffield or Jeter? Jeter or Sheffield? Is this a tossup? What makes a freeze? Is Clint Barmes a dear? Plus some chatter, all over at mlb.com.
This link may not get you to Ron Shandler’s review of Sam Walker’s new book, Fantasyland, after this coming Friday, but you’ll be able to find it in the free section at www.baseballhq.com. Shandler, the Bearded One, is a major character in the book and his reaction seems to me right on.
In case you haven’t heard, one of the two premium stats services, USA Stats, sold itself to the other, All Star Stats, this past week. USA Stats former owner, Bill Meyer, says the growing licensing issues in the fantasy realm, as MLB tries to gain control of all intellectual property attached to their baseball game, was an irritant but not really a factor. All Star Stats made a good offer at a time when he was looking to do something other than run a stats service for the rest of his life.
Bill grew USA Stats by buying out Jerry Heath’s Heath Data many moons ago and acquiring the official stat service of the Rotisserie League after that, so this is hardly the time to rail against consolidation, but Bill was a very nice and helpful guy who ran what always seemed to be a very friendly operation. He’ll be missed.
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 the 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 attemptsâ€”as his season careers out of controlâ€”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.
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.)
This is a nifty piece of online software that comes with a price attached. You’ll have to decide if the early promise is worth the price, but I have a compulsive desire to make lists, and Playertrack.com certainly feeds that addiction. The site advertised in the Fantasy Baseball Guide this year, and we appreciate advertisers. What I’d like to see is a way to plug other sets of numbers into the mechanism, so you could analyze projections, or 2004 numbers, or three year averages. Even if you don’t want to pay it’s worth checking out for the Top 10 lists that come for free, which hint at what’s possible.
The first column of the new year is up at mlb.com. Do the Mets have a Reyes of hope batting Jose first? Does Oliver Perez have some more control? Weekly or daily transactions? And introducing Chatter, about Esteban German, Jeremy Hermida, Jon Papelbon, and Bengie Molina. Expect a new column every Wednesday from here on out. And send your questions to Ask Rotoman.
The link here is to an editors letter from Baseball Notebook’s David Luciani in which he declares he’s retiring from baseball writing after this season because of the trouble he’s had with anonymous posters challenging his record in prospect prognostication.
I don’t know the facts in this case. David was an early advertising supporter of this site, but he never earned his money back from the ads, for what that’s worth. What I do know is that whether stuff is printed on paper or the electronic ether of the internet, there are hard copies out there. If you have a file with old Baseball Notebook prospect reports print outs I’d like to see them.
Based on our intermittent dealings I like David Luciani, but more importantly I’d like to see some actual facts in this case. Charges without factual support are reprehensible. If you have information that supports either side in the matter please let it shine.
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.”
Anthony Beaulieu won the 2nd Annual Rotoman Regulars League, and with some encouragement from me wrote a Strategies of Champions piece about how he put together his winning team. Confusion about the due date and some last-minute ads nudged the piece out of the magazine, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a look. I don’t think anything teaches us more about strategy than learning what actual champions did to win their league.