Fantasy Baseball & The Department of Youth
There are about four weeks left in the regular MLB season and kids are pouring into the league. Too many for most folks to keep track of. I’m lucky in that my fantasy baseball league isn’t full of fantasy football players tuning out about now. Don’t get me wrong; we have ten teams in our league and I’d wager to say five of them are paying no attention whatsoever. Never mind how many times I remind them that every player warrants looking into. In fact, some of them demand that you know their names years in advance or you won’t get near them when they become household names. Yoan Moncada, for instance, in my Massachusetts based and heavily Red Sox centric league, was taken two or three years ago. We all have a five man minor league roster that allows teams to “farm” out players they believe will really help them some day. I vacillate between keeping journeyman with less than 15 games of major league experience who are already on major league rosters (for however long) that might be able to plug active holes when injury strikes and using the slots to wait on alleged can’t miss prospects. A good example of the former might be rostering Angel C Jett Bandy if you need catching and waiting to see how he plays before activating him. If he succeeds you activate him, if he doesn’t you move on. A good example of the latter is grabbing a stud prospect like Yoan Moncada and just waiting until he surfaces. Most of my league mates follow that logic and just wait on players like Moncada and Gary Sanchez. The only rule we have is you can’t draft a player from the current year’s draft so we can get him into the open market in the next year’s auction. We do it to help the helpless; the perennial cellar dwellers who don’t spend each week pouring over Baseball Prospectus. This way they get respectable price tags by virtue of open market bidding. The idea is that by the time the following draft rolls around everyone has had a fair chances to become aware of players that might really be impact players.
I want to remind you folks I play in an AL only league so I don’t pay much attention to the NL other than to look up prospects like Michael Fulmer when they are traded over to our league. My minor league roster looks like this at present; Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Max Kepler, Ryon Healy, Bradley Zimmerman, Tyler O’Neill, Ben Heller and Jonathan Holder. You may or may not recognize all of the names, but four of them are playing regularly for the Yankees, Twins or A’s. What this means is I got them tucked away before they reached their 15 game limit and now I can’t keep them into next year without having them count against our salary cap of $270 at our auction. That is a huge advantage come draft day because you can be reckless with the money you do have to buy players with. Want to outbid everyone for Robinson Cano even though you have less money than two or three other teams that want him? Now you can because, in theory, you don’t need a catcher, a 3B or a couple of outfielders. Now we both know that is the plan, but it almost never holds up. Trades happen in real life blocking your prospect, players get injured or your player has a lousy spring training and gets sent down. I feel pretty good about my crop of prospects because Sanchez seems like he’s here to stay, Max Kepler reminds me a little bit of Toronto’s Shawn Green from the early 90’s, Ryon Healy has really played well for Oakland (however, if you don’t know Matt Chapman‘s name yet go grab him…these boys are going to play together somehow even if one of them needs to move to 1B) and Aaron Judge, while off to a painfully slow MLB start, has the proverbial light tower power. Beyond that Bradley Zimmerman is a base stealer in the Cleveland Indians’ system and Tyler O’Neill has over 100 RBI in the Seattle system. Heller and Holder are Yankee pitching prospects that probably won’t make my team in the spring, but everyone is looking to trade for minor leaguers in the offseason to beef up their neglected minor league roster. That’s generally the opposite of what you try and do in the regular season to win at fantasy baseball. Minor leaguers can’t help you during the current season. The only way they are appealing is if you are out of it and want to trade your overpriced star for one of them. I zero in on youngsters today because they are the bane of existence for a lot of fantasy players. Rather than trade your team’s core for prospects, you keep a steady stream of them coming so you can be wrong about a few of them and not have it hurt your chances of succeeding . If you don’t replenish with youth consistently, your fantasy team will suffer the consequences without fail.
Hopefully that helps set up the conversation I really want to have today; veterans win fantasy leagues almost without fail. I’m in third place in my 30 year old league and have no chance to finish first. I find this kind of embarrassing and you would too if you played with the guys I play with. One of my best friends is going to win his 2nd consecutive title after not winning once in his first 27 years! We have had very little turnover, but two of the players that have left the league, brothers actually, have a combined 10 of the 29 titles to date. I have 5 and the rest are mixed up between the other 7 teams, past and present, with no one winning more than twice. I miss competing against the brothers, but I like to play so I don’t quit the league. At our age your just can’t post an ad on the student union bulletin board. Leagues like this take commitment and some amount of focus. Plus it’s a keeper league so you need to build and cultivate, not get lucky in round robin draft. The reason you replenish with youth is so you can afford to buy the services of dependable veterans who aren’t coming out of the lineup unless they get hurt. They are generally the most expensive players; folks like Miguel Cabrera and Robinson Cano. Players who have been around, have a track record and get paid large sums of money. With five or six of them out of 14 active players on offense you can usually compete. Then you need good pitching. What makes fantasy baseball so much fun is that there is almost never a perfect combination. It’s a puzzle you can’t solve for good and injuries will almost always wreck the best laid plans anyway. I offer my beleaguered squad as an example. You’ll have to look past all the Yankees I have on my roster. I’m not normally so tied to my own team, but naturally as you follow a team you would to believe you are more educated about them. I may be blinded by my own fandom, but time will tell. The thing I wanted to emphasize is my team’s youth and inexperience. I believe that is why I’ve got no chance to win and why I could even finish out of the money. Take a look…
OF – George Springer, Houston Astros, Age 26 – Springer got hurt each of the last two seasons and missed valuable experience in the process. This year he’s on pace for 600 ABs, 120 runs, 90 walks, 30 homers, 95 RBI, 12 stolen bases and a .250 batting average. So why am I disappointed? I really shouldn’t be. I hate him leading off for one thing. And that batting average irritates me. I find myself considering moving him even though he’s maybe $12 in my league. That was unthinkable at one time. I don’t think he’ll ever be a big base stealer and that was a big part of his appeal. I’m always looking for players to sell high on, but he’ll turn 27 on September 19th and I’ve already been through the “worst.” I’m probably blowing smoke and he’s not part of my problem.
OF – Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays, Age 35 – Bautista was a player I zeroed in on five years ago after the big 54 homer season. It wasn’t the homers, as much as we all dig the long ball, it was the walks. Walks are huge in my league and he generally is in the top five in the league. The problem with Jose now is he hits .220 and spends a lot of time on the DL every year. He’s one of the guys I want to point to for stability and dependability on my roster. No more. I’m paying him $25 if I keep him next year and I’m inclined to trade him after this fiasco. Something about .220 17 homers and 51 RBIs headed into September has me a bit ticked off. He’s part of the problem around here.
OF – Leonys Martin, Seattle Mariners, Age 28 – I’m an idiot where Martin is concerned. Stolen bases are at an unbelievable premium in the AL anymore. There are no Billy Hamiltons or Dee Gordons running hog wild. Our best base stealer is part time Cleveland OF Rajai Davis and he’s in his mid 30’s. He’s got 34 at present. Martin has SB years of 36 & 31 on his resume and has a cannon of an arm for a CF. I figured getting out of Texas would be great for him. Change of scenary, green light, etc. He’s hitting .241 with a surprising 14 homers, but only 41 RBIs, 16 stolen bases and 57 runs scored. He’s part of the problem; or I am expecting more out of him. I really needed those other 14 steals. I’d be in 2nd and winning it going away.
OF – Cameron Maybin, Detroit Tigers, Age 29 – Maybe has outperformed expectations across the board and I got him in the reserve draft or “crapshoot” of players nobody wanted to pay for. I wasn’t that enamored of Anthony Gose and I figured he was due to play better. My plan was to use him as an injured player fill in. Turns out he’s the injured player I need to fill in for. I started the season with Aaron Hicks and Marlon Byrd in the 4 and 5 OF holes. Maybin has hit .331 with 14 stolen bases as an afterthought. Not part of the problem.
OF – Justin Upton, Detroit Tigers, Age 29 – Upton has been a colossal disappointment to baseball, let alone the city of Detroit and fantasy players everywhere. I traded a red hot Jurickson Profar to get the slumping overpriced OF 230 ABs ago. I have been rewarded with a .239 BA, 13 homers and 33 RBI, but the reason I went for him specifically was because he was being paid a ton of dough and I knew he wasn’t coming out of the lineup. Plus he could run a little. 6 SBs has been helpful even as he dragged down my BA with his non stop 0 for 4’s. Still, I was betting on a rebound and he provided some of that. He was better than nothing, but he disappointed and became part of the problem.
1B – Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays, Age 33 – You want a money veteran? This is your guy. He’s a tick shy of 500 ABs and he’s already got 36 homers and 108 RBIs. 87 runs scored, 71 walks and a respectable .265 batting average. Wish I had ten of him. He’s carrying some of my other flunkies. I might even keep him when he takes over DH for Boston next year. He’s that good. NOT part of the problem.
CO- Lonnie Chisenhall, Cleveland Indians, Age 27 – Chisenhall I acquired because he’s 1B-OF eligible and because Minnesota skipper Paul Molitor couldn’t figure out how to get then red hot Kennys Vargas into his lineup on a regular basis. I’ve had a problem here all year after Byung Ho Park imploded. I had bet $19 on those YouTube videos from Korea. Oops. Vargas played great for the two weeks they gave him regular ABs, but I turned to light hitting Lonnie Chisenhall for average and versatility. So far so good, but this position hurt me. Part of the problem.
2B- Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners, Age 33 – Everyone knew he was hurt last year and would rebound big time this year. It cost me $40 to own him this year, but I wanted him badly. He has responded with a .302 average, 30 homers and 83 RBI. You can trust this guy to play everyday and not screw it up. A fantastic AL 2B in year loaded with them. How about Brian Dozier, Ian Kinsler, Rougned Odor, Jose Altuve and Dustin Pedroia this year? Good seaons from Jonathan Schoop, Starling Castro and Jason Kipnis aren’t even registering…Not part of the problem.
MI- Starlin Castro, New York Yankees, Age 26 – Starlin has 19 homers, 64 RBIs and a .267 batting average heading into today’s play. Beats Stephen Drew. Castro was just the guy I was looking for with no 2B coming into this year. I had to wrestle him from the Adam Warren owner last winter, but I think I came out OK. He’s got 10 errors and only 6 SBs and still swings at everything, but I’m OK with him manning 2B in NY and I don’t consider him part of the Yankee problem, let alone my fantasy team.
SS- Didi Gregorius, New York Yankees, Age 26 – The Yankees stole this guy for Shane Greene, but nobody expected this; 17 homers and 65 RBIs with a .282 BA. He was over .300 for a couple of minutes earlier this season. Shocking really. Still too many errors (15) and too few walks (15), but he’s been steady. Not part of the problem.
3B- Chase Headley, New York Yankees, Age 32 – Chase has battled back to put up pedestrian numbers after an awful start. He’s currently hitting .258 with 12 homers and 44 RBIs. Not what you would hope for from your corner man, but after the start he had you take what you can get. I got him for $2 in my draft, but I already had Trevor Plouffe so one of them had to DH. Unlike Plouffe, Headley isn’t afraid to take a walk and steals the occasional base. Neither one of them hits enough to DH so I sent Plouffe packing. Still, part of the problem here. C’mon Ryon Healy!
C- Mike Zunino, Seattle Mariners, Age 25 – Mike’s story is that he was rushed big time. He’s a good to great catch and throw catcher with a big stick…when he makes contact. He was sent down to the minors and was meant to stay there almost this whole year, some thing happened; he started hitting for average. Seattle called him back a bit earlier than planned because Chris Iannetta was stinking the joint out. Trouble is Big Mike is back to his old ways…sub .220 batting average and enough bombs to make him interesting. Catching was a big problem for me all year. I had Yan Gomes and he flopped like Dick Fosbury. I had variety of awful second catchers until I traded for help. Big part of the problem here.
C- Jett Bandy, Anaheim Angels, Age 26 – I can almost remember their funny faces…Sorry, I can’t resist thinking of that Paul McCartney track every time I see Jett’s name in print. Bandy has come back to earth a bit, but during the six weeks I’ve owned him he belted 6 homers. In fact Gomes had 8 for me and I’m not sure I ever got the other 4 to equal the half season production I received from the combination of Zunino and Bandy (12) so far. Still, Bandy has a decent stick and I have a decision to make going into next year; Gary Sanchez and one of these two. Bandy’s average potential or Zunino’s bombs? Part of the problem.
DH – Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers, Age 37 – In the dictionary, under professional hitter, you will see this guy’s photo. A switch hitter who hits for average, takes his walks and does his share in the HR and RBI department. I’ve only had him since the All-Star break and this second half would never be confused with his best work, but he’s had a nice rebound from an injury plagued 2015 campaign. I don’t normally hold DHes, preferring to keep the spot open for fumble fingered IFs, but I needed production and my errors were under control at the time. Could have used him earlier in the season if I’m being honest. The kind of veteran that helps you win. Not part of the problem.
So there’s your offense. I’m fourth in my league overall, but last in batting average and second to last in steals. Collectively these guys underachieved and I’m not a rock solid bet to even finish fourth in offense by season’s end. Now that I look at it, I only have 5 guys 26 years old or younger, but I acquired some older guys like Martinez, Upton and Chisenhall around the All-Star break. Injuries to Bautista and Maybin have been particularly damaging. What about the pitching? Let’s have a look…
P – Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox, Age 27 – He’s just putting the finishing touches on his best season and he’s got 11 wins. He’s got a 3.05 ERA and should have about 17 wins, but thanks to David Robertson and his inept offense he’s toiling in complete anonymity. One game in particular he handed a 4-1 lead to Robertson in a game he could have easily completed against Detroit only to see Robertson surrender 3 consecutive homers. Unreal. Not part of the problem.
P – Michael Pineda, New York Yankees, Age 27 – For a guy who leads the league in swing and miss percentage he sure gives up a lot of runs. He’s pitching as I type this with the Yankees entire season on the line in Baltimore. Few pitchers are more frustrating to own than Pineda. He’s got one of the best sliders in the game, but he gets beat on his fastball regularly. He’s got 168 strikeouts in 148 IP, but he’s given up 158 hits. His ERA is over 5. Yankee fans want him gone. I don’t. Pitchers mature late. What an arm. Seems like his pitching IQ is very low, but maybe Gary Sanchez can help with that. Still, this year?, with 6 miserable wins as we enter September, absolutely part of the problem.
P- Aaron Sanchez, Toronto Blue Jays, Age 24 – He’s 13-2 with a 2.88 ERA. ‘Nuff said. He’s been brilliant, but his innings are piling up and Toronto is trying to nurse him to the playoffs. This is one instance where a youngster outperforms expectations and propels you forward. It doesn’t happen that often contrary to popular belief. Not part of the problem.
P – Kevin Gausman, Baltimore Orioles, Age 25 – Gausman has 7 wins, but he’s pitched like a 13 game winner. Baltimore has a reputation for scoring a ton of runs and rightfully so, but for some reason during Gausman’s starts they have really struggled. He has a 3.58 ERA on the strength of 19 straight scoreless innings in a pennant race. Very impressive, but few people really know how good this kid can be. Youth hurt me a bit with him, but I trusted the O’s to score for him. He had tendinitis out of the game and I still had to pay $12 bucks to own him at my draft. Wins are a problem for me, but Gausman has, by and large, done the job. Not part of the problem.
P- Ervin Santana, Minnesota Twins, Age 33 – Santana is a wily veteran, but if he’s hurt or out of synch his owners are cooked. He doesn’t strike out a ton of guys anymore, but he’s still tough to hit when he’s on. He owns a 3.44 ERA in 24 starts, but he pitches for a wretched team and has a mere 7 wins in nearly 150 IP. Not particularly helpful. This year, more than most because I’m right there, I could have used a Rick Porcello or J.A. Happ and enough wins to make up for my underachieving squad. Not really part of the problem, but…
P- Taijuan Walker, Seattle Mariners, Age 24 – This one really hurt me this year. I traded Danny Salazar to get him a couple of years ago, mostly because Salazar hadn’t yet blossomed, was sent down prior to our draft and Walker was eligible for my minor league roster at the time. I regret that trade now. Last night was the last straw. 3 ER in 2/3 of an IP. He’s been terrible all year and I don’t really want to talk about some bone spur to be honest. 4 wins. Pitiful. I counted on the kid and got torched. Pitching is where you really can get hurt with youngsters. They don’t know the league and they just try and throw the ball through a brick wall. If I part with Walker this winter, and it’s looking like I will, he will go on to be a stalwart in the league on someone else’s team. Mark my words. But part of the problem? Without question.
P- Nate Jones, Chicago White Sox, Age 30 – Nate was oh so close to being named closer prior to his Tommy John injury. This was pre-David Robertson. He’s always had nice numbers, but I picked him up this year figuring he’d take over when the White Sox traded Robertson. That never happened so now I just hope he doesn’t give up runs when he pitches. Lord knows he’s not getting any vulture victories with that awful White Sox attack. I could use a starter here, but I may as well go the distance with Jones since the alternative these days is picking up Ricky Nolasco. Maybe D-Rob will get moved this offseason. Jones can pitch, but he’s problem neutral at best in my lineup.
P- Francisco Rodriguez, Detroit Tigers, Age 34 – “K” Rod doesn’t fan too many batters these days. I took him out of desperation at the All-Star break because I went almost the whole first half without a closer. I had Andrew Miller, but the Yankees were awful in April and Aroldis Chapman showed up. Dellin Betances was not going to help in the save department for months and I acquired Rodriguez before I knew that Miller would be traded to Cleveland. I figured K-Rod would grab me 20 saves before the end of the season and he didn’t cost me much. Glad to have him now.
P- Dellin Betances, New York Yankees, Age 28 – A late bloomer, but what a late bloomer. He’s filthy dirty. 110 Ks in 63 IP nasty. Still he’s got 7 saves. Saves were a problem for me all season. I traded Huston Street & Roberto Osuna for Andrew Miller & Aaron Sanchez last winter. I did fine, but I never did find a decent closer during the season. Now I spend all my time trying to catch up.
P- Andrew Miller, Cleveland Indians, Age 31 – This guy is sick. Even if he and Betances never saved a game they would be part of my attack. Miller has 101 K’s in 61 IP. Now Terry Francona wants to use him like some lefty specialist all over the place. Disappointing for his owners, but he still racks up the strikeouts and with Cleveland he can still pick up vulture victories. I could have used a steady stream of saves from all of my bullpen guys to make up for lost time, but Francona’s loyalty to Allen is getting in my way. Miller is part of the solution for certain. Saves or no saves.
So that is my pitching staff. I’m in 3rd on the strength of being first in Ratio (IP + K’s – Walk and Hits) and second in ERA, but I’m tied for 7th in Saves and 8th in Wins. I wouldn’t trade my roster for any other roster in the league, but I’m a paper tiger this year. I didn’t have enough veteran hitters or pitchers to really lift me up past the weaknesses of the teams in front of me. I’m out of time. I can still finish 2nd and I feel like I might, but I’m in desperate need of the 5 or 6 steals Cameron Maybin could’ve provided and he won’t even go on the DL with expanded rosters so I can’t reserve him unless I want to cut him…and I don’t. A keeper league paralyzes you sometimes. I made a lot of strategic mistakes this year for someone with my experience, but you can usually pick up a closer after draft day and weed out underperforming players. With youth though, you keep thinking about the future and you get stubborn. You don’t want them starring on other teams for the next five years so you hold onto guys like Taijuan Walker hoping to ride the storm out. It’s easy to cut a $20 player with no contract for the next year. It’s not so easy cutting a player with all kinds of minor league accolades whom you know the club wants to succeed. Youth; you can’t live with it and you can’t seem to live without it in fantasy.
I hope you all did better than I did this year. Until the next time…