I will come right out and admit that I am a nerd. I started playing fantasy baseball a little over ten years ago—not for any stakes other than bragging rights, mind you—and I am a participant again this baseball season. I don’t recall exactly what prompted me to sign up for a league, but I think it occurred about the same time that I started to realize that civil appellate law was one of my stronger callings in the legal profession. Make of that what you will.
At any rate, at this time of year, every year, new fantasy team owners are suffering through the agonies and the ecstasies of that first full week of play. Team names inevitably run from the deadly serious to the mildly humorous to the just-plain-innuendo-laden, but the hopes for each are the same on Opening Day. On that day, and that day alone, everyone is a potential champion.
So with this in mind, I started thinking of what I’ve learned from my decade-plus of fantasy ownership. A few life lessons follow.
1. A bad start to the season (or the week) doesn’t mean a bad finish. Well, maybe in rotisserie leagues—those where the entire season rests upon a basic adding up of season-long stats—it does. But not in a head-to-head league, where each week means a new match, a new opponent, and a new opportunity to gain ground. To put it another way, it ain’t over ’til it’s over. I started out this season by missing the online draft for my league. This meant I was relegated to receiving those players dealt to me by a computerized ranking without having “eyes on the ground” to figure out the best next move. Consequently, I went into a flurry of activity when I saw what I had to work with, but was still being trounced four days into the season. But within a few more days, I had used up my first weekly allotment of player swaps to try to strengthen my hand. I’m pleased to say, it appears to be working. And the score at the end of the week is the only one that counts.
2. The stars aren’t always the ones who shine. What you did a year ago or two years ago doesn’t mean much right now. The current American League leader for batting average is Miguel Montero of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Through six games this season, Montero is a staggering 12-for-22, with five runs scored, four batted in, and five extra-base hits, including two homeruns. That gives him a .545 batting average, thus far. Will this last? Of course not. Batting averages over .300 for the season are somewhat of a rare bird in Major League Baseball, but for now, Montero is the league’s best hitter. Contrast him to Manny Ramirez, who this week retired from baseball rather than face a 100-game suspension for failing a second steroid test, and who was batting a miserable .071 with a single hit in 17 at-bats for Tampa Bay. Ramirez’s career has been on a steady downward trend since his glory days in Boston and Los Angeles, but “Manny being Manny” was still one of the most recognizable faces in the game.
3. Numbers lie. David Murphy of the Texas Rangers is hitting .556 so far this season. So why is Montero the league leader and not Murphy? Because Murphy has set foot on the field in only three games so far this year. Granted, in those games, he’s delivered, but someone who shows up practically every day is worth more than a guy who will get a chance once per series. Montero’s appearance record makes him the stronger choice.
4. Flexibility is a virtue. Most players are pigeonholed—for fantasy purposes—into one or, at most, two positions. A player who regularly plays only at first base will likely be qualified for fantasy ball only at first base, even if he once in a while takes over left field. Likewise, a catcher is pretty much always a catcher. A starting pitcher rarely pitches in relief and vice versa. But then there are utility infielders like Omar Vizquel and Maicer Izturis. Both are qualified to play at second, third, and shortstop, so either can fill in for any player that might be injured or in a slump. The flexibility increases their value, even if their play might be a little subpar (though Izturis, so far, is hitting an unexpected .345 with one homerun through six games).
Perhaps these lessons seem rather simplistic. Nevertheless, I find a certain pleasure in the knowledge that grown men playing a kids’ game that is all about observing other grown men playing another kids’ game can yield any sort of practicality. It’s almost enough to get you through those dog-days of late July and early August, when half your pitching staff seems to be on the disabled list, your best hitter is in a slump, and your opponent’s closer seems to be unable to put a foot wrong. So, ‘til the playoffs arrive, play ball!