What Does Mitch Albom Know About Fantasy Baseball?

April 19, 2010

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On Sunday, Mitch Albom launched a surprise attack on fantasy baseball in Parade Magazine

Albom starts off by pointing out that on any given day, fifteen million people check fantasy baseball stats – more fans than are actually in the stands to watch a game that day.  Albom sees this as a bad thing.  The fire marshals probably see this as a good thing.  In order for fifteen million people to attend a game on a particular day, it would entail each of the fifteen games to have a million people in the stands.  That would be fine – except that the maximum capacity of most stadiums is around fifty thousand. 

Albom also seems to be splitting the followers of baseball into “fantasy folks” and regular fans.  Albom must know a different group of fantasy players than I do.  In my leagues, all of the participants are also big fans of a Major League team.  While I’d love to see my Yura Peeins or Bats in the Belfry teams win titles in their respective leagues, I’d much prefer to see the Colorado Rockies win the division.

Why, then, do I even bother with fantasy baseball?

First of all, to kill the dead time in the schedule.  I absolutely love baseball.  There are, sadly, a handful off days during the season on which the Rockies don’t play.  Being able to actively follow other teams on these days (as well as during the hours the Rockies aren’t playing on other days) staves off the depression that would otherwise set in from lack of Rockies.  While I have a defined order of preference for Major League teams, it’s fun to have some somewhat random players to root for.  (By the way, if you’re looking for an entertaining tale of fantasy baseball, check out Sam Walker’s Fantasyland.)

There is also the actual nature of fantasy baseball.  I consider it to be much more challenging than other fantasy sports.  In football, there is a reasonable correlation between yards and touchdowns.  In basketball, the best centers are going post strong numbers in points, rebounds, and blocks. 

This isn’t the case in baseball, though.  It’s extremely rare to see a player put up strong numbers in all categories.  Prince Fielder of the Brewers is a great offensive player, but he kills you in steals.  Conversely, Ichiro Suzuki of the Mariners will give you steals, but few homers.  There is also the issue of positional flexibility.  In the other sports, the position is set.  A wide receiver does not suddenly become a quarterback.  However, in baseball, it is not uncommon to see players log time at a few different positions.  It can be advantageous to have a player who is eligible at multiple positions (so that he can fill in for injured players) even if his offensive ceiling is not as high as others.

Albom says that “if you program a computer correctly, it can play an entire fantasy season without you.”  While this is true (in fact, no programming is necessary), it’s very unlikely that you can WIN this way.  Fantasy baseball is very much an art – determining which of the inevitable sacrifices to make during the season.

Albom’s main assumption seems to be that people use fantasy baseball as a replacement for the real thing.  However, in my experience, this is not the case.  Instead, people use fantasy baseball to supplement the main activity of following their favorite team.

Sorry, Mitch, you struck out on this one.

The rosin bag

Rockies Nation was exuberant on Saturday evening.  26 year old staff ace Ubaldo Jimenez handcuffed the Atlanta Braves en route the first no-hitter in Rockies history.  Baldo’s control was lacking in the early innings.  He walked six batters in the first five innings.  At that point, pitching coach Bob Apodaca noticed that Jimenez was pitching better from the stretch (a shorter motion typically used only when there are runners on base) than he was from the windup.  Jimenez pitched the rest of the game from the stretch and didn’t walk another hitter.  Jimenez was still throwing in the high 90s at the end of the game (after touching 100 several times earlier in the game).  Ubaldo has flown under the radar of casual fans a bit, but many experts consider him to be among the elite pitchers in the game,

After I finished listening to the Jimenez’s no-hitter, I switched over to the Cardinals-Mets game.  The game had started at 3 PM Central time.  By the time I tuned in (thanks to a heads-up from The Angry Squirrel) the game was in the 14th inning, tied at 0-0.  Eventually, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa decided against draining his pitching staff any further (he had already used eight pitchers).  Shortstop Felipe Lopez  pitched a scoreless 18th inning.  Outfielder Joe Mather then took the mound in the 19th.  He surrendered run to the Mets, but Cardinals matched it in the bottom of the frame.  Mather finally took the loss after giving up a run in the 20th.

 I doubt that there was a more popular player in the clubhouse after the game, however.  The Cardinals had Sunday’s game to think about (they won that game) and someone needed to take one for the team.  As it turned out, La Russa didn’t need to worry about the bullpen for Sunday’s game – Adam Wainwright turned in a complete game.

The Baltimore Orioles, at 2-11, are 7 ½ games behind the front running Yankees in the American League East.  It may be time for Orioles fans to start looking at promising college sophomores and high school juniors, in anticipation of the O’s landing the top pick in next year’s draft.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Brad
    Apr 19, 2010 @ 11:10:37

    I’m showing my support for your viewpoint the best way I can…by not reading his article and reading AND commenting on yours. Oh yea, sticking it to the man!


  2. Evan @ 40Tech
    Apr 23, 2010 @ 08:48:59

    Albom’s view seems to be a popular one among people, but I agree- most of the people I’ve known in leagues have been true fans. I was in a league (well, 2 different ones, back to back) for probably about 7 or 8 years, and even won the league 2 or 3 times, but it got to the point where I started neglecting my team. I eventually bowed out, as I felt that I was doing a disservice to the league. A guy that I work with (who was a sportswriter for a national paper before turning to law) is in a really hardcore league, with some nationally known sports guys, and he still REALLY gets into it.
    .-= Evan @ 40Tech´s last blog ..Audible.com – Review =-.


  3. kosmo
    Apr 23, 2010 @ 09:32:14

    I don’t doubt that Albom’s view is popular, but I really doubt its accuracy. I almost wonder if these folks are just looking at fantasy sports from the outside and making a judgment, without actually getting to know the players.

    I’m not sure that I’ve ever played against someone who wasn’t a true fan. Honestly, what would be the point in playing a fantasy version of a sport you didn’t enjoy?

    If MLB and my wife would make it possible, I’d watch baseball 24 X 7 🙂


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