Baseball is Back

March 6, 2013

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There may be snow on the ground in your neck of the woods, but it’s time for baseball to begin!  Baseball is already alive and well.

Spring Training

Spring training began in mid-February, and games have been underway for a while now.  If you subscribe to MLB.TV, you can watch these games on various types of smart devices (not all games are available).  I’ve tried to connect from an iPhone (worked great), Roku (slightly awkward, but worked), Kindle Fire (didn’t work on the first day, but games are now available), and my Panasonic Blu-Ray player (still doesn’t have the Spring Training games).

I’m switching from MLB Extra innings to MLB.TV this year.  Overall, I think it’s a good switch.  MLB Extra Innings is $200.  The base MLB.TV package is $109.99 (for computers only).  It costs $20 more for connected devices (which includes the iPhone, Roku, and Blu-Ray player).  I opted to buy the minor league package for $20, which will allow me to watch some minor league games (only on a computer sadly).  That’s more value than MLB Extra Innings, for $50 less.

I won’t pretend that MLB.TV is perfect, though.  Each device I’ve used has a different interface, and the differences generally aren’t related to the technical constraints of the device.  In a perfect world, the experience should be nearly identical on every device.  Even worse, the fact that the spring training games are available on some devices and not others is unforgivable.  The availability of minor league games only on computers is also very perplexing – why not make these games more readily available instead of forcing people to their computers?

Fantasy Baseball

My fantasy baseball league draft is under way.  We have a very unconventional setup.  We can only start one player for each letter of the alphabet (last name).  The changes player valuation considerably.  For the draft, owners are randomly assigned 2 letters for each of the 10 rounds, and can pick any player from those letters.

I’m through the first twenty picks of the draft and at this point no major holes are evident.  I got my infield in order first, and then filled out the rest of the team.  I’ve tried to get a bit too cute in recent year – notably, last year trying to corner the market on good catchers to create demand – and it had generally bitten me in the rear.  This year I played it pretty much straight up.

World Baseball Classic

World Baseball Classic

World Baseball Classic

The World Baseball Classic is well under way.  Cuba and Japan have advanced from pool A and Chinese Taipei and The Netherlands from pool B.  Pool C and D (in Puerto Rico and the U.S.) begin play this week.  By the time you read this, Japan and Cuba will be near the end of their much anticipate game.  Both have already clinched spots in round 2, but the winner gets a better seed in the second round.

I’ve had the good fortune to watch bits and pieces of a few different games so far, and it’s definitely enjoyable baseball.  It’s nice to see fresh faces as a reminder that baseball in not just a sport in the Americas.

The WBC staggers the games, with two players from each pool playing the first day, before all the teams are in the fray on day two.  It might be good from a PR perspective, but it’s horrible from the standpoint of fair play.  For example, let’s look at pool A.  Japan and Brazil played on the first day, matching their aces.  On day two, they each played teams who hadn’t played yet – meaning that they also had to face that team’s ace – and obviously couldn’t match with their ace, who had started the previous game.  In the case of Brazil, they faced Cuba’s ace in the second game.  This setup creates an unfair advantage for the team that are idle on the first day.

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The Draft Continues

March 12, 2012

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Jon Lester

Note: this is the second in a series.  Go here to start.

Most importantly, I have a name for my team (I use a different name each year).  It’s The Electric Company … ‘cuz the power is always on.

Round 5

I get L and the group O/I for this round.  Time to get some pitchers.  I grab Jon Lester of the Red Sox with L.  Lester should be good for 15-18 wins, 200+ strikeouts, and an ERA in the low 3s.

O+I is a bad letting grouping.  I think about nabbing Raul Ibanez, but take Juan Oviedo (former Leo Nunez).  Oviedo lost his closer role to Heath Bell, but maybe Bell will get hurt.  Worst case scenario is that I cut him loose.  There’s not point in getting attached to an O/I player – they rarely pan out.

Round 6

I get C and F this around.  Did one of the shortstops fall to me?  Yep – Asdrubal Cabrera.  Cabrera and Castro are fairly similar in value in most categories (we use OBP, so Cabrera’s ability to walk offsets Castro’s higher BA), except that Cabrera smacked 25 homer last year.  That’s probably a fluke, but maybe not.  In any case, I can breath a sigh of relief at having a shortstop.

F has more possibilities.  Pitchers Gavin Floyd (starter), Frank Francisco (reliever), and outfielder Dexter Fowler.  I try to avoid overtly “homer” picks, but I go with Fowler.  I believe that he finally has things figured out after a couple of stints in AAA.  He should provide good OBP and steals, and perhaps even a bit of power if the off-season weight game helps his strength.  Also, I haven’t picked any outfielders yet, and I’ll need some.

Round 7

Letters for the round are R and J.  J is not a great letter.  Desmond Jennings got snapped up in the previous round, so I’m picking between Jair Jurrjens and Edwin Jackson.  E-Jack is in  a pitcher’s park in Washington, so I nab him.  However, I really don’t want mediocre (or worse) pitchers dragging down my ERA and WHIP, so I’ll have a quick hook.

R is a no-brainer.  Yankees ace closer Mariano Rivera joins my team to provide some saves.

Round 8

I have H and A in round 8.  The pickings are getting slim in the letter A.  It’s down to a choice between the once-great but aging Bobby Abreu, and the up-and-comer Yonder Alonso.  Neither is guaranteed a full slate of at bats this year.  While Abreu’s steals are tempting, I take Alonso.  Among other considerations, if he becomes the first baseman for he Padres, he will be eligible at boh 1B and OF.  Also, I like the name.

Matt Holliday is my guy at H.  He’s a safe bet for a .380+ OBP with 25-30 homers, and 90-100 RBI.


At this point, I’ve picked sixteen players – eleven position players and five pitchers.  I narrowly missed getting Demond Jennings as my J guy and I was hoping that somehow Mike Trout would drop to me in the 1oth round (unlikely, and it didn’t happen), but on the flip side, I had Asdrubal Cabrera fall to me, so I can’t complain.

I’ve filled all the offensive positions so far.  I’d really like to add another strong outfield bat at some point, in case Fowler and/or Alonso falter.  I definitely want to stock up on closers.  Either Heath Bell or Andrew Bailey are guaranteed to fall to me, and I’ll take either of them (even if Carlos Beltran is available) and I’ll likely go after Jason Motte or Carlos Marmol in the 10th.  That would give me four closers (as well as Oviedo, who would likely fill in if Bell got injured).  After the ten rounds, we fill three most roster spots.  I’ll likely fill two of them with another outfielder and another closer.

More draft results to follow.


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My Fantasy League Draft

March 7, 2012

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ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 23:  Mike Napoli #25 (...

My fantasy draft is under way!

First, a bit of background for those of you who aren’t familiar with my baseball league.  I run one of the more interesting fantasy leagues you’ll encounter.  It’s called the Alphabet Soup League, and the main twist is that you can’t start two players from the same letter of the alphabet (last name).  If you have Holliday and Halladay, one of them must sit.

The draft is also a bit odd.  The ten participants are spread across six cities in four states (from New York to Colorado), so a live draft is out.  An automated draft is also not feasible, because player valuations are changed dramatically by their letter group.  Mike Napoli, the power hitting catcher from the shallow letter N, is arguably a better option than Albert Pujols.

Instead of a normal draft, each player is assigned two letters (or a group of shallow letters) in each of ten “rounds”.  If you have T and M, for example, you are the only person who can pick players with last names beginning in T and M during this round.  This allows the draft to be conducted by email, without forcing anyone to wait on anyone else (regardless of what the guy with C and F does, you are still drawing from the same pool of players – T and M).  I always announce my picks for the round before the round begins, so that I can’t use knowledge of other people’s picks to my advantage.

With further ado, a look inside Kosmo’s draft so far.

Round 1 

I have the latters W and G.  W is a no brainer.  I go with Baltimore catcher Matt Wieters.  Position scarcity can be an even bigger problem in this league than other leagues, since you can’t just make a position a priority and draft a player from that positon.  You have to have a good letter for that position.  Many of the best catchers are bunched up in M (quirk of fate), so the selection of catchers at most other positions is pretty weak.  I always try to get a catcher, shortstop, and second baseman early, before the talent drops off.

G was a harder choice.  I do ike Zach Greinke quite a bit, and he rebounded quite well after a slow start in 2011 … and I rarely pick a first baseman so early, since there are a bunch of sluggers available.  Still, I love the Super Marioesque eyebrows of Adrian Gonzalez, and think that he’s a safe bet to repeat his 2011 numbers – and probably even improve his home run totals.  His numbers were suppressed by PETCO for many years, but this guy is a tremendous player.

Round 2

I have K and the letter group (Q, U, X, Y, Z) in round 2.  I’m looking to fill the 2B and 3B spots here.  Ian Kinsler and Chase Utley are potentials for 2B and Michael Young and Kevin Youkilis are the options at 3B.  I end up simply taking the younger player in each case, hoping that younger means less susceptible to injury.  Ian Kinsler is my 2B and Kevin Youkilis is my 3B.

Round 3

This is where the draft gets interesting for me.  I have the letters S and N.  S is a great letter, and the obvious pick for me is Marco Scutaro.  As the shortstop for Boston last year, he retains that eligibility this year, and I still need a shortstop.  Plus, Scoots will be the second baseball for the Rockies this year, giving him eligibility at a second position.  And did I mention that Coors Field is a great hitter’s park?

So, naturally, I pick Cleveland catcher Carlos “Sweet Music” Santana.  Why?  More about this later.

N is a shallow letter, and an easier pick.  Joe Nathan was signed by the Rangers to be their closer.  Big money means he’ll get every chance to keep the job, even with former stud closer Neftali Feliz toiling in the bullpen.

Round 4

I get P and D for round 4.  There are some so-so shortstops available, but I hold off.  I’m rolling the dice that Asdrubal Cabrera or Starlin Castro will drop to me in the sixth.  That’s a pretty safe bet, and if both those guys are off the board, there will be some stud players available that I can grab and spin in a trade.  I’m not usually a riverboat gambler when it comes to my shortstop, but I think the payoff is worth it this time.  I take Mets frst baseman Ike Davis.  The fences are coming in at Citi Field this year, which should help Davis.

P also has a decent SS on the board in Jhonny Peralta.  There are also pitchers Michael Pineda, David Price, Rick Porcello, and J.J. Putz, just to name a few.  However, I have officially turned the bastard switch at this point … my choice is Buster Posey.  At this point, most of the others should realize that I’m attempting to corner the market on quality offensive catchers.  A couple of teams are going to be stuck with horrible hitters behind the plate, and this should put me in a good trade position in the trade market.

Check back later for an update on my draft.

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Alphabet Soup League Draft 2011

March 9, 2011

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My fantasy baseball draft is underway.  You may remember that it’s a bit of an oddball league.  The main rule is that you can only play one guy for each letter of the alphabet.  The draft consists of ten rounds, with each owner being assigned a group of letters for each round (no duplicates, everyone has a unique group).

This does tend to turn normal strategy on its head, as you may be forced to wait on certain positions.  For example, the good catchers bunch up in the Ms.  I don’t have M until the eighth round.

How has the draft unfolded for me so far?

1st round (B and V) – Justin Verlander has won a total of 37 games the past two seasons, with 488 strikeouts and an ERA around 3.40 during that stretch.  He’s the clear choice.  I could chase reigning MVP Joey Votto, but first basemen with good bats aren’t hard to find.

B was a bit different.  Lots of good players within this letter.  Ryan Braun and Jay Bruce are some big bats, and Beckett, Buchholz, and Bumgarner are guys who could rack up a lot of wins.  In the end, it came down to a choice between one hitter and one pitcher.  The pitcher was Padres closer Heath Bell, and the hitter was … Florida catcher John Buck.  Why Buck?  Because the good catcher letters are very late for me.  A bird in the hand, perhaps?  In the end, I go with Bell.

2nd round (L, O/I) – Evan “Gabby” Longoria was already off the board, so this came down to a choice between Tim Lincecum and Cliff Lee.  Very comparable players from a statisticts perspective, but Lincecum gets more strikeouts, and he’s my pick.

I is a really shallow letter, and thus gets combined with O to make a decent letter grouping.  Lurking in this group was Rockies catch Chris Iannetta.  Iannetta has 25 homers in his last 477 at bats.  The only bad thing is that those at bats are split over two years.  If the Rockies stick with him for the whole year, he can produce.  He also walks enough to partially offset a bad batting average (we count OBP rather than BA).  Iannetta is the reason I passed on John Buck – I was confident that the person who had O/I in the first round would go after Roy Oswalt.

3rd round (H, A) – Roy Halladay and Felix Hernandex are off the board at this point.  Guys like Haren, Harden, Hamels, Hudson, and Hughes are available … but with two aces on the staff already, this is a good time to go for a bat.  I look around to see if anyone makes sense from the perspective of positional scarcity.  Bill Hall (2B) or J.J Hardy (SS)?  Nah, not enough value to pass up the thunder bats.  I’m looking for a guy who can help me in all the categories, across the board.  My guy is Matt Holliday.

There are some solid pitching candidates in the As, but nobody who is really elite.  At the opening of the draft, the two guys I had coveted in the As were Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus and Pirates 3B Pedro Alvarez.  Of the two, I much preferred Andrus due to positional scarcity at shortstop.  Alvarez his 16 homers in 347 at bats as a rookie, and knocked in 64 RBI in that time.  Extrapolate to 500 at bats, and this would be 23 homers and 92 RBI … assuming no improvement.

Where we stand – I definitely need to grab a shortstop and second baseman before the good ones are gone.  Outfielders and first basemen are a dime a dozen and I can pick some up later.  I’d also like to grab another catcher, just in case Iannetta struggles.  On the pitching side, I’ll likely end up with 2-3 closers and the rest starters.  We have nine pitchers active each week, and I can tweak the lineup to have all the closer active when I’m facing a team with multiple closers, and just one active when I face a team that doesn’t have a closer (which should enable me to win the saves category while still having 8 pitchers racking up wins for me as starters).

I still need a team name.  I go with something different every year.  Last year was the Youra Peeins.

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.

Anatomy of a Fantasy Baseball Draft, Continued

March 14, 2010

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Note: This is a continuation from Wednesday’s article about the Alphabet Soup League draft. Please read that article first – it will make this one make a lot more sense.

In round 6, I nabbed Indians outfielder Chin-Soo Choo, who provides a nice mix of power and steals. I also nabbed Rangers pitcher Neftali Feliz, who is a rising star in baseball. The only question is whether he starts the season in the Rangers rotation of bullpen. He hasn’t pitched a ton of innings in prior years, so the Rangers will likely take care to limit his innings, and big workload increases often result in injuries in the subsequent year. My final pick in this round is Omar Infante. Infante is not a great player, but I is a very shallow letter, and he does provide position flexibility.

In round 7, I had letters P, D, and E. P was pretty straightforward. I still needed a first baseman and Carlos Pena was on the board. I snapped up C-Pain. D was a more difficult choice. Did I want pitcher Justin Duchscherer, who has combined good skills with injuries? Outfielder Elijah Dukes, who has a lot of talent, but suspect decision-making skills? I toyed with several possibilities before finally going with Rockies pitcher Jorge de la Rosa, who pitched very well at times last year. I’m tinkering with the possibility of only playing him during road trips. E is another weak letter, and I took a flier on reliever Scott Elbert.

In round 8, I filled out my outfield by picking up Brave Nate McLouth who, like Choo, provides a bit of speed and a bit of power. My other letter is T, which doesn’t have as much talent. I go for Willy Taveras. Taveras is a one trick pony, bringing only steals to the table. My plan is to stash him on the bench and plug him into the lineup when the matchup makes it appears as if I can win the steals category with fast Willy’s help.

After making round 8 selections and awaiting everyone else’s pick, I still had holes at shortstop and third base. I’m hoping for Rockies third baseman Ian Stewart (a young player with good power but a low batting average) slips to me in the 9th and Alexei Ramierez of the White Sox slips to me in the 10th.

When the 9th rolls around, I am pleased to be able to snap up Stewie. I don’t actively seek out my favorite players in the draft, but I really need a third baseman, and I’m running out of time. I also need a shortstop, and could pick up Marco Scutaro for my shortstop and Aramis Ramirez or Mark Reynolds as my third baseball, but I roll the nice with Stewart and hope that Alexei Ramirez is still alive in the 10th. Stewie has gone from hot prospect (30 homers in the minors fresh out of high school), to a bust, to a once again valued player – and he’s still just 24.

My other letter is N. Ugh. N is an awful letter. I grab another catcher, Dioner Navarro. I don’t really need a third catcher, and Navarro will probably get cut when I pick up some free agents after the draft.

In the 10th round, I’m please to see that Alexei Ramirez did indeed drop to me.  I’m hoping that Alexei bounces back a bit from last year.  It’s worth noting that Ramirez was shifting back to shortstop in 2009 after having played second base in 2008.  In any case, at this point, I’m in desperate need of a shortstop.  My other letter is J.  As I look down my roster, I realize that I don’t have an adequate bat for the utility role – my bench hitters are pretty bad.  Nick Johnson, the oft-injured DH for the New York Yankees, joins the team.  He’s unlikely to rack up a lot of at bats, but should contribute a good on base percentage.

This is how my roster looks after the 10th round:

C: Matt Wieters
1B: Carlos Pena
2B: Howie Kendrick
SS: Alexei Ramirex
3B: Ian Stewart
OF: Carlos Quentin
OF: Chin-Soo Choo
OF: Nate McLouth
Utility: Nick Johnson

Bench: C Miguel Olivo, 2B/3B/SS/OF Omar Infante, OF Willy Taveras, C Dioner Navaro

SP: Justin Verlander
SP: Josh Beckett
SP: Tim Lincecum
SP: Felix Hernandez
SP: Yovani Gallardo
SP: Jorge de la Rosa
P: Neftali Feliz
RP: David Aardsma
RP: Scott Elbert

One thing quickly jumps out at me.  We play 9 pitchers, and while I have very good top end talent (6 of the top 20 starting pitchers in baseball, including 3 of the top 7, according to Yahoo’s fantasy guide), I have exactly 9 pitchers – I’d be short a guy if there is an injury.  We have a bonus round upcoming.  This is basically a waiver process conducted vua email.  We can pick any remaining player.  It makes sense for me to pursue another pitcher – particularly one from the letter Y or Z, since they would be elgible without having juggle the roster.

How did I do? Obviously, my hitting is a bit weak, as I sacrificed hitting in order to build an elite pitching staff. I like my position, though. I should be able to pick up win in Wins, ERA, WHIP, and Strikeouts nearly every week. I have Aardsma, so I’m not completely punting saves, and may win that category once in a while. I have some solid hitters and hope to pick up at least 1-2 wins on the hitter side each week. I can always trade pitching for hitting if I need to.

That’s not to say that the strategy wasn’t without risk. Leaving the shortstop until the last round is not a very safe strategy and could have easily backfired – and some might say that it DID backfire, since Alexei Ramirez isn’t a world beater. But I set the strategy early, stuck to it, and avoided major potholes in the road.

Anatomy of a Fantasy Baseball Draft

March 10, 2010

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I am in the midst of my fantasy baseball draft.  As I have mentioned on a few ocassions, this league is a strange beast.  The main rule is that you are only allowed to start one player for each letter of the alphabet (based on last name).  You can’t play Matt Holliday and Cole Hamels at the same time.  This leads to some decision making that varies greatly from standard leagues.  Suddenly, Akinori Iwamura and Chris Iannetta are very valuable players, due to the scarcity of players for the letter I.  Iannetta is doubly valuable, since he’s a catcher within the scarce letter.  The Alphabet Soup League is in its third year of existence.

The league has a very strange draft.  There’s no way to use an out of the box automated draft, and an in-person draft isn’t feasible, with players scattered across a decent swath of the country.  Drafting one player at a time over email would take a long time.  Thus I have devised a way to allow participants to draft in a shotgun approach.

First, I developed a grid (shown below) that broke the draft into 10 rounds, with each participant assigned 2-3 letters for each round.  For example, in the first round, my letters were B and V.  Nobody else could draft players with B or V in that round.  This means that everyone could send me their picks whenever they wanted to – they didn’t have to wait for anyone else to pick (I announce my picks vefore the start of a round, to ensure that I don’t base my pick upon  how the round is unfolding).  To ensure that there is no bias, I use the last digit of the closing Dow Jones Industrial Average on a particular day to set the position in the grid.  We march through the draft, round by round.  Very good players drop to later rounds simply because their letter is deep in talent.



Why such a convoluted system?  Simply to make things more challenging, of course.  A few of the GMs (in particular, one “shark”) wouldn’t be interested if this was “just another fantasy league”.  I like winning, but it’s more important for me to match wits with quality opponents.

How is is the draft unfolding for me so far?

In round one, I snagged Justin Verlander and Josh Beckett.  These guys should be a good core for my rotation.

In the second round, I had the letters L and O.  L is easy – reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum.  O is more difficult.  In a word, the letter O sucks.  I decide to go with Rockies catcher Miguel Olivo, even though he’ll be splitting time with Chris Iannetta (and in a pefect world for my Rockies, Iannetta will push him completely aside).  This is a low risk move, since there’s not a ton of value within O, aside from David Ortiz – and DH/1B  guys are a dime a dozen.  It also provides a bit of insurance – looking through the next few rounds, I don’t see any quality catchers would might slip to me.  I can’t simply grab a guy like Joe Mauer or Brian McCann – I have to wait until I get to the round with the correct letter.

In round 3, I decide to start snapping up the best available pitchers and worry about hitters later.  I grab young ace Felix Hernandez of the Mariners, and the closer for Seattle, David Aardsma.  A is not a great letter – Aardsma represents good value for that letter.  My strategy will be to win at least 4 of the 5 pitching categories in my weekly matchup, and pick up at least 1-2 wins on the hitting side.  2 hitting wins and 4 pitching wins is a fine 60% success rate.  That’s enough to make the playoffs – and winning 6 of 10 in the playoffs will advance me to the next round each time.

By round 4, some people are starting to realize my strategy.  I grab another young ace, Yovani Gallardo.  I also grab my second hitter, Matt Wieters.  Wieters, like Olivo, is a catcher.  However, Wieters has an extremely bright future ahead of him, as one of the top prospects in the game.  Miguel Olivo slinks toward my bench.

In round 5, I actually add a couple of hitters.  I think Howie Kendrick is the best of the remaining K players.  He played well down the stretch last year, and he should getting the starting second baseman nod ahead of Macier Izturis.  I also have the letter grouping % – which includes players from Q, U, X, Y, and Z.  The twist is that while these players are all lumped together in the draft (because they’re too shallow to stand alone), you can actually play a Q player AND a Z player – it’s different than playing two R players.  I grab Carlos Quentin – not only is he a good player, but he’s a Q player.  After the draft, I’ll try to nab a Y or Z player in free agency.

What lies ahead?

I need a first baseman, third baseman, shortstop, two outfielders, and a couple of pitchers.  I have specific players identified.  I wish I could tell you who … but I can’t – because other members of the league may be reading this.  Suffice it to say that I’m much more worried about shortstop and third base than I am about the other positions.


Interested in how the draft turns out?  Read the conclusion.

Crazy Fantasy Leagues

March 20, 2009

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Crazy fantasy leagues

If you’re just here for the PDF of the league rules for the Alphabet Soup League, Download here

I enjoy oddball fantasy leagues. In my experience, they tend to draw a crowd that enjoys a bit more of a challenge, and I definitely enjoy a competition. Winning is great, but I live for the pure thrill of competition.

My favorite league is a league of my own creation – the Alphabet Soup League. The intent of the league was to create something that would be considerably more challenging than a typical league – and based on some comments last year, I think I succeeded. Some of the GMs were very anxious to get started this year. The league is very different than any other league I have every encountered.

I go into considerable detail about the ABC league in an earlier post so I won’t rehash all of it here. The gist is that you are only allowed to have one player represent each letter of the alphabet (A-Rod for R, for example). The draft is also very strange. You are allocated specific letters in each “round” and choose players from those letters. Within a given round, the picks are completely independent of each other, so there is no need to use any sort of draft order. People just email me their picks at the end of each round. The downside is that there isn’t a good way to upload the information for the fantasy provider. Is it unrealistic to hope for XML support?

The 2009 draft is just winding down (it takes about ten days to complete). As with last year, some very good players slipped quite a way down the board. For example, I had second choice of the S players after another GM picked Sizemore. Johan Santana and CC Sabathia were the obvious picks, but I went with Geovany Soto. Why? Because my letters for the next several rounds were lousy for catchers, and I was afraid of being stuck with someone like Jason Varitek. It is important to look ahead and figure out when you might be able to fill a specific position (particularly catcher and middle infielder).

I am making the rules for the ABC league publicly availably. Download it here. If you decided to create your own version of the ABC league, drop me an email at Feel free to let me know if you have questions or comments about the league format. Yes, I realize that the letters E, I, and N suck.

The other oddball league I am in is a bit more typical. It is a keeper league – we keep all of our players from year to year. I adopted a very aggressive strategy for the draft. I took a list of the top prospects. If they were draft-eligible in Yahoo, I put them at the top of this list. As a result, only a few of the players I draft were bona fide full time major leaguers that year. As a result, I got crushed in the league, finishing 20th out of 20 teams. As a result, I got top waiver priority for the next year – and used it to pick Evan Longoria.

The second year – last year – was much different. Many of the prospects had been promoted to the majors and the team blossomed. I finished with the best record in the league (although I lost in the playoffs). In September – a time when most of the league’s GM were ignoring the league, I was busy snagging prospects who were called up for cups of coffee with the big league club. Needless to say, I’m very excited to see how the team does is 2009.

The importance of a good name

March 8, 2009

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Note: In case you missed it, I slipped in a second post – a WBC update – late in the day yesterday. When you’re finished reading today’s post, go ahead and read that one as well.

I am a firm believer in the importance of a fantasy team’s name. If you take the easy way out and name your team “Bob’s Team”, what sort of a message does this send to your team? The players can tell that the lack of creativity stems from pure, unadulterated laziness. Suddenly, the players think that it’s OK for them to be lazy. Your hitters stop running out ground balls and your pitchers lose focus on their follow through. Suddenly, your fantasy team is in the crapper – all because you couldn’t take the time to think of a name.

On the flip side, a brilliant team name can do wonders for the psyche of a team. Out of the blue, that good-field, no-hit shortstop is hitting .330 with 20 homers on July 1.

Another important rule is that you cannot reuse a name from one year to the next (or for teams in multiple fantasy leagues). Each team has its own unique identity, and giving each team a unique name fosters the team concept. There is an exception for keeper leagues. If more than 70% of the players are retained from one year to the next, you may use the name you used the previous year.

Each year, I spend a considerable amount of time thinking of the name. “Satan’s Navy” and “Hobbes Eats Calvin” have been names of former teams. I have a couple dozen names that I have retained for possible future use.

I am proud to announce that I have narrowed the choices for my 2009 fantasy team to the final 2.5 names.

1A) Tulo’s Whiskey. This is derived from the name of my favorite player, Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.

1B) Tulo’s Wet Skis. Same general idea as 1A.

2) Jesus Cust, Superstar! The name of the famous rock opera has been altered to allow A’s hitter Jack Cust to step into a starring role. I’m a big fan of Cust’s combination of walks and homers.

Do you have an opinion? If so, tell me which name you prefer by leaving a comment (note: you can comment as “anonymous” – this allows you to comment without creating an account). I’ll still be in charge of the final decision (it is still my team), but I’ll take your opinions under advisement.

Tomorrow’s post will describe the evolution of my fanhood.

The Alphabet Soup League

January 29, 2009

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I have played fantasy baseball for about a dozen years now. My only regret is that I didn’t get started sooner.

Last year, however, I decided to make a change. I turned my league into an alternative format league. This isn’t particularly noteworthy – there are lots of leagues that use non-standard formats. The particular format I chose, however, was quite unusual.

The key constraint of the league is that a team could not start more than one player for each letter of the alphabet. If Alex Rodriguez was your “R” starter, you could not also start Manny Ramirez. The league was christened the Alphabet Soup League. Like the other leagues I have run, the winner would be awarded a rather cheap trophy. There would be no money involved – simply the pride of a hard fought championship.

The strangeness of the league began with the draft. It was a ten player league, so I randomly assigned each team 10% of the alphabet (2-3 letters). For the purposes of the draft, Q, U, X, Y, and Z were combined into on letter grouping – if you were assigned the “wildcard” letter, you could pick anyone from those letters.

The draft was conducted by email. People simply sent in their choices for each letter. The order was not important, because people were not competing against each other for players (since the other players had different letters). After everyone was done, I assigned another set of letters, and the process continued until we were done.

The draft strategy was a bit unusual. You had to look ahead to see what letters you would have in the upcoming rounds. The letter M, for example, is stacked with good catchers. If you had M in the first several rounds, you were assured of a good catcher and could ignore other catchers. On the other hand, if you had lousy catcher letters for the next several rounds, you be forced to grab a sub-par guy in the current round, just to have an adequate starter.

The draft itself took about a week to complete. Not terribly bad, considering that it was done via email. This seemed like the best option, though. Getting everyone into a chat room at the same time would have been difficult, and the autodraft systems of the major fantasy sites would not know how to deal with the alphabet restriction.

The importance of the uncommon letters (I and N, for example) also became apparent. If you had the first choice of those letters, you could draft a reasonably solid player. If you had last choice of those letters, you got a guy who rides the shuttle between AAA and the majors.

I laugh at what the Yahoo people would have thought if happened to peruse our draft results.

During the season, the game was very much like any other fantasy league, aside from the fact that players that were studs in normal leagues languished in free agency in our league (especially players from the stacked letter R) while players of minimal value in other leagues got some quality at bats and innings in our league.

Unfortunately, there was not a good way to prevent people from violating the alphabet rule. There, I had conduct random audits of teams and penalize them for violations. As a penalty, they had to forfeit all of their points to their opponents. This meant that they were credited with an 0-10 record for the week, while their opponent got a 10-0 record. This is being tweaked a bit in year 2, so that the opponents do not get such a big reward for having the dumb luck to face a violator.

As spring training beckons, I am readying myself the league. I have my copy of Ron Shandler’s Baseball Forecaster, of course. I also have a fantasy baseball magazine. It was chosen, in large part, because it lists the players in alphabetical order.