Fantasy Ruins the Real Thing

It’s a new year and that means that we are that much closer to pitchers and catchers reporting!  For me, it is also a time when I start to seriously start planning for my fantasy baseball league.  This is because I am the commissioner of a 12-person league consisting of me and 11 boys (which is hilarious in so many ways) and I have a bit of prep work to do to get ready for our season.  Fantasy baseball can be a great way to learn more about the players in the game as well as the game itself.  But in some ways, it also have a detrimental effect on how you enjoy the real game.

Sandy K's Brothers team's logo in honor of the team's namesake

My first year of playing fantasy baseball was fun because the boys (the league I play in has always been me as the only girl) all thought they were playing with someone who had zero clue about the game.  You can read why I generally do badly in the game here, but today’s post about fantasy baseball has to do with the effect it has on the real game.  There are many formats in fantasy baseball and in my particular league, we play with 13 scoring categories (5 pitching and 8 hitting categories).  In fantasy, you are obviously trying to put together a team that has players that excel in all the various categories that you score in to win.  Each spring, a few weeks or maybe even days before the real baseball season begins, my league begins the process of drafting players for our teams.  The first few years I was playing fantasy baseball, I always drafted a 2nd baseman because there were usually only 2 or 3 players who were the elite at that position and if you didn’t get one of those players, you might not be able to make up the lost production in other spots depending on how the remainder of the draft goes.  After getting my 2nd baseman, then I would look to complete my outfield.  Last year however, I ended up in a mini dilemma as far as who to take.  I had the third pick in our draft and was faced with do I take A-Rod or do I go for one of the top outfielders?  I wasn’t even thinking about taking a 2nd baseman yet because, there would be plenty of them in rounds 3 until at least 6 and there was plenty of depth at that position where I would be quite happy with many of the eligible players for that position.  Ultimately, I ended up taking A-Rod for one simple reason:  third base has gotten really thin in terms of picking up a productive guy.  If I didn’t take A-Rod with my first pick, I might have been left wondering when I could get a great third baseman and who he would be.

Inevitably when I go to games, I always find myself getting into discussions with some of my fellow baseball fans because they will wonder why a particular guy isn’t playing when he has “better numbers” than someone else.  Most of the time, I am usually able to explain, in a rational way, why the guy they think has better numbers shouldn’t actually be in the game.  Of course, my opinion could just be me being a curmudgeonly person and preferring to have a balanced team with great pitching, stellar defense and enough offense to score one more run than the opposing team.  However, in fantasy, because you are looking to fill a roster with the players at every position that have the best offensive numbers and with pitching, you want the pitchers who have the best stats for the categories you score in, you lose sight of a player who does just enough to win the real game.  Those players somehow are viewed as bad at baseball because they don’t put up those stellar numbers.

There are a few positions on the field that seem to lend themselves to this type of thinking and ironically, they happen to be some of the most important defensive positions, in my opinion.  Consider you have a player who bats .275, has a few stolen bases, not much pop in his bat (1 home run) with a stellar glove and has 15 rbis.  Now, there is a guy on the team who plays the same position, but bats .248, also a few stolen bases, 10 home runs and a so-so to bad glove with 25 rbis.  Oh and the position the guy plays is second base.  I know many people who say, I want the second guy because he hits home runs.   Personally, I’d prefer to have the first guy because he plays a middle infield position and I would much rather my middle infielder be spectacular at defense.  That is a position that I think is more important to have a guy who is strong defensively than to be spectacular offensively.  If I get power numbers out of the player / position in the real game, it’s a bonus.

It seems to me that many people who play fantasy baseball will tend to look at all the positions on the field as needing to have players who are spectacular offensively and when they get a Second Baseman, Center Fielder or Catcher who doesn’t put up monster offensive numbers isn’t considered as good.  This inevitably leads to fans thinking the team needs a better second baseman, center fielder or catcher on the team.  I don’t count the Short Stop in this category because over time, that has changed to being a bit of a power position with the likes of players like A-Rod and Cal Ripken, Jr. who showed that a big guy can play a position that previously had been played by small guys with no power to hit the ball at all.  The same fantasy-warp also applies to pitchers as well.  If you have a pitcher who is a power pitcher (guy who throws a lot of strikes and gets guys out via strikeouts) he is deemed as more valuable than someone who is more of a finesse pitcher (or as I call them a pitching pitcher) i.e. someone who pitches to contact and must rely on his defense to get outs.  The power guy generally should have a lower WHIP (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched) because he is striking guys out so not many hits will happen.  This of course is assuming he isn’t walking a guy for every one he strikes out.  (see Carlos Marmol as someone who is close to doing this).

In any event, I enjoy playing fantasy baseball, but I wish that it didn’t have such an influence in how people actually view the game on the field and what the players can do.  I think in order to have a successful team that wins, all you need is great pitching, stellar defense and just enough offense to score one more run than the other team.  Now to work on setting up the various things in my league and to figure out what this year’s draft strategy will be

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