I was suffering through an incredible hangover during my fantasy baseball draft last year. Not that it really even mattered; I was screwed from the get-go. Since my inaugural draft in 2008, each team I’ve built has been worse than the prior year’s team. My first go-round ended with a second-place finish, because, honestly, I had no clue what I was doing—I closed my eyes and went for any Cabrera or Lincecum or big name available. Now I painstakingly hew my lineup weeks in advance by studying whom John Q. Blogger has as his top five closer sleepers or why Ian Kinsler’s power-speed combo exceeds the merits of Dustin Pedroia. I parse each nugget of insidery info, regardless of outlet or understanding. Simply put, I’ve taught myself how to draft a fantasy baseball team until the time comes to actually draft it.
On the surface, my league is pressure free. It’s a simple rotisserie keeper league blueprinted by espn.com, the standard for vanilla online sports coverage. There’s no auction or money involved (praise God), and there are rarely distractions during the draft (aside from hangovers). I play remotely with a mix of friends from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, that I met years ago through old punk-hardcore bands and music labels. A few have mutated into die-hard fantasy assassins, but several could give a shit; they’re just playing to hang with buddies via the Internet. I begrudgingly fall somewhere in the middle of the pack—much too committed to the league and resigned to fail.
My team’s name is Adam Dunn Slob Gut, which serves as both an homage to my infinite disenchantment with the former Cincinnati Reds left fielder and current White Sox sultan of whiff and as a not-so-subtle allusion to cracking under pressure. Seeing Dunn’s pained post-strike-out expression as my avatar each morning makes mindlessly fiddling with my lineup—starting and sitting Justin Upton depending on whether he has a strained oblique that day or doggedly cycling through throwaway free agent catchers—all the more apropos. If I know I’m going to strike out and then strike out again (and then strike out again) during the soap opera of a fantasy baseball season, I may as well do it while swinging for the upper deck. (I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that fantasy baseball players set themselves apart from other fantasy leaguers because a season of 162 games is, well, more substantial than a season of 16 games, and teams require newbornlike attention and nurturing.)
Maybe I go about my draft research all wrong. Maybe I care too much about outdated stats like ERA, wins and losses, homers, and RBIs. For the next fantasy season, I should consider renting 3 percent of Bill James‘s sabermetrics-focused mind. While his brand of mathematical and statistical analysis currently flies a stratosphere over my head, if incorporating VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) and PECOTA (Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm) will help me stop second-guessing my draft and finish higher than eighth place, pass me a graphing calculator and let me get to work.
Once draft morning does roll around, though, I’ll be sitting at my desk, frazzled, paranoid, and surrounded by baseball blog printouts with scribbled notes and players names circled all over the place. My plan will be to not fuck up. But Josh Beckett will dupe me into thinking he can repeat his pitching numbers from last year, and I’ll worry too much about the availability of J.J. Hardy. Joakim Soria (or any closer for that matter) will end up on my team way too early, and I’ll curse the person who was tasked with transporting Ryan Braun’s urine (Braun is unfortunately a keeper on one of my opponents’ teams). Near round 21, after the glow of my laptop has melted a fifth of my brain, I’ll start getting punchy and try to track down Ken Griffey Jr. so that I can add him for pure novelty value. Then I’ll realize he’s retired and draft Manny Ramirez instead. Adam Dunn will start to look pretty good hanging around in the 25th round.
Some argue that fantasy baseball pushes fandom of the game to a whole new level, and I applaud their optimism. I used to abstain from fantasy sports because I didn’t want to root for players I genuinely enjoyed hating. But now that I’m a dedicated fantasy baseball loser, the Carlos Zambranos and Lance Berkmans of the league—players I used to revile—regularly end up on my team. Hate the game, not the players, I guess.