FantasyBaseball.com University Series
Contributed By: Stephen Aldrich
This column may seem out of place at first glance. In a world of WHIP, Sabermetrics, 5×5, and stolen bases, what possible role could ethics play in fantasy baseball? This game is about statistics, not ethical responsibilities, right? We play fantasy baseball to escape from rules and the day-to-day grind, don’t we? Well, read on if you feel this topic doesn’t apply to fantasy baseball. You may be surprised to learn just how central it really is.
Fantasy baseball, as you can see from the myriad courses at Fantasy University, is a complex game. Like they say about Texas Hold’em, fantasy baseball takes a few minutes to learn and a lifetime to master. As such it is an outlet in which many people invest a lot of time, energy, and money as they attempt to beat the game. And there in lies the premise of this column – regardless of your interest level, it is imperative that you recognize that most of the people against whom you will compete take this game seriously. It is certainly not life or death, but it is a sizable portion of many people’s lives. Time spent on fantasy baseball is time not spent on work, with family, or enjoying other hobbies. Time is valuable. And you have a responsibility as a fantasy baseball owner to help other owners enjoy their experience.
You have a responsibility to do some pre-draft preparation. Scour our website, read a magazine when you are in the grocery store, watch Jayson Stark ramble about obscure statistics on SportsCenter – just make sure you do something. Have a basic idea of who you might want in the first round. Compile at least a short list of some pitchers you think will exceed expectations. Know who will be filling the holes in the Houston Astros’ outfield and have some idea as to how much playing time Chase Utley, Placido Polanco, and David Bell will each receive in Philadelphia (in all seriousness, can someone help me with this?). It is not required that you have your own customized Top 300 ranking, but don’t take Lance Berkman in Round 6 and quickly proclaim you landed the steal of the draft.
Conduct During the Draft
Unless your draft has been deemed “for practice” in advance, don’t show up drafting only closers for the first six rounds just because you think it might be cool. If you’ve thought long and hard about it and have decided it is the best strategy (memo to you: it’s not), that’s fine as long as you are intending on playing out the season and attempt to win the league. Don’t just show up and do crazy things, though. Your “fooling around draft” could very well be someone else’s most important draft of the year, and they deserve to have a normal drafting experience. As for the pace of the draft, try hard not to bog down the draft with two minute picks. Drafts are long enough without stalling. Just pay attention and keep the pace moving.
An additional theme that will make an appearance later in the column is bad language. Make sure you tone down the language during the draft unless you know the age of all the owners in your league and you know obscenities are acceptable. As the popularity of fantasy baseball grows so to will the range of participants. Many a father has set up a team for his young son or daughter to better understand baseball. A good rule of thumb: imagine all of your fellow owners are eight years old and leave the four-letter words in the locker room.
During the Season
The baseball season is long. It is 162 games jammed into 188 days. It requires stamina to make it through the entire season. And it is imperative that you intend on staying active with your team for the duration of the year. You may wonder why it really matters if a ninth place team checks its lineup, but I assure you it is not trivial to those at the top of the league standings. Many a first place team has been caught in the last week of the season; not because the second place team made a strong push but because the teams at the bottom of the standings stopped accumulating stats. A league with inactive managers rewards the unbalanced team.
Think about pitching for a moment. As a few owners stop inserting active pitchers in September, their teams stop collecting wins, saves, and strikeouts. Now the well-balanced team that is on pace to finish second in hitting and second in pitching has to worry about the unbalanced team that is filled with sluggers and a stop-gap rotation. The unbalanced team continues to accumulate wins, saves, and strikeouts as other teams stand still. A bad rotation can suddenly become a decent rotation, and a decent rotation can amazingly join the league leaders. The end result is that the team that wouldn’t have won had each manager stayed active may now run off with the championship. Your team still has an impact on the outcome of the league even if you are in last place. A fantasy title should not be a war of attrition. Stay active. Don’t dump players through free agency or trades. Pretend you are in contention and act the way you would want everyone to act if you were fighting for a league title.
Of all the controversial fantasy baseball issues, the most heated debates seem to always involve trades. The trade veto is there to protect the league. Do not abuse it. A veto should only be used if a trade is blatantly lopsided. When in doubt, apply the Fox News test – is the trade fair and balanced? A trade is not veto material just because one team markedly improves. Evaluate the trade independent of the teams’ rosters. What’s that you say? Jimmy traded Abreu and Crawford for Prior and Oswalt when he already leads the league in every pitching category? So what? That’s his prerogative. Uh oh, the team right behind you in the standings found a way to eliminate its one glaring weakness. So what? Congratulations to that manager. Now it’s time for you to take your game up a notch and do the same thing to your squad. Bottom line, the veto should be left in its case as long as the trade was fair and balanced and there was no collusion. It should only come out to shoot down the most lopsided of trades. The veto doesn’t legislate stupid trades, it legislates unfair trades.
Speaking of abuse, let’s shift focus to the league message board. First of all, continue to apply the ban on bad language. You never know when an eight year old is reading the messages. More importantly, keep the tenor of the posted messages light. Friendly banter, some witty comments, and maybe a few trade solicitations are appropriate. Chastising another owner, however, is almost never appropriate. If you have issues with someone in your league (an insulting trade offer, perhaps) contact them privately via email. Do not throw someone under the bus on the league message board. Avoid this at all costs. Like it or not, the message board controls the tone of the league. Fantasy baseball is competitive, yes. But there is no need for it to be adversarial.
Many of the aforementioned issues can be avoided by matching your ability with the appropriate league. There are leagues for beginners, casual fans, seasoned veterans, and the most ardent fanatics. Pick the right league for your ability and level of dedication. There is nothing wrong with playing above or below your comfort zone, but adjust your approach accordingly. Be able to temper your expectations if you are an experienced fantasy owner and you find yourself in a non-competitive league. On the other hand, be prepared to finish out the season and keep everything fair and consistent if you join a big money league and end up taking on more than you can handle.
The final point goes without saying, but collusion between owners just simply has no place in the game. This game is hard enough when it is one on one. Let’s keep it clean. No rabbit punches and hits below the belt. Strategic alliances are off limits.
You can’t win your league every year, but that shouldn’t change the way you manage. It’s a long season, and when you sign up for a draft you are making a commitment for the entire season – regardless of your team’s performance.
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