A Look At The World Of Fantasy Baseball

ALSO: WHY CAN'T STARTERS GO ALL THE WAY ANYMORE?

IBWAA members love to write about baseball. So much so, we've decided to create our own newsletter about it! Subscribe to Here's the Pitch to expand your love of baseball, discover new voices, and support independent writing. Original content six days a week, straight to your inbox and straight from the hearts of baseball fans.

Pregame Pepper

Did you know ...

Madison Bumgarner has more career homers than Dee Strange-Gordon . . .

Harry Caray broadcast the first National League game in Canada and the first American League game in Canada . . .

The Reds once had a team doctor whose grandfather had been president. His name was Warren G. Harding III . . .

On Jan. 3, 1962, team executives fired Colt .45s into the future site of the Houston Astrodome to mark the future home of the Houston Colt .45s . . .

On June 12, 2000, the Mets sent down RHP Bobby J. Jones and recalled LHP Bobby M. Jones to replace him.


Leading Off

“Silly Little Obsession”: Fantasy Baseball And Love Of The Game

By Kevin O’Brien

“The first rule of fantasy baseball is that no one wants to hear about your fantasy team...” --Unknown.

There are many ways baseball fans can manifest their love for America’s Pastime. Most baseball fans express affection for the game through attending and watching games at the ballpark. For many, the sights, sounds, smells, and aesthetics of the game satiate what baseball fans crave. Whether it’s the crack of the bat, the pop of the glove, the smell of the grass and dirt, or the panoramic views of the stadium, going to a baseball game quenches a baseball fan’s thirst in a myriad of ways.

For some baseball lovers, a deeper involvement satisfies that passion for the game. Some baseball fans continue to play the game, even after they graduate high school, whether it is at the college, professional, or even semi-pro or amateur level. And if they cannot play anymore, whether it is due to professional or personal commitments? These baseball-lifers pass the game along to the younger generation through coaching and instruction at a variety of levels from Little League to high school and beyond.

And then there’s another subset of baseball fans who grow their love for and understanding of the game on a regular basis, though it takes place more in front of their computers and at a desk rather than on the field or in the dugout. They are the fans of “fantasy baseball.”

“Fantasy baseball” is a “silly little obsession” to anyone unfamiliar with this new pastime.

Fantasy sports is nothing new to the general sports fan, both here and worldwide. Even though it is not the “original” fantasy sport, fantasy football is ingrained in our social circles and workplaces. It is common for co-workers, classmates, friends, and even family members to conduct their own fantasy football drafts, whether it is through ESPN or Yahoo! Apps. With technology more available than ever, fantasy sports, especially football, have become easier to participate in, especially with smartphones making the ability to track players and follow a fantasy team’s outlook for that week easier than ever.

However, fantasy baseball and its fans can be a different breed altogether. The modern-day template for fantasy baseball was created in the 1980s by a group of journalists and publishers at a restaurant in New York called La Rotisserie Française (which contributed to its original name of “Rotisserie Baseball”). However, the game had roots prior to the decade of Wall Street, the Bash Brothers, and AstroTurf-fitted stadiums. Even beat generation patriarch Jack Kerouac had his own game of fantasy baseball, though he did not use real players in his version.

Thus, for fantasy baseball players, baseball is not just a form of entertainment or a diversion in the summer months. Baseball is an obsessive quest to understand the game on a deeper level through the forum of fantasy competition, whether it is in head-to-head format or the original “rotisserie” style scoring method.

Fantasy baseball competitors dive into hitter and pitcher statistical profiles in a matter of fervency that would make Max Cohen from the movie Pi look tame. It’s not just about the game in fantasy baseball. It demands a fascination with data, trends, and finding overlooked players’ strengths, which can be uncovered in specific, and sometimes meandering, metrics that can be found on Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs, and Baseball Savant, just to name a few. While most people check social media on a frequent basis to see what posts are getting liked or re-shared, fantasy baseball players check any combination of those sites with regularity. Even a brief dive into a particular player can be the difference in that day or week’s competition.

WOBA. WAR. OPS+. WRC+. K/BB Ratio. ISO. BABIP.

To casual baseball fans, that is gibberish. To fantasy baseball players, they can be glimpses into possible baseball revelation.

Fantasy baseball is a delicate dance between data and fandom. A love for the game combined with a love for uncanny statistical and economic analysis. In some other reality, fantasy baseball players could be day traders, akin to Giovanni Ribisi from the 2000 hit Boiler Room (well...hit with Gen X’ers anyways). But instead of analyzing stocks and the Dow Jones, fantasy baseball players analyze Savant’s home page and reference their copies of Ron Shandler’s Baseball Forecaster, an automatic buy every season for those who are serious about fantasy baseball.

It all can feel soulless at times, especially if viewed at the surface level. It’s Moneyball — only concentrated and broken down to an even more “outsider” form. But in reality, fantasy baseball fuels its participants to love the game on a deeper level. Fantasy baseball pushes baseball fans to uncover hidden gifts, talents and skills of players that they may not have seen initially on TV or in a ballpark.

Fantasy baseball players in the West Coast and East Coast can appreciate a player like Whit Merrifield, because of his multi-category production and position versatility, even though he plays in one of the smallest markets in baseball. They can also appreciate a pitcher like Giovanni Gallegos, who is not formally a closer yet, but produces amazing strikeout and whiff numbers and is able to suppress runs with skill. Fantasy baseball makes monuments of players who go under the radar, and it also exposes those who probably get far too much credit than they deserve.

And thus, fantasy baseball players are, at the end of the day, lovers, especially of the game. Maybe they express their fandom differently. Maybe they obsess over nuances that would be seen as trivial by the general public. But every March, fantasy drafts happen all over the world, and a bevy of passionate baseball fans awaken from their slumber. Hope is generated in potential fantasy targets among baseball fans who may have no connection to that particular player’s city or team. And that just shows how deep a fantasy baseball player’s love is for the game: he or she is willing to invest money, time, and knowledge into the most mundane of players, just for the sake of fueling a passion for fantasy and the game of baseball.

Fantasy baseball may not look like the movie Bull Durham or Field of Dreams. Fantasy baseball stories are often fleeting and rarely have a lasting impact. That is the nature of any kind of obsession that requires such fervent commitment; one is always looking toward the next big thing, the next big trend, the next big success.

So yes, people may not want to hear about one’s fantasy baseball team at one’s place of work, school, or even on a date. Most people may not want to hear about how one stole a key starting pitcher in the later rounds, or how Zac Gallen’s injury in spring training will affect their fantasy team’s outlook for 2021.

It’s a “silly little obsession.”

But that “silly little obsession” is a fantasy baseball player’s love language as well as a way of expression for appreciating this great game.

That is something that all baseball fans can understand and get behind.

Kevin O’Brien is a high school educator and lifelong baseball fan who shares his thoughts on the Royals at his blog, the Royals Reporter, and on Twitter @RoyalReportKev. He is also a member of SABR and a contributor to Pitcher List.


Cleaning Up

Baseball History Suggests Pitchers Can Work 200 Innings And Beyond

By Dan Schlossberg

What’s the big deal about pitching 200 innings? Pitchers should be well-rested after the season was shortened to 60 games last season, when only three pitchers worked as many as 80 innings and both Cy Young Award winners worked less.

While it’s a bad idea to tax pitchers with heavy workloads early in the season, their arms should be in shape to take on the usual workloads of a 162-game schedule.

That’s especially true for Gerrit Cole, who could be the entire Yankee pitching staff if Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon don’t make successful comebacks.

Cole, entering the second season of the nine-year, $324 million contract he received as a free agent, pitched just 73 innings last year plus 18 1/3 more in postseason play. But he topped 200 in all of the last three full seasons.

In fact, there were 15 pitchers who worked at least 200 innings in 2019, the last complete season.

The 6'4" right-hander, who turns 31 in September, has pitched well this spring and seems set for Opening Day April 1. He also seems determined to assume a heavy workload – vital for a team that has shaky pitching after losing starters Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ, and James Paxton to free agency and left-handed relievers Zack Britton and Justin Wilson to spring injuries.

“My goal every year is to go deep into games and make as many starts as I’m asked,” Cole told reporters via Zoom earlier this week. “But I haven’t put a number on it [number of innings].”

The number of innings anybody pitches depends upon games started and complete games. Most teams work with five-man rotations (sometimes four in April because of scheduled off-days) but virtually all maintain pitch counts that mandate exits once they reach triple digits. Cole was the only American League pitcher to throw two complete games last year, tying for the major-league lead with Trevor Bauer, Aaron Nola, and Adam Wainwright.

The last year anyone pitched more than 10 was in 2011, when James Shields went the route 11 times for Tampa Bay. The drought is even longer in the National League, which has not had a pitcher throw at least 10 complete games since 1999, when future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson had a dozen.

This isn’t to say complete games are a bad thing. It’s just that teams have put so much stock – and so much loot – into building deep bullpens that they want an adequate return on investment. In addition, the axioms of analytics dictate that teams derive the most benefits from lifting starters from games before opposing lineups turn around for the third time.

Before analytics superseded the Old School managing style of playing hunches, starting pitchers took pride in going all the way. And we’re not talking about extracurricular activities here.

The last time anyone threw 20 complete games in a season was 1986, when Fernando Valenzuela did it for the Los Angeles Dodgers. In the Junior Circuit, Bert Blyleven had 24 in 1985, helping pave his path to Cooperstown.

But even those numbers were nothing compared to what they followed.

Fergie Jenkins, Juan Marichal, Catfish Hunter, and Steve Carlton thought nothing of ringing up 30 complete games a season. An earlier Hall of Famer, Warren Spahn, actually finished his career with 382 complete games and 363 victories. His managers realized that a tired Spahn was probably better than anybody available in the bullpen.

The modern mark (since 1901) goes all the way back to Vic Willis, who had 45 complete games for the Boston Beaneaters way back in 1902. That’s probably more than a career’s worth for Jacob deGrom, Trevor Bauer, Shane Bieber, or any of the pitchers working today.

As for the 2021 campaign, Gerrit Cole is not doing anything more than usual – even though he’s well-aware he’ll have to pitch more innings.

“It’s been as normal a spring as I’ve had in my career,” he told Greg Joyce of The New York Post. “Maybe there’s been a little more mental preparation, a little more game-planning in my last two starts. Just having to go five or six innings and turn the lineup over two or three times takes a little more focus and a little more build-up. In the end, it just demands you to be more prepared.”

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has been covering baseball since 1969. His byline appears in USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Latino Sports, forbes.com, Sports Collectors Digest, and many other online and print publications. Contact him via e.mail at ballauthor@gmail.com.


Timeless Trivia

The steroids issue aside, the top candidates for Cooperstown are David (Big Papi) Ortiz in 2022, Adrian Beltre and Joe Mauer in 2024, and Ichiro Suzuki and CC Sabathia in 2025 . . .

Shane Greene had 55 saves in 2018-19 but no employer in 2021. Wondering why . . .

Brian Snitker, Baseball America’s choice as Major League Manager of the Year in 2020, is in is 45th year with the Braves organization but never played in the majors . . .

At age 76, White Sox manager Tony La Russa is more than 40 years senior to any player on his roster . . .

Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright, the only 40-year-old player in the National League, is determined to boost his .199 lifetime batting average above the Mendoza Line before he retires after this season.


Know Your Editors

HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [bchrom831@gmail.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [nymfan97@gmail.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [ballauthor@gmail.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.

Leave a comment