View from New York: living in a fantasy (baseball) land

John Riordan drafts his squad ahead of this year’s MLB season. He’s never going to win, but at least he knows that.

Image: David Goldman/AP/Press Association Images

WITH FOUR MINUTES to spare, I found a bar in Alphabet City with free wifi. Up on the lone TV, the Division II College Basketball final between BYU-Hawaii and Bellarmine had all the looks of an exciting game but Phoenix boomed over the speakers and there was some Fantasy Baseball drafting to be done.

Not content with the abysmal decline of my Fantasy Premier League Team, I had spent March conducting as much research as I could sanely fit into my admittedly fluid daily routine in order to compete in the “Eastbound and Down” league. Which is to say, less than is required to even contemplate a successful season.

But I’m never in it to win it. Unless it’s a game of Trivial Pursuit, I’m simply happy to be there. So a few weeks ago, I created a team called Bedford Avenue (the Flatbush section of which used to be home to the Brooklyn Dodgers) and ordered a copy of the Baseball Prospectus (BP).

At this juncture, it’s hard to know which was the more vacuous of those early salvos: summoning the spirit of “Dem Bums” or channelling the genius of Bill James. But I had to strike some sort of fear into my Dublin-based competitors.

We’re playing a very basic version of the game, one which would probably make the Rotisserie pioneers smirk conspiratorially. For us it was first come, first draft – for them it was pre-internet statistical-overload to the point that co-founder Daniel Okrent created a stat that haunts the sleep of pitchers and plays an unlikely supporting role in Michael Lewis’ Moneyball: WHIP – walks plus hits per innings pitched. Don’t worry because I’m not.

(In case you are, though, it’s supposed to expose how many baserunners a pitcher has allowed get to base, be it through conceding a hit or through conceding a walk, intentionally or not. The lower the better. In and around 1.0 being quite exceptional.)

There is nothing to be gained by being as flippant as that, however. It is pretty incredible that an author/editor whose love of baseball far exceeded his athletic ability could have ever had such a crucial impact on baseball analysis. There is even some argument within the game to induct Okrent et al to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

So hold up, back to me and Bedford Avenue.

It was my first ever draft so I had to be ready. I carried out a mock draft to observe the pitfalls then gathered up the top 150 draft picks and scoped out their pros and cons. I post-it noted their entries in the BP and then ignored the often pessimistic outlook.

My tactic was to prioritise hitters as pitching is currently both plentiful (or deep) and, let’s be honest, unreliable. That said, I had pitching targets slightly beneath the radar. I was confident I’d grab Boston’s Jon Lester so I waited that out and snatched up Troy Tulowitski, Dustin Pedroia and Evan Longoria courtesy of my brother’s decision to skip straight down to the pitching dons, Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum.

My dream scenario was to secure a strong bullpen and I did so, drafting both Brian Wilson and Neftali Feliz as closers. Even if they don’t work out, I’ll stand by them. They’re both characters and I’m proud to be under the illusion that I own them.

Of course, the wheels will have certainly fallen off by the beginning of next week but I can’t think of a better way to really enjoy a season that senselessly drags until September.

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The one straw of comfort I’m clinging to is how chief-geek Okrent failed to ever record a win over the 16 seasons he was first a Rotisserie/Fantasy competitor. Between 1980 and 1995 he never came close to winning, despite his incredible attention to detail. He recently returned to the game and, to the best of my knowledge, took up where he left off.

Last year he explained his comeback to the makers of a quirky ESPN 30-for-30 documentary about the Rotisserie League.

“I’m never gonna quit. Put it another way: I’m not going to quit until I win and I’m never going to win.”

Amen, brother. Let’s play ball.

John Riordan writes a column for the Irish Examiner. He works as a freelance journalist in New York; check out his blog here.

Read his weekly pieces  for TheScore here.

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