The Constant: A Fantasy Baseball Rookie

Fantasy Baseball.  Those two words can conjure up images of basement computers full of spreadsheets as well as cheesy commercials where guys you will never meet claim to have won thousands of dollars overnight.  Following those images float in words such as “sabermetrics,” “analytics” and “WAR.”  To someone who loves baseball but has never ventured into the world of fantasy sports, it can quickly become overwhelming to the point of feeling hopeless.  How could someone with little understanding of any baseball statistic beyond AVG, RBI and HR ever have stand a chance at wading into and succeeding in the world of fantasy baseball?

But that’s exactly what I want to do.  I have a two-fold purpose: play in and succeed at fantasy baseball and actually begin to understand advanced baseball analytics.  But in all honesty, I probably just have time for fantasy right now.

As a former high school and college baseball player (who even coached a youth team for a couple of years), you would think I might have some sort of innate grasp of fantasy and analytics.  You would be wrong.

As a high school valedictorian with a bachelor’s degree from a private university as well as a master’s degree, you would think I might be able to grasp some of the higher level thinking that goes into sabermetric calculations.  But try as I might, it has been to no avail. All my degrees are in the Humanities anyways.

Yet something keeps calling me to figure all this out.  Call me cliché, but when I think about baseball -from the clack of cleats to the smell of leather and freshly cut grass – I cannot help but reminisce about James Earl Jones as Terrance Mann:

The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again. (Field of Dreams)

But as much as I wish a love of baseball could translate to success in understanding the deeper levels of the game and fantasy versions of the sport, it will not.  So where do I begin?

I wish I could say I have been listening to every podcast I can get my hands on.  But really “Dear Mr. Fantasy” and “Effectively Wild” are what I can fit into my schedule.  At first I was completely lost hearing about dollar values and ADP and all sorts of acronyms I had never come across before.  It was maddening to hear about one dollar players or twelve dollar players and what round all my favorite players were being drafted in with no context for myself.  The more I listen, though, the more I think I begin to see the big picture.

Without trying to be too cliché, we live the world of Facebook and Twitter and so I have been joining groups and following as many Fantasy “gurus” as I can find or that I hear on podcasts. Basically, if I hear you on the radio and you sound like you have any idea of what you are talking about, I will follow you.

Of course, there are actual books to read as well.  About a year ago, when these fanciful notions of understanding baseball on a better level first starting creeping in, I bought “Projecting X” by Mike Podhorzer.

I was so inspired that I immediately made a list of analytics terms and their definitions and never looked at it again.

Currently I have “The Sabermetric Revolution” by Benjamin Baumer and Andrew Zimbalist as well as Larry Scheffer’s “Winning Fantasy Baseball: Secret Strategies of a Nine-Time National Champion” checked out from the library.  Honestly I wish I could tell you I had cracked either open, but that would be a lie.  I swear I will, but I have to pay the late fees at the library first.

I started the free Sabermetrics class through edX over the summer, but then life got in the way of that venture.  It seemed promising though.

My final lifeline on this journey (yes, I would like to phone a friend) is a guy from college, Ben Jedlovec.  Ben actually led a student taught class called “Analytics in Sports” in those days (I still have the email he sent about it) but I could not fit it into my schedule, still kicking myself for that one!  These days Ben is the President of Baseball Info Solutions.  We reconnected after I saw him interviewed on “Outside the Lines.”  He has agreed to give some perspective and point me in the right direction.

Despite the modern resources at my disposal – and the steps I have already taken to begin understand this fantasy world not named Narnia or Middle Earth (nerd alert!)- I do not even know where to physically start.  I am thinking of creating a league for friends and family.  I have also been reading about daily fantasy leagues maybe that is the place to start?  If I create a league, what is the best program?  Yahoo? CBS? What is a rotisserie league? Head to head league? Is a daily or weekly league the best start?

See, I’m already learning the lingo.

This should be fun, right?  My competitive nature drives me to want to be perfect right off the bat; to understand any and all aspects of analytics and fantasy baseball so I have the perfect draft right off the bat (oh yes, there will be puns!). But if I ask myself what I am hoping to get out this, the honest answer is that I want to learn and have fun.

Is that too much ask from fantasy baseball?

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