[The following was started in mid-September of last year, and completed about mid-November. It's an insight into just how insanely into fantasy baseball I became this year, and how much I've come to accept that.]
I’m pretty satisfied with my fantasy baseball team right now. Having been eliminated from the playoffs in Mike Anderson’s league, I’m of course referring to the team I have in Marshall Isotopes, Obsessed. It has so far been a pretty good season, with a pretty hot start, hovering around fourth place for the first couple months, but then dropping into the middle to lower part of the pack in the middle of the season. What spurred the slump was part not being able to find a solid 5th, 6th or 7th starting pitcher, but also ignoring my needs on the offensive side of my line-up. It didn’t help that Gomez and Harper kept running into walls in center and then going on the DL. But my not being vigilant in the OF pickups also allowed teams nipping at my heals to acquire the latest hot studs and use them to pass me.\
But it started to turn around about late July. Harper was coming back, I had just gotten Aaron Hill back and producing and I picked up the oft-ignored Dillon Gee. None of my team is assembled in a vacuum, and I of course remembered how well Gee had produced for a stretch for me the year before, before he was benched for the season after an aneurysm (?!). But unfortunately with Brandon Beachy finally returning and a couple rookies producing, my favorite young pickup from last year, Kris Medlen, was about to be scratched from the Braves rotation. He wasn’t happy about it and it was probably affecting his performance. But then Tim Hudson (who hadn’t been pitching outstanding, but had sort of earned his spot) was smoked on the shin by a line drive and was all of a sudden done for the year. Medlen’s rotation spot now more secure, he caught fire a little bit, and I like to think sparked the rest of my team (because that’s how that works).
Gee settled into a groove, despite not-outstanding stuff and a terrible team, and he and the suddenly Red-hot Mat Latos carried my team through a couple rough starts from Wainwright and Cliff Lee. And the offense started to do their part. As many times as I had threatened to cut Elvis Andrus, he refused to go quietly, remembering he’s fast and just stealing every time on. Bryce Harper’s done everything he can to salvage his fantasy season, and has done a pretty good job of it, despite the Nationals’ overall disappointing year. Of course, Andrew McCutchen has been my most consistent play all year, insisting on making the NL MVP his, while his Pirates continue to surprise everybody.
There was a note on McCutchen’s profile the other day, which was one of my favorite of the season. “Manager Clint Hurdle is electing to sit McCutchen today vs. the Reds… This is a very questionable move, considering he’s clearly their best player, the Pirates are in the midst of a pennant race and they just had a day off on Thursday [this being the next Wednesday].” Not sure if Yahoo itself was trying to cover its own ass or just defend playing McCutchen, but it always makes me grin when a fantasy analysis criticizes an on-field decision and also happens to be right. The fact of the matter is, that while many criticize fantasy sports in general for only worrying about individual players, sometimes what’s best for a player’s fantasy value is what’s best for team value. The happy ending is that McCutchen was the NL MVP, completely worth his value, and anchored an outfield that when healthy, was as good as anyone’s.
And yet probably my most deft move of the season took place on the pitching side. Ubaldo Jiminez had been a fantasy enigma for a couple seasons, but after coming back from injury and putting together a couple good outings, his numbers became too much to ignore. It probably helped that I was able to watch him in person (or on TV, can’t remember which) early in his run, and so was pretty confident that this was for real. Nonetheless, given how competitive this league is and how valuable good starting pitching was, it was surprising that I was able to get him when I didn’t. Perhaps someone had over-reacted to a couple good outings, and a couple others looked and trusted their preconceived notions of him from years past. But he was able to put together a great second half, which when coupled with my already-strong top of the rotation, was nothing short of unstoppable.
At a certain point, though, I didn’t know if it was gonna work out the way it did. I had been jockeying with one other guy from 4th to 5th and back well into May. June hit and the team seemed to slip further. I could not find a solid 3rd starter even, to compliment Lee and Wainwright. My third base was super weak and Gomez and Harper kept running into walls. Literally- they were back and forth from the DL for a couple months. Somewhere along the course of getting a couple of my probably-league leading Over-Negative-Fifty pointers from my starters, I tweeted out “I hate fantasy baseball”. The effect it had on my team couldn’t have been more positive. I ran off a string of more over 250 days than probably anyone else in the league during that span, most of those days going for over 300. It ended up being too much for the 3 or for other teams I was hanging back with. I was soon in third behind the Malherek having the fantasy year of his life, Terry. But Terry seemed to lose focus, as it was probably easy to do with football season starting and Ellis still sitting so far ahead.
I never thought it was conceivable to catch Ellis. It was my goal to reach and maintain second place, which I was able to do. Because I had not made so many moves throughout the season, I had an advantage on many of the guys who were chasing me. But Ellis had an even bigger advantage. He only had used half his moves or so well into September, and so streamed a bunch of pitchers down the stretch, burying the rest of us. My lead over Kyle was still not secure until I got decent performances from Estrada (rejoining my team from when I dropped him a month in) and Ubaldo the last day of the season didn’t hurt. And another value pick for me, Greg Holland, really carried his weight down the stretch. It was such a psychological advantage that your great points day could be helped by another 40 pointer from the KC closer, or that a bad pitching or hitting day could be salvaged by such a bonus. He got 33 on September 29th which more than shut the door on Kyle.
The whole season I had been viewing my respective two teams as based around certain divisions in baseball. My team in my Sporty Friends’ league, Shades of ‘24[i], was more or less based around the AL West. Kinsler, King Felix, and the the Flying Salmon (Iwakuma) were staples of a team that wound up mounting a 3rd place season.[ii] Obsessed was based even more around the NL Central. So when I needed another bat down the stretch to replace the hurt Desmond Jennings, I turned to the division again, taking Matt Adams, who had now taken over for Allen Craig. It was a double advantage because Terry had Allen Craig, who wouldn’t play the rest of the year, and he’d been a big reason the team was in that position. Between that and Jose Fernandez reaching his innings limit, Terry was doomed down the stretch.