Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sweet Sweet Fantasy Baby

This post is mostly about fantasy sports, but I guess I should add a token note about Mariah Carey just for those who saw this title come up on their blogroll and say "Oh, cool, Mark's talkin' 'bout Mariah!" Here's the problem: I have no opinion on Mariah Carey whatsoever. She's a total blank slate to me. I'm not what you would call a fan of her music, though she's generally inoffensive and she has a few genuinely good songs. One of her recent videos featured Jack McBrayer from 30 Rock, so that's certainly a plus. Never saw Glitter, so I guess that's another plus since had I seen it, that would've likely been another minus. And, last but not least, she's pretty easy on the eyes. I enjoyed her "only wear jeans or jean shorts" era in 1995. I suspect that in future years her looks will totally go to pot under the influence of botox and whatnot, but hey, it was fun while it lasted. In short, Mariah Carey is a person that I have heard of.

As longtime readers know, I'm quite a fan of fantasy sports. In fact, in the last calendar year, I participated in....okay, well, I should preface this by saying that fantasy sports really doesn't take a lot of time. I mean, check your teams every day, generally be aware, update your rosters, etc. These are the essentials of fantasy, and it costs me maybe 10 minutes of my day, so it's not a huge time commitment.

Just wanted to add in that preface given that as of Sunday, I had 18 active fantasy teams on the go. It sounds like a lot, but really, not a big time commitment. I have a life, I swear. It isn't as bad as it sounds. Why does this paragraph sound like it was cribbed from an episode of Intervention? Fortunately, given the ends of both baseball and golf season, I'm down to just 12 leagues. And really, given that some of those are survival football, it's really more like five leagues. That's reasonable, isn't it? Isn't it?

Given that the end of September is the closest thing to a down period there is in fantasy sports with the end of baseball and golf, hockey and basketball still to come and football of course just once per week, it was high time for a fantasy report. Or, basically, just 2000 words of me venting. Since there are few things less interesting than listening about someone else's fantasy teams, consider this the necessary evil for avoiding talking about them in several other posts over the course of the summer. I promise I'll make this entertaining, I swear. If you play fantasy sports yourself, you can probably consider this a cautionary tale.

Might as well start with the big one first. I played in four leagues, two played in head-to-head formats, two under Rotisserie formats. The results? Second of 12, fourth of 16, fifth of 14 and 10th of 12. A lot of close calls and for yet another year, no trophies. I'm basically like the Blue Jays.

The second place came in the league I'm most energetic about, the legendary 'The Guys' league I've been in in some form or another for the last decade with some of my closest friends. We've had a core of 5-6 people who have been in virtually every one, with a rotating cast of characters filling the other 6-7 spots over the years and it's been incredibly competitive. One person has won four times, another has 1.5 titles (we had a tie one year, which was pretty incredible and statistically unlikely), but there has been a different champion in each of the last five seasons. How many have I won, you ask? Zero. So I've gone from being the Blue Jays to being the Cubs. This year....good lord, I came agonizingly close. I led the league for most of the season, always stayed in the 120-130 point range of our 7X7 points system, but could only watch in horror in August when my pal Jeff roared past me like a bat out of hell. Jeff's team's problem was that it wasn't generating a lot of offense, but that changed in August when pretty much everyone on his team suddenly hit like a demon for the entire month. This included unlikely studs like Melvin Mora, Jhonny Peralta and career years from Aubrey Huff and Ryan Ludwick. Combine that with a pitching staff that included Halladay, Lee and Sheets, and that's a good recipe for success.

My attempt at a late-season comeback was thwarted by the fact that my seemingly ace pitching staff (Webb, Zambrano, Lackey, Hamels) largely pitched like garbage for most of September. My other two starters (Gil Meche and Brett Myers) saw relatively few starts given that I was well over my innings limit, which bit me since those two were probably my best pitchers over the last two months. Perhaps my whole season could be summed up by the fact that I had Zambrano on the bench for his no-hitter, as I was worried about his health after he missed a couple of starts. The next weekend, I started Zambrano and Myers for their next turns and they combined to post a 22.50 ERA for the day. Jesus wept.

So I'll congratulate Jeff through gritted teeth, and next year I'll try again to break on through. Should I ever actually win this league, the subsequent post will be so full of bragging that you'll probably all hate me and stop reading the blog. But it'll be worth it.

I've spent three graphs on that single league, which gives you an example of how much emphasis I put on it. My other major triumph was the fourth place, which came in a head-to-head league that is as competitive as it is filled with trash-talk, so there's definite bragging rights involved in wins and losses. Finishing as a semi-finalist was still pretty satisfying given that my team was both ravaged by injuries and that given the rag-taggedness of my roster, I took pleasure in the fact that I kept winning despite having, on paper, a brutal team. Yadier Molina! Mark Reynolds! Fred Lewis! Alexi Casilla! Not exactly your standard accomplished fantasy team, but hey, it worked.

The 10th place was due to a remarkably stupid deal I made in May that involved my dealing A-Rod, Brian Roberts and Lincecum for Webb, Chase "At Least My First Two Months Were Good" Utley and....ugh, Edwin Encarnacion. Needless to say, that one didn't work out so well. My other head-to-head was actually a little aggravating, as I can't help but think that were it not for one slow week in the first playoff round, I would've won easily. It took me about four months to really get my roster together, but once it was assembled, it was a veritable All-Star team with the likes of Adrian Gonzalez, Manny, Markakis and a rotation where my top three starters were Lincecum, Halladay and Peavy. My dream team caught fire in the last few weeks to get into the playoffs, where I was knocked out in the first round, and then I had to sit and watch as my guys all went on another tear for the last part of the season. Ah, what might have been....

You might think there's nothing lamer in the world than fantasy golf. You might be right. How it works is that you pick eight golfers per week, and can only 'start' four at a time, as they're split up into groups of A-listers (Tiger, Phil, Vijay, etc.), B-listers and C-listers. You can only start a golfer up to 10 times all year, otherwise known as the "Strategize About The Best Times To Use Tiger Woods" rule. The added twist for me is that I played in an elimination league where the three worst scores every week were up on a short list, and then the players all had to vote for one to be eliminated, ala Survivor. I only appeared on this list of doom once all year....but unfortunately, that became a point against me, as my opponents played the "he's so good that we might not have this chance again" card and I was voted out. Son of a bitch. Given that Survivor refuses to have a Canadian edition, this will be the closest I'll get to fulfilling my dream of being the next Earl Cole. Maybe I'll have to settle for being the next Yau Man, a.k.a. the player everyone was too afraid to face in the finals. By the way, how far over everyone's head are these Survivor references going? Five feet? Ten?

It's played under a salary cap format, so you have $100 to sign a full starting XI. So you can get Ronaldo, Lampard, Rooney all on your team, but then you're only left with about 25 bucks left for eight other guys. I switch my roster on a week-to-week basis based on fitness, quality of opposition, who's in his manager's favor, etc. but I think the only thing I really know about this game is that you basically have to have a goalkeeper who played for Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool or Man U. Without it, you just won't get the wins on a regular basis.

Also known as a 'suicide pool' for those who are less PC. How it works is you pick one team to win their game in any given week of NFL football. Sounds easy, right? Well, the catch is you can only pick one given team once. So if you pick New England as your sure thing in the first week, you can't use them again for the rest of the year. Given this rule and the number of upsets in the NFL, it's rare that a Survival League lasts longer than eight or nine weeks. I was in one last year where it took 13 weeks to decide a winner...and even then, both guys went out in the same week, so it was a tie. Bad way to end things.

Anyway, given the ups and downs of this format, I went whole hog. I joined eight leagues and made a different pick in each one, so no single upset would torpedo me across the board. How has the strategy worked? Well, after four weeks I'm still alive in....er, one of them. Yikes. Thanks for nothing, Colts, Patriots, Broncos, Seahawks and Chargers. You can all go to hell.

You pick every game per week, either against the spread or just picking straight wins and losses but with 'confidence points.' So, if you think one team will definitely beat another, they get 16 points. For a slightly lesser sure thing, 15 points, and all the way down under you wager just one point on a tossup game. I'm faring pretty well in my confidence point league (ninth out of 35) and I'm winning my spread league. So, theoretically, I should actually be putting some cash down on these games in real life. Could it be that I'm a gambling savant that just has yet to be discovered? I have a feeling I'll end up like that football prognosticator from the Simpsons. "Well folks, when you're right 52 percent of the time, you're wrong 48 percent of the time."

After four weeks, I have a combined 1-7 record over two leagues. Fuck's sakes. Part of it is bad luck, as I've faced some teams who have had big weeks, but mostly it's my own stupidity. In one league I drafted Rudi Johnson as my #2 running back. In the other, I continually leave guys on the bench during big games. Is it too late for a do-over? Is there such thing as a midseason league in football? I guess that would be pretty lame to claim a fantasy title over just seven weeks of action, but at this point, as you can tell, I would take it.

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