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Way back in 2001, I started a fantasy baseball league with fellow lawyers and staff at Munger Tolles & Olson. Naturally, we called the league "BatMungers." Even as several of us left the firm (and in some of our cases, left the state of California), we kept the league name. Munger or ex-Munger managers who dropped out were replaced by non-Mungerites, but the name stuck. By 2010 or so, however, the league faded away.
Until this year, when we revived it. Well, eight of us, anyway. Our live draft was held this morning, though only half of the managers showed up, and then, not even for the entire draft. I held the #7 pick. Here are my picks, 1-25, in a standard 5x5 league:
#1 -- In a different, public league (10 teams), I also picked #7, but for some reason, I was able to snag Carlos Gonzalez at that spot. I was pretty underwhelmed by Jacoby Ellsbury, but felt better about taking him than Chris Davis, who strikes me as being due for some serious regression.
#2 -- I was pretty happy to take Hanley Ramirez here. He was once possibly the best player in the game, and while he's 30 now, he's hit well with the Dodgers. Adrian Beltre was tempting, but he's older than Ramirez. Robinson Cano was definitely NOT tempting here.
#3 -- I waffled between taking Jason Kipnis or David Wright. Joey Votto was also available. In real life, Votto is the best among those three (and better than others taken earlier), but the standard 5x5 scoring undervalues Votto's skills. I ended up taking Kipnis over Wright because my motto is, when in doubt, go with the younger player. Yes, I'm an ageist. But this is fantasy baseball....
#4 -- Adam Wainright was available here and I considered taking him (Kershaw, Lee, and Hernandez were already drafted amongst starting pitchers), but besides favoring youth, I try to avoid taking pitchers at all in the early rounds. I figure there are often strong young pitchers who come up mid-season (like last year's Jose Fernandez and Michael Wacha), plus the injury risk is much higher with pitchers, so why risk a high pick?
#5 -- But I gave in to temptation here. He did get bombed today by Atlanta, but Stephen Strasburg is the kind of pitcher I like to draft: lots of Ks. Otherwise, I would've taken Shin-Soo Chin, who I think will have a monster year in Texas.
#6 -- Jose Batista isn't likely to hit 50+ home runs again, but 35+ should be in reach. The other players around this pick were mostly starting pitchers (Sale, Greinke, Bumgarner) or broken-down Angels (Pujols, Hamilton).
#7 -- Nobody jumped out at this spot.
#8 -- This might have been a mistake, especially when Carlos Santana popped up on the screen a couple of rounds later. I was tempted to take Kenley Jansen, but I don't like to take relievers before the 10th round at the earliest.
#9 -- Except here, Greg Holland was clearly better than the other players around this spot. I guess it's basically like taking Jansen a round later.
#10 -- Matt Cain is kind of boring but steady.
#11 -- Gio Gonzalez is not boring; he strikes out lots of batters.
#12 -- It was really hard drafting Mark Trumbo, because he's the kind of player I don't like to take -- all power, not many walks. But his walk rate has been improving, and Arizona is a hitters' park. It was either Trumbo or Werth or Alex Gordon.
#13 -- I could've taken Shelby Miller or Doug Fister. Fister was probably safer, but I think Japanese pitchers do well their first time through the league.
#14 -- I got to this point and realized I still didn't have any first baseman! And this league calls for a first baseman plus a corner infielder (1b/3b).
#15 -- Dominic Brown was once supposed to be a star in the league. That probably won't happen, but the Phillies are so bad now that he should get to start regularly.
#16 -- I don't like the Cardinals as a team (they win too much), but they seem to know what they are doing with young players. And I need to fill that corner infielder spot.
#17 -- Closers are the most overrated players in the game, but David Robertson throws gas.
#18 -- I didn't realize Cole Hamels was on the DL when I drafted him, but that explains why he was still around this late. He's been pretty consistently good though not stellar.
#19 -- I picked Leonys Martin up from the waiver wire last year and got a lot of stolen bases from him. He's a useful role player to sub in as needed.
#20 -- Yeah, this might have been a mistake too. Kind of hoping for some kind of rebound.
#21 -- See #17. I tried to get the league to consider dumping saves as a category but failed.
#22 -- So I draft a lot of these overrated players. I'm surprised Jed Lowrie was still available, though. If I hadn't filled my second base, shortstop, and middle infielder spots, I would've taken him.
#23 -- Michael Bourn is another speedy type player to swap in. I also think steals are a stupid category, and suggested getting rid of them too, but failed here as well.
#24 -- Hmm, I may end up dumping Yelich for a different kind of player. Or maybe Bourn, and keep Yelich.
I'm slowly becoming a convert to the idea that fantasy football is the best fantasy sport, but I still like fantasy baseball a lot, so I joined a public league more or less at the last moment (i.e., a couple of hours before the live draft) as the final team. It's a standard 5 x5 league with 10 teams, starting one of each infield position, a corner infielder, a middle infielder, five outfielders, a DH, and ten pitchers, with an innings minimum of 1000.
I had the 7th overall pick, which did not look like a good spot in the first round, as the #7 rated player was Jacoby Ellsbury, who I definitely did not see as being worthy of a first round pick at all. I don't generally draft pitchers early, but I resigned myself to drafting Clayton Kershaw....
However, someone else took Kershaw at #4, which meant that Carlos Gonzalez, Chris Davis, or Paul Goldschmidt would be available! Of the three, I preferred Goldschmidt the most and Davis the least, but all were acceptable. I ended up getting CarGo.
The rest of my picks:
2) Ryan Braun, of - yeah, I don't like cheaters, but didn't this guy used to be considered possibly the best player in baseball?
3) Jose Reyes, ss
4) Shin-Soo Choo, of - let's see, OBP machine, moving to Texas; should score a ton of runs
5) Jose Bautista, of - I'm not expecting his monster years, just a good powerful one
6) Adrian Gonzalez, 1b - even with his drop in power, I was quite happy with this pick
7) Matt Carpenter, 2b - iffy about this one, though
8) Matt Cain, sp - my first pitcher
9) Gio Gonzalez, sp
10) Shelby Miller, sp
11) Wilin Rosario, c - have no idea about him but he's young and he plays in Colorado
12) Brett Lawrie, 3b - not sure I like relying on so many Toronto players
13) Sergio Romo, rp - this might have been too early still for a closer
14) David Robertson, rp
15) Leonys Martin, of - this dude was pretty incredible for steals in the second half of last season (I picked him up off the waiver wire)
16) Jed Lowrie, ss/2b - versatile and decent
17) Adam Lind, 1b - only useable against RHP but I wanted some power on the bench
18) Huston Street, rp - in retrospect, a mistake
19) Steve Cishek, rp - perhaps another mistake
20) Francisco Liriano, sp - speculating here
21) Neftali Perez, rp - feel better about him than Street or Cishek
22) Ben Revere, of - cheap speed
23) Colby Rasmus, of - hopefully won't be a headcase this year
24) Kelly Johnson, 2b, of - should start as Yankees' 3b, so will be quite useful for filling in when others have off-days
25) Adam Dunn, 1b - you never know....
This team should have a ton of power and decent speed, and I expect to do well in most of the hitting categories (other than batting average). The pitching is volatile but should amass lots of Ks with decent ratios.
How about them Tampa Bay Rays, getting past Texas in the tiebreaking 163rd game of the season for the second wild card spot? Now they have to get past Cleveland in another sudden death game, just for the right to face the juggernaut that is Boston . . . and if they get past Boston, they have to play the winner of the Oakland/Detroit playoff. Sheesh!
I became a full-fledged Tampa Rays fan this year, after more than two decades of following the California Angels -- er, excuse me, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim(!). I spent part of my childhood about 15 minutes away from what was then known as Anaheim Stadium, and still have fond memories of falling asleep at night as a pre-teenager while listening to Angels' games on the radio.
But, I haven't lived in the Anaheim/Orange County area since the mid-1980s, and it's been over eleven years since I lived in Southern California. I know that doesn't stop many baseball fans from sticking with their teams even as they move far away, but it did weaken the bond in my case.
Ultimately, though, I stopped rooting for the Angels because I got tired of reading about the latest ridiculous long-term contract they handed out to an aging player. First, there was Vernon Wells, who cost the Angels $20+ million a year for two years, during which he hit .218/.248/.412 and .230/.279/.403. He was 32 when the Angels acquired him, and while 32 is young in the real world, it's in the decline phase for most baseball players.
Then, the Angels went out and signed Albert Pujols to a TEN YEAR deal, starting when he was . . . you guess it, 32 years old. Now Pujols had been an awesome players for the St. Louis Cardinals for ten years, but there were warning signs. In his last year with St. Louis, his batting average, on-base average, and slugging average all dropped to career lows. Is that the time to give the guy a $250 million, 10 year contract??? His first season with the Angels resulted in yet new career lows in those offensive categories, although a late surge made his overall numbers look still respectable. But look at 2013, when he hit .258/.330/.437. The Angels still have EIGHT years to go on that contract. . . .
But wait, I'm not done! At the beginning of this year, the Angels signed Josh Hamilton, another(!) 32 year old player to a 5 year, $125 million contract. Now in 2010, Hamilton almost single-handedly won my fantasy baseball league for me. But he got injured and missed the last month of the season, and my team fell out of first place. And "injuries" and "Josh Hamilton" go together like peanut butter and jelly. There weren't as many red flags in his on-field performance before the signing, but giving a 5 year contract to a fragile player up to age 37 didn't seem like the wisest use of money. And while Hamilton played nearly a full season, it was pretty bad: .250/.307/.432.
The Rays, on the other hand, develop most of their own players, figure out early on which are going to be good, and then sign them to long-term deals when they're still young. They're shrewd traders, often plucking other teams' good young talent (like when they traded an established pitcher in James Shields to Kansas City in exchange for Wil Myers, who hit .293/.354/.478 as a 22-year-old). To fill holes, they sign veteran players, but not aging superstars and certainly not to long-term deals. Compare what the Angels got from Josh Hamilton and his $25 million/year average salary, with the Rays' Kelly Johnson, a more versatile player who played middle infield and outfield; Johnson hit .235/.305/.410 but for only $2.4 million.
Not only is Tampa Bay run smartly, but the Rays have to play in the same division as the freespending New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. To survive and thrive in that environment is admirable.
What's ironic, then, is that my fantasy baseball team (Oregon Drizzles) won easily with almost no contribution from any Tampa Bay players. I had a total of three Rays on my team, and they played a collective 40 games. My team was strongest up the middle, with Buster Posey (C), Brandon Phillips (2B), Ian Desmond (SS), J.J. Hardy (MI), and Adam Jones (CF); and in pitching, with probable AL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, probable NL Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez, and Shelby Miller (likely to do well in the NL ROY vote as well).
That makes two years in a row that I've won outright (this year) or shared the league title. Unfortunately, I seem to be much better at fantasy baseball than at fantasy football, as I'm 1-3 in Professor Bainbridge's H2H league. My problem there is summed up in the "C" grade that the computer gave me for my draft. The funny thing is, because I was busy during the draft, I set it to auto-pick. So really, the computer is giving itself a "C."
I've got another football team, and I drafted for myself in that league. However, it's an ongoing league where you have to keep two players from the previous year. My team was so bad last year that I would've preferred to drop everyone and be able to draft fresh while others used their first two picks on their valuable keepers, but that option wasn't available. So in essence, I overpaid with my first two picks, keeping my best players (Victor Cruz and Andre Johnson) who would've been taken otherwise in the 3d or 4th rounds.
Through a dose of good luck, that team is 3-1 and in first place in my division despite being outscored by six of the other nine teams. . . . Obviously that kind of luck can't last, so I have to hope that I can start scoring lots more points. (Do you hear that, David Wilson???)
Here is an interesting story about a new "mercy rule" in California youth football:
As reported by Sacramento NBC affiliate KCRA, the Northern California Federation Youth Football League (NCFYFL) instituted stiff new penalties for any teams that beat opponents by 35 points or more. Specifically, those teams will be fined $200 and their coaches will be suspended from all league activities for two weeks. The penalty is a drastic change for the league of 7-13 year-olds, which previously issued teams with a warning following such blowouts and required a written description that detailed what the victorious team had done to try and keep scores low.
I get that these are 7-13 year old kids, so not even junior varsity in high school. I can imagine how awful it would feel to be that age and on the receiving end of the kind of weekly thrashings that the Oregon Ducks dish out to opponents. Therefore, I do agree that some kind of mercy rule is desirable at this level.
However, the actual rule in place now -- the new rule, as opposed to the old one -- seems quite heavy-handed. If you outscore your opponent by too many points, you can't coach for two weeks? And you get fined $200?
How about some situational awareness? Sure, if you're up by 35 points and you're still throwing deep passes in the fourth quarter, I can see why the league might want to have a talk with that coach. Even more so if the coach has left in the first string starters. . . . But if the coach is playing the second or third string backups and running the ball, and the backup running back breaks free, is it really any better if he runs all the way to the 1 yard line and then "fumbles" the ball so as not to score? Or if the running back scores accidentally anyway, so the coach orders his team to lay down on the ensuing kickoff so that the other team can score a quick and easy touchdown to bring the score gap back down to 35?
My son's soccer league has a much better mercy rule. When a team gets ahead by 5 goals, the other team gets an extra player on the field. If a team gets ahead by 6 goals, the other team gets two extra players on the field . . . and so on. During one game, at one point, the other side had basically their entire team on the field because of the lopsided score. This strikes me as better because each side still gets to play naturally without bizarre and distorted goals, but it attempts to even out the competitive imbalance.
My 9 year old son and I were musing about which college conference has produced the best NFL quarterbacks; I figured it had to be the Pac-10, but he wondered whether it was the SEC based on its success in the BCS championship games.
"The SEC wins because of defense and running backs, not quarterbacks," I responded.
My dad, a big Michigan fan, chimed in with the thought the Big Ten would win this contest.
Hah! So I started thinking off the top of my head, who would be the best quarterback -- in terms of NFL careers -- from each Pac-10 school. Three were pretty easy:
Stanford: John Elway
UCLA: Troy Aikman
Cal-Berkeley: Aaron Rodgers
A little bit of thought added:
Washington State: Drew Bledsoe
Washington: Warren Moon
Oregon: Dan Fouts
Those six were/are all really good to great NFL quarterbacks. Then it starts getting harder:
Arizona State: um, Jake Plummer
Oregon State: uh, Matt Moore or Derek Anderson?
What's the remaining school? Oh, yes, USC. I was shocked when I went through the list of starting quarterbacks for USC at how . . . unimpressive the Trojans' quarterbacks have been in the NFL, especially considering how many have been drafted:
Matt Barkley: we'll see how his career goes
Mark Sanchez: going backwards/getting worse every year
Matt Leinart: bust
Carson Palmer: best of the bunch but average at best in the NFL
Rob Johnson: relatively long career in the NFL but mostly as a backup, and when given the starting job, he lost it to Doug Flutie, Alex van Pelt, and others
Todd Marinovich: ha ha ha ha ha ha
Rodney Peete: he beat Aikman in the UCLA-USC game but came nowhere close to Aikman's success; long career as a backup
Sean Salisbury: another relatively longish career as a backup
* * *
As for the Pac-10 versus the Big Ten, well, I'll go through the Big Ten schools another time (maybe), although off the top of my head, I'll have to admit that it starts off with two heavy hitters from Purdue (Drew Brees) and Michigan (Tom Brady).
The Wall Street Journal has a story about how some high school swim teams in the Denver area are having to compete against Regis Jesuit High, which happens to have 5-time Olympic medalist Missy Franklin on its team:
In recent memory, no one as accomplished as Franklin has ever followed up on Olympic domination by returning to high school to lap ordinary 14-year-old freshmen. What made this possible was her decision last year to forgo an estimated $3 million a year in endorsements to remain amateur, a choice that suggested that no amount of money could corrupt her pursuit of an ordinary adolescence.
Well, I can imagine that, if I were a high school swimmer, it would kind of suck to have to swim against Franklin. But what struck me about the story is how the loudest complaints seem to be coming from Cherry Creek High School, which the WSJ described as the "New York Yankees of Colorado girls' swimming." One of the complainants who previously swam at Cherry Creek was Colorado's best female swimmer ever, after Franklin.
The story goes on to note:
Franklin also cost Cherry Creek a 27th title in 2011. "If they didn't have her, they had no chance of winning," said Cherry Creek coach Eric Craven.
I don't know, that just sounds pretty whiny to me. Basically, Cherry Creek has stomped on its opponents, and they haven't done well against Regis Jesuit these past few years because of Franklin. Why is that any more unfair than Cherry Creek's long history of dominance? I mean, it would be one thing if Regis Jesuit kept having Franklin swim against clearly inferior teams, just to run up the score, if you will. But in fact, Franklin is swimming the minimum number of meets to qualify for state championships. It just happens that one of those two meets is against Cherry Creek. Too bad for Cherry Creek, but don't we teach our kids to pick on someone their own size?
Wow, a weekend of upsets has put Notre Dame atop the BCS standings, not to mention leaving it the only undefeated team. In its last regular season game, Notre Dame plays USC. . . . Now, normally I root against the Notre Dame football team in every game, except when it plays USC, but I'm wondering if this year is different. Notre Dame is 10-0, while USC is 7-4.
1) USC is irrelevant. Whether the Trojans finish 7-5 or 8-4 doesn't really matter. They'll go to a bowl game, but it's not going to be a good one. At 11-0, Notre Dame gets a chance to win the national championship, and if it's against Alabama, I might have to root for the Irish just so the SEC can finally have its BCS streak broken.
2) If USC loses, that means it will have lost 4 of its last 5 games, including devastating ones against traditional rivals UCLA and Notre Dame, not to mention the upstarts Oregon and Stanford. I'm afraid that will lead to Lane Kiffin's being fired. You see, as I noted here, I love that Kiffin is USC's coach, as I think he keeps the team from performing up to its lofty talent level. If he's fired, they might get someone . . . good. A victory against Notre Dame -- without star QB Matt Barkley, to boot -- might save Kiffin's job!
3) USC's beating Notre Dame boosts the value of Stanford's, Oregon's, UCLA's, and Arizona's victories over USC, thus elevating the Pac-12 and adding to the collection of nice non-conference wins by Pac-12 teams: Wisconsin and BYU (by Oregon State), Nebraska (by UCLA), and Oklahoma State (by Arizona).
. . . best for the rest of the conference that is!
I totally get how USC alums can be so devoted to their football program. It's not unlike the devotion that Yankee fans have to their team, and no doubt the disdain/fear/awe that everyone feels toward that team ratchets up the feelings. But at this point, it's more like the Yankees during their bumbling period in the mid- to late-1980s, when everyone else in the AL East took turns winning the division except them.
And you have to wonder, how much of it is because of Coach Lane Kiffin? It's easy to take potshots at him, as the Oregon fans at FishDuck do . . . repeatedly. Just some "highlights":
Voted his team #1 in the preseason coaches’ poll, after publicly declaring he would not vote his team #1.
Revoked a scholarship granted to a walk-on, giving it to a convicted felon instead. Kiffin’s response when asked about it? “He was fortunate to have one for a year.”
Banned walkthroughs for visiting teams under the guise of “protecting the Coliseum’s turf”.
Offered advice to new Penn State coach Bill O’Brien on how to handle sanctions and retain players, then demonstrated the necessity of that advice by poaching the Nittany Lions’ best player, Silas Redd.
The latest mini-scandal is the fact that USC cheated in the Oregon game by deflating their footballs when on offense, thus giving their players an unfair advantage because deflated balls are easier to catch. Kiffin has denied ordering this, but some sports columnists are doubtful, noting the pattern of cheating/win at all costs/etc.:
I'm sure working for a head coach who has a penchant for finding every low-class maneuver in the book to get an advantage had nothing to do with it. I'm sure the "rogue manager" had to come up with this in the isolation chamber of his own nefarious little mind.
Anyway, USC may be 6-3 (3-3 in the Pac-12) right now, but remember that the Trojans were ranked #1 at the start of the season. And you can understand why. Matt Barkley, possibly the #1 pick in next year's draft, came back for his senior season -- the first post-bowl-ban year -- with something to prove. Also coming back was junior Robert Woods, one of the best wide receivers in college football and possibly a top-25 pick next year. Another possible top-25 pick is center Khaled Holmes, described by one scouting report as "the best center in the draft class by a large margin." Woods might not even be the best WR on the team, though, as sophomore Marqise Lee is pretty awesome already.
But wait, in addition to keeping all those skill position players from last year's team, USC -- as noted in the FishDuck post -- poached Penn State running back Silas Redd, who projects to be drafted at least.
Meanwhile, USC's main Pac-12 competition, Stanford and Oregon, both lost key players from last year's teams. Look at this website's rankings of the top 40 Pac-12 players from 2011 and where they are today:
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford [Indy Colts, #1 pick]
2. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon [SF 49ers, 3d round pick]
3. Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford [Miami Dolphins, 2d round pick]
5. Matt Barkley, QB, USC [returned]
6. Darron Thomas, QB, Oregon [undrafted but left Oregon]
7. David DeCastro, OG, Stanford [Pittsburgh Steelers, 1st round pick]
8. Cliff Harris, CB, Oregon [undrafted but left Oregon]
30. David Paulson, TE, Oregon [Pittsburgh Steelers, 7th round]
37. Nickell Robey, CB, USC [returned]
40. Nick Perry, DE, USC [Green Bay Packers, 1st round]
USC returned more of those top players than Stanford did, and Oregon essentially lost all of its top players. Here's what Wikipedia had to say about the outlook at the beginning of the season:
Along with Barkley, who is a leading Heisman candidate, the Trojan offense returns nine starters, including 2011 All-Conference center Khaled Holmes, a thousand-yard rusher from 2011 in senior running backCurtis McNeal, and two thousand-yard receivers in Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. In addition, former Penn State running back Silas Redd transferred to USC and will be immediately eligible to play during the 2012 season. The addition of Redd means the USC offense now boasts two thousand-yard rushers, two thousand-year receivers, and a 3,500-yard passer from the 2011 season.
On defense, the Trojans return seven starters and four All-Conference players, including first-team All-Conference performers in safetyT. J. McDonaldand cornerback Nickell Robey, senior defensive endWes Horton, and the team's co-leading tacklers in sophomorelinebackers Hayes Pullard and Dion Bailey, who was named the Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year in 2011.
USC returns 18 starters and thirteen All-Conference performers in 2012.
Yikes, I probably would've voted them #1 if I'd had a vote! And yet, with that stockpile of talent, not to mention the losses that Oregon and Stanford endured, USC lost to Stanford and Oregon, and to top that off, also lost to Arizona, which is a respectable 5-4 overall with a nice win over Oklahoma State, but only 2-4 in the Pac-12, including a terrible 66-10 loss to UCLA.
USC's remaining three games aren't gimmes, either. Arizona State is 5-4 (3-3 in the Pac-12) and still in the hunt for division crown (though they don't control their own destiny). UCLA is 7-2 (4-2) and does control its own destiny. And at the end of the schedule is 9-0 Notre Dame. USC certainly has the talent to win all three games, which would earn a likely rematch against Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. But given that USC found ways to lose to Stanford (did you know that the QB who replaced Luck has been benched?), Oregon, and Arizona, it's also possible that the Trojans could lose all three games.
How is this possible? It's hard to avoid concluding that the Trojans underachieve because of their coach. So, as a Cal fan first and foremost, and then a UCLA fan, I hope Kiffin stays at the helm for as long as he wants!
Congratulations! You seem to have grabbed quality players at every turn of this draft. It's rare indeed to be better than the average team at the three core positions (quarterback, running back and receiver), but we think this team is.
You must be among the favorites in this league and have positioned yourself to grab one of the playoff spots. But before you start engraving the trophy, realize that the draft is not the end of the story. Things can and do go wrong, so you need to remain diligent throughout the year to ensure you remain strong until the playoffs.
Players we particularly like on this team include Julio Jones, Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton, Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray, Antonio Brown, Ryan Mathews, and the Packers defense. We have all these guys ranked ahead of where they are typically being drafted.
With great inseason management, we think you have about a 90 percent chance of making the playoffs.
With good inseason management, we think you have about a 85 percent chance of making the playoffs.
With average inseason management, we think you have a 80 percent chance of making the playoffs.