TTFBL Bottomfeeder's Report - Week Three

In which two sources of disillusionment are discussed.

"I sure hope people stay active in this league."

This sentiment, expressed more than once in the time prior to the initial TTFBL draft, is probably the single most widely-held hope of fantasy baseball players. Having a fantasy league with unmotivated and inactive 'owners' ultimately hurts the league in a number of ways:

- Fewer players are available via trade.

Pretty self-evident. You can't trade with someone who doesn't log in. As such, since everybody gets at least some good players in every draft, some portion of the true gems become impossible to acquire.

- Fewer teams are actively making moves to improve.

A corollary of the above. Assuming that making trades is the primary way to try to up your league ranking (because you're trading a commodity you have in abundance for one you need in order to move up the ranks), then the fewer teams making trades, the fewer teams who are actually competing.

- As trades become less common and free-agent pickups become more common, 'skill' is replaced by 'luck'.

It's one thing to research the hell out of a player prior to the draft, not land him, and end up pursuing trade options until you get the perfect deal to land the guy who'll get you the steals (or strikeouts, or whatever) to put you over the top. It's something else to say, "Hey, Juan Uribe has been hot lately," add him to the roster, and sit back and enjoy the run.

So if all of the above is true, having unmotivated owners is akin to a death warrant for a fantasy league -- it lowers the fun and excitement of playing in the league, and lowers the sense of accomplishment one feels for doing well in a league (because if all you did was beat the guys who didn't care, what does that say?)

For these reasons, you'd think it'd be a pretty good idea to identify why owners get unmotivated. My experience, though, is that most folks don't bother to analyze, preferring to fall back on the 'bad person' defense.

Even just three weeks into the TTFBL, though, I can see two big reasons why owners, even well-intended ones, can become unmotivated and bow out:

First, the season is a grind.

You may think of yourself as a rabid baseball fan. People you may know may think of you as a rabid baseball fan. You may be able, at pretty much any time, to list the top strikeout pitchers and home run hitters in each league, in addition to which teams are leading which divisions. Admittedly, those are pretty impressive feats.

But how many RBI did Justin Morneau have in last Thursday's game? How many strikeouts did Matt Guerrier get in his last outing, and when was it? How many at-bats did Nick Punto get last week?

If you don't know the answers to those questions, relax -- you're still a Twins fan, just not one in a fantasy league. And if you do know the answers to those questions, more power to you. Now replace the players in those questions with three semi-random players from other teams around the league. How many RBI did Alex Rodriguez have? How many strikeouts did Francisco Cordero log in his last appearance? How many at-bats did Erick Aybar have last week?

You don't need to know the answers to those questions, unless those guys are on your fantasy team.

People who are 'merely' fans sometimes like to knock major leaguers for not 'showing up every day'. It's easy -- you have a job, and you show up every day, so these guys should show up every day to their jobs, too, right? Well,let's say that your employer informed you that for the next six months:

- Your job would involve enough travel so that you'd spend only about half the time at home.

- You'd almost never have more than one day off at a time, and even then that day off would sometimes fall on a day when you'd be expected to be travelling from one not-home city to another.

- You'd get one three-day weekend during the entire time -- unless you performed well enough to be invited to the big company shindig to get a plaque for your hard work, conveniently scheduled right in the middle of what otherwise would have been your three-day weekend. And of course the shindig isn't anywhere near home.

I'm not saying fantasy owners have it this bad, but they do have a better idea of what actual major leaguers go through, because taking a few days off from your fantasy team can feel like you just let down a whole bunch of people, even though the process of trying to keep up the level of concentration and commitment required to 'participate' at a high level, especially when your team is patrolling the cellar of the league standings, is really much more of a trial than a pleasure.

That's the first way that owners can get demoralized -- realize just how long the season is, and just how little time there is for taking it easy.

The second way is a bit more subtle, and I suspect affects folks of a more sabermetric bent. The best way to explain it is by example.

Let's say you're looking at a third baseman, and you have to choose between Casey Blake and Mark Teahen. On one hand, you've never been a big fan of Blake even when he was with the Twins, while you've always admired Teahen. You know that Blake is aging while Teahen is still in his athletic prime. You know that Blake's a veteran on a team with a decent youngster that should be getting more playing time, while Teahen was just acquired by a team who wants him to be the everyday starter.

All of this tells you that Mark Teahen is a better play than Casey Blake. And you'd be wrong if you came to that conclusion.

To do well in fantasy baseball, even fantasy baseball targetted at the sabermetrically-aware owner, you have to be willing to think like a traditional fan. You have to make some decisions based on blunt-force, Yankees-level questions -- does he get a lot of RBI (even though RBI don't signify quality very much at all on their own)? Does he strike out a lot of guys (even though pitcher's strikeouts are much more an indication of the potential cereer value of a pitcher than an indication of how well he'll perform in a given season)? Does he play for a team that's likely to win (even though to some degree that's begging the question -- as a good team should be composed of good players rather than the other way around)?

You can't build a successful fantasy team on the principles that made the Twins successful in the 21st century; you can only build a fantasy team on the principles that make Boston and New York want to grab all of the Twins best players when they become free agents.

That, in some ways, is an even bigger downer than the grind of a long season.

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