On October 5, 2022, Michael Richards was a relatively unknown fantasy baseball analyst, writing prospect and dynasty articles for Fantrax. On October 6, 2022, he was an overnight celebrity. Richards had won The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational, besting 464 of the best managers in fantasy baseball.
The young man who resides outside of Seattle has spent the past 12 days being interviewed on podcasts and for various articles and publications. Richards is my friend, and I had easy access to him before he won TGFBI. But I had to wait in line for my turn after the final results were posted and he was crowned.
Only a handful of people qualified to compete in TGFBI have ever won the overall title. Even more impressive, Richards won it on only his second attempt. He held off Jeffrey Zimmerman of RotoWire, a three-time FSWA award winner, who managed to close to within five points but never took the lead.
The clincher came when Aaron Civale picked up a win against the Kansas City Royals 9-2, pitching six innings as the Guardians built a comfortable lead and coasting to a victory in their last regular season game. Civale was just one of the unsung fantasy heroes who propelled Richards to a championship.
Civale, 5-6, finished the season with a 4.92 ERA but was an important contributor for Richards and other managers in deep leagues like TGBFBI. Another pitcher that came up huge for Richards was Brady Singer of the Royals. The Royals veteran surprised everyone by going 10-5, with a 3.23 ERA and 1.14 WHIP.
While Singer and Civale were helpful, Richards credited the acquisition of Tony Gonsolin late in the draft as a critical part of his championship run. Gonsolin, who has struggled to stay healthy, had potential but his injury history scared many managers from taking him – even in the late rounds. But not Richards.
TGFBI’s new champion was not wrong about the Dodgers starter. Gonsolin was tied for sixth in the majors with 16 wins in 24 starts. He was second with a 2.14 ERA, second with a 0.87 WHIP, although his 130 innings was below the MLB threshold to count. The batting average against Gonsolin was only .172.
Richards said he had him on his draft board after hours of research that he invested before TGFBI’s draft began on February 28th. “I studied all aspects of fantasy for months,” he said, adding that the research continued through the season. “I listened to podcasts, read the articles, and scoured the draft boards.
“There are many factors that I can point to, but the main reason for my success was putting in the time and effort to improve. I also remained engaged with FAAB throughout the season. The learning never stopped. I was improving as the season unfolded and walked away with lessons to help next season.”
Dylan Cease was the first starting pitcher selected by Richards in the draft. Cease had taken a step forward in 2021, going from an out-of-control, high-velocity disaster to a breakout star. But Richards believed he could get better in 2022, and he did in spite of a disappointing White Sox supporting cast.
Richards didn’t draft Cease until the fifth round, choosing instead to take hitters in the first three rounds. With the all-important first pick, Richards took Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. after Ronald Acuna was taken. The Blue Jays slugger hit .274, with 32 home runs, 97 RBI and 90 runs. He also stole eight bases.
The champ’s second-round pick was even better as he took Manny Machado. The Padres third baseman was a key part of his team’s deep playoff run, and he was also critical to Richards’ success. Rumors of Machado’s decline at 29 were wrong as he joined the elite 100/100 club, with 32 bombs and a .298 BA.
Less you believe that TGBBI’s 2022 winner didn’t have any misses, consider that he took Trevor Story in the third round. Story, a big offseason acquisition for the Red Sox, was a bust. He only played in 94 games because of injuries and was subpar when he was in the lineup. His slash line was a career low.
After drafting the trio of position players, Richards’ fourth-round pick was Emmanuel Clase, who proved to be classy. The Cleveland relief pitcher led the league with 42 saves, while compiling a 1.36 ERA and 0.73 WHIP across 72.2 innings. Opposing batters managed to hit only .167 against the game’s best.
Richards attributes his ability to focus as a key to his success. While many professional fantasy managers are managing a dozen or more teams, he chose to manage only four during the 2022 season. Of course, he also had his daily and weekly writing assignments for Fantrax and Triple Play Fantasy podcasts.
“I found it very difficult to keep up with content while trying to compete at a high level. Writing articles takes a great deal of research and time,” Richards explains. “And preparing for podcasts is not as easy as it may appear. It’s really challenging when it does not directly relate to the leagues I am playing in.”
Being a prospects expert also involved a lot of time as Richards patiently answered every question and tweet he received from people in the industry wanting to know about prospects. That included me, as I pumped him for information on every new prospect when I found out they were being called up.
“Long story short, I had to cut back on content (for Fantrax and Triple Play Fantasy to have the energy to get over the finish line,” Richards explained. “There were many late nights and more stress than I care to admit. This is an aspect of the experience I need to reevaluate and adjust heading into next year.”
Being a dynasty guru may have given, Richards an edge but he refused to overweigh rookies. “The biggest mistake I made last year was relying too much on unproven, young players who were not guaranteed playing time or success. I built a roster full of boring veterans who just put up numbers.”
Richards said his goal heading into the season was achieving a proper balance between high floor and high ceiling players. “Securing everyday players and depth at each position was essential. My improvement in the draft strategy, roster construction, and FAAB were all areas of focus for me.”
A modest Richards refused to swayed by the many accolades thrown his way since winning TGFBI. He doesn’t believe he possesses a special talent, adding that anyone “with a burning desires, strong work ethic and a stubborn refusal to quit can achieve their dream.” although he admitted a little luck helped.
“Winning TGFBI is a culmination of a life-long pursuit,” Richards explained. “It is validation that hard work, dedication, and commitment to a single cause are still a blueprint for success. The countless hours spent chasing an impossible dream paid off. It vindicates my decision to pursue something I love.”
Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, writes about football and baseball for CreativeSports. He represented CreativeSports in The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational. Be sure to follow Thomas on Twitter@ThomasLSeltzer1.