Reality overcomes fantasy

Fantasy baseball enthusiasts are reeling today after Major League Baseball has joined other leagues in halting the 2020 season for at least four weeks due to the national emergency caused by the coronavirus. The earliest the season can start is April 9th.

In a period of less than 24 hours, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League suspended their seasons. The NCAA followed suit by canceling the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, including the men’s Final Four in Atlanta.

What are sports fans going to do with this extended layoff? What follows is what I will call the “Sports Fans” survival kit. Follow these five steps to not only survive, but thrive during the period when you have no fantasy or reality sports to fill your time.

(1) Reintroduce yourself to your wife, children, brother(s), sister(s) and coworkers. The latter assumes you will still be going into your office. If you’re working from home, get some face time with them, or call them on your smart phone (which is suddenly still).

(2) Read a book, or two. There are some good ones that have been written in the past few centuries. The Bible is the oldest book in the world, dating back to the Gutenberg Bible, which was initially published in 1454, according to the Guinness Book of World records.

(3) Engage in binge-watching, the practice of watching your favorite television shows for an extended  time span. In a survey conducted by Netflix, people defined binge-watching as “watching between two and three episodes of the same TV show in one sitting.”

(4) If the weather is decent, try getting some exercise. I know this is a radical idea, but you don’t have to hit the gym every day to benefit. A recent study published by Mayo Clinic revealed that just a daily, brisk walk can add up to 15 years to your life.

(5) Turn off the computer, television and smart phone, and sit down in a quiet place to contemplate what you want to be when you grow up. If you’re already grown up, reflect on your life. What would you like to do, or change, in your time left above ground?

I am confident these five steps will help you become a better person during the days ahead when all of the sports stadiums will be empty and crowds silenced across the country. I’ll be back in touch with you when things return to normal. Keep the faith.

 

Beware of negative regression

Today, I am going to focus on the concept of regression to the mean – a principle I have found valuable in fantasy sports in choosing which plays I want to draft, and which players I want to avoid drafting. It would also apply to players I want to add from the waiver wire (or avoid adding).

Regression towards the mean is a statistical principle that, assuming all else being equal, if your first sample you take is an outlier (either positively away from the mean or negatively away from the mean) then the next sample you take is likely to be closer to the mean than the first sample.

Regression to the mean can be either negative, or positive, although it is used more often in the negative sense. I apply the principle both ways, but probably more often in evaluating the potential for negative regression in players who are highly ranked and are being drafted early.

Consider Fernando Tatis, Jr., the Padres’ shortstop, who currently has an ADP of 21. This is very high for such a young player with so little track record, but his HR/SB numbers in 2019 are drawing many to take him in the second round. He seldom stays undrafted far into the third round.

While some analysts have expressed fears of negative regression with Tatis, the sample size is too small to determine this. While the advanced metrics would give me pause (I didn’t draft him on either of my teams), the chance of him being an impact player is just as high as negative regression.

Now, let’s look at another shortstop – Marcus Semien of the Athletics. This is a much better example because the sample size is larger than Tatis. Semien, who had a tremendous 2019, is starting his eighth year in the majors, and he has a career batting average of .256 and a career OPS of .752.

Compare those career numbers to what Semien’s put up last year, when he hit .285, with an OPS of .892. Now there’s a negative regression candidate if I’ve ever seen one. Semien hit a career-high 33 bombs last year. There was only one other season when he hit more than 20.

Semien’s otherworldly 2019 could very well prove to be an outlier in what has otherwise been a fairly pedestrian career for the 29-year-old veteran. If you’re looking for something in his past that may explain his out-of-nowhere success, don’t bother—you won’t find any.

The red light is going off on the dashboard, and the voice on the loudspeaker is shouting negative regression with Semien, but his ADP is currently 80. In my opinion, people drafting Semien as early as the sixth round this year will be disappointed when reality hits them like a ton of bricks.

 

Evaluating free agents

On Monday, I wrote about the key to success in season-long fantasy baseball leagues – working the waiver wire. I drafted my first team on January 30th, and I have already added five players from the waiver wire – Danny Santana, J.D. Davis, Kyle Tucker, Ryan McMahon and David Price. Santana, Tucker and Price were dropped by other owners.

There are three reasons that I can think of to get a free agent off the waiver wire. The first reason is that you lose a player. Usually, you lose a player because of injury. Before you drop a player, you need to determine if the player is worth keeping. If he is put on the injured list, you can move him into your IL slot, opening up another roster spot.

A second reason to acquire a player from the wire is that you want to replace a healthy player who is not performing. I drop and add players regularly during the regular season. The leagues I play in have no season acquisition limits, and you can add and drop players on a daily basis. This is not true of all leagues, so check your league rules.

A third reason to acquire a player is that the free agent is simply too good to pass up. This player may have been dropped by one of the other general managers in your league, and you think the player is worth acquiring. More often, the available player is an emerging  star, whose stock is rising and you simply want to own him for that reason.

This begs the question – how do you evaluate free agents? There is one criterion that is common to both pitchers and position players – ownership percentage, which is listed on the player profile right next to position rank. This is a useful tool, but don’t rely solely on ownership percentage. Look at the player’s current metrics and track record.

When I’m considering adding a free agent during the regular season, I’m more interested in the change in ownership in the past week than I am in total ownership. ESPN and other fantasy sites monitor changes in ownership, and this is useful information. It’s similar to evaluating the ownership numbers of an individual stock before buying it.

If you draft a team early, like I did, you should be watching the average draft position (ADP), which is monitored by several sites. Don’t confuse a player’s ADP ranking with other rankings, like ESPN, or Fantasy Pros. ADP shows you who is drafting each player and at what rank. I’m not advocating always following the herd, but it’s worth noting.

The advantage to drafting your team early is that a lot of players are overlooked. Once spring training starts, the buzz starts. Analysts and pundits begin talking about players, labeling them as breakouts, or sleepers. But the downside is you may wind up stuck with a player like Aaron Judge, or Chris Sale, who get injured after you draft them.

The art of the deal

After your fantasy baseball draft is over, there are only two ways you can make your team better – trading players and working the waiver wire. Yesterday, I told you that the waiver wire is your key to success. However, a good trade can also help you win a championship.

In fantasy sports, trading players is like trading stocks – you want to trade for an appreciating asset and dump a depreciating one. Another way to put it is buy low, sell high. But I also want you to understand that a trade doesn’t have to be a win/lose deal. It can be a win/win.

Let’s take a look at a trade I completed today. I traded Hunter Dozier and Sonny Gray to another team owner for Matt Olson. I think this trade has the makings of a win/win because parties on both ends of the deal may have improved their team by trading these players.

Only time will tell if it’s a win/win, or a win/lose for one of us. If Gray and Doziiner each have the kind of year they had in 2019, my opponent is going to be happy. And if Olsen has another 36 bombs and keeps his average above .260, I’ll also be satisfied with the trade.

Now, let’s talk about how this deal got done. I was approached by the owner, who offered to trade Christian Walker and Chris Bassitt for Gray and Dozier. This was clearly a lowball offer, bordering on  insulting. I could have rejected it and moved on, but I didn’t.

When I receive a trade offer that I don’t accept, I always counter. But I always offer the player(s) he/she wants, in exchange for player I want. I looked at his team, and I noticed that Anthony Rizzo was his starting first baseman. Josh Bell was in the 1B/3B spot, and Olson was his utility player.

Wow, this guy is loaded with slugging first basemen, is my first thought. He also had Trey Mancini, although the latter is eligible to play the outfield. Clearly, he could part with one of his first basemen. I guessed he wouldn’t part with Rizzo, and I am not interested in Bell. That left Olson.

I like Olson, and he will probably hit at least 10 more home runs than Dozier. With 380 home runs now projected, I could finish first in this category. While Dozier’s batting average was 12 points higher than Olson’s in 2019, he had never hit above .230 before. Regression is very likely.

Regression is also likely for Gray, coming off his best year in 2019. Remember, you want to sell high and buy low. I believe I am selling Dozier and Gray high, and I might be buying low on Olson, who hit his 36 home runs in only 127 games last year. He missed more than a month in 2019.

Key to your success

As you head into the 2020 fantasy baseball season, I have a tip for you. It’s not a sleeper, or breakout player. Every analyst or pundit has a sleeper, or breakout player for you. Their picks are like penny stock tips – a few hit and most miss.

My key to success in season-long leagues is to work the waiver wire. Every day, and twice on Sunday. Your willingness to work the waiver wire on a daily basis is your No. 1 key to success. I wouldn’t have won four league championships without doing this.

Case in points. Yesterday afternoon, Willie Calhoun got hit in the face by a 95 mph fastball from Dodger left-hander Julio Urias. The pitch broke his jaw, and Calhoun will be sidelined for awhile. My guess is it might be two months, or more.

Some managers would scratch their head for a few days (or weeks). Suddenly, it’s May, and Calhoun is still taking up space on the bench. Then, perhaps he gets to finally play, and he’s putting his foot in the bucket every time a pitch is thrown.

My response to the injury was to immediately waive Calhoun and pick up teammate Nick Solak. Solak is being largely ignored in fantasy drafts, with an ADP currently at 299. But he finished last season with 32 combined homers, 91 RBIs and a .290 batting average.

When he was promoted by the Rangers in mid-August following the injury to Nomar Mazara, Solak produced and even hit in the cleanup spot for awhile in September. Solak was patient at the plate and not prone to striking out a lot like many rookies.

No one doubts that Solak can hit, but the Rangers didn’t have a place for him in their lineup until Calhoun went down. Solak is only DH eligible right now in most leagues, but that will change. In fact, he may be eligible at multiple positions by April, or May.

If you play fantasy football, you know that you don’t always get the players you claim. In fact, if you’re in a competitive league, you will frequently miss out on the players you want because of the shorter season and smaller pool of players.

Your waiver wire experience in fantasy baseball will be very different than in football. The season is longer, and the pool of players is much larger. You will get the player you claim on the waiver wire unless somebody drops Mike Trout.

 

 

Meet Doubting Thomas

Please allow me to introduce myself. I’m Thomas L. Seltzer.  My parents gave me the name Thomas , although they never called me that. I’d like to think I was named after  Thomas the Apostle, also called Didymus. Unfortunately, Thomas came to be known as “Doubting Thomas” because he openly doubted Jesus’ resurrection when the other apostles gave him first-person testimony. Like my namesake, I have many doubts. I grew up in Missouri, nicknamed the “Show Me State.”

I am the son of an agnostic Jew and an Irish Catholic. How those two ever got together to have a child is inexplicable. Leon Seltzer married Mary Jane Seltzer, but it appeared that Mary Jane would not be able to bear him any children. Mom had some sort of an eating disorder and kept losing weight. Not wanting to be around to see her starve to death, my father told her he was leaving. She begged him to stay, promising to eat and put on weight. She kept her promise, and the miracle of conception occurred.

Back in those days, a Catholic could only marry a non-Catholic if she had the church’s permission and the latter agreed to cooperate fully in “removing all dangers of the Catholic defecting from the faith and to make a sincere promise to do all in his or her power so that all offspring are baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church. My father agreed with one caveat. My mother could take me to church and indoctrinate me, but if I ever balked, I could walk away from the faith and never look back.

I can recall sitting through numerous renditions of the “Latin Mass,” the most widely used mass liturgy in the world until sometime in the 1960s. Of course, I didn’t understand much but I did sense some sort of a mystical quality in these proceedings. One day, as I sat in the pew, I had an overwhelming feeling of God’s presence. I knew He was real, and I had a sense that He was a Holy God. I don’t know if this thought was sparked by something the priest said, but I think it came from the Holy Spirit.

It was many decades later, that I came to understand how deep spiritual roots were planted in my ancestry. While my mother’s Catholic roots went back several generations, they weren’t as deep as my father’s Jewish roots.  I was amazed to learn from my paternal aunt that Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Hasidic faith, was my great- great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. Referred to as Besht, an acronym of his name, he was a renown scholar and mystic, known for performing miracles.

I did some internet research Israel Baal Shem To.  The Hasidic movement, described by one historian as the single most important religious movement of the 18th century, filled a void felt by many devout but average Jews. Besht taught that all Jews could develop a close relationship with God through prayer and devotion to Him. This was a startling contrast to the intellectual style of the mainstream Jewish leaders of that day who put emphasis on a deep knowledge of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible.

Besht was certainly closer to the truth but sadly he stopped short of discovering the real truth. I discovered the truth when I was twenty. A girlfriend of mine challenged me to read the Gospel of John after I mocked her in public about her faith. When I got to the 14th chapter, I read about how Jesus told His disciples he was going away and they could eventually follow him. Doubting Thomas said he had no idea where Jesus was going and therefore could not follow him there because he didn’t know the way.

Jesus then told Thomas the simple truth everyone needs to know. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6) By the time I finished reading the Gospel of John, I had come to believe this simple truth with simple faith. That was 44 years ago, but I had a lot more to learn about this simple faith. Frankly, I have still have a lot more to learn about faith. I am looking forward to sharing this with you as you continue your journey with Doubting Thomas.

 

Legends of the fall

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) filed for bankruptcy protection late Monday, as one of the country’s largest youth organizations tries to endure intensifying legal pressure over accusations of childhood sexual abuse going back decades.

It’s sadly ironic that an organization founded more than a century ago to help boys get on the right path in life wound up being a hotbed for sexual predators. As the number of lawsuits grew, the BSA had no choice but to file bankruptcy.

The BSA was founded 110 years ago by an American newspaper man and entrepreneur named W.D. Boyce. On his way to British East Africa for a safari, Boyce stopped in England and got lost on the foggy streets of London.

When Boyce asked for help getting back to his hotel, an unidentified Scout “went the extra mile,” guiding Boyce back to his hotel. The boy refused Boyce’s  money offered in gratitude, explaining that he was merely doing his duty as a Boy Scout. 

Boyce was so impressed that when he returned to The United States, he founded the BSA. An attorney named James West took over as the leader the following year and led the organization for 35 years, as it grew rapidly across the country.

One of West’s first tasks was to revise the British-based program outline in the handbook and adapt it for American boys. West was instrumental in expanding the third part of the  Scout Oath, adding a moral compass.

To help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.

I became a Cub Scout when I was eight years old and proudly wore my badges on my Scout uniform. I never made it the Boy Scout level, but my son did. Daniel enjoyed the campouts – another excuse for him to be in the great outdoors.

What went wrong? This is something that will be discussed by writers, historians and philosophers. But to me, the answer is that the world went wrong. The decline, which started in Eden, has accelerated in recent years. It’s the American Legend of the Fall.

More than two years ago, Peter Johnson, writing for the Federalist, chronicled the history  of moral compromises made in the latter half of the 20th century and the beginning of this century. Johnson said these compromises sealed the fate of the BSA.

Sadly, there is nothing to my knowledge available to fill the void the BSA leaves behind. Boys need to keep themselves “physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight” now as much, or more, than they did in the past.