Why do we play fantasy baseball? For fun, right?
Remembering the Fun of Fantasy Baseball
Tuesday April 10th, 2012
That's how we start. We're all looking for a way to enhance the game we love- a way to make every game mean more and lead to more fun. So we study it. The more you understand it, the more you'll probably enjoy it.
Available data and technology has made that possible, and it's no coincidence that the popularity of fantasy baseball exploded at the same time that sabermetrics/deep analytics/whatever you call it went through a massive acceleration. Indeed, new statistics, new metrics, and the growth of the internet are forever linked to each other and the growth of online fantasy games. The last decade or so has truly been the golden age for baseball data and analysis, and fantasy baseball has been undeniably changed by it.
What began as a "silly little game" played on index cards for mild amusement has erupted into a multi-billion dollar industry loaded with high-stakes cash competitions, cutthroat tactics, relentless smack talk, and, of course, loads of analysts peddling information and calling themselves "experts."
A few words on these "experts":
Drifting somewhere between legitimate journalists and amateur bloggers are a slew of fantasy baseball "experts" who spend hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of hours pouring over the most obscure of baseball data, all in an attempt to assemble it into a conclusion explaining present player performance and predicting future numbers (it should be noted that parts of Baseball Press settle into this field, though we have never claimed ourselves as "experts" and have never sold content or begged for donations). Some "experts" or "gurus" are content to work ferociously on their hobby and accept moderate fame in the baseball "blogosphere" and social media circles as their only reward. Others, though, are quick to attempt to profit off of their efforts and can turn caustic when confronted with criticism or disagreements.
It's not unreasonable to attempt to make financial or professional gains from one's efforts (it's the core of capitalist society), but with the current saturation of fantasy baseball "experts" online, compiling data and forming subjective conclusions from it seems akin to setting up a food stand at a free all-you-can-eat buffet. Without a unique twist or specific niche to set one apart, the appeal isn't really there (and even if it is, it's still easy to get ignored or overshadowed). Furthermore, with enough time, education, and motivation, anyone could conceivably replicate similar analysis and call himself an expert.
Like so many others, I began participating in fantasy baseball over ten years ago as a fun hobby that also helped me learn more about the game and the players involved. Back then, the fantasy landscape was simpler and it was a casual activity between friends. That's no longer the case for many fantasy players.
The explosion of data has changed things, and to remain competitive fantasy players have had to integrate a plethora of strategies into each season of play. Not doing so is a recipe for failure, even in more casual leagues.
In 2010, Bill James, the universally recognized father of sabermetrics, made a brief cameo appearance on an episode of The Simpsons and quipped: "I made baseball as much fun as doing your taxes." Fantasy baseball has certainly gone that route too (though online forms have made tax preparation far simpler than fantasy draft preparation).
I play fantasy baseball because I like baseball, not because I like math or research or staring at a computer screen looking at spreadsheets of data. However, like most people, I am a competitive person who hates losing, so the time and work involved in playing fantasy baseball is something I deal with and sometimes enjoy the discovery of. But again, the primary goal is having fun. Winning is fun too.
For some fantasy players, things have evolved and they may now have other goals.
It's pretty apparent that, as fantasy competition has gotten more and more cutthroat, some players are competing as a means of intellectual egotism. What this means is that, while a first place finish is desirable, some players are more concerned with being right about a certain decision than their spot in the final standings. As a whole, winning replaced fun as the motivation to play, then winning was eventually replaced by this overwhelming desire to prove yourself smarter by finding "diamonds in the rough" or "sleepers" or pulling off "steals" in trade that other fantasy competitors were unable to see and discover.
This loss of perspective has some strange effects. There are fantasy players who don't attend, watch, or listen to games and only experience baseball via box scores and statistics. For these folks, professional baseball players may become trade commodities and just names and numbers on a page, instead of human beings. The games may become lists of stats, and seasons may become mere packets of data. Their fandom evolves into just number research determining educated guesses.
And educated guesses is all they are, though some stat worshipers may be reluctant to admit that. Major League Baseball, like all physical sports, retains a lot of unpredictability. Sub-standard players have big performances, consistent superstars suffer failures, and talent-heavy teams post losing records. If all of the numbers could predict all of the events, the games would be played on a computer instead of a diamond of grass and dirt. Would many even prefer that? Are the actual games just a necessary annoyance?
Is the game within the game supplanting the the game itself?
This question struck me last season, as I sat at my computer at 1 o'clock in the morning in a bedroom lit only by the glow of a system monitor, waiting for a recent big league call-up to clear waivers. I wondered what had become of the teenage version of myself who had once viewed fantasy baseball as a fun break from the stress of school and social pressures. Recreation started to feel like work, and I wasn't sure how I got to that point.
Very few people make a liveable wage from fantasy baseball, and those who do are mostly journalists and analysts for major sports news organizations. Playing in a fantasy league probably shouldn't be a 20 or 30 or 40 hour-a-week commitment, because it certainly doesn't pay like a job should. It's a hobby, and hobbies are supposed to be fun. They help you relax. Fantasy baseball is often more frustration than relaxation.
On a recent Baseball Press podcast, Nate Springfield and I had a lengthy impromptu discussion about balancing fantasy baseball with the rest of one's life. Nate and I have different lifestyles right now (he's married with children, I am single and spend my weekends bar-hopping) but we're both committed to certain personal and professional obligations outside of Baseball Press and our fantasy baseball leagues. Those "real life" commitments dictate how much time and energy we have for fantasy sports. And really, that's the way it should be, but sometimes it's easy to lose that perspective.
In summary, I hope this writing is not read as hostility toward the always-growing intensity around fantasy baseball. I love baseball and, overall, I love playing fantasy baseball. However, I think it's vital for all of us, from the casual roto competitor with one Yahoo team to the most hardened fantasy analyst putting in twenty hours of weekly research for NFBC or Fangraphs' Ottoneu, to occasionally step back and ask why we're doing it, what we're getting out of it, and whether it's all worth continuing. Ask if it's still fun or fulfilling.
If it isn't, I'm sure there's a spot near me at the bar.
by Anonymous on Tuesday April 10th @ 8:44PM
Enjoyed this perspective. Couldn't agree more.
by Anonymous on Wednesday April 11th @ 8:57AM
Mmmm......considering which would be a better use of my time (as we all only have a finite amount of that in this world).........Sitting at my computer, looking at stats, planning a strategy, chatting (on the net or on the phone) with my "fellow managers" about anything to do with baseball and our league (which has a side effect of "building a relationship)......all of which I do for free!.......................OR............Driving from bar to bar, looking for those "barroom acquaintances" that I think are my friends, consuming a product that destroys my vital organs and some people's lives, spending hundreds of dollars a week (only to deposit it in the toilet later), and then endangering other people's lives by driving home afterwards???
by Anonymous on Wednesday April 11th @ 9:06AM
Agreed that it should be fun, or you shouldn't do it.......................but hangovers are not fun.....Been there....done that...........................Predictions do not accurately determine outcomes......that's why they "play the games"...lol. But baseball is definitely a game of "tendencies and/or streaks" that can be evaluated and acted upon. Good managers have a plan, pay attention, and follow their plan. It's as consuming as you allow it to be. Anything that consumes your life, is not healthy. A balance of many things is best. But most of us do play to win, not to lose. My suggestion is to find a league with "like-minded" managers, and have FUN!!!.......
by Dan Port on Wednesday April 11th @ 10:34AM
To the 2nd commenter- There's nothing in the article suggesting alcoholism, spending "hundreds of dollars a week", sexual promiscuity, or drunk driving. I'm not sure where you're getting that from. Going to a bar and drinking in moderation doesn't make one into some kind of monster.
by Dan Port on Wednesday April 11th @ 10:43AM
3rd commenter- to each their own. The final line of the article is tongue-in-cheek, really just saying to spend your spare time doing something you'll enjoy. You're absolutely right though- anything that consumes your life is not healthy.
by cvansant on Wednesday April 11th @ 10:46AM
by Anonymous on Thursday April 12th @ 7:01AM
"Nate and I have different lifestyles right now (he's married with children, I am single and spend my weekends bar-hopping)"........"If it isn't, I'm sure there's a spot near me at the bar."......."to occasionally step back and ask why we're doing it, what we're getting out of it, and whether it's all worth continuing. Ask if it's still fun or fulfilling.". Those are your quotes, right? Right from the article.......My intention wasn't really to "spank" you, or accuse you of wrong-doing, but to present the opposite side of your position that there has been a "loss of perspective" regarding Fantasy Baseball (or any fantasy league in general). About 2 years ago, I took "a step back" from the drinking scene, and decided that it was not "fun or fullfilling".....and fantasy baseball was a much better way to spend my time. I still have a beer now and then (I am not a "soap box abolitionist, by any means) and I do enjoy that. And I do spend "too much time" on FBB now (according to my league o
by Anonymous on Thursday April 12th @ 7:05AM
Good article! I'm on my second yr of having just one team, and actually little strategy. It has made me more aware of the other league (live in an NL town), and appreciated the ups and downs of a season and what makes a player valuable, at least in fantasy land. I used to never attend a game that I didn't use a score card and keep score. Kept me involved in the game and anticipating moves. Fantasy baseball does the same thing for me. I won't finish first and likely not last either, as people seem to abandon their teams. But it has enriched my enjoyment of baseball. I tend to trade for players from my favorite team and end up with a lopsided bunch by the end.
by Dan Port on Thursday April 12th @ 10:35AM
To Anonymous at 7:01AM - "Bar-hopping" is not alcoholism or drunk driving. Is that clear enough? It's not even drinking to excess. The final line of the article was tongue-in-cheek and jokey, which you clearly missed. You may be anti-drinking, and that's fine, but don't read implications that aren't there in the quotations you cited. Do what you want to do and enjoy yourself- that's the point being made. Don't project your own negative life experiences into some vague references to the bar scene- it comes off as extremely petty and hostile. You're seeing things that simply aren't there on the page.
by Dan Port on Thursday April 12th @ 10:44AM
Again to Anonymous at 7:01AM Fantasy baseball can be fun- I acknowledge several times that I still enjoy it. But if you aren't having fun because you have to examine hours of statistics just to compete, then there's something wrong. The entire article is about that. If you like staring at a computer screen and crunching numbers, good for you, fantasy baseball is a great fit for you. If not, go out, see the world, meet people, talk to your family, whatever. Just enjoy your leisure time. That was the point. Oh, and if you're going to keep commenting, you may want to take a few seconds to register with the site.
by Anonymous on Saturday April 14th @ 9:09AM
Petty and hostile? You have got to be kidding???? Or did I strike a nerve with you and your "fun and fullfilling lifestyle"? I was not trying to pick a fight, but it sounds like you are........I was just bringing another perspective into the mix.........but your responses are both defensive and condescending. Who do you think you are anyway??? You are just a writer for a sports column..........maybe you should take another writing class before you submit another article? I didn not "read anything into" what you wrote.....I just read what you said!!! Now it's your turn to grow up and calm down. Fact is, your response leads me to believe that your drinking may be clouding your ability to be a competent jounalist........or you were drunk when you wrote this one!
by Dan Port on Saturday April 14th @ 11:02AM
Okay genius, show me in the column where it says anything about drinking to excess or drunk driving. You quoted one thing and said something completely different. And you're also too scared to actually post as anything but Anonymous. Classy. Just because you can't drink in moderation doesn't mean alcohol destroys everyone else's lives. Oh, and trust me, I'm far more educated than you'll ever be. Maybe throw some more ellipsis into your writing there.
by Anonymous on Sunday April 15th @ 7:24AM
C'mon Dan.......If you are too stubborn (or just too afraid) to admit that "bar-hopping" typically requires "driving after drinking" then you have shown all of us your true colors (and lack of professionalism). And again, you have stuck your foot in your mouth, all the way up to your knee.......because you have absolutely no idea just how smart I am in comparison to yourself, nor do you know what level of education I have achieved, whether or not I am actually "scared" to post under a name, what my drinking habits have ever been, and finally.......................the fact that you can't "throw some more ellipsis into my writing", when the proper meaning of that word is "to eliminate or omit" things from a sentence. You are one smart cookie, Danny!!!!!!!!! Keep bringing it......if you choose........but it would be my preference to "ellipsis" you from writing any more articles.
by Dan Port on Sunday April 15th @ 1:35PM
Bar-hopping doesn't equal drunk driving in any context. I'm not sure where you're getting that. As for your intelligence, the arguments you're making and your writing style tell me all I need to know on that front. I won't continue to argue with you, because I have far better things to do than attempt a debate with a child who reads something that mentions a bar and thinks it means something completely different. I'm a single male, so I'm pretty sure I'm in a huge majority of people who spend the weekend going out and having a good time but remaining safe and responsible. I'm no longer sure if you're trolling or just stupid, but either way, I'm done with this argument because you never had a leg to stand on with your "bar-hopping equals drunk driving" point. The two are not the same thing, never are, never will be. That isn't stubbornness or fear on my part. It's simply fact. Oh, and I have a graduate degree in English, so I certainly don't need you to explain ellipsis to me,
by Anonymous on Monday April 16th @ 9:02AM
You have twisted what I said, as much as you feel I have done that to you. In light of that fact.......I do agree that we are done with this conversation..........but with the following caveats...... 1. I am not a child.... 2. I am not stupid.... 3. I was a math/science major, medical career curriculum in college.....I now hold multiple professional licenses, and am the CEO/CFO of two corporations. 4. Former baseball player..........still a student of the game. So I need to be discreet, I am not scared. 5. For the most part, I like what I read here. I did, however, take exception to the fact that you seem to suggest that "bar-hopping" was a better alternative than playing fantasy baseball. If you can truly do it responsibly, you are the exception, not the rule. Kudos to you, if it's true. Enough is enough.............
by Dan Port on Monday April 16th @ 10:45AM
If you think I promoted bar-hopping as a better alternative than fantasy baseball, then you missed the entire point of the piece, or added your own point to it. The point I made was to not pursue a hobby if it no longer becomes fun. Saying that I "spend my weekends bar-hopping" doesn't mean that is my only hobby, and that line was only a means of comparing my lifestyle to that of the family man Nate. The final line was jokey and not meant to be taken seriously, though in hindsight maybe it wasn't one hundred percent clear that way. Beyond that there is no mention of alcohol or irresponsibility, so I think you read far too much into that and began projecting your own experiences. I don't think I'm the exception on responsible drinking. Indeed, for many in a big city, bar-hopping can be done without getting in a car at all (just ask any New Yorker) and as a Los Angeles resident I have half a dozen excellent bars within walking distance of my apartment. I don't know, perhaps that i
by Dan Port on Monday April 16th @ 10:51AM
sn't the case where you are. I apologize for getting so defensive, but when you implied that I was some sort of binge-drinking drunk driver, I felt like I had to defend myself aggressively to argue that point. Anyway, thanks for reading the article. Hopefully we can put all of this in the past. Take care.
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