There are some funny things in how fantasy baseball has developed relative to how I understood the intent.
I always thought the allure of fantasy baseball - aside from the fact that it is a game, and games are fun - was in pretending we are Billy Beane or Theo Epstein, and then building a dynasty that wins title after title, year after year.
In fact, among "serious" players, the main thing is in trying to make the game "realistic," something that will never really happen simply because we play a game based upon a game.
Nathan, help! Maddening stat cat
To me this does not matter, any more than do the rules of any particular format in that I don't care what the rules are as long as they are levied to give all players an equal chance to win. The key is simply knowing what the rules are and then building on them, and exploiting accordingly.
Well, when those blessed founding fathers - you know, Daniel Okrent and his posse - gave birth to our game, for some reason saves were an original category, just like stolen bases. I suppose Okrent et al. had other stat possibilities at their disposal, like extra-base hits, or game-winning RBIs, but, the beauty of saves and steals is that they operate independently from other numbers.
What I mean is extra-base hits would always include home runs, just like game-winning RBIs are a subset of the total RBIs a player or team will earn, meaning they are redundant in the counting.
Not so for steals and saves, which is what makes them a good counting device, and the inclusion of their respective numbers towards our standings totals make sense. It is also accepted. It also can make us crazy.
If you doubt me, tell me a closer you have, or even covet, that you know is a sure thing. You know, a guy who has his job and will keep it throughout the season.
Because before you can say Joakim Soria, I can tell you that we are not quite one month into the 2011 season, and 44 different players have collected 161 saves. Now, remember, there are 30 major league clubs, and a bunch of teams, like Toronto, only have one pitcher (Jon Rauch) with conversions, while the Rangers, thanks to the injury to Neftali Feliz, now have three guys with saves, two of whom are over the age of 40 (Arthur Rhodes and Darren Oliver).
Now, we all know that no one pitcher always gets every save for his team, but, ideally there are those guys who wear the closer role, and those are the premium stoppers. Mariano Rivera. Brian Wilson. Even Carlos Marmol, and the aforementioned Soria.
Going into this season, there were a bunch of guys who had jobs, like Matt Thornton and Chris Perez, as newer questionable stoppers, and Jonathan Broxton and even Joe Nathan as arms who had held the job, but had question marks behind their names when it came to keeping the gig.
Even Chris Sale, who has just one conversion - the lone save for the White Sox this year as I write - was valued in all my American League drafts as a possible closer. But, what about Sean Burnett, who has three? Or Ryan Madson, who was third in line in Philadelphia, but now has a pair and his hands on the job? How about Antonio Bastardo and Jeremy Jeffress? Did anyone see that coming? Or more important, could anyone have seen this coming?
Probably not, but that is what makes playing by this rule of saves having value so frustrating, especially to owners of Matt Thornton and Ryan Franklin (plus Jason Motte) and Joe Nathan, to name a few players who generated some dollars on draft day, and have done less than Jeffress or Bastardo for the most part.
Of course as the season rolls along, the dominant bullpen arm will emerge, if it has not already, and a routine will be established. And, the Olivers and Rhodes will still pick up the occasional conversion, but never do I remember a year with so much uncertainty around a stat and role that is uncertain to begin with.
I suspect that Mr. Okrent and his founding ilk are having a good laugh these days at our expense. I wish there was a way for us to have the last laugh, but with the likes of Sergio Santos and Ramon Ramirez on the table as roster fodder, that chuckle might be awhile in the coming.
Lawr Michaels has been a player in the fantasy baseball industry since he began writing for John Benson in 1993. He has written for STATS, Inc, was the first fantasy columnist for CBS Sportsline, and has appeared in numerous journals and on websites. In 1996, he founded CREATiVESPORTS, a staple for serious fantasy players, which he merged into Mastersball in 2010.
Over the years, Lawr has participated in a wide variety of playing formats and won numerous titles, including AL Tout Wars crowns in 2001 and 2009. Along with his Mastersball duties, Lawr works for MLB.com as a statistician.