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Baseball is King


Why Fantasy Baseball is the best around


By Adam Hoff


Lately I've been having these heated arguments with people.  "Old School is still better than Wedding Crashers."  "Antoine Walker on the Miami Heat will be much better than Antoine Walker on the Dallas Mavericks."  "Fantasy Baseball is better than Fantasy Football."  That last one has been coming up a lot for some reason.  A whole lot.  For some reason, people have been insistent that not only is Fantasy Football the best of what's around, but that Fantasy Baseball, in fact, sucks.  I don't know whether to blame it on the disappearance of Barry Bonds, the needle that Raffy fell on, the MTV Generation, or what, but I'm here to defend the National Pastime as the best version of the New National Pastime that being, of course, fantasy sports. 


Five Reasons why Baseball is Best:


1. More Games.  Some people think the MLB regular season is too long, that it forces the postseason too deep into the fall.  Well, those people don't play fantasy baseball, because there is no such thing as a season that is too long in fantasy.  Not only does the lengthy season and high game count offer more chances for giddy box score perusals, it also allows the best fantasy owners to separate themselves from the pack.  The mere fact that the average hitter takes 600 hacks and a typical starter logs nearly 200 innings means that the occasional flash in the pan won't dictate titles as often.  A guy coming on late in football ala Julius Jones can determine a title whereas in baseball, a sudden star like Felix Hernandez has a harder time impacting the big picture (but man is he fun to own on all five of my fantasy baseball teams).  Furthermore, the fact that baseball teams play pretty much six games every week means that the best teams will usually win, even in the controversial head-to-head format.  In football, everyone plays once a week, so game inequality isn't an issue, but in basketball, some teams might play three times while others play five.  In head-to-head leagues it isn't unusual to see guys sitting superstars just because they don't have many GP's for that week.  Two years ago a guy sat KG (yes, the year he won the MVP) during the first round of the playoffs because the T-Wolves played a paltry two games that week.  Last year someone dropped Manu Ginobili (in a limited keeper league) because they preferred to have Tyron Lue's five games played to Manu's three.  It's insanity.  The consistency of baseball allows teams to concentrate on strategies and building the best teams, as opposed to playing the "how can I get the most games" shuffle.


2. Best Statistical "Checks."  I see people constantly tinkering in my football and basketball leagues, trying to find a way to create more balance.  In football, it is a constant effort to reduce the dominance of running backs as well as a search for a way to add some "negative" categories.  For instance, Jamal Lewis might carry the ball 26 times for 58 yards and a touchdown (11 fantasy points under a typical system) and have a decent fantasy day, while playing pretty terrible in reality.  On the other hand, Chad Johnson might snag 10 balls for 108 yards but fail to get into the end zone.  He has definitely had the better day, but because of the way fantasy football is set up, Lewis gets one more fantasy point.  I've seen league commissioners incorporate negative points for carries, reduce the amount of points for rushing touchdowns, add points for receptions, and so on.  All in an attempt to better reflect reality.  In basketball, field goal and free throw percentage and turnovers serve to curb players' enthusiasm (best HBO show ever, by the way), but it is still more advantageous to just get warm bodies out there, if nothing else.  Baseball is the one sport where you have to think twice about every roster move.  If a bunch of your guys have a day off and you want to get an active player in the lineup, you'd better make sure that chance for a solitary run or the long shot at a home run is worth it, in the (more likely) event they throw up an 0-4 night. 


3. Both Sides of the Ball.  One of my favorite nuances about baseball in general is that the defense has the ball.  Simple and obvious, but kind of mind-blowing at the same time.  It also serves to symbolize the fact that defense is more important in fantasy baseball than any of its brethren.  Football pays lip service to the concept of defense, lumping entire defensive and special teams units into a single fantasy entity.  Basketball tries harder, but steals, blocks, and boards (primarily defensive) still pale in comparison to offensive categories like shooting percentage, points, threes, assists, and turnovers.  In short, it will still help you in more categories to draft Rip Hamilton than it will to draft Tayshaun Prince.  However, in baseball, the pitching categories count for half of the total columns on the scoreboard.  Drafting Chris Carpenter does just as much for your team as snagging A-Rod (the fact that A-Rod steals bases but Carpy doesn't save games being the only real difference).  Consider this breakdown:


Carpenter has provided my team with 17 of its 74 wins, or 23%.  A-Rod has hit 36 of 201 home runs, good for 18%.  Carpenter has 19% of my K's, A-Rod has 12% of the RBI.  Carpenter has the best starter's ERA and WHIP on my roster, A-Rod the best average and OPS.  Each are vital to my team's perch atop the league.  In basketball, or football, you don't have that kind of balance.  The best players are simply the best and you don't have to work two sides of the ball.  What makes baseball so much fun is trying to figure out how to approach this balance.  Some simply try to build a complete team through a great draft, some timely waiver wire moves, and a few swindles on the trade market.  Given how hard it is to compile average, power, speed, starting pitching, and saves though, most concoct a more specific game plan.  Do you build the offense and try to rotate in arms, just for the sake of wins and strikeouts, with your ratios taking the hit?  How about drafting a bevy of closers to keep the ratios down and the saves up while punting wins and K's?  Winning in fantasy baseball is about finding a strategy and sticking with it, not about praying that your star running back stays healthy or dumping half your starters because the Hawks have a rare six-game week coming up.  Which reminds me ...


4. Less Luck.  Not to sound like a fantasy snob, but there is nothing worse than losing to some lucky beginner.  While this happens in every sport (particularly when head-to-head is involved and the title is decided during the regular season's equivalent of garbage time), football seems to be the primary culprit.  Because of the limited number of games, you have more of a chance of getting hosed in fantasy football.  One week your star running back may sit it out at the last minute and you get crushed.  The next week, the last place team has a field day, throws up 140 points and you lose despite posting the second best score of the week.  The third week your team has three guys sitting because of byes.  And so on.  Fantasy football hinges more on good fortune than any other sport, because of the weekly nature of the schedule.  Basketball at least caters more to players who follow the action closely, but it is still more often than not a game of musical chairs to land the newest guy getting 38 minutes a night and all of the stats that naturally come with it.  Baseball is the one sport that seems to require savvy moves, longterm thinking, roster repairs through trades and waiver wire moves, and ultimately building the best possible team.  Plus, baseball seems to be the only fantasy sport left that features more Roto leagues than those of the Head-to-Head variety, so that in and of itself is going to lead to the best team being rewarded more often.  (There us one final reason to favor baseball.  In head-to-head baseball leagues, you are still more likely to get a good product right to the finish, because there is less of an injury risk.  Managers are more willing to keep their players on the field to preserve timing at the expense of a little rest.  So if your guys have a playoff spot wrapped up, they will still take their hacks and toe the rubber.  In basketball and football, there is a good chance your studs will be riding pine when the title is decided.)


5. More Ways to Win.  I touched on this earlier when discussing the many ways you can put together a team, but the beauty of fantasy baseball is that you can find specialists to make your team successful.  Everyone knows that to win in football, you have to rack up yards and touchdowns.  Especially touchdowns.  So I guess if guys that throw for and score a lot of TD's are "specialists," then football has this feature.  Yeah, right.  In hoops there are a handful of players that purely block shots or mainly give you assists, but most basketball players are well-rounded due to the requirements of playing the sport.  If you can't do a variety of things on the court, more often than not, you won't be on the court.  Baseball is different.  There are base stealing specialists, and power hitters, and closers, and setup men, and players that hit for average.  Those guys not only have merit in fantasy baseball, but they are critical to deciding titles.  Chad Cordero was probably taken in the 11th round of your draft, but he's also probably winning that team the saves category.  Juan Pierre gets taken in the second round every year because he can steal you 60 bases.  Now, obviously, you think about these things in other sports as well.  For instance, you might opt to take Jason Kidd over Baron Davis, because you'd like the extra few assists rather than the three's that the Baron will pour in (provided both these decrepit individuals are actually healthy enough to play).  But the bottom line is that you draft a power forward in round one and a point guard in round two and so on.  You sort of tinker with the stats, but because basketball players produce stats that are in line with their position, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to put together a competitive team.  In football it is even easier.  Just take guys that are going to score at every position.  In baseball you have to make an extra layer of decisions.  It isn't just "do I take a stud outfielder or a stud starting pitcher?"  It is "do I take a power hitting outfielder, a base stealing outfielder, or a stud starting pitcher?"  It less about forecasting and more about creating a strategy.  That extra layer makes the draft more fun, the team more challenging to build, and the entire game more fun. 


And by the way, while Wedding Crashers was quite good hilarious in fact Old School is still better.


Adam Hoff is a columnist for the Webby-winning WhatifSports.com and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers of America.  He can be reached at wis.insider@gmail.com.

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