Fantasy Baseball: The Bane Of Baseball Traditionalists

Michael PopeAnalyst IJune 21, 2008, fantasy baseball's leading website, receives thousands of hits a day. Fans rely on sites like these for updates on players, as well as tips on how to manage their fantasy teams.

It's big business, so much so that NBC Sports bought the company a few years ago. Columnists like Aaron Gleeman make a very good living writing about the hobby.

Gleeman is good at what he does. So are most of the fantasy reporters. Yet, their specialization is playing a game of numbers.

I don't know these writers' baseball backgrounds. I never researched them, nor have I seen it displayed in their credentials. For all I know they are casual fans who have neither the expertise of playing or coaching the sport to evaluate its players.

This wouldn't be a problem if they stuck to crunching numbers and playing hunches to make projections about which players will have a good year.

But these guys are churning out scouting reports and making predictions of which players will end up making it in the big leagues. Sure, some success can be derived from looking at a player's stat line. But are they qualified to evaluate a player's tools? Or are they simply forming this opinion from reading someone else's scouting report?

There's a big difference between the two. I'm certainly not saying I'm an expert. However, my two years on a college bench as an assistant coach and three years working in minor league front offices (I have one ring thanks to the 1996 West Michigan Whitecaps) gives me some hands-on experience.

Additionally, having discussed strategies, training methods, the draft process, and the intricacies of the game with players themselves, allows me to feel comfortable in expressing my opinion about which players based on talent or determination might be successful.

However, my discussions with scouts and watching them work keeps me in check and I realize there is a fine line between seeing obvious talent and recognizing hidden talent. It takes a special eye. That skill should be left to scouts and scouts alone, not fantasy baseball journalists.

Don't get me wrong, fantasy sports can be fun. But, listening to fantasy experts use general terms such as, "he has a low 90s fastball, plus slider and a developing change-up," doesn't cut it.

Then, they turn the spotlight on players who excel in as little as one of a few categories while marginalizing the overall contribution a player can make on the diamond.

Baseball is the consummate team sport, where it takes all 25 guys playing in congress to be successful. Players can contribute in so many ways that don't show up in the box score. But with fantasy baseball, the box score is the only thing that matters.

So, you have pundits opining that players should be released when a player doesn't hit enough home runs or steal enough bases.

But often in MLB, player values cannot be measured purely by quantitative methods. Frequently, rotoworld will denounce a manager for playing a player that seemingly has no value. They might question a manager for sticking with a player who is struggling.

There is a reason managers, coaches and scouts are in their positions: they know the game. They understand that the baseball season is a grind and it's important to have all the players pushing in the same direction.

They know that in the dugout, a respected player, no matter their batting average, is worth more than a player who can simply hit home runs.

But, in fantasy sports, since the box score is the only thing that counts and hard nosed players like David Eckstein, Reed Johnson or Jamey Carroll often have little fantasy value. But there is a reason teams keep bringing these players in and managers stick up for them. They know how to play the game.

It's frustrating to read fans or fantasy journalists call for a player's demotion or release because, "he's killing my fantasy team!" Baseball, and sports in general, is often about defying the odds and probabilities. In baseball, this can be accomplished with a sacrifice bunt, taking the extra base or calling for the proper pitches—things that mean little in fantasy leagues.

By placing more importance on the bottom line of home runs, steals, saves or strikeouts, it can detract from the enjoyment of watching the game.

Fantasy baseball is another way to enjoy the sport, and it has its place. But, when you use that as your basis for how the sport should be played or you determine player value from a fantasy perspective, it shows you don't really understand the game.