Fantasy land not based in real stats

By Dave Fultz

The next few weeks will be an exciting time for baseball fans – all of the players have reported to spring training and the first games are set to start this week.

Also on the agenda for millions of fans is the opening of the fantasy baseball season. I dread the start of the fantasy season every single year for one reason: I’m just not any good at it.

The draft for the Daily Illini’s sports staff league is being held this Sunday night, and I’m in a frenzy to prepare for it so I don’t embarrass myself too badly.

Every year, I go into my league’s draft as one of the smarter “baseball guys” in the field, or at least I’d like to think so, and every year I end up at the bottom of the standings by midseason.

Why am I so terribly inept in this world of fantasy, you ask?

The answer to this, my friends, is simple: fantasy baseball is not real baseball.

While statistics like on-base percentage (OBP) and slugging (SLG) have been proven to correlate best to a real baseball team’s success, more showy offensive statistics like RBIs, home runs and stolen bases give a player the most value in fantasy baseball.

Players that have real value to a real baseball team can sometimes have a diminished value to a fantasy squad and vice versa.

The following example is exactly the reason why a guy like me (who thinks logically about how a player actually helps his team win) fails miserably at running a fantasy baseball team.

Todd Helton – a guy who had the third highest on-base percentage in all of baseball last year – has about as much value to a fantasy team as Juan Pierre.

Yes, you did just read that right. According to ESPN.com, Pierre and Helton are being drafted within an average of 10 spots of each other this season.

Pierre routinely makes the most outs in the majors, has a terrible OBP and draws a walk about as often as you get excited about writing a term paper, but he carries as much value as a guy like Helton in a fantasy league.

If you were the general manager of a real baseball team and didn’t take Helton 10 times out of 10 over Pierre, you’d get laughed right out of the dugout. But in a fantasy league, Pierre actually might carry more value than Helton.

The reason for this is that Pierre was one of only 19 players to steal 30 or more bases last year. Steals are one of the most overrated statistics in all of baseball. Most of the time, they don’t even help your team win.

But in fantasy baseball, where steals are scarce and valued highly (for reasons I can never understand), Pierre’s value is vastly overstated.

Helton, on the other hand, lacks some of the other aforementioned gaudy statistics that are valued highly in fantasy leagues.

While he gets on base at a tremendous rate – he draws a walk almost twice as often as he strikes out – Helton doesn’t hit a bunch of home runs, steal a lot of bases or rack up a ton of RBIs.

During draft day, I always end up having a tug of war in my brain between my actual baseball knowledge and the thinking I know will win a fantasy league.

Somehow I always end up choosing guys that would make a hell of a ballclub in real life, even though they have a much lower value to a fantasy squad.

But not this year.

This year I’m gathering together all of the cheat sheets from all of the so-called “experts” that are printed every year in Sports Illustrated, ESPN the Magazine and the like.

I’m going to gather all the information that the fantasy baseball “gurus” tell me will “Dominate (my) Draft” and run with it.

I’ll turn off my brain for the three or four hours our draft takes and pick a team that will (hopefully) win our league.

For the first time ever, I’ll join in on the fantasy fever and set aside all of my statistical analysis hullaballoo so that I don’t embarrass myself too badly.

I’m going to try to post the standings from our league in my column every once in awhile, but most likely we’ll end up posting them in the Daily Illini Sports blog that you can reach from our Web site at DailyIllini.com.

Wish me luck guys, here goes nothing.

Dave Fultz is a junior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected]