Get real: How to fix fantasy baseball

By Dave Fultz

This week marked the official start of the NFL and fantasy football seasons, and I couldn’t be happier.

I’m normally not one to be even the least bit excited to start another lackluster season at the helm of the (insert funny team name here) all-stars. Last year, I finished in dead last – as I do most years – but this year feels different.

My almost assuredly misguided optimism aside, the start of the football season made me think of the end of the baseball season and my surprisingly adequate finish to the fantasy baseball campaign.

Our DI Sports Staff league is coming to an end and my Bleacher Bums were just ousted from the playoffs. I consider it a success that I even made it into the playoffs, but I’m still lacking the excitement that came with the start of the football season.

Now, it’s not because I’m just another member of Football America like everyone else. I’d actually rather watch a regular-season baseball game than almost any postseason matchup in the NCAA or NFL.

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    I’m a baseball guy through and through, but the fantasy game can’t hold a candle to its football counterpart in likability or popularity. But all is not lost. I’m sure that fantasy baseball can be saved with a few small tweaks, and a couple of big ones, too.

    Creating a more realistic feel, giving the game a better scoring system and making it a little more similar to fantasy football could be just what baseball’s version needs.

    First off, fantasy sports games were created as simulators in an attempt to make the average armchair quarterback or sofa-bound center fielder feel like Vince Lombardi or Billy Martin and control every aspect of his team. Football is a sport that adapts well because the NFL plays a relatively short season that doesn’t hinder the realism of the game.

    Instead of straight points-only style or a weekly head-to-head format, baseball needs a more realistic schedule. So, in an attempt to infuse some much needed realism to the game, give fantasy baseball a real 162-game schedule. If you make every day game day, it gives the “manager” the ability to play the matchups and keep interest high as the season wears on.

    With a game every day, you might ask, “Dave, what happens if I don’t have a starting pitcher on my squad that is pitching that day?” And that is where we make fantasy baseball a little more like football.

    In most fantasy football leagues, a team doesn’t draft individual defensive players because they tend to rotate a lot and have inconsistent performances.

    Football leagues solve this problem by having each team play a full defensive team on their roster, and I’m proposing baseball does the same thing.

    Instead of having fantasy owners start individual pitchers, a better option would be to have teams start a pitching staff as a whole. You draft a pitching staff and get the whole shebang: that team’s starters, bullpen and closer.

    With that change, you have no problem doing away with a weekly head-to-head schedule and can go to a daily head-to-head format.

    And to add to the realism, rosters can also be pushed out to a full 15 spots. In making the decision to carry either two or three pitching staffs, a player makes the decision whether to keep 12 or 13 hitters – just like managers and GMs do in the big leagues.

    Add in a deep keeper system for multi-year leagues, and everything is set except for some scoring changes to make the games actually matter.

    There is no point in making all of these changes and then fail to amend the shortcomings that plague most fantasy baseball scoring systems. Instead of continuing to rely only on the flashy statistics like home runs, runs batted in, wins and saves, leagues need to count stats that have actually been proven to correlate more with winning real-life baseball games.

    Now, I’m not advocating anything as radical as getting rid of all of the “conventional” statistics, but you have to count the ones that carry the most importance.

    On-base percentage, slugging, OPS, ERA, WHIP, etc., are all proven to better correlate with helping a team win baseball games than any of the triple crown statistics for hitters or won-loss records for pitchers. And after all, contribution to winning baseball games is what makes a player valuable, isn’t it?

    If fantasy baseball wants to stand any chance of competing with its football counterpart, the game needs to get more realistic and count the stats that really matter. If that happened, I wouldn’t be able to wait until next spring’s draft.

    Dave Fultz is a senior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected].