Thursday, February 2, 2012

2011 Rotohead Championship- the Princely Road to Glory

by Chris Cattalini

Sorry, this isn't about the Prince who landed in Detroit to protect my favorite player in the batting order. Nicolo Machiavelli wrote "The Prince," in order to advise Lorenzo d'Medici on how to run the principality of Florence around the year 1500. One of Machiavelli's themes was the balance between good fortune (what some would call luck) and the historically informed wisdom of making good decisions (what some would call skill or cleverness.) Well, in Fantasy baseball both luck and skill are involved. The best a good Prince can do is lay out a good plan- and hope you get lucky. In this case, my team, "Gramsci's Revolution" had a little of both.
Last year, despite my over indulgence in picking Josh Johnson in round 4, I was able to come away with the 2011 Rotohead league inaugural championship. JJ, was my pick for N.L. Cy Young- and I thought after seeing his off-season regime of "strengthening his core," he would assuredly hit 200 innings with off the charts K's, Whip, ERA. (note: a more skillful GM with Halladay in the bag, would have opted for Verlander or CC as much safer bets.)

But all was not lost. Miguel Cabrera was an easy 1st rounder for me at number 5. Luckily, league culture of bats early and SPs later, let Halladay fall to me in round 2. I didn't plan on Roy H, but when in Rome or Florence, you got to take what's given to you. So I drank the Halladay vintage wine 2011, bold with a sweet finish. (this also made JJ a stronger play.)

Round 3 was fun. Yahoo had Ellsbury rated quite low, like the 8th round. Ells was looking strong in Spring training. Crawford was praising his power, saying something to the effect of "I always thought Jacoby had a game similar to mine." Well, it was similar and then some, as Ells would reach heights never conquered by Crawf. So I jumped on Ellsbury in Round 3, as no guts, no glory. The Mig Cab/Ells duo was a real nice 5 category combo which stabilized my offensive ups and downs.

In Rounds 5 and 6 I had more fun with Jay Bruce and Mike Stanton. I figured lets power it up in the OF, thinking 50 SBs from Jacoby and possibly 80 HRs from the youthful power duo. Everyone knows of Stanton's prowess so round 6 was no big deal. I was bedazzled by Bruce's bust out 2nd half in 2010, and several experts thought 40 bombs were in the bag. Well in May, I thought I was amongst the geniuses- and then the beauty of baseball struck. Bruce took a methodical nosedive, hitting an HR here and there, but basically had one great, amazing Pujols like 5-6 week stretch to make his overall numbers look not so bad. But power is power, and 30 HRs with a low AVG. is nothing to sneeze at when Mig Cab and Ellsbury have combined for a .330 AVG- it all works out.

Later I went for speed, with BJ and Bret Gardner, adding Heath Bell in between. As the later rounds progressed I was simply filling the gaps. The draft was challenging. Everytime I queued up a 2B or an SS, they'd be taken right before my pick, round after round. Meanwhile, I was a big Michael Pineda fan, so I safely snatched up the Bob Gibson look alike (at least in physical stature) early enough. I also went with Kimbrel at some point while Freddie Gonzalez was still hyping Venters as the possible closer. I will always go talent over safe play on closers for now on. Lefty closers are rare and help their team much more as 7th and 8th inning options.

The 2b and SS drought worked out just fine. Howie Kendrick kept slipping. He was not in my plans, but at some point he looked a lot better than Freddy Sanchez- so he landed on "Gramsci's Revolution." Asdrubal Cabrera appeared. He fit perfect. I was thinking 10 to 15 HRs with 20 SBs and at least a .280. Well he went another direction thanks to Orlando Cabrera saying hey um buddy- you hit the ball 400 feet in BP, why aren't you doing it in a game? I was aware of As Cab's pop, as he had a 40 plus double season before, and he was still youthful. Some guys come up really early, and are easy to forget about. I met As Cab at the fortunate intersection of knowledge and luck.

Like the season ending JJ injury, not all went as planned. Some draft picks are made months in advance. In October of 2010, I awoke in New York City at 4am after a one hour nap on my friend's fold out couchbed near 110th Street on the Upper West side. My girlfriend and I still had a healthy dose of the last night of the Big Apple bar odor on our clothes and breath. We hopped a cab to Penn Station, after avoiding some of the early morning drug addicts, took the L.I.R.R. to the Jamaica station sky train to JFK and flew into to San Francisco, where my gameday friend picked us up at the airport, dropped off my girlfriend and took me to the Giants-Padres game #161. It was now 1pm pacific time.

This was clinching day. A G-men victory over the pesky Pads, would mean an N.L. West championship. Except there was one, big propblem. Barry Zito was facing Tim Stauffer. Give us Dwight Gooden, Nolan Ryan, even Roy Halladay. The Giants can beat the heaters, hard country fastballers. Please don't give us Kevin Gross, or Mark Portugal, or yes, Tim Stauffer. Well as Zito walked batter after batter, and his nervous noodle arm wailed timidly in the breeze trying to search for an idea, I would nod on and off, and wake again in the 3rd deck. Meanwhile, Stauffer dazzled- he looked like a Hershiser, or a Bob Welch in his prime- pitching to the corners, getting ground ball outs, an occasional K. Zito's fate would make this his last start of the season on the road to the Giants World Series title. Stauffer's performance, along with his low WHIP and Petco ERA would earn him a spot on "Gramsci's Revolution."
So Stauffer didn't perform as expected, and I think I lost patience and dropped him and picked him up more than once. The only lesson I take from it all- is it's really good to watch a pitcher pitch, not just look at his stats. Maybe it doesn't always workout, but it is good to know what you're drafting. Be your own scout I say. But more importantly, if Barry Zito is pitching, don't rush out of NYC and travel across the country. Relax, go see the Statue of Liberty, smell the wondrous smells of the subway, drink a Manhattan, get mugged even, but don't travel across the country with one hour of sleep in a 27 hour day.
Ok, so now- I'm sure you're dying to know how I won the championship. Listen, I can't give away all my secrets. But I will say this via a football comparison. I once spoke to the great backup running back/ special teams player, Del Rodgers, who won Super Bowls with the Niners and the Packers. I asked Del how important is a head coach in the NFL? Without flinching he said "80 percent." I was surprised- I figured it was more about talent, and less about the coaching, maybe 60 percent talent, and 20 percent for injuries, and 20 for coaching. But now it makes sense- there is a big difference between Jim Harbaugh and Mike Singletary.

In Fantasy Baseball- there is no coach, only a GM and that's you or in this case me. GMs make their biggest decisions before the season, especially when you draft an entire team. So if some kid were to ask me "How much does the draft matter over managing your team?," I could look at him deadpanned and say "80 percent." Once you get Roy Halladay, Mig Cab, Ellsbury, and the rest, they are yours, and you just let them play.

But that 20 percent is still important- because there might be five other teams with drafts as good as yours. No coach or GM can make Bengie Molina run like Vernon Davis. But during the year, there are crucial decisions which can move you up or down the ladder. I had acquired a lot of speed in BJ Upton, Ellsbury, and Bret Gardner. At the hot corner, I was relying on the Yahoo 3b eligibility of Michael Cuddyer- a good player for the roster, but not the guy I wanted at a scarce position, especially as I feared his past injuries. So I traded with the commissioner's team, B.J. Upton straight up for Pablo Sandoval. Panda would get hurt, but put up great numbers while he was in there. In the meantime I picked up Mark Reynolds, and used Cuddyer to also help fill-in at 3b.

The trade balanced my team, and I was able to find speed off the waiver wire in the persons of Jemile Weeks and Cameron Maybin. In another league, Maybin stole two bases on the last day of the season to reach 40 total, and dethrown me from a 5 month 1st place run. But we won't talk about that. For the Princely run to the Rotoleague Championship, he was a much better option than trading Stanton straight up for Michael Bourn.

Jem Weeks was a different story- I had my eye on him throughout the minors. I like college kids from big programs like Miami, especially with family pedigree. My friend worked for the Rivercats, the A's AAA team in Sactown where Weeks was tearing it up. So I kept my mouth shut and kept waiting for the call-up, always texting my friend, "when?", and he kept saying "soon, soon, he's fast." I had plenty of power, so Weeks added SBs, runs, and a solid AVG, fitting my team perfectly. And he's a fun baseball player to watch.

Well, take all this as advice if you want- but chances are, you don't need it. The fun of Fantasy baseball is you get to think for yourself. My only advice is to have a plan- draft the top three relievers in the first three rounds (please try this especially if you're in my league), it doesn't matter- so long as you have a pre-draft plan of some sort. As Machiavelli advised the Prince, "Therefore, I conclude that good advice, no matter where it comes from, ultimately derives from the prudence of the prince, and the prudence of the prince does not derive from good advice."...... And if Machiavelli were a baseball fan in the 16th century he would have added, "If Zito is pitching, avoid the arena at all costs, go to the beach and a drink some chianti."

-Chris Cattalini, RotoHead League Champion 2011