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Charging the Mound: Liss and Erickson Talk Baseball

Chris Liss

Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.

Jeff Erickson

Jeff Erickson is a co-founder of RotoWire and the only two-time winner of Baseball Writer of the Year from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. He's also in the FSWA Hall of Fame. He roots for the Reds, Bengals, Red Wings, Pacers and Northwestern University (the real NU).

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Monday, August 15, 2011 8:07pm
To: "Jeff Erickson"
Subject: Charging

I have to say this hasn't been my greatest baseball season. While I'm in the top half in virtually all six of my leagues, there's only one (AL LABR) that I feel I can win (As I type this I'm in first place by three points, but I've been in first place there as late as August 20th before and finished 6th that year). Last year, I didn't win any of the six, but I took second in four, two of which had big payouts for second, and one of which (LABR) I overcame terrible bad luck due to injuries. Don't get me wrong, I want to win LABR, but seriously contending in only 1 of 6 - even if I win it - feels like a letdown this late in the year. For a while I thought I could catch you in Yahoo! Friends and Family, but after trading Mike Stanton to Scott Pianowski (for Tim Lincecum) and losing ARod, my offense has gone into the toilet. I'm hoping to get to about third place, as your finishes there go on your permanent record, and you want to keep up a good showing, even with no money involved.

Speaking of which, I can take a high-quality, high-profile expert baseball league seriously with no money at stake, but it's a lot harder with football. I give it my best every year in the higher profile ones, but fantasy football is a game where money almost has to be at stake, given the amount of randomness and variance. Otherwise, I start caring more about my survivor pools and against-the-spread record. The RotoWire Steak League is the best of all three worlds - personal rivalries and pride, some money at stake and the humiliation of having to buy steaks for your betters. That's why Matt Deutsch has to make the Sirius XM expert leagues have some kind of prize (and penalty) going forward. Sure, the fantasy channel hosts already want to beat each other and crow about it on air when they do, but if there were some serious coin at stake and some kind of embarrassing punishment for losing, we'd be killing each other over it, and it would be a huge topic of conversation throughout the channel. Get a sponsor and say 10 K for winning it, 10 K for most overall points, 5 K for second and 5 K for second most overall points. Least overall points has to go on every show every day of one week in January and hear about it. People would love that. Of course, it would be a nightmare when shady trades went down between co-hosts - probably would shut down the channel. Maybe it would have to be a no-trade league, lest I fleece you and Dalton Del Don, and everyone would be up in arms.

Speaking of DDD, that pox on humanity picked up Brandon Belt the other day in Friends and Family after I had wasted a precious roster spot on him for most of the year. I finally dropped him when he got sent down yet again, and DDD beat me to the pick up when he got called back up. Of course, Belt hit two homers Sunday and will probably be a monster the rest of the way. If that happens, DDD should fear for his life.

Even though I'm in first place in LABR, I'm thin in starting pitching. With Clay Buchholz and Alex Cobb going down for the year, my only regular starters are Ricky Romero, Jon Lester and Jeff Niemann. I traded for Brian Matusz (Carlos Guillen), and he's back up to start this week, and I just picked up Henderson Alvarez (who starts at SEA and at OAK). Any thoughts about those two? The thing I noticed about Alvarez is he has two last names. Jason Thornbury told me never to trust a man with a full beard or two first names, but what's the rule on two last names?

I know you watch Breaking Bad which along with Curb Your Enthusiasm is the best show on TV, but do you ever watch True Blood? I used to like it, but it's so horrible this season they should change the name of it to False Water . There must be 25 subplots going on at once, and I've seen the main character, Sookie, naked so many times, at this point I wish she'd just put her clothes back on and get going. I'd even spring for the cab fare.

I'll say one other thing: after the excitement of all the NFL signings once the lockout ended, I'm already bored with the preseason. I watched the Giants-Panthers game thinking I'd get a look at Cam Newton who didn't impress me much, by the way, and wound up turning it off in the second quarter. There's no correlation between how teams perform in the preseason and the regular season, and the things that do matter - like job battles, or injured players attempting to return - you can read about on our latest news page. There's no reason to watch preseason games unless you bet on them - which I discourage for obvious reasons.

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Tuesday, August 16, 2011 8:01pm
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: RE: Charging

Let me ask you this - which baseball league is more important for you to win, your home league, where you win the money, or an expert league, where you win more acclaim? Does it mean anything more to you if you think the competition is tougher or the format more difficult? When you won in the Staff Keeper League, did it mean anything more because it was a keeper league? Or is a win a win, regardless of the format?

I won my AL home league last year, and I was pretty psyched about it, not just because of the money, but because I have a good track record there and it's the league that launched RotoWire. Next year will be it's 20th season. But last year my expert leagues were pretty mediocre - my best finish was third in AL Tout. This year, the opposite is true. I have a very middling team in my home league - every time I even think about trading to try to game the categories, I lose a major guy to injury, and there's just so little left to do in that league. But I'm doing well in many of my expert leagues - I have a chance to win in Tout, a pretty good chip lead at the final table of the Y! Friends & Family league, and am one of three teams with a chance to win with a bunch of industry types in a dynasty league. Yet I think I'm more bummed about the home league than I am excited about the home leagues - and I don't think it's just the money. It's also the bragging rights with friends. You can brag all you want in expert leagues too, I suppose, especially as we've become friends with a lot of people in the industry over the years, but it's not quite the same. And yeah, it would help if I actually had a better track record in Y! Friends & Family.

But I'm with you - I care more about my MLB industry leagues than my NFL counterparts too, for the reasons you suggest. I think another part of it has to do with the effort expended in the drafts themselves. I can do a football draft with some detailed prep, or I can just wing it and I think that the results will not be that far different, at least after I've done one draft just to get a feel for the players. I can't do that with baseball - if I'm drafting, it's going to require more effort, so I'm more likely to see it through and finish the drill.

I like the idea of punishing the last place teams in the XM league, but I think that we should go even farther than that. Make the loser *host* the other shows for them in punishment week, talking up that person's site, and, where appropriate, use that person's catch-phrases too, no matter how cringe-worthy they are. The penalty aspect of the Steak League makes that league so great. There should be penalty phases for last place in every expert league - and I bet the best home leagues have them, too. This is where readers should jump in on the comments - what does your league do to humiliate the last place team?

The Giants are finding themselves having to play Belt now - especially now that Carlos Beltran just went on the DL and both Nate Schierholtz and Aaron Rowand are banged up. I noticed that DDD swiped you on Belt - as much as I'm entertained by the fact that he did that to you, he's closer to me in the standings, so that two-homer game wasn't all that fun. That, and I first dropped Belt. At least he cost me less time. Hopefully lightning can strike twice against you in that league - I just snagged your guy Matusz in F&F and am using him tonight against Oakland. By the time you get to respond, you'll probably see his results so you can likely mock me accordingly. But this works out well - for you to do well, I have to benefit. I also have Matusz in a dynasty league, so I'm hoping this last month is more reflective of where he's at than the start of the season.

I haven't yet seen True Blood - for better or worse, I canceled HBO once The Wire ended and Entourage started going downhill. I've missed out on a few good shows since then, I know, but I have a hard enough time keeping up with good series as it is. I'll go the Netflix route usually when I hear a show is good - that's how we've watched Dexter in the past, among other shows. But your revulsion from the latest on True Blood is definitely how I felt about Entourage - I hear it might be better this year, but it's too late for me on that one.

I tried watching the Texans-Jets game yesterday, and not only was I bored, but I also felt a little guilty. Here it is at a critical time in the baseball season, and I'm watching this over-produced exhibition featuring one team's fifth-string running back playing most of the game. If the team doesn't care enough to start one of the top three players at a skill position (and yes, I know all three had minor injuries), why should I care? At least I switched in time to see Jim Thome's 600th homer. By the way, I don't have an opinion whether Thome used PED's or not, or what that means due to the hype or lack thereof following his chase of that milestone. I'm not much of a milestone guy to begin with, so the chatter about these milestones getting diluted doesn't really phase me one way or another.

I'll leave you with this bit of advice - when you're up for some honor, be it the FSTA Hall of Fame or some judicial appointment (because I know you have big political ambitions), you'd better hope that Charles Robinson and Dan Wetzel don't go looking into your sordid past. Because if they're on the case, the goods are going to be revealed. First USC, then Ohio St., and now Miami. They're not shying away from the big programs.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Wednesday, August 17, 2011 12:03am
Subject: Re: Charging

My home league has a pretty big payout, so I don't think I could turn it down. But I've never won LABR, and it is tough competition, so it would be a close call. The Staff Keeper League win was cool, but there's not much money, and Schuler looks at the day to day more than I do. I just auction the team and make trades mostly. And just to issue a correction, I was in the top half in all six of my leagues - or so I thought - but my NL Tout team is slipping, and I think I'm in seventh out of 12 right now.

The other reason the industry baseball leagues are a bigger deal is there are some well-known expert ones like LABR and Tout that people look to as barometers for player pricing and that have long histories with key players in the history of our industry. For football, there are a bunch of good experts leagues here and there (the YF&F is one), but none of them have that kind of history or status as benchmarks for the public. Part of that is longevity, and part of it is because football has so much variance year to year that no one should care what the experts are doing. Another factor is that for LABR and Tout, we actually fly across the country, and all the NFL drafts (except the high stakes ones in Vegas like the NFFC which I'm in this year), we draft online. There's something to making the effort and drafting in person, and playing poker and partying with the competition before and after the draft.

I don't think your SXM league punishment would work. Whoever lost would mail it in after a while and take down the whole channel. But one spot on each show every day of the week would be 15 minutes of repeated torture without destroying the entire program. Another idea is electric shock or maybe a good public caning.

So far Matusz has allowed four runs in six innings. Not what either of us had hoped for but, knock on wood, not yet a total disaster, either. Having Lester and Niemann in today's doubleheader softens the blow some, too.

I like milestones, or more accurately, I like like all-time-leader lists, but baseball is somewhat ruined in this respect. We'll never know entirely who was cheating and who wasn't, and any speculation is pretty pointless. Maybe they were cheating in other ways 50 years ago, and I was just naive because I was young, but 714 and 755 were important numbers to me. I just don't care that much about 762 these days. It's to the point where I don't really care whether Thome was clean or not. I'm clean, and that's what matters.

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Thursday, August 18, 2011 1:14am
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: Re: Charging

Good call on the "in-person" aspect. In fact, I'd say that's a huge factor. Live auctions/drafts are why I got into fantasy sports in the first place. One of the bitter realities of life is that my home leagues don't draft in person any longer - at least, I don't get to be there in person. A handful of the guys in my home league will actually take their respective families to the Wisconsin Dells, but I've never been able to make that trip. Maybe I can find a way to get there in March next year for our 20th season.

Also, the way that the industry has evolved, to make fantasy football such a bigger enterprise than fantasy baseball, also means that there are a lot more companies that do football. I think it makes it harder to coordinate that one premier expert league. Though I guess LABR was established before the football boom and Tout right about at the same time.

I'm glad you mentioned Jeff Niemann. Ever since returning from the DL, he's been fantastic. I'm surprised that he's been striking out so many batters during this stretch - 54 K's in his last 58 innings. At one point he was the weak link in the Rays' rotation - maybe the guy that would give way once Matt Moore was deemed ready by the Rays' front office. Now that guy is Wade Davis, who has regressed pretty badly in his second full season. How many times in the past have we talked about how tall pitchers (Jeff Niemann is 6'9") take longer to hit their peak? Maybe that's what we're looking at here?

And don't be so fast to proclaim your innocence. Sure, the statute of limitations has run on the case against your former landlady, but let's not forget the infamous Defenestration of 2009. That's the incident that is going to torpedo you.