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Charging the Mound: When Disaster Strikes

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: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 12:03am
To: Jeff Erickson
Subject: Charging

After a horrible first four weeks in some of my leagues - ranging from Jonathan Broxton losing his job (after I drafted him) to Giancarlo Stanton's slow start to Aramis Ramirez's DL stint to Jason Heyward's struggles and subsequent injury to Mitchell Boggs' spectacular murder of two categories, I had two fantastic days.

Stanton hit three homers, Juan Pierre stole several bags, Nate McLouth whom I lucked into for $1 in NFBC was killing it, Josh Donaldson was an RBI machine, Mitch Moreland started to hit, and my stream pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, gave up zero runs. I hadn't fixed everything by any means, but my NL Tout team was in fourth (with Delmon Young, Brian McCann and eventually Logan Morrison, Oscar Taveras, Billy Hamilton on the way), my LABR team was in third (with Wil Myers, Jurickson Profar and Derek Jeter on reserve), my NFBC team had Curtis Granderson, McCann and Ramirez due back and even my left-for-dead YF&F team would get Heyward and Ramirez, to go along with just activated Michael Saunders. I was back, and I even relished the challenge of moving from worst to contention and having a great story to show for it.

And then the bottom fell out.

First Troy Tulowitzki injured his shoulder, and while it turns out it's likely to be minor, he still hasn't suited up yet, and with him you never know. Then Jason Heyward decided to take off the entire month of May even though he was eligible (and expected) to return May 5. Matt Holliday took nine days to return from his appendectomy a couple years ago, while Adam Dunn took six. Hines Ward and Ben Roethlisberger came back in two weeks and played NFL football.

Then while watching the MLB Network last night, I learned Stephen Strasburg had trouble commanding his pitches and was shaking his forearm for much of the game, trying to keep it loose. Commentator Ken Rosenthal admitted it would be irresponsible to speculate on a right forearm injury being related to Strasburg's Tommy John surgery, but of course, that what they all did, and so did all of us at home on Twitter. I cursed my bad luck - just as I was getting everything going, and NL Tout looked like a powerhouse, I was set to lose a top-three SP. But that misery was quickly put into perspective five minutes later when Giancarlo Stanton tripped over first base and crumpled to the field in pain. I have Tulo in two leagues, Heyward in one, Strasburg in one, and Stanton in five.

It's a strange feeling to be living and dying with every streamed start, every bases loaded ground-out, every save and blown save, studying the waiver wire in YF&F to grab the next breakout guy before anyone else, looking ahead on the projected starters grid to find a favorable match-up, and then bang - in one fell swoop, your top two picks are out for a month and possibly more. How is one supposed to process that? My first instinct is to say "screw it," there's always AL LABR, the Staff Keeper League, NFL season and, of course, next year. But damn - I liked the teams I had drafted and was so excited for the year to start not four weeks ago. In the end, it could have been a lot worse. Stanton could come back June 1 and still hit 40 HR. Heyward could come back June 1 and go 20-20. You have to patch the hole as best you can and hope to get a little lucky.

It's funny because once the shock wore off, I find I'm more pissed that Halladay got shelled today - and I decided at the last minute not to stream Zach McAllister who I had rostered for that purpose - than about Stanton going down. The latter is a challenge. The former is just infuriating.

How do you handle your teams that are off to bad starts, unlucky or just flat-out bad? Do you still put in the same effort for all of them, no matter where you are in the standings? Or do you check on the ones that are doing well more often, which gives you better awareness of what categories you need and who you might target in a trade? Can a team ever be dead after one month? Can a team lose 2-3 key players and still contend for a title?

-----Original Message-----
From: Jeff Erickson
Sent: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 7:33pm
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: RE: Charging

It's an interesting paradox - we almost certainly spend more time on the teams that are doing well than the teams that need more work, when we almost certainly should spend more time on the slow starters. But spending time on the teams doing well seems more fulfilling - we just feel better about those teams and by extension about our ourselves. But I would bet that's the common occurrence.

The first thing I do about a team that's off to a bad start is vent about it. Really, it helps. Then I take a look at why it's doing so poorly. Is it fundamentally flawed, is it because of injuries or guys still in the minors, or is it the product of variance? Over half the time, it's because of variance. That's especially true if you felt like you executed your plan at the draft table to your satisfaction. (If you had regrets at the draft table or immediately after, ratchet that percentage down quite a bit.) It might seem cliche' especially if you're well versed in sabermetric theory, but I think it's true. How many times have you made the point about last year, regarding the swings in production between Matt Kemp, Josh Hamilton and then Mike Trout? I think if you wish to undo a set of draft picks, those that aren't already hurt, you'll end up regretting that decision to undo it more often than not.

That said, yeah, how many times have I ranted about not taking Justin Upton instead of Jose Bautista, and then ended up with Bautista instead of Strasburg in the second round of my NFBC draft? Pretty much every time I talk about that league, right? But maybe Strasburg's forearm hiccup is just that, a hiccup? Do you buy the explanation from the Nats that the discomfort of using an electric shock machine to close to a nerve? For that matter, how normal is it to use such a machine like that? Is that itself a reason to be concerned?

A team in a non-keeper league might be dead after one month if it both starts slowly and then has a ton of injuries. That's especially true if everyone in the league is active, preventing you from sweeping up all the top pickups to fill your gaps. I know that I'm a little bummed about my NFBC squad right now - it's really, really hard to hit .221 as a team (.221 - that's actually progress for these sad sacks!), and looking up and seeing that I have all of 8 hitting points in a 15-team league is depressing. If I had 65.5 points now in a 15-teamer but it was all due to a good hitting/poor pitching start, I'd feel a lot better somehow. Maybe it's because the top free agents so far this year have been pitchers - Jose Fernandez, Tony Cingrani, Andrew Bailey, Edward Mujica and Jose Valverde. It's really hard to find a difference-making hitter, at least in this format.

But in your scenario where you lose your top two guys like that, you almost have to approach it by setting little goals. Try to pass up one team n the standings every other week. Try to pick off a couple of points in a category each week. Find small goals and hope that they add up in the long run. Try to set some sidebets against the teams closest to you in the standings, if you feel as if the overall prize is out of play. If you're looking at it as if it won't matter, find a way to make it matter.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Thursday, May 2, 2013 3:17am
To: Jeff Erickson
Subject: Re: Charging

I think it's true we look at our successful teams to feel better. Good teams are the persona, bad teams the shadow. I'm purposely only going to check the standings of my worst teams for the next month to counteract that. What kind of man lives a half-truth to make himself feel better. F. that.

And you know I agree about venting. That's all I do for nine hours a week on SXM. My style used to be more of a rant, but now it's just a vent. (Some call it "non-stop complaining" on Twitter, and they don't like it. Of course, the remedy is to change the channel, turn off the radio or drive off the road.)

Seriously, though, my YF&F team is finally starting to hit even though picks No. 1 (Stanton), No. 2 (Heyward) and No. 4 (Ramirez) are still on the DL. Oh, and Carl Crawford's missed the last two games with a hamstring injury. But I'm crazy enough to think I can get it done with Michael Saunders, Josh Donaldson, Matt Wieters, Ichiro, Justin Morneau, Starlin Castro and a bunch of guys I shuttle in and out. Maybe not win the whole thing, but finish in the top half. If Stanton and Heyward are 100 percent on June 1, I'll aim higher than that.

-----Original Message-----
From: Jeff Erickson
Sent: Friday, May 3, 2013 11:58am
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: Re: Charging

We always say that you shouldn't pay attention to early season standings anyways, but we all do it, pretty much every day.

It looks as if Johnny Cueto just had a setback, so in all the leagues that you got Tony Cingrani, at least you got some good news there. The Reds get more time to stall to make the right decision vis-a-vis Cingrani versus Mike Leake.

The Crawford injury bothers me. He was close to his pre-Boston form prior to the injury, but a hammy is about the worst type of injury that could happen to him, absent a setback with his elbow. I need him to keep running - well, we both do in our cursed Scoresheet league.

Anyhow, four months is still a long time in baseball - you get those guys back in June, you'll still be dangerous. And maybe someone like Dalton will get his share of bad luck by then.