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Charging the Mound: Erickson and Liss 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: "Jeff Erickson"
Sent: Wednesday, April 9, 2014 6:24pm
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: Charging

With my AL home league having drafted last Friday, all of my drafts are finally done. I think we've done plenty of draft reviews, so this week, let's talk about Daily Fantasy Sports, in which I've started to take more of an interest. I opened up an account with one of our sponsors, in part because it's pretty easy to fund an account now in DFS with PayPal, something you can't do in the online poker world. I wonder how long that will last, though - funding through PayPal and the ability of these sites to pay out so readily. When online poker boomed, it was a bit of the Wild West at first - there was no established rule on whether it was legal, whether paying out was legal and even whether it could be regulated. How could the game be kept fair? What was there to ensure that some company wouldn't take the money and run (and as it turned out, a few did)? More commerce is done online now, and fantasy sports has more positive regulation in its favor than poker did/does, so it's not a perfect parallel. But DFS isn't clearly on safe legal ground yet, as far as I can tell - we know certain states have banned it, and I don't think we have yet had a safe haven declaring it a game-of-skill and thus legal in Congress like we have with fantasy overall.

Legalities aside, there are some interesting pros and cons to the game. The biggest selling point in its favor to me is the ability to own a guy that for whatever reason I don't own in my various leagues this year, or don't own in as many that I like. I thoroughly enjoyed Jose Abreu going off on my behalf in Coors Field yesterday, even if I had to share that performance with 30% of my pool. But even with 12 leagues (somehow I *added* a league this year, rather than dropped two, sigh ...), there are so many players I like that I don't have. So this helps address that shortcoming.

Two other positives about DFS: One, they help us with our standard leagues by requiring us to dive into the matchups and really get to know what's going on in the player pool right now. If you're in a league with daily moves, you're definitely going to know whether your player is active and avoid those lineup errors that always come back to haunt. You're going to know if a player has moved in the batting order to a more advantageous spot. And it's going to help you with streaming players when you need it, if you're constantly grinding the lineups. The other obvious benefit is the immediate gratification when you have a good day - though the flip side is the immediate loss when you have a bad day (I see you, Jordan Zimmermann).

But there's some obvious negatives as well. The biggest one is that it's taking a lot of customers and revenue out of the pool. These businesses all take a rake - of course they do, and I don't begrudge them that. But between that and those that are losing players, that's a lot of people that might be trying fantasy sports for the first time and vowing not to play again, in any format. We have an interest in growing the game, and I think that the long-term effect of DFS will be to contract it - anecdotally I've heard of a few players who have dropped their season-long leagues in order to focus on daily. But to do daily games right takes so much time, time that's no longer spent managing your roster for free agents and lineups or to conducting trades - aspects of the game that I still enjoy.

The other thing I don't like is how Industry Touts act regarding their fantasy advice. "... I told you to stack White Sox in Coors Field, and now you've profited ...." Yes, I get that it's a crowded marketplace and people have to know about your work, but man, so much of the bragging is Captain Obvious fare, and we never hear the whiffs - unless you see someone else tweeting at that guy - "... how did that Charlie Morton work out for you...." Here's the thing about both - baseball is a long-term game for the most part, and sometimes good advice can go bad. It doesn't mean that you were a genius when you're right one day or an idiot when you're wrong (see also, Zimmermann). In fact, I like that Zimmermann got torched - our assumptions need to be constantly challenged.

But, like it or not, unless the legal climate changes, DFS is going to occupy a certain percentage of my brain this season. SXM's coverage has expanded to cover it significantly, including daily segments with our show. Our offerings on Daily Fantasy Sports have exponentially grown so that it has its own section. And our biggest advertisers are the daily companies - which is a little bit of an uncomfortable relationship at times.

What are your thoughts about the daily games? Have you taken an active interest in them this season yet? What else has grabbed your attention in these first 10 days?

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Thursday, April 10, 2014 4:28 pm
To: "Jeff Erickson"
Subject: Re: Charging

I'm a bit torn on DFS. I'm glad it exists - why shouldn't it? The disingenuous frontmen who masquerade as legislators in certain states have banned it only because moneyed interests (like Indian gaming operations) have paid them off. And I'm certainly happy for the revenue it puts in RotoWire's coffers some of which makes its way into my pocket and Sasha's college fund for the unlikely event that college in its current form still exists in 2031.

I'm not a huge fan of the aggressive promotion. They industry got a carve-out in most states that it's a game of skill (which it surely is) and not gambling, so why market it like a get-rich quick scheme? It's not about the guy who made $200 K playing, it's about the rake, the challenge and the enjoyment of tracking your players on a daily basis. Tell the public the truth. Beat your competitors by undercutting their rake or providing a better gaming experience and better incentives to play. Of course, they all do some of that. I just don't like marketing that plays regular people for suckers. But maybe that's most marketing in most industries.

I'm also philosophically more inclined more toward season-long leagues, especially for baseball. I like drafting a team in March and cultivating all year until it hopefully bears fruit in October. It's a satisfying process and it's based on a large sample of events. It also tracks real baseball value fairly well, and we all got into this because we loved the actual games and debated who the best players in the league were, or who the next up and coming superstar would be.

Daily fantasy is situational and therefore more divorced from those considerations. There is a big real baseball aspect to it - setting optimal lineups based on match-ups is what a manager does each day, but I suppose I enjoy the GM part of season-long more than I do the lineup setting. In fact, I'd almost prefer sites automatically optimized daily/weekly lineups for you as the default, and you could change it if you had a contrary hunch.

That's not to say I haven't dabbled in daily now and then, and I find it enjoyable having extra action on an evening's games. What's funny is we used to do this for every sport in the old Culver City office with the white board. It was simple - just points for NBA or goals plus assists for NHL - but it was a good thing to have going in the office. So I get the appeal.

The other downside to daily is having to be at your computer right when the games tip off, something that's annoying when you want to get out of the house, grab some dinner and not worry about whether some player was scratched at the last second. Of course, there are hassles to season-long leagues, too - what do you do when you're on vacation, bring your laptop to Hawaii with you? At least with daily you can quit and start up again at any time.

I don't think many people who've enjoyed season-long fantasy would to quit to do daily, but I could see college kids who don't have long-term home leagues with rivalries, friendships and history, get into daily fantasy and never be incentivized to try season-long. I suspect without the community that comprises home or industry leagues, the attrition rate, especially if you're losing money - and more will lose it due to the rake - will be higher.

Bottom line, I'll probably do some DFS when I have time this year, but my heart's still in the season long contests like Tout, LABR and the NFBC contests.

That aside, I'll throw out a few interesting names - tell me whether and how much you think the needle has moved on them: Joe Nathan, Billy Hamilton, Ryan Braun, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Dee Gordon, Kenley Jansen, Ryan Zimmerman, Carl Crawford and Matt Cain.

If you owned any of those guys, tell me the worst player you'd accept for them in trade, team needs aside.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Jeff Erickson"
Sent: Friday, April 11, 2014 7:28pm
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: Re: Charging

You're not kidding about college. I'm apprehensive about the cost of sending two kids to college given the skyrocketing rates and the ever-decreasing supply of spots, but I probably read the same set of articles as you suggesting that the model is going to change significantly. I probably romanticize college too much as I had a tremendously rewarding experience, but I wonder if that change is for the best? Law school, on the other hand - tear that beast down!

Let's take a look at your list of names, plus I'll start with two others. We talked briefly about Cliff Lee in our latest video, and it suggested that we still look positively at him. Then he subsequently got hit relatively hard by the Brewers a few hours later. The damage could have been worse - the hits that the Brewers got were rockets. One thing about a pitcher that is in the strike zone so much is that if he loses a bit off his major offerings, he's going to give up perhaps more than someone who isn't an extreme strike-thrower. The other is Michael Pineda, who threw first-pitch strikes all night against the Red Sox. Meanwhile, Jesus Montero is hitting .190 in Tacoma.

Nathan - Unless Mariano Rivera is in the conversation the clock eventually strikes midnight. It did for Trevor Hoffman, and it has done so for Heath Bell as two recent examples. I invested in Nathan almost as much as you, and right now there's not much more to do than hope that this is a dead-arm period that will pass. If the Jonathan Papelbon owner and the Nathan are proposed a swap, who says no?

Hamilton - Slightly down for me, though I'm mollified by Wednesday's game. I don't think there's too much actionable right now.

Braun - DVR tried to trade him for Matt Kemp on Sunday or Monday and was rejected. Think that the Kemp owner has changed his mind by now, especially with him missing a start against Brandon McCarthy tonight? I avoided him early in draft season then missed out on him by the time I warmed up to him late in spring training. If given the chance to take him from my NFBC slot (12), I'd do it.

Puig - I don't have any shares of him, mostly because I thought that the late-season strikeout problem would translate into struggles this year that would depress his value below his draft cost. So to that end there's not much change for me - perhaps even a buy-low opportunity exists because of all the "noise" issues.

Kemp - the needle has moved upward for me. I got him 75th overall, and now I'd take him 40-50.

Gordon - The only problem with discussing these Dodgers is that I can't watch them hit - setting the table for you to go off on Time Warner vs. DirecTV. I don't care which huge corporation wins this cat fight - just get your stuff together and serve the community that you represent! MLB's monopoly rules make this especially vexing.

But yeah, significant up arrow on Gordon. I was lucky to win him in FAAB in Mixed LABR after getting Alex Guerrero in the draft. Sure is nice to see Guerrero sidelined in Albuquerque right now. I'd put him right there with Jed Lowrie, Howie Kendrick and Brandon Phillips, maybe higher.

Jansen - Not worried yet. He had that bad stretch early in the season against Atlanta last year and emerged fine. He's actually throwing harder than last year.

Zimmerman - Huge concern if I owned him. I'd sell him for Nolan Arenado for sure, maybe lower.

Crawford - The comeback sort of began last year, but with four bags already, of course I have to take notice. But how much confidence do you have that he can stay healthy all year?

Cain - I wanted him as my Np. 2 in the NFBC but just missed out. Instead I got Hyun-Jin Ryu, and I don't think I would trade that today.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Sunday, April 13, 2014 3:21 pm
To: "Jeff Erickson"
Subject: Re: Charging

I watched Nathan pitch last night, and he looked a lot better, hitting 92 mph a couple times and having nice break on his other offerings. I'm less worried about him than I was 24 hours ago.

I love Puig and would deal for him, but I doubt any of the believers who landed him are selling him at any kind of discount. Curious as to why Kemp is only 45-50? Are you worried about re-injury? Because I'd have to think a healthy Kemp is no worse than a second rounder.

Michael Pineda looked great to me the other night. Throwing hard, hitting spots, handling a strong Red Sox team easily. Looks like the Yankees are winning that trade by a wide margin, but if I were a GM for a team that needs a DH/1B type, I'd try to deal for Montero. Can't imagine he'd cost much.

I think Crawford almost has to be treated like an OF-only Jean Segura. I don't see a whole lot of difference in their skill sets, except that maybe Crawford is a bigger health risk. But he's healthy now and doesn't have to survive playing second base.

Please don't get me started on the Dodgers being unavailable in Los Angeles this year. It's unconscionable, and I think everyone in LA should refuse to attend games, pay their cable/DTV bills until that's resolved. Trust me, if they drew 10K fans three nights in a row, or people didn't pay bills for two months, it would end immediately. These companies count on the public being lazy, distracted and disorganized and for the most part that's a safe bet. I'd love to see them lose it though.

Finally, and this is something ownership needs to learn: A baseball team is not your property to do whatever you want with. It's also a public trust. To deprive the majority of the local population the ability to watch it violates that trust. Dodgers fans (of which I am emphatically not one) have been rooting for that team since before many of the owners were even born. You can buy it, reap profits from it, hire people to manage it and put players on the field, but you can't ruin it for the people who are also stakeholders in it.