For one March afternoon every year, the world stops. I stock up on food and water, turn off my cellphone, double-check my internet bandwidth and cut off all physical contact. I head into my room with a Nalgene bottle, Clif bars and a laptop (complete with backup power cords). While others build bunkers for an apocalypse that might never happen, I prepare myself for my life’s great constant: my fantasy baseball draft.
Before closing the door to the temporary man cave behind me, I inform my wife that I’ll see her in six hours, just as soon as the fantasy draft is over. This declaration has three purposes. First, it gets me in the proper mindset. I can’t have distractions while I’m in direct control of a mousepad. Second, it muffles the sound of my screams when the manager directly before me picks Ian Kinsler when he was next on my board. Wives and girlfriends (and husbands and boyfriends, for that matter) have a habit of caring even when they don’t know what they’re supposed to be caring about. They want to know the meaning behind every sigh, every fist pump and every silent sob. But with three minutes left before my pick, I just don’t have time to explain the black hole that is my second baseman slot. Finally, and most importantly, on draft day I am a mess, shifting quickly between frazzled, manic, restless and boisterous. I am doing my loved ones a favor by sequestering myself.
During the draft, the only tethers to sanity I have are my spreadsheets. I make awesome spreadsheets. There are graphs, bar charts and projections for every player, complete with color coding. I can tell you how well I think Pittsburgh’s third starter will do compared to Philadelphia’s ace. I can see, numerically, that David Wright just isn’t as valuable as everyone thinks he is. The purpose of the spreadsheets is to remain cool even when things aren’t going well. They coo to me: “You’ve done your homework, Jeff. You’ve got this covered.” But the spreadsheets are not static—I update them as I go through the draft to make sure I am meeting my projections and see if I’ll have enough home runs, enough saves, enough RBI to take first place. The image I’m trying to project is Billy Beane (as played by Brad Pitt in Moneyball, of course), but unfortunately I’m more akin to Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind because the truth is: I never meet my projections.
I am the Cincinnati Reds of fantasy baseball. And if you don’t follow actual baseball, here’s another metaphor: I’m the fantasy baseball equivalent of every Jennifer Lopez movie you’ve ever seen. There’s that initial thought before you buy your ticket: “Hey, it’s got Jennifer Lopez in it—it could be good.” Compare that with the thought you have leaving the theater after watching Monster-in-Law (or, let’s be honest, Netflix, because you’ve been burned by way too many Jennifer Lopez films before to justify even the cost of a Redbox rental). For those of you who understand either the Reds or the Jennifer Lopez reference, you’re probably saying, “Well, that’s not terrible. There are plenty of things worse than a Jennifer Lopez film. Maid in Manhattan was watchable.” And you’re right. I didn’t say my team was the fantasy baseball equivalent of a Katherine Heigl film. Gerard Butler is not in my starting lineup. But it’s no Casablanca either.
I’m the fantasy baseball equivalent of a Jennifer Lopez movie.
As evidence, I present my place in the standings for the last seven years: 5th, 6th, 9th, 6th, 8th, 7th and 8th. My rank this year a quarter of the way through the season? 8th. That’s out of just 12 teams, some years just 11. I haven’t even gotten close enough to sniff the medals podium and, sadly, there are no participation trophies in my fantasy baseball league. On the flip side, I have never finished last or near to last, assuring that while I don’t get to go to the Shiva bowl (see: The League), I also don’t have to carry around a booby prize trophy in the shape of a scrotum.1
But I can’t help wondering: If my spreadsheets are so awesome, why does my fantasy baseball team suck? The most obvious answer is that it’s a flaw in my spreadsheets. This is rubbish. I am an Excel god (unless, of course, you need me to do anything work-related). It is the players who let me down. My projections don’t work because Mark Trumbo gets injured, Jered Weaver has an off year, or Matt Wieters’s bat fails to materialize. The savvy sabermetrician2 will no doubt counter that a good projection should account for injuries and slumps. That person would be right. The truth is: I’m just not very good at fantasy baseball. I’m not awful, either. You just wouldn’t send me to Vegas with your money and ask me to bet on the results. So, why do I keep doing something year after year that produces little in the way of results? I don’t know. You might as well ask Jennifer Lopez why she continues to make movies.3