Chicago Cubs

The Arrival of Fantasy Baseball

The Arrival of Fantasy Baseball

Thursday, March 4, 2010
10:41 P.M.
Break time is over, time to get back to work. Actually, its not work, is an obsession ever? Lets just say my free time is gone. Not that having a job and a family affords me much. (3kids 2jobs 1wife = 0) Fortunately my job choice requires that I have knowledge of sports so, Honey, Im working! What am I working on? Probably my favorite hobby, er, work prep: Fantasy baseball. Or, excuse me, Rotisserie League Baseball. I dont like the fantasy connotation. Fantasy football is just that, a pipe dream. Draft position and luck are the two most important things to have when playing fantasy football. I know that it can be taken to different levels, and I have, if only for this past year, (Sorry. I had to take that shot in case a certain few others are reading!) but for the most part you can only do so much. Fourteen games and the playoffs. How many times does the number one seed win? Probably about as much as any other seed. Your star QB has a bad matchup, or too good of one, allowing his RB to run all over the field and gobble up all of your tuddies, and its adios in week fifteen. Been there, done that. And I will continue to do so, because I love fantasy football, understanding though most of it is out of my control. Fantasy.

Now as far as Rotisserie League Baseball, its no more real, but taken over 26 weeks, everyday, the luck part tends to even out. Plenty of websites are offering free fantasy baseball. Most of these allow you to draft a team, using both leagues, (All-star teams, for most 10 team leagues.) then play other teams head-to head on a points system for a week. You would then accumulate a record, with the best ones playing each other in the playoffs. What? Theres no point system in baseball!! (Using the Jim Mora voice: Point system?! Youre talking point system?!) I never got this. Its fine for football, because it matches the flow of football. Baseball is a story that takes months and months to tell.

The chapters are interesting, but do they tell the whole story? I dont think so. The boys from the New York City restaurant, La Rotisserie Francais, got it right. The game was invented by some sportswriters who met in this establishment. The idea behind it was to use the holy grail of baseball, its statistics, in a collective form to be used over a season. Prior to this there were basically dice games that would use stats from seasons past, to predict the probability of outcomes. Fun for some, but boring to most. The idea of roto style baseball is to predict the outcomes of the current one. Brilliant! Get a bunch of owners together, draft a team and let the fun begin, everyday, for over SIX months. Thats were the work comes in.

Ive always been infatuated with the statistics of baseball. How could you not be? The touchdown record and its holders? I could guess but would probably be wrong. The most famous number of my lifetime is 714, and I dont even have to explain what that means to my sister. In fact, a nation stopped when number 715 happened. More recently the number 756 occurred and a commissioner shoved his hands in his pockets and the word, asterisk was shouted, from coast to coast. Remember?

Pete Roses relentless pursuit of 4191 was the ultimate quest for baseballs ultimate player. Can you tell me what the record is for the NFL career leader in rushing yards? Or who owns it? Jim Browns 12,312 was a big to those of my generation, but since he has been passed 8 times, does Emmitts 18,355 resonate the same way?

Its fine to add up football numbers into points and have a score for a game. That makes sense. My point is that the baseball numbers are looked at differently. They are measured over seasons, then careers, numbers that almost any fan can remember. Thats why they are hallowed. How can you measure baseball numbers into points? That does not make sense to me.

The beauty of roto baseball, is that it takes the stats that we all know, and measures them in a way weve always done. The fun of opening up a pack of baseball cards was always two-fold. Chew the gum and check out the stats on the back of the card while you did so. The better the stats, the better the card.

My real obsession with baseball, and its stats, starts and ends with one thing: The daily box scores. Before the age of 24-hour sports news channels, that was all I needed everyday in my newspaper, imagining how the numbers were accomplished. Even now, after seeing the highlights a dozen times overnight, I cant wait to read them. There like some crazy Rubiks cube that will never be solved. And like snowflakes, no two days are ever alike. (Well, almost never, right Cubs fans?)

Roto baseball allows me to read these box scores in a new way: How do they affect my team. In the league I have been in for the last two years, those effects are in a 7x7 format, most are 4x4, but more IS better. ( of different hitting categories measured and same of different pitching ones) By having more categories, I feel is more fun than having just a couple that can be dominated by a few players. You need to draft some complimentary players to be competitive in all categories. That is, if thats the route you choose. You could try to dominate a few categories and pick up the scraps in others. You make the call, both strategies can work.

As far as the player pool, I prefer one league play. (The National League) If youre putting a real team together, youre going to need some role players and have some guys youre not sure about step up. Thats the same way in one league roto. Instead of putting all-star rosters together, you have to mine for gold. How else could you get excited for guys like Garrett Jones and Drew Stubbs?

And thats where the work comes in. Prepping for a draft is essential when youre drafting a 25 man roster. But at the same time, the beauty of baseball is, there are going to be a lot of surprises along the way. Its easy to flip a third of your roster over in waiver moves alone. Along that way, in roto, every RBI, run, strikeout, or win matter along the way, because they all add up. Just like the stats on the back of a players card. The trick is to find them, they dont just happen.

So if youll excuse me, Ive got some studying to do, draft day is less than two weeks away and I have some sleepers to find and decisions to make. Will anyone else try to make a move on Jayson Heyward? Was Nyjer Morgan a mirage? Is Stephen Strasburg the second coming? One thing is for sure, were about to find out. Its 5:00 am and my phone is ringing, its Gordon Gekko on the line, hes standing by the ocean, waiting for me to answer, so he can tell me to, Go to work!

How Carl Edwards Jr. regained his confidence and killer instinct out of Cubs bullpen

How Carl Edwards Jr. regained his confidence and killer instinct out of Cubs bullpen

Carl Edwards Jr. unleashed a big curveball that froze Cincinnati Reds leadoff guy Billy Hamilton with a check swing and forced Cubs catcher Victor Caratini to make a hockey goalie-style block in the dirt with two runners on. They all looked at third base umpire Ron Kulpa, who signaled strike three as the crowd of 36,698 roared on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field.   

The Cubs hope that seventh-inning scene is more of a big-picture look at the rest of their season than the final score in a 2-1 loss. The Cubs believe Edwards can be an Andrew Miller-type presence during the playoffs, maybe their future closer. By striking out all three batters he faced, Edwards kept it a scoreless game and bailed out Kyle Hendricks, who looked more like last year’s major-league ERA leader.   

Edwards screamed and pumped his fist as he walked back to the dugout, an emotional release from the slump that had manager Joe Maddon getting what-do-you-do-with-C.J.? questions.

“It’s more mental than anything,” Edwards said. “I know this game is very humbling. I can look good for 30 straight appearances. And then all of a sudden – four/five big games – I can be hurt again. I just look at it as going out there and having fun.

“I knew in the back of my mind that I would get over it because I’m a strong-minded guy. It wasn’t (anything) physical. I don’t know how I lost confidence, but I lost it. Right now, I'm just slowly getting it back. And I’m feeling more and more comfortable going out there every day.”

After watching Edwards blow the save and give up a grand slam to Matt Wieters during a potential playoff preview against the Washington Nationals in early August, Maddon compared the situation to a great shooter in basketball: “You just keep throwing it back out there.”

“I don’t want to run away from him,” Maddon said. “He’s really good. He had a bad couple days. Hitters go through slumps. Pitchers go through slumps. Managers go through slumps. Writers go through slumps. We all go through slumps.

“I love the guy. I absolutely love him. I love the teammate that he is. He had a couple tough days. Everybody does.”

Edwards actually had a 1.07 ERA and a 0.75 WHIP through his first 27 appearances this season – and then put up a 6.55 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP across his next 25 games. Still, there is so much to work with here, from the swing-and-miss stuff (70 strikeouts in 48.1 innings) to his natural feel for pitching to the internal drive that allowed him to blossom as a former 48th-round draft pick.         

“A big thing has been my dad sending me messages,” Edwards said, “every day telling me to pray and meditate. He knows me like a book. It’s just getting those words from him and seeing those messages before I go out to the game. And taking that message with me: No matter what happens, I’m here for a reason.”

Keep it simple. Don’t overthink it. Be yourself.

“He’s always done that,” Edwards said. “(When) I was struggling real bad, he told me: ‘Every day, just go back to backyard baseball. Say a prayer. Miss you. Meditate and just know, son, you’re there for a reason. And no matter what the outcome is, I’m going to still love you regardless.’ Just my dad being my dad. He basically taught me pitching growing up, so he’s the one that knows me best.”

Cubs: Ben Zobrist breaks down what went wrong this season and how he can still make it right

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Cubs: Ben Zobrist breaks down what went wrong this season and how he can still make it right

Ben Zobrist is a self-made player who feels months behind where he should be, freely admitting: “If we were in September right now, I’d be like: ‘Uh-oh.’”

The Cubs have played that long game all year, hanging around and slowly moving ahead in the National League Central race, hoping they will peak at the right time and the muscle memory will take over in October. That just seems to be getting harder and harder for their World Series MVP.

“We’re still where we need to be,” Zobrist said, “even though I have not played anywhere near my capability this season.”

Zobrist is a man of faith, so he will try not to feel snake-bitten, even as the injuries keep piling up, scratched from Monday’s game with a stiff neck and held back in Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field.

But watching Zobrist work a pinch-hit walk in the eighth inning and line an RBI single off Reds closer Raisel Iglesias in the ninth inning underlined how much the Cubs need him without Dexter Fowler leading off and Willson Contreras hitting in the middle of their lineup. 

Coming off back-to-back World Series runs, there were questions about whether or not a stiff neck would prevent Zobrist from being ready for Opening Day. Playing a doubleheader on May 9 at Coors Field stressed his lower back and sidelined him again. An awkward swing on May 26 at Dodger Stadium would eventually put him on the disabled list with a sore left wrist and force him to miss most of June.

Playoffs? Personal three-peat? The Cubs are a 62-56 team with a 1.5-game lead in the division. Zobrist is also too much of a realist to think that he can just flip a switch when he’s hitting .223 with an OPS that’s roughly 80 points below the league average and he hasn’t homered since the first game after the All-Star break.

[MORE: Cubs don’t see finish line for Addison Russell yet: ‘I don’t think that there’s any rush’  ]

“Right now, I’ve got more important things to worry about and they’re more minute,” Zobrist said. “Am I doing the things I need to do to have a good, quality at-bat? If I can start doing that again, then I’m very confident that when we get to that time, I’ll be able to do what I normally do. But that’s a long ways away for me, still.

“I’m trying to get to the point where I normally am in May. I’m not thinking about playoff time. I need to get back to that May time where I’m getting things where they need to go.”

After getting shut down by the New York Mets’ power pitching and swept out of the 2015 NL Championship Series, the Cubs identified Zobrist as the switch-hitter to diversify their lineup and set an example for their young players.  

Whatever happens from here – the Cubs believed his ability to handle fastballs and play multiple positions would keep him productive through his mid-30s – Zobrist has already been worth every penny of that four-year, $56 million deal.

“I’ve always been a hands/wrists/forearms (hitter),” Zobrist said. “That’s been one of my strengths: Let the pitch get deep and still get my hands to the front of the zone. That’s been really difficult to do. In June, it was impossible for me.

“And when that went, it was like: ‘OK, this is a tough one,’ because I tried to play through it. It just wasn’t healing and I wasn’t able to do the work. That’s when I hit the DL. I had to figure out (that) I have to get the wrists and the hands completely healthy. Or else I shouldn’t be out there, because the pitchers are too good.”

At 36, Zobrist is old enough to remember watching the championship celebrations for Michael Jordan’s Bulls on TV, childhood memories that inspired him to give a speech during that massive Grant Park rally last November, a scene that he envisioned when he took a hometown discount to sign with the Cubs.  

“Age is about figuring out how to take care of you, because every guy is a little bit different,” Zobrist said. “There’s no formula once you get to a certain point. When you’re 25, the formula is nothing. It’s essentially just like: ‘Show up. Do the work. And you’re going to be able to do what you know how to do.’

“But as you get a little bit older, you start kind of going: ‘OK, what is it about me that I have to do to get back to where I feel great on the field?’ That’s a learning experience that’s constantly happening.

“Whereas before, you didn’t really have to do anything to get ready. You could just basically pick up a bat and run down to the cage and start swinging as hard as you want to swing.

“And now it’s like: ‘OK, if you want to go 100 mph, you’re going to have to take longer than 2.whatever seconds to get there.’ You’re going to have to really ramp it up and figure out those particular issues for you as a player that are going to pop up.”

Nights like this – the rest of the team going 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position, almost getting shut out by a last-place team and missing the dimensions their World Series MVP brought to this lineup – make you wonder if there will be enough time for Zobrist and the defending champs to figure it out.