Fantasaurus Rex

We’ve getting ever closer to the start of baseball season, a mere weeks away from when pitchers and catchers officially report.  And that means that, across the country, fantasy baseball drafts are already being scheduled for March and early April.

So what’s a savvy fantasy baseball owner to do?  Pick up a fantasy magazine, of course — right?   I’ve seen books from the Sporting News, Fanball, Lindy’s, and the generically titled “Fantasy Baseball Guide” currently out at my local venue — certainly, one of these new arrivals at the newsstand will be all I need to get me started in the right direction for 2009, no?

Not exactly.

It’s not that these books don’t have a lot of powerful, fantasy baseball minds behind them.  Contributing to The Fantasy Baseball Guide are a number of names familiar to die-hard fantasy players — Todd Zola, Ron Shandler, Alex Patton, and Peter Kreutzer (better known as Rotoman), just to name a few. While I’m not as familiar with most of the The Fanball editorial team,  I do know Jason Collette’s fine analytical work from his regular postings on the top-notch fantasy baseball website RotoJunkie, which I’ve frequented over the years.  And the Sporting News — they’re the frickin’ Baseball Bible, from Pete’s sake, aren’t they?  (Well, not really, but I won’t say anything if you don’t.)  And Lindy’s … well … uh … they did have a nice looking cover, I guess — or was that the misplaced Maxim someone had left on the shelf next to it?

Id rather HER fantasy baseball advice than Lindys

See -- it says "sports" right up there on top. Right above her ... her ... uh ... what was I talking about again?

Okay, okay —  three of the aforementioned books should be helping fantasy players get ready for the 2009 season, shouldn’t they?

But they’re really not.  At least, they’re not really helping prepare their intended audience (at least, I think it’s their intended audience) — the hard-core fantasy baseball player.

Before it sounds like I’ve trying to take a shot at any of these publications, I’m really not — and I did buy all of them except, of course, for the Lindy’s (a friend of mine always picks that magazine up each year, but for comedic value, rather than real drafting help).  And I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was taking something useful from all of the magazines I did purchase.  But each year, I’ve grown less and less reliant on these type of publications, and it’s getting to the point where I’m close to not taking any fantasy baseball book home before the season.

The problem is that a magazine — any magazine — has little relevance to any draft I’m probably doing in any given season.  There are all kinds of leagues in existence:  rotisserie leagues, points leagues, head-to-head leagues, AL and NL-only leagues, mixed-leagues, etc.  There’s no way possible for any publication to address all of the numerous variants that are in play, never mind the differences between all of the variables in numerous leagues of any one type.  For example, your AL-only probably doesn’t have the same rules, the same number of teams, or the same type of owners as mine, just for starters.  How can both of us be served by any one publication?

We probably can’t, especially since every magazine still has at its core rankings that revolve around that mystical number known as the player’s “dollar value”.  That dollar value corresponds in each case to a hypothetical league —  $260 draft budget, no keepers, x number of teams — that almost all of us don’t actually play in.  I’ve been in three regular leagues over the last decade, and none of them come close to fitting those profiles — and I suspect I’m not alone.

And that’s at the heart of the problem.  Part of winning your league is figuring out exactly how your league ticks:  What’s the pitching/hitting split? … How are closers valued? … Are young players sought after more than veterans? … Can you dump categories and win? … and so forth.  It’s that basic understanding that’s most important in any fantasy owner’s attempts to compete in their league (assuming that most die-hard fantasy players are in established, longer-running leagues) — and frankly, it’s impossible for any magazine to help a owner there.

Another issue is the seeming rush for magazines to be the first ones to print — I seem to remember the first magazine each year (usually the Sporting News) making it’s way to my hands shortly after the Super Bowl.  In 2009, TSN’s fantasy preview was reaching the public just around the time the ball was dropping in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.  But January predictions have a way of being horribly outdated by the time your draft rolls around (for instance, how many magazines gave closer value to Brian Fuentes, and was anyone even close to predicting he’d end up in Los Angeles?).  No year is that more likely to happen than this one, with an off-season that’s seen a number of free-agents still remaining on the market as we approach February (see Ramirez, Manny).  If you’re dealing with incomplete or inaccurate information in your guide, particularly with players as highly-ranked as Ramirez or with situations as crucial as the Angels’ closer, then how much are you really helping yourself with your $8 purchase? (And that’s for only one book).

Of course, there’s not much that can be done about timeliness in a printed format — in their favor, most of the magazines do have some sort of on-line updates to help a fantasy owner wade through the changes that occur leading up to and during spring training.  But that gets back to my dilemma — if I can find up-to-the-minute information on the Internet — and that information is out there, whether it’s in the form of paid sites like Baseball HQ and Mastersball or a free site like Rotoworld or RotoJunkie — then what’s the point of picking up the magazine in the first place?

Now it needs to be pointed out that the magazines at least do provide some specific information that I enjoy — Fanball went extremely deep in its players rankings (225 starting pitchers and 180 outfielders alone — holy crap!) and had some sort of write-up on everyone, including second write-ups from the editors on a number of players — very useful.  Their “10 Burning Questions” they asked and answered at each position was interesting as well.  The Fantasy Baseball Guide, by its claim, profiled and projected a whopping 1500 players (I didn’t count them all, so don’t hold me to that) — again, having some snippet of information, no matter how seemingly trivial, about pretty much anyone that could come up during a draft is the most valuable tool that both of these magazines provide.

But beyond that, print leaves me wanting when it comes to the analytical information that I’d most like to read.  The aforementioned Jason Collette did a piece on-line featuring the enigmatic Delmon Young that blows away 98% of what I’ve read in any fantasy magazine since I started playing this game — why can’t this type of information be the focus of what we pick up on the newsstand? (In making this statement, I’m ignoring Ron Shandler’s Baseball Forecaster — which does touch on exactly this type of info — for the purposes of this discussion, as I think it’s an entirely different animal than what I’m talking about otherwise).  It feels as if fantasy magazines are trying to appeal to both the veteran participant as well as the novice, but in doing so they’re shortchanging both: talking about some concepts a novice won’t and might not want to understand while going deeper in player numbers than they’ll ever need, but not going in-depth enough for the veteran players who want something more than a list of  “sleepers” and “busts”.

I’m telling myself that this is probably the last year that I pick up anything fantasy baseball related from the newsstand.  I wonder if the fantasy baseball magazine is an outdated dinosaur, headed for extinction as the on-line experience continues to draw away its readership that is looking for a more thorough, specialized experience.  There’s no doubt that what’s out there today is 1000X better than what was labeled fantasy baseball guides in years past — but in order to keep the audience of hard-core fantasy baseball participants like me and survive, they’ll need to do something that the dinosaurs were never able to — adapt.  Whether I’m part of their audience in the future, though, doesn’t mean I want to see them vanish from the newsstands.  Nothing says “winter is over” to me more than seeing a copy of a fantasy baseball book on the rack — even if it happens to be a Lindy’s.

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2 Responses to “Fantasaurus Rex”

  1. sprentiss47 Says:

    Although I agree with you regarding the flawed dollar values in most magazines, there are still a few reasons why I continue to buy the mags:

    1. Much like Playboy, I read the mags for the articles.

    2. Most magazines also have a free website that I get info from. I’m making the assumption that by buying the magazine, I’m also supporting the free website.

    3. Convenience – Need something to read on the train or on the toilet (still haven’t gotten to the point of bringing my laptop into the bathroom).

    4. Tradition – I’ve been buying fantasy magazines for over a decade and when I see them on the newsstand, I know it’s time to buckle down and start my draft preparations.

    When I first started out, I used the magazines almost exclusively. As time progressed, and as more sources were available online, I adjusted, not by replacing the mags with websites but by supplementing them. My feeling is the more information I have, the better I can make informed decisions.

    When I was a newbie, I relied on other peoples player values because I didn’t completely understand how to figure them out myself. Now, I do my own valuations of players, taking into account my league (categories, past values, trends, etc.) and the projections of what the players will produce. I assume that the majority of fantasy baseball players are still considered newbies and don’t put in the time or effort that the hard-core players do. They want to grab a magazine, read it on the toilet for the week leading up to their Yahoo or ESPN free league. For that type of owner, the magazine is not perfect but is better than nothing.

    And considering that there now seems to be more magazines than ever before, my thought is that although you may not be buying a magazine in the future, you are probably in the minority. When the magazines start seeing their sales drop, they’ll adjust. The offerings may thin out (bye, bye Lindy’s) and fewer outlets will carry them. But as long as there are newbies, there will be a demand for the magazine and the fantasy baseball magazine will continue to exist. Probably even Lindy’s.

  2. thelasthonestman Says:

    Re: 3 — Convenience. I should have mentioned this, as it’s one of the biggest selling points of the magazine format. Nothing like a fantasy magazine to help make a long car ride pass by quicker.

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