Back in 2002, Fantasy Baseball legend Ron Shandler decided to start the first industry experts keeper league. Called the XFL (Xperts Fantasy League), it was developed with many unique characteristics…a 12-team 5×5 mixed Rotisserie style league (replacing BA with OBP) that included both an auction phase with no notes, lists or computers (in November) for the initial 23-man roster and a supplemental snake portion (in March 2003) to fill the remainder of the team’s 40-man roster. It also had some elements of a dynasty-type league with rookies having their annual salaries increasing at a lesser rate than veterans. While most of the franchises were manned by industry stalwarts, it was determined that a couple of home-league players would also be invited. We were kindly referred to as “Challengers”, which was somewhat nicer than calling us what we were…”Amateur Hacks”.
As a quick refresher, many of the owner’s names are familiar to those who have viewed the landscape of fantasy sports over the years. These brilliant guys produce websites, magazines, newsletters and blogs that help guide you in becoming a better player in your league. The league expanded to 15 teams in 2005, which means that 600 players populate the rosters during any given season. Donald’s Dux (my squad) has been fortunate enough to capture four championships and holds the top overall performance record encompassing all 17 seasons of the league…. but none of that will matter when we gather for our new experiment to help us through the lean times of April.
Into the void of baseball emptiness stepped our fearless leader, Ron Shandler. Proving that his ideas still percolate after all these years, he suggested that we try the concept of a “Retro Draft”. In other words, let’s pick a baseball season from the past and draft our teams from that player pool. He cited three major benefits…
> 1) We all love to draft – pick any year, go for it
> 2) We all love immediate gratification (a winner can be crowned right away)
> 3) We’re still talking baseball and fantasy roster construction.
12 members of the league were able to commit to the project and we chose the 1982 baseball season. Due to logistics and time constraints, the draft would be of the snake variety, as opposed to our league’s auction format. Regular readers know how much I hate snake drafts, but who am I to spoil the party?
The format is a standard 5 x 5 category Rotisserie league with a 23-man roster (9 Pitchers). While you may think it isn’t a challenge when you already know the individual player stats, consider how different the game is today compared to 1982. Two glaring examples are on offense – there wasn’t a player in ’82 with 40 HR’s and 34 players had at least 25 SB’s. On the Pitching side, only 4 starters had over 200 K’s but the top 33 winning hurlers all pitched over 200 innings.
With little time and no statistical expertise in converting 38 year-old numbers to some sort of valuation, I turned to an old friend to help with research. This space has utilized a new-age stat in numerous discussions, so why not rank the 1982 players by their WAR (Wins Above Replacement)? While the stat doesn’t dovetail directly to Rotisserie categories (BA, R, HR, RBI, SB / W, SV, ERA, WHIP, K’s), it would certainly help determine the most productive players in a given season. Let’s look at the top dozen position players…
1) Robin Yount, SS – The AL MVP had an amazing season that included a .331 BA with over 100 Runs & 100 RBI’s…he was far and away the best player in the game and played a premium position.
2) Toby Harrah, 3B – A forgotten member of the hot corner fraternity (along with #7), he contributes in all five categories.
3) Pedro Guerrero, OF – 32 HR’s, 22 SB’s and a .304 BA.
4) Gary Carter, C – Another star at a scarce position, he had 29 HR’s & 97 RBI’s.
5) Mike Schmidt, 3B – 108 Runs with 35 HR’s…he even swiped 14 bases.
6) Paul Molitor, 3B – 19 HR’s, 41 SB’s and a .302 BA.
7) Doug DeCinces, 3B – Underrated then and now, he produced 30 HR’s, 97 RBI’s and a .301 BA.
8) Dwight Evans, OF – Scored 122 Runs with 32 HR’s and 98 RBI’s.
9) Al Oliver, 1B – Hit .331 with 22 HR’s & 109 RBI’s.
10) Andre Dawson, OF – 23 HR’s, 39 SB’s and a .301 BA.
11) Dale Murphy, OF – NL MVP winner with 36 HR’s, 109 RBI’s & 23 SB.
12) Rickey Henderson, OF – As Yogi would say, this is where fantasy and reality take different forks in the road. Rickey’s record setting season of 130 SB’s overshadows all his other stats (including a .267 BA and only 10 HR’s). He will most certainly be the #1 pick, won’t he?
Switching the focus to pitching, here’s the top ten…
1) Steve Rogers – 19 Wins and a 2.40 ERA.
2) Dave Stieb – 17 Wins in 288+ IP.
3) Mario Soto – His record was deceiving at 14-13, but the ERA was 2.79 and he accumulated 274 K’s.
4) Joe Niekro – 17 Wins and a 2.47 ERA in 270 IP. Brother Phil also had 17 Wins in ’82.
5) Joaquin Andujar – 15 game-winner with a 2.47 ERA.
6) Rick Sutcliffe – Won 14 games with an ERA of 2.96.
7) Steve Carlton – The NL Cy Young winner at age 37, he will go much higher in a fantasy format. Had the most Wins (23) and the most K’s (286) in baseball.
8) Greg Minton – The best reliever on this list, he contributed 10 Wins & 30 Saves.
9) Luis Leal – I don’t remember him either, but he started 38 games for the Blue Jays and had 12 Wins.
10) Fernando Valenzuela – 19 Wins with a 2.87 ERA in 285 Innings.
AL Cy Young winner Pete Vuckovich ranked 55th but did have 18 Wins.
Can’t say that this is much of a strategy, but as with all Fantasy drafts, adjustments to prioritize categories will tell the tale. The Dux have drawn the 6th spot in the 12-team process. All these comments were written prior to the actual draft, so now let’s see how it all turned out.
The first thing we learned is that when you have 12 knowledgeable participants, parity will be the result. Only 23 points separated the last place team (54) from the winner (77). In fact 4th place (68) was less than 10 points better than 11th place (58.5). The Dux finished a disappointing 9th with 59.5 and there were a plethora of reasons.
Let’s look at the 1st round and see how it played out 38 years later…
#1 – Carlton
#2 – Yount
# 3 – Murphy
#4 – Soto
#5 – Henderson
#6 – Guerrero (Dux)
#7 – Molitor
#8 – Rogers
#9 – Lonnie Smith
#10 – Cecil Cooper
#11 – Valezuela
# 12 – Andujar
Amazingly, the Dux fate was already obvious after the first 12 picks. As opposed to current day Fantasy strategy, Pitching was held in much higher regard. Whether that was intuitive or a result of draft software (the Dux stuck to paper & pencil) isn’t known but the result was clear. Notice that all five SP’s in Round 1 were from the National Legaue where the ERA (3.60 / 4.07) and WHIP (1.314 / 1.372) were significantly lower due to the absence of the DH. This is a strategy the Dux generally utilize in the auction format, but it all happened before I could adjust. The end result was too many AL SP’s on my squad leading to 11th place in ERA and 12th place in WHIP. And the die was cast after only 12 players were chosen.
5 of the first six picks in front of me in Round 2 were also SP’s…three from the NL. That left me with no option but to take the best SP left and it was Floyd Bannister of the Mariners. He won 12 games with a 3.43 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 209 K’s. Decent numbers but was he worth giving up Mike Schmidt, who went with the next pick?
At this point, the Dux were akin to the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland…running as fast as you can to stay right where you are. Here’s the remainder of the squad…
Round 3 – Harrah, 3B
Round 4 – Gene Garber, P…6 of the 8 picks in front of me were RP’s, so the run was on. The next three after this pick were also RP’s.
Round 5 – Lou Whitaker, 2B
Round 6 – Carlton Fisk, C…the run on Catchers started in Round 5
Round 7 – Keith Hernandez, 1B
Round 8 – Jim Clancy, SP
Round 9 – Rafael Ramirez, SS
Round 10 – Greg Luzinski, U
Other familiar names included Buddy Bell, Chet Lemon, Vida Blue and the aforementioned Vuckovich.
The squad’s best categories were 10 points in BA (.2819) and K’s (1,046) with 9 Points in Wins (109). In all, a very dreary performance. The good news is that we all got to think about baseball for 3+ hours.