Taking The Fifth

Over the last few decades, the increased popularity of high stakes poker has created numerous opportunities for “amateur” players to end up at the final table of the annual World Series of Poker. Despite their calm demeanor and purposeful “poker face”, you can’t help but wonder what is going through the mind of one of these home-game players as he faces the professionals who utilize their reputations to intimidate their opponents.

The Old Duck has the answer…they’re scared spitless!

How could I know? In November of 2002, I faced the same daunting task as I looked around the table at the first XFL (Xperts Fantasy League) Draft and realized what I was up against. My opponents weren’t Amarillo Slim or Doyle Brunson, but they were the Rotisserie equivalent including Alex Patton, Ron Shandler, Steve Moyer, Lawr Michaels, Todd Zola and others. As a successful home-league player since 1984, I was lucky enough to be invited as one of the “challengers” (aka amateurs) to participate in this first industry expert’s keeper league. And, that first year, I held up my part of the bargain by finishing 8th in the 12-team league. As the old poker saying goes, “If, after the first twenty minutes, you don’t know who the sucker is at the table, it’s you.”

Then in our third season (when we expanded to 15 teams), I won my first title. The self-deprecating comment I used at the time was that we should have a trophy and call it the Orville Moody Cup, in honor of the 1969 U.S. Open golf winner who never won another PGA tour event. Once I won another title in 2009, it seemed like this was no longer a fluke and maybe I was really more like Ernie Els than the aforementioned Moody. It is, however, wise to remember the old Swedish proverb, “Luck never gives; it only lends.”

Back-to-back championships in 2011 & 2012 solidified my place in the very small realm of Rotisserie lore and I’m still humbled to be in the company of these very nice men and worthy opponents. Jesse Owens said, “Awards become corroded, friends gather no dust.”

In the ensuing years, the Dux remained very competitive with two 2nd-place finishes and the league’s best overall record but winning that elusive 5th title was never quite within the grasp. Then, despite the advancing years and declining grey matter, the Old Duck had everything fall into place in 2021. Of course, we’ve discussed in this space many times that reading about someone else’s Fantasy team is a cure for insomnia but let’s paraphrase Lesley Gore’s 1963 hit record and say, “It’s my blog and I’ll brag if I want to”. And there’s always the rationalization that some of the strategies will be helpful to those of you who also play this silly game.

> Donald’s Dux…15 team, Mixed, 5×5 (w/OBP), 40-man rosters with 23 active each week, $260 budget for 23-player Draft in November (or occasionally in December), maximum of 15 keepers including Farm players, Supplemental Snake Draft in March for 17 additional players ($1 salary), monthly in-season free agent additions ($5 salary). The salaries of players drafted increase $5 each year, salaries of Farm Players increase $3 each year (once activated), established 2003

* Smart Keeper Decisions (November 2020)

1) Jose Abreu $22 – Some refer to this format as a “Dynasty” league because you can keep inexpensive, young players for many years. This consistent slugger was taken with the #1 supplemental pick back in 2014 and continues to produce at a high level including 117 RBI’s in 2021.

2) Randy Arozarena $8 – Liked him as a Cardinal prospect and picked him up in September of last year just before his incredible post-season performance. A ROY candidate, he produced $22 worth of value.

3) Teoscar Hernandez $6 – Another player who seemed to have upside, he was added in the 2020 supplemental phase. In that power-house Toronto line-up, he had more RBI’s (116) than Vlad Jr.

4) Pete Alonso $7 – Acquired in the March 2019 supplemental draft before he had a major league AB. He’s belted 106 HR’s in 2+ seasons.

5) Kevin Gausman $6 – Young starting pitchers usually take a while to develop. 2020’s breakout campaign led to this season’s elite results that will have his name on many Cy Young ballots. A top-six SP in this format with a $25 value

6) Brandon Woodruff $16 – Top-tier SP’s in this league can cost $25 or more…his stuff made this an easy call. Only won 9 games but had 211 K’s.

* Dumb Keeper Decisions (November 2020)

1) Gleybar Torres $10 – It was easy to write off his 2020 results as an aberration…turns out that it was the new normal.

2) James Karinchak $4 – Seemed to be a lock for the Closer job in Cleveland, but the early season success wasn’t maintained and he ended up with a trip to AAA.

* Smart Draft Decisions (December 2020)

1) Marcus Semian $24 – This was the case where ignoring the 2020 stats worked. He was 3rd in the MVP voting in 2019 and still in his 20’s. 45 HR’s later; he produced a $30 season

2) Zach Wheeler $25 – The staff needed an ace and he turned out to be an excellent choice. Along with Gausman & Woodruff, the Dux had three top-ten SP’s.

3) Rasiel Iglesias $16 – One of the most unheralded of the top-tier Closers, he produced an outstanding season.

4) Tyler Mahle $3 – Liked the way he finished up in 2020 and despite the trap of a hitter’s park, his stuff came through with 210 K’s.

* Dumb Draft Decisions

1) Cristian Javier $15 – Betting on him to be in the Astros rotation was a bad decision. He didn’t start and didn’t pitch in high-leverage bullpen situations.

2) Brandon Nimmo $18 – As usual, he got injured and played less than 100 games.

3) Drew Pomeranz $1 – The last pick in the end game, thought he might get some Save chances. Instead, he was ineffective and then injured.

* March 2021 Reserve Draft (All players start with a $1 salary)

1) Ramiel Tapia – Had the #3 pick in the 1st round and needed some speed. When Garrett Hampson went at #2, he was the best available. He provided exactly what was expected…69 Runs, 20 SB’s and a .328 OBP.

2) Logan Webb – The pitching staff held together so well that this 2nd round pick wasn’t really needed, but he’s a keeper for next year.

3) Gregory Soto – Chosen in the 3rd round, he filled in for Karinchak on our roster and should close for the Tigers in ’22.

4) Yandy Diaz – The 4th round pick, he proved to be a valuable back-up at 1/3 with a .362 OBP.

5) Emmanuel Clase – Remembering his stuff from the short stint with the Rangers in ’19, he was grabbed in round 7 as an insurance policy for Karinchak. He’ll be closing for the Guardians in ’22.

* In-Season Moves

1) The nature of this league is that teams in the bottom half of the standings start re-building very early in the season. And, if you’re contending, the offers come at you from all directions. It is a very difficult process because the league is unique and evaluating these deals is very difficult. The Dux resisted most overtures and only made one trade of consequence that was effective May 31st. My team sent Yoan Moncada ($13 salary), Miguel Amaya (Farm) & the 2nd round pick in 2022 for Max Scherzer ($33) & Manny Machado ($28). Moncada is an OBP monster in this format (.375) and only has a $3 salary increase, Amaya is the Cubs #4 prospect and young Catchers are like gold in this league & the pick will end up being the 16th player next March. So the other squad got three potential keepers in exchange for two players they would throw back.

The end result was 134 points (out of 150) and a 9 point margin over former champ Trace Wood. The Dux had no weak categories finishing with at least 11 points in every column.

Next week, we’ll gather in Phoenix for Baseball HQ’s First Pitch conference and spend four days talkin’ baseball and watching Arizona Fall League games. Then we freeze our rosters in November and do an on-line draft in December to prepare for next season.

This last quote belongs to Martina Navratilova, but it just as easily could have been said by XFL member Perry Van Hook, “Whoever said it’s not whether you win or lose that counts…probably lost.”

You can review the league’s history at fantasyxperts.com

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