First Pitch Arizona: Part 1

For those of you unaware, this past weekend I attended Baseball HQ’s 13th Annual Fantasy Baseball Symposium at the Arizona Fall League (also known as First Pitch Arizona). In Sam Walker’s book Fantasyland, he said that First Pitch Arizona, “to the Rotisserie elite, is sort of like Davos, Renaissance Weekend and Mardi Gras condensed into three days.” It’s, essentially, the biggest fantasy baseball conference of the year. Baseball HQ says that “nowhere else will you find this many fantasy baseball analysts in one place at one time!”

The first thing I’d like to say is how much fun this conference was. If you ever have the opportunity to go, it’s a great time. The presentations are very interesting and you get the opportunity to meet a lot of intelligent baseball fans. In the first part of this two-part series, I’ll be talking about some of the presentations.

  • The weekend kicked off on Thursday night with a welcome reception for the speakers and attendees. As part of this, an annual fantasy competition called the Arizona Challenge was held. It is a retro auction in which everyone in the room has $50 to get three players with no position restrictions.

    I was able to take third place in this competition, which I am pleased with considering that it was my first year in the competition and because going in I wasn’t exactly sure how the rankings would be decided (turned out that it was just like a regular fantasy league, with the winner of each category received as many points as there were participants). My strategy was to get as much value for my money as I could and forget about which types of players I got, since I wasn’t sure how the rankings were calculated anyway.

    I was able to get a $22 Takashi Saito, $12 Joe Nathan (I think it was Nathan… I know it was a closer), and $16 Brian Roberts. In retrospect, it would have been better to grab another hitter instead of the second closer because I was already getting a good ERA and WHIP with Saito while getting a decent number of saves and strikeouts. Still, under the circumstances, I think third place was pretty good. Also, I was only four points out of first while I was 14 points ahead of fourth place, so I really had a chance of winning with my team anyway.

    I know I’ve talked about it in the past, but I think this is another testament to how much more important value is than strict production.

  • My favorite session was Rick Wilton’s (Baseball Injury Report) presentation, “Injuries in Perspective“. He talked about the research he did into Tommy John surgery, about labrum injuries, about the spike in injuries in 2007, and about the effect of PEDs on baseball injuries. He also talked about several players he thinks will struggle with injuries next year and revealed his top rebound candidate for 2008. He then fielded questions from the audience about players they were curious about.

    Rick really knows his stuff, and for 2008 I would highly recommend subscribing to his service. You’ll get in-depth injury analysis for a multitude of players, something I can’t provide for you. Some of the new innovations he’s rolling out next year sound really cool too. For instance, you’ll be able to get an email sent to you (daily, I believe) updating you on 20-25 players of your choice. Make sure you check that out at some point during the off-season. It will be an enormous help for your 2008 draft and season.

  • Another excellent presentation was the session on stats, “In Quest of Accuracy.” There was some great dialogue about what exactly constitutes accuracy. What should be considered accurate? If a player is projected to hit 45 home runs, would you consider it a success if he hits 44? 40? 38? It is a subjective thing that will differ from person-to-person. An excellent article about this kind of stuff can be found at Baseball HQ.

    Also, if a player is projected to hit 45 homers in 550 at-bats, but he actually hits 45 homers in 300 at-bats, is the projection actually a good one? There are different ways to arrive at the same final stats, many of which are completely out of a player’s control. If a player doesn’t get enough playing time, for example, but has great rates, the actual fantasy stats won’t be there. All these types of things were discussed by the panelists and members of the audience. Overall, a fantastic session.

  • The “Rules Innovations Forum” was very thought-provoking as well. There were some interesting ideas presented not only by the speakers but by other attendees.

    There was a discussions on how draft order should be decided, which is something I talked about with other attendees during some of the down time. Many people don’t like to reward poor play with higher draft picks, while others dislike the idea of tanking in order to secure a better draft spot, simultaneously screwing up the rankings at the top of the standings.

    One idea that struck me as particularly interesting was this: the first teams to draft are those which perform best in the second-half, excluding those who place in the money. The money teams automatically go at the end. This could cause a third or fourth place team trying to get fifth, but at least teams in the lower half remain interested even after they are out of the championship hunt and the number of teams tanking would be far fewer.

    In redraft leagues, I liked the idea of the “Kentucky Derby System” used in National Fantasy Baseball Championship competitions. An order is determined randomly, and whoever gets the first pick gets to decide where he or she wants to pick (first, second, last, wherever). Then the second person chooses from what’s available, and it goes on down the line until everyone has a spot.

    Another cool NFBC innovation was the “Third Round Reversal.” While this was more meant for football, I found it interesting nevertheless. The first two rounds of the draft go as usual (1-12, then 12-1). But at the start of the third round, instead of the first team picking again, the twelfth team picks and it goes as normal from there. Again, this is better suited for football where the teams picking in the top 3 have a major advantage. Baseball isn’t really like that.

  • Another really cool session was the “Breakouts at the Ballpark.” There were eleven different analysts sitting in different sections of the ballpark. Attendees were allowed to sit with one analyst or sift in-and-out of the different sections and talk about a variety of topics (each analyst took a different one) while you watched an Arizona Fall League game. Different topics included injuries, minor leaguers, constitutional conflicts in your league, a discussion on ratio stats, and more.

  • The 6th Annual XFL Experts Draft (which is actually an auction) was held there as well. Ron Shandler noted that fantasy drafts aren’t really spectator sports, and there were less than a handful of guys who stayed for the whole thing. Nevertheless, I found it very interesting to watch: seeing what kinds of trends emerged, seeing how certain players were valued, that sort of thing.

    A comparative study on an unwritten rule of baseball.

  • On a somewhat unrelated note, I found it incredible how many Dusty Baker jokes were made. It wasn’t like one or two. It was like six or seven throughout the weekend. He was constantly being brought up in regard to Reds pitchers like Aaron Harang, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey, and Matt Belisle. I thought this was very interesting given David Gassko’s article about Baker from last year that found that he doesn’t really ride his pitchers as hard as people think. Is it possible that he only rides his aces hard?

Concluding thoughts

That wraps up Part 1 of my discussion on the First Pitch Arizona conference. Look for Part 2 in a short while, in which I’ll discuss some of the interesting conversations I had and things I noticed.

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