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Irrational Behavior in Fantasy Baseball

July 15, 2015

I’ll never trade Mike Trout in my fantasy league.

Well, never is a long time, so I won’t commit to that. But I’ll overvalue him for a long time. Like with investing, there’s sometimes an irrational choice that flies in the face of any kind of wisdom and learning you’ve done in the field because of (shudder) emotions.

Won't this guy get a beer with me? Once?

Won’t this guy get a beer with me? Once?

I drafted Trout in March 2010, nine months after he was selected by the Angels with the 25th overall pick. And I honestly can’t remember why. Something about the potential of a five-tool outfielder, which I fall for like Garfield loves lasagna, or that evil archaeologist from Indiana Jones movies loves taking things away from Indiana Jones. Which is to say, a lot.

(My fantasy league is funny; we’re allowed to keep 26 players with no penalty year to year, and if we forfeit equivalent draft picks, up to 38 total. Which makes the draft pool shallower, and more research is needed. In 2010, I took the 18-year-old Trout in the 7th round, having already taken recent draftees Jacob Turner, Drew Storen, and Shelby Miller in previous rounds.)

That I drafted him so young, that I watched him (or more accurately, his stat lines) through the LAA farm system, rooted for him during his much-heralded and not-without-highlights debut in 2011, and was blown away during his 2012 rookie campaign, has made me feel more invested in his career. Not just as an arrogant, swaggering fantasy owner, but as a fan of the game.

Granted, it’s always hard listening to interviews with professional athletes, highly paid guys who by and large don’t have an awful lot of interesting things to say beyond “see the ball, hit the ball.” But the more I watch Trout, the more I love him. I don’t know if it’s like this with everybody. I drafted Dustin Pedroia early in his minor-league career. Before “Laser Show” and before the balding. He was what I envisioned myself as if I ever became a pro ballplayer. Undersized, cocky, swinging the bat like his life depended on it, dirty before he left the dugout. But I traded him earlier this season, packaged with Coco Crisp for Johnny Cueto.

But Trout. Watching him is like what I imagine watching early Mickey Mantle was. So young, All-American, winning smile, plays with a love of the game. Arm = average. But other than that. Cripes. By the end of this season – barring injury – he’ll be around the same career WAR as Don Newcombe, Hal Baines, and Juan Gonzalez, above Steve Garvey, Frank Howard, and just shy of Hack Wilson. WAR is obviously not the end-all, be-all. But these are not small names.

To paraphrase a sardonic tweet from the other day, his second two-homer game outburst of the week, he’s becoming just a boring future inner circle Hall of Famer.

Weirdly, I take pride in his accomplishments. That’s ridiculous. What did I do? I drafted a five-tool minor league outfielder who was a late first-round pick the prior June by the Angels. I did nothing, I deserve to feel no sense of pride from this 23 (23!) year-old’s athletic accomplishments. In fact, it’s a total parasitic relationship. He plays for a team I have no affection for, and I’ve – literally – made money from his on-field successes, while sending him no kind of thank-you note, gift basket of delicious cookies, financial kickback, or anything.

But it’s like I watched this seed grow into a plant. Or this private start-up become a billion-dollar public company. And somehow, with my rooting and love, I provided the sun and the nutrients and the affection that helped him grow. And more than that, even though it was mostly luck, I dare to think that I had the perspicacity to draft him, like that guy who scouted Derek Jeter and slapped future Hall-of-Famer tag on him.

I’m a Mets fan. Whenever my teams have been winning, I’ve been waiting, for just about three decades now, for something to go wrong. For Armando Benitez to give up a homer; for Luis Castillo to drop a pop-up; for Carlos Beltran not to swing; for Tom Glavine to throw a terrible game. For etc. But there’s a warmth in rooting for sure things, and good god, Trout is as much of a sure thing as there is in the game right now.

In December 2011, I offered Trout in a multi-player deal that would’ve netted me Albert Pujols. In February 2012, I used him as bait to try and reel in (wow) Tommy Hanson. Obviously, both owners declined. I have neither received nor made an offer that involved Trout since then.

Fantasy owners – who are more or less fans – by and large evaluate their own prospects higher than the industry would and certainly higher than their fellow owners do. This is mostly because of the fear of doing what I came so sadly close to doing, which is trading away Mike Trout to get Tommy Hanson. It’s all prospective, so we’re looking at their ideal ceilings and dreaming on that. That Trout not only reached that ceiling but also, impossibly, far surpassed it, only reinforces my terrible habits.

But the actuality of my own evaluation of Mike Trout goes beyond  calculating what he could provide to my team. When (and man, it’s gotta be a matter of when now, not if) he gives his Hall of Fame induction speech, and it’s filled with some clichés about playing hard and loving the game and so forth, I’ll beam like his father, because, hell, I helped that boy become famous in my own way.

From → History, Rotisserie

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