Just a peek behind the curtain here at the BP Fantasy offices: Our assignments are entered (by the impeccably organized Mark Barry) into a Google Sheets document that is titled “The Good BP Fantasy Schedule.” This naturally leads to the question of the existence of a “Bad BP Fantasy Schedule,” but when I have asked this question of Those Who Know, I am given a virtual pat on the head and told, “LOL haha don’t worry about it.” But I digress.
Since January 2018, my name has been listed on this schedule every week. Next week, it won’t be. I’m stepping away from BP and from fantasy writing for the time being.
I have been writing the Starting Pitching Planner for the last three seasons (well, two plus whatever 2020 was). As you know, the Planner is devoted to ranking and analyzing the pitchers for the coming week who are projected to start twice. In weekly leagues, the two-start pitcher is a prized, but highly volatile, entity. By doubling the consequence of a single lineup slot, a pitcher who starts twice can turbocharge your pitching stats or sink them to the bottom of the ocean. Hence the devotion of a regular column at BP to that highly specific area of fantasy advice.
In recent years, however, projecting starting pitchers approximately 10 days out (these columns are written on Thursdays) has become a near-impossible task. Hell, projecting starters 10 hours out can often be a dicey business. In analyzing another two-start pitching projection analyst (Clay Link and Todd Zola, who record a podcast for Rotowire), Bobby Mueller of Off the Bench ranked Link’s and Zola’s recommendations. What stuck out to me, however, also stuck out to Clay.
What are we even doing here? It’s easy to see why this is the case: In the current environment, injuries are more common than ever, and because of this, pitching usage is managed more carefully than ever. More teams are using more planned bullpen games, shuttling a swingman from Triple-A to put in a spot start, or putting last night’s starter on the injury list. The never-ending COVID crisis hasn’t helped matters. I have attempted to make rankings through the thick fog of this uncertainty. The future, even a few days out, is an unknown land.
That’s not why I’m leaving. But it does bring up a point about fantasy analysis with which I have grown less and less comfortable. The entire world of fantasy writing (and, really, any outcome-directed baseball analysis, such as the types that teams themselves employ) can be boiled down to one aim: to overcome uncertainty.
We know this is not possible, but the direction of fantasy analysis has assumed that, with enough data, we can asymptotically approach the axis of certainty, getting ever closer to erasing the variables and sanding down thick error bars into slivers of doubt so thin they can barely be perceived by the human eye. Baseball analysis is getting increasingly like the TV series Devs, where a mega-turbo-quantum-supercomputer created by (BP alum!) Nick Offerman’s mad-genius character amasses so much data that it doesn’t just project the future, it essentially narrates it as a fait accompli.
Where some baseball analysts might contemplate this prospect with a Jack Nicholson manic nod, this show is clearly a nightmare dystopia, not projection #goals.
There are a number of reasons why I’m stepping away from fantasy writing for now. Some of those echo those of my erstwhile colleague Nate Grimm (be a better spouse, dad, citizen) and some of them have to do with my own life circumstances, which are too boring and mundane to detail here. Some can be chalked up to what I can’t describe using any other word than “burnout.” A good part of it has to do with the bias in fantasy toward treating players as statistics-generating machines, regardless of the moral, ethical, and political challenges of wanting certain players to do well just because they’re “on your team.” (I wrote about this in relation to Trevor Bauer’s ongoing sexual assault case here.)
But a lot of it just comes down to this: I want to revel in baseball’s uncertainty again.
It sounds stupid and naïve even as I write it, and maybe it’s because I’m quoting the theme song to The Hills, but it’s important for us to have even the smallest examples of an unwritten, even unthinkable, future. Baseball, in the green space between the foul lines, can still be that dumb, wonderful place where strange, entirely unaccountable, things can still happen.
Exhibit A: The San Francisco Giants, even in the rosiest musings of our resident algorithm, were unthinkable as a team that would win 90 games, much less head into the season’s final weekend with the inside track to the NL West crown. And yet, here we are. Patrick Dubuque thoroughly interrogated the mechanics of the Giants’ projection-busting season, but even ex post facto analyses can’t capture the feeling of an entirely new future opening up within our existing, plotted, spreadsheeted timeline.
Even if you’re not a Giants fan like me, you can’t help but shake your head and drop your jaw just a little bit. Weird things can happen. Some bizarro universe can wormhole its way into our own gray existence and force you to reset your existential coordinates completely.
I feel like it’s important to hold onto this sense of possibility, as rare and remote as it might be in baseball, not to mention in the wider world in which we live. It’s a strange irony that my writing at BP felt like the most unimaginable thing in my life to that point. With only a smattering of public writing about baseball, I sent an e-mail to Bret Sayre in December 2017 in response to a job listing (not unlike the one currently on the site), thinking to myself that even though I would surely receive a “thanks but no thanks” reply, I had to give it a shot. Instead, I got an e-mail that began like this:
After a phone conversation with Bret, I started writing for the site within weeks. Then, sometime in 2019, I was invited, first to be a guest on, then to be a co-host of, a podcast that I’d listened to for years, Flags Fly Forever. All of the fine people at BP were a joy to work with, and many I now consider my good friends (even if we haven’t met in person).
But in spite of my good fortune at landing in a community that was smart, talented, compassionate, and funny as hell, I grew less and less fond of writing about fantasy baseball, especially during the pandemic-truncated 2020. When the full schedule returned for this season, the joy didn’t return to the writing. After a while, it just stopped being fun (and when it stops being fun, the writing suffers).
As I was feeling the burnout as a fantasy writer, the Giants, a team I have rooted for since the late 1970s, pulled off whatever it is they’re pulling off now. In spite of myself, I’ve become a superfan of an actual team again—with late-night yelps at comeback victories waking my family and startling the dog, text chains with longtime friends that comment on nearly every play of every game, and the relentless scoreboard-watching, particularly any game involving the Dodgers. It felt good to be a fan again, to watch something with wide-eyed anticipation. It felt less good to switch back to analyst mode, where I was supposed to Know Things and Have Answers.
The last thing I want to say before I sign off is that uncertainty carries no predetermined outcome. That’s the whole point. Things may seem infinitely shitty in the world with no relief in sight. They may get even worse than the current shitty state. Amid all the demonstrably terrible things that existed at the beginning of 2020, few people predicted a global pandemic that would lead to millions of unnecessary deaths, tens of millions of illnesses of varying severity, a dramatic attenuation of social life nearly everywhere, and life-altering economic hardship for much of the world. Uncertainty is no guarantee of better days ahead.
Baseball looks like it’s headed toward an unavoidable work stoppage between the players and the owners. MLB’s ham-handed marketing seems designed to alienate anyone who isn’t a white male cryptocurrency enthusiast over the age of fifty. Minor-leaguers continue to be treated as disposable labor, not even paid enough to secure stable housing or food. So much of baseball seems broken and exhausted. It’s possible that none of this gets better. But it’s not certain.
So, I’m going to take a break from pretending that I know more than you and just revel in the uncertainty of what’s to come. Thank you for reading my words and putting up with my bullshit here for the last three years. As I write, the Giants are about to go to the bottom of the ninth in a tie game, and I’m going to stop here, not knowing how the end turns out.
Thank you for reading
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