As my first full season covering Fantasy Baseball draws to a close, I find myself assessing my contributions, determining how to make them better for next year.
Of particular interest is my Sliders piece -- a column of my own invention that, because it didn't already have its own set of rules or instructions, kind of became a season-long experiment. I found myself in a constant wrestling match with terminology -- one I could usually sort out within the column itself, but not without leaving behind the more casual readers who simply wanted to glance over the piece without hanging on its every last word.
One section of the column that readers found particularly confusing was the "change-up," where I'd take my assessment of a player from a week or two earlier and completely overturn it. They thought it served no purpose other than to wreck my credibility. Take this latest e-mail from Jeff:
Scott, I do admire the fact that somehow you acquired a job writing about baseball. In regards to your Sliders column, don't you get tired of throwing change-ups? You're on the bandwagon and then off, and then back on. For example, Justin Duchscherer has a rough stretch, and you proclaim, "I told you so!" Prior to it, though, you had said he's for real. Now, you have to say, "Well, looks like he's been hurt." This kind of thing makes you look like a hack.
The change-up, in fact, serves three purposes:
1. It exposes player forecasting as the inexact science it is.
Sliders, when broken down to its barest essentials, is an exercise in player forecasting. I take individual players and explain what I think they'll do -- a pretty simple concept, really, but with one fundamental flaw:
I don't necessarily believe in player forecasting.
Sure, it has its place. It acts as a motivator, a catalyst for action. I might not pick up that left-handed slugger until I read a glowing scouting report on him, for instance. But for the most part, I prefer to build my Fantasy teams following more general, inexact strategies. In other words, I'd rather constantly react than put all my eggs in one basket, cross my arms and wait.
Player forecasting is guesswork. Anyone can make an argument for or against any player in baseball. True, some of those arguments hold more water than others, but sometimes, the more unlikely ones end up coming true. No Fantasy analyst can get every player right, and I don't want to give anyone the impression I can.
So I remind them when I get one wrong. They have the right to know. Maybe they'll follow their gut next time instead of listening to me, which wouldn't be such a bad thing. I want people to view my work as a second opinion to measure against their own, not the presiding opinion to follow blindly without even bothering to form their own.
Does that make me a hack? I'd claim just the opposite. If I acted like I got every pick right, I'd be a hack.
2. It holds me accountable.
As I've mentioned numerous times in this blog, I came into this job with the advantage of having long been a fan of Fantasy content, reading every piece I could find. So when I became a writer, I knew from my experience as a reader what I wanted to include and what I wanted to avoid.
Specifically, I never, ever wanted to pat myself on the back for a correct a prediction. OK, I don't "never, ever" do anything. In fact, I've occasionally had reason to mention a correct prediction to preface another point, but I don't ever want to find myself writing a 500-word "ode to me" because one of my thousands of predictions actually came true. A correct prediction should be the expectation, not the exception, so if I get one right, it should go without saying.
So in Sliders, I took the opposite approach, emphasizing my incorrect predictions. If forced to elaborate each week on everything that goes wrong, how can I ever get too high on something that goes right? I'll never have this Fantasy stuff totally figured out, and the change-up serves as a weekly reminder.
3. It reminds you, me and everyone else not to take this stuff too seriously.
Have you even read Sliders? It's not exactly stern-faced analysis. Sure, it presents intelligible arguments and stands behind them as long as it should, but it doesn't take itself all that seriously.
And it shouldn't. It's a piece not only about a game, but about a game about a game. Sure, it's a game we love -- maybe even obsess over -- but when push comes to shove, I think we can all agree we play it strictly for fun.
So how can a column written about something we do for fun not be for fun itself?
And the change-up was for fun, mostly. In my column about a game about a game, I included yet another game, giving the readers a chance to guess which player would make me eat my words next week and see if I'd actually follow through with it.
But with all that said, I have to admit I did get tired of looking for a change-up every week. Rarely did a player do enough in one week to make me change my mind about him, and if I waited several weeks, the change-up seemed more like a response to an in-season development than a case of me changing my mind.
So I don't know. I could see myself doing away with the change-up next season -- or at least presenting it a little differently.
Wait, I take that back.