OpinionMay 21, 2009

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Steroids Making Fantasy a Nightmare

By Drew Szczerba

The two biggest stories in sports this year have been A-Rod’s seemingly incomplete steroid admission and Manny’s inability to ovulate. Like most people, I have plenty of opinions about what can and should be done as well as who’s to blame. Such opinions are readily available via all sorts of media outlets. With that in mind, I wanted this writing to be different. This article discusses the impact of steroids and PEDs on fantasy baseball.

What is fantasy baseball? More importantly, what skills are needed to be successful?

My best guess would be that fantasy baseball combines baseball knowledge with what unenthusiastic students would say are the only useful applications of both math and economics. In an effort to help you “dominate you league,” we “experts” use these concepts to project future performance. Many (myself included) analyze numerous variables and create complex prognosticating systems to better forecast player values. Unfortunately, the usefulness of such models is compromised by steroids and PEDs. In fact, I fear the word “compromised” may even understate the problem. This is because of all the variables that are necessary to project a player’s performance, steroid use is both the least quantifiable and the most recognizable.

Consider the following variables: Age, Home Ballpark, Injury History, and Steroid Use.

Age: Regression analysis shows that a player is likely to “peak” between the ages of 27 and 30. At 29 and 30, respectively, top tier players Matt Holliday and Chase Utley should not be discounted based on age alone for another year or two.

Home Ballpark: Matt Holliday would have likely been a consensus first-rounder this year had he not been traded from Colorado to Oakland. Still, an ADP of 16 made him mid-second round pick despite the move to a much more pitcher-friendly park.

Injury History: Chase Utley would have also been a consensus first-rounder this year had it not been for off-season hip surgery. Would he be healthy enough to start the season? Would there be any lingering effects that might sap his power numbers? With an ADP of 17, these questions were only enough to force owners to discount Utley one round.

Steroid Use: What if prior to your draft you were somehow assured of a few “facts” about the 2009 season? Not assumptions or likelihoods; just facts. To drive the point home let’s assume these facts were guaranteed by a highly reputable psychic you saw exiting a DeLorean. I think we’re on the same page. Here are these hypothetical facts:

• Matt Holliday will be traded back to Colorado before the start of the season
• Chase Utley will play all 162 games this year and his hip will not bother him at all in any of those games
• Both Holliday and Utley consistently used steroids throughout their careers
• Neither player will use steroids or any PEDs in 2009

Now let’s get to the point. Based on that knowledge, where would you have drafted Utley and Holliday? Would you consider either player in the first round? Second? Last? I’m guessing you’d apply a much steeper discount for a steroid user going clean than you would for a change in ballpark or for off-season surgery. I’m also guessing you’d be correct in doing so.

From Barry’s 73 home runs to The Rocket’s resurgence to Manny heroically carrying the Dodgers deep into the postseason, the impact of steroids and PEDs is more than substantial. Which brings me to my next point while the impact of steroids is huge, there is no easy way to measure it for fantasy baseball purposes. We usually don’t know which players are on steroids or, more importantly, which players are trying steroids for the first time. Those could be the late-round gems that win fantasy leagues. Then again, how could we ever know which players are going to get caught?

Plenty of preseason draft kits wrote up Manny Ramirez along the lines of, “Manny’s second half resurgence means that, even at age 36, the power stroke is back. Bid with confidence.” I wonder how many more tell-all books, congressional testimonies, and semi-confessions will be needed before we start seeing write ups such as, “Manny’s second half resurgence at the age of 36 likely indicates steroid use. Possible suspension looming; bid cautiously.” I think a blurb like that would be rather helpful to the owners who read it if (or when) that line of thinking becomes the norm. I think that makes the whole situation rather sad.

Drew is a born Yankees fan who, not surprisingly, doesn’t particularly care for the Red Sox or Mets. He does, however, have a soft spot in his heart for most small market franchises. He gets an uneasy feeling every time the Yankees overpay for latest big name, and fears they may someday begin to acquire whole teams. Drew has been playing both fantasy baseball and football for 10 years. You can catch up with Drew in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name Case Ace.
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