The Dimemond Baseball League met for their 30th draft day on April 5th.
Gasps of incredulity filled the room as the bidding for Orioles outfielder Adam Jones reached $4.00. That was only fifty cents less than two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera. Justin Verlander went for what seemed an equally outrageous $4.10. With a budget of $26 for 24 players, a player better be pretty special to gobble up almost a sixth of a team’s budget.
I trekked north with friends to spend the day with the Dimemond League, a roto league that celebrated its 30th anniversary draft. Twelve “owners” of teams with colorful names like the Arti-chokes, Cracker Jacks, Son-Rays, and the G-men gathered in the lush conference room of attorneys offices on the 39th floor of a Seattle skyscraper with a magnificent view of the the city and Lake Washington.
Though I’ve participated in lots of stats-based baseball fun, including many draft leagues for board games, I’ve never done Rotisserie, and when the opportunity came for me to observe, I snapped it up. A Rotisserie league is a stats-based baseball league in which teams acquire players who will accumulate statistics in twelve offensive and pitching categories that are measured and calculated at the end of the season. These are “traditional” statistics as opposed to sabrmetric measures. Batting average, home runs, wins, ERA and appearances are the stock in trade of the Dimemond League, and with most Rotisserie leagues. Winning the league is simple, the team accumulating the most points by their placement in the twelve categories wins.
But building a team is not simple. Players are selected through a draft. Drafting players are selected and then auctioned off to the highest bidder, and viewing this process was amazing. Everyone needs to fill out a roster with players at every position and a complete pitching staff. Owners are knowledgeable baseball fans, students of the game, prepared and organized with draft boards not unlike football GM’s on draft day. They know the players they want with a plan A, B, and C to fill needs, and generally they want the same successful players their competitors want. When the easy guys, the Cabreras, Shin Soo-Choo’s and the Dustin Pedroia’s were gone, the real creativity kicked in.
Auctions are tense, with each owner knowing what they have to spend and what they’re willing to pay. Most of the auctions started out at a dime or twenty cents, some leaping upward rapidly. Some such as Cabrera opened at a much higher rate, $3.00, and trended rapidly upward to his $4.50 sale. Others were more drawn out. Closers went for a lot of money because they count statistically for the K/BB, ERA and net saves categories. Some players went much cheaper than expected, such as the oft-injured Brett Lawrie, and the pesky Eric Aybar, often to cheers, “good one.” Some players went for more than expected, because they were a personal favorite. One owner reminded the others that he wants to win, “but it has to be fun, too.” The most fun part of the player selection was in the last few rounds when owners were down to $1.10 to buy six players. Picking up the ten centers to fill open roster spots became quite a challenge.
With an hour break for lunch the draft ran from about 10:00 to 3:30. Despite the competition for productive players and intensity of some of the bidding, there was no acrimony or snappishness (at least not as I understand acrimony and snappishness.) When the draft was over, all the owners I spoke to were confident they’d had a successful draft.
I’ve avoided fantasy sports. I’ve been intrigued, but considered myself above such things, and after my experience today I regret it. The twelve men (and one woman) who attended the draft knew their stuff, knew more ballplayers more deeply than I did. They love the game and this is their way of connecting to it. In this day of evolving baseball statistics, their objectives are incredibly difficult. Within the context of the victory conditions, their job is to assess the value of each of their players and determine how they can contribute to building a winning team, even if that team isn’t actually playing the games. When I asked what an average player was worth from the budget the response was that there was no average price per player, it was more about what they’re worth to a team. So if in the real world one win (WAR) is worth about $6.5 million, well, things aren’t quite so easy to measure in the Dimemond League. No BABIP, xFIP, or dWAR will help you know for sure a player will have a great year, the same as last year and get the Son-Rays over the top. In many respects, the league owners have some of the same difficulties with prediction all the other seamheads have, and they’ll just have to watch the games to see how it all plays out. And then there’s that budget thing. No Yankees or Dodgers to bust the bank here. A couple of Miguel Cabreras means the rest of your team will look like Ronnie Cedeno. The budgeting is very much a game inside a game.
It was a very fun day. I enjoyed meeting everyone, chatting with them and they were all quite kind to me. Though all the owners spent the day around the table trying to figure out a way to beat the guy sitting next to him, maybe the most fun part came at the end. Some of us with smartphones and iPads had followed the Mariners-A’s game after lunch on Gameday. Quiet updates through the last rounds of the draft alerted everyone to Felix Hernandez’s ninth inning troubles. Nobody left the table until Fernando Rodney struck out Josh Reddick for his first save. Then it was time for pictures.