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Get Ready to Play the Fantasy Ball Field

March 29, 2001|RUSS STANTON |

One of the lesser-known rites of spring unfolds this weekend in bars, living rooms and backyards across this great land: the annual draft for fantasy baseball geeks.

For the uninitiated, fantasy league baseball involves choosing a team of real major league players and accumulating points based on how they perform during the upcoming season. Typically, offensive players amass points for hits, homers and runs scored and batted, while pitchers score for strikeouts, shutouts and the like.

A meaningful part of life this is not. Fantasy baseball strains marriages, consumes vast amounts of precious electricity and wastes countless hours of irreplaceable time. Oh, and its popularity is soaring.

Until recently, playing fantasy baseball was a tedious process performed primarily with calculators, note pads and box scores from the morning newspaper.

But the hobby, for lack of a better word, has been both simplified and enhanced by a host of Internet services. Not only do scores of Web sites handle all of the accounting dirty work, they also provide enough mathematical research to excite the folks at NASA.

We scouted three of the most popular fantasy sites--CBS, ESPN Fantasy Baseball and Yahoo Fantasy Baseball. All offer the research staples necessary to be a big-league manager, such as statistical breakdowns and injury reports.

What distinguishes them are the added features and the searchable statistical fields each has developed. These are truly awesome feats of database creation and management by people who have way too much time on their hands.

In any event, if these sites were players, this is the order we'd draft them.


St. Louis Cardinals skipper Tony LaRussa, one of baseball's most successful managers, is known for his analytical and computer-assisted approach to the game. We suspect LaRussa is either a rabid fan of SportsLine or the creator of same.

For starters, the site has the most comprehensive databank of research--13 categories in all. The most interesting allows you to compare the stats of as many as four players in 37 offensive categories simultaneously. Actually, it's a little sick.

Can't decide who to draft at first base? Of the game's four best--the Astros' Jeff Bagwell, the Rockies' Todd Helton, the Blue Jays' Carlos Delgado and the Cardinals' Mark McGwire--Helton is tops based on last year's stats.

But he may not be the best choice, depending on how your league doles out points. Delgado, for example, hit 12% more homers, and both Bagwell and McGwire, who missed half of last season, produced more runs per at-bat.

SportsLine also has a solid lineup of columns. Infield Chatter dispenses news and notes from around the league. Roto Analyst dissects the nuances of fantasy baseball and reaches sometimes surprising conclusions about the value of some players. You may not agree with these columnists, but they're interesting and provide a sounding board for your own ideas.

Another handy feature is a box in the upper left-hand corner of every page, where you can plug in a player's name and search for information about him. Yahoo has a more impressive player stats package, but it's not as easily retrievable as SportsLine's.

If you want to dabble on only one site, SportsLine is it.

ESPN Fantasy Baseball

You'd think the cable network that took television sports coverage to a new level would produce the best fantasy baseball Web site, but ESPN Fantasy Baseball is somewhat disappointing.

This is where you'd hope to find more statistics than you could shake a bat at, more commentary than a Sunday morning TV talk show, more inside scoops than a Baskin-Robbins. But although the commentary is the most authoritative of the three sites, SportsLine and Yahoo do a better job with stats and overall organization.

For example, ESPN Fantasy Baseball doesn't showcase some of its most timely and interesting features. On the home page, there's only one reference to news about individual teams, and clicking on it delivers a looooong rehash of a team's performance last year.

The really good stuff--how they're going to do this year, insights from the clubhouse, who's competing for which positions in spring training--is tucked away in a window box three clicks in.

The site's bright spot is the Player Rater, which ranks the millionaires by who's best--from an offensive standpoint, statistically--at each position. Player Rater allows you to adjust for the long season by looking at who's hot and who's not over the last week and month.

Another cool feature is 2001 Average Picks, which shows you where players were taken in hundreds of fantasy league drafts held so far on the ESPN Web site. The top five to date: Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez, Ranger shortstop Alex Rodriguez, Diamondback pitcher Randy Johnson, Ranger catcher Ivan Rodriguez and Met catcher Mike Piazza.

Yahoo Fantasy Baseball

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